ARC review: Catch and Release by Laura Drewry

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As the oldest O’Donnell, Ronan took on the responsibility of caring for his younger brothers after their mother left and their father drowned his pain in alcohol.  After his brothers were old enough to fend for themselves, he got out, got married, and set himself up for a great life.  Or so he thought.  Next thing he knew, Mandy had turned him into someone he didn’t recognize, and he hated what he’d become.

Back at The Buoys, his family’s fishing resort, for the filming of the reality tv series Hooked, Ronan would be happy to stay in the background.  He’d prefer it if the cameras and Hope, Hooked’s beautiful producer, would just leave him alone.  He has no desire for fame or fortune.  He just wants to get back the parts of himself that he lost.

Since his painful divorce, Ronan has been a proud member of the “catch and release” club, never staying with one woman long enough to develop any real feelings.  But there’s something so honest and unassuming about Hope that makes him let down his guard, and soon he’s falling hard. Maybe Hope could be the woman to finally convince Ronan to give love another shot.

Laura Drewry’s Fishing for Trouble series was a highlight of 2016.  Both Off the Hook and Lured In were amazing, and I loved getting to know the two younger O’Donnell siblings.  While Ronan was mentioned in both of these books, the glimpses we got of him were far from flattering.  He came across as angry, gruff, surly.  Not the kind of guy to do emotional heart-to-hearts.  Not really the romance novel lead, if you get what I’m saying.

And yes, that’s how he appears.  That’s certainly the first impression that Hope gets.  But that’s not really who Ronan is.  The real Ronan, once you strip away the heartbreak and pain of his divorce, is a sweetheart.  He’s the kind of guy that finds out what your favorite dessert is and surprises you with it after dinner.  The kind of guy to bring you a mug of tea when you’re working overtime.  The kind of guy that would protect those he loves at all costs.

Going into this book, I was sure that Ronan would be my least favorite of the O’Donnell brothers.  Turns out he’s actually the best.  Anybody would be lucky to find someone like him.

And let’s not forget Hope.  Hope, who is always prepared for any situation. Who regularly keeps safety goggles and bungee cords in her purse. Hope, who spouts off random facts when she gets nervous. Who is honest and warm and loving and still a grown woman who can handle herself.  Hope, who makes the first move, because she knows that Ronan won’t.

I loved these characters.  I know I say that about every book that Laura Drewry writes, but I just absolutely adore her characters. Can I move to The Buoys? Can I be friends with them?

Catch and Release was an amazing ending to a great series.  All three books are fast-paced, engaging reads that will easily keep you up all night.  The first two books were good, but Catch and Release is in a league of its own.  If you haven’t yet started this series, I can guarantee you that it won’t disappoint.

Final rating: ★★★★★

Thanks to Netgalley and Loveswept for the ARC!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I loved more than I expected

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!  I actually forgot to post this last week, and I even had everything all ready to go!  Luckily for me, this week is a TTT hiatus, so I have another chance to post it.

Anyway, this topic is all about books that I loved more than I thought I would.  There was an option to do books that I disliked, but I figured I’ve talked about those enough!  I tried to go back in time since I feel like I’m always raving about the same few books.  I went way back to 2013 for this one, so I hope you enjoy!

Please feel free to send me any books that you’ve enjoyed more than expected and I’ll add them to my TBR!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett: I have a documented problem with bestsellers.

Margot by Jillian Cantor: Historical fiction about the Holocaust, however important it may be, is not my favorite topic.

In the Blood by Lisa Unger: I don’t read a lot of thrillers and I really like kids, so I don’t generally enjoy books about creepy children.

Stiff by BB Hamel: This was the first stepbrother romance I ever read and I honestly did not expect to like it even one bit.

Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan: If I’m honest, I don’t generally love memoirs. Especially memoirs from people I’ve never even heard of before. But this was surprisingly good and it read like fiction, which helped a lot.

Marie Antoinette’s Head by Will Bashor: Although I was a huge fan of Sofia Coppola’s film about her life, Marie Antoinette’s hairdresser does not top my list of interests.

Lust is the Thorn by Jen McLaughlin: I really just requested this book for kicks, but even though I went to thirteen years of Catholic school and have never thought of a priest sexually before, this book was HOT!

The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane: As a rule, I’m generally skeptical of anything from Kindle First, but this book was honestly really great.

Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffman: I only read this book because I needed something published in 1990 for 2015’s reading challenge and it was enchanting.

The Void Series by Peter F. Hamilton: I don’t read a lot of epic fantasy – like the real kind that spans universes and millennia – but Hamilton is one of my boyfriend’s favorite authors and I can clearly see why.

Book review: Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 1 by Bryan Lee O’Malley

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Way back in 2010, I watched (and absolutely adored) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Seriously, it was one of my favorite movies for awhile. Turns out critics and viewers didn’t feel quite the same, but it still has a special place in my heart.

So, 2016 comes around and I’m supposed to read a graphic novel for my reading challenge. I actually never read graphic novels except under duress. The last one I read was Persepolis, and that was for my 2015 challenge. (And I did really like it, but it didn’t motivate me to read any more of them.) I was trying to figure out which graphic novel I might be able to read this year, and then this one showed up on Amazon. Since I loved the movie so much, I decided to go for it.

It was just as charming as the movie. And by charming, I really mean awkward.

I mean, Scott Pilgrim isn’t going to be anybody’s role model. That’s for sure.

Anyway, the first volume is short. It’s awkwardly funny. It’s a lot like the movie. I actually liked it a lot more than I thought I would. I’m not sure yet if my 2017 reading challenge is going to ask me to read graphic novels, but if it does, I would certainly continue on with this series.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

Book review: Prince Albert by Sabrina Paige

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Belle and Albie meet one night in Vegas.  They hit it off, get drunk, and do the most Vegas thing possible – get married by an Elvis impersonator.  They never really expect to see each other again, and in fact, plan to have the marriage annulled before they have to explain themselves to anyone, but family obligations get in the way and they end up putting the annulment off.

When Belle heads to Protrovia to meet her mother’s new fiance (the King!), she doesn’t expect anything too shocking.  She certainly doesn’t expect that Albie would be PRINCE ALBERT, the crown prince of Protrovia and her future stepbrother!  Now Belle and Albie have to keep their marriage hidden from their parents, their omnipresent bodyguards, and the media. Their relationship must be strictly hands-off, and they have to act like they barely know each other… which is easier said than done.

This book was included in my Kindle edition of Double Team by Sabrina Paige, a book I read earlier this year and, if I’m honest, really didn’t enjoy too much. I wasn’t expecting too much from this book, but I figured I might as well read it since:

1. it was there,
2. it was free, and
3. I’ve really enjoyed most of the stepbrother romances I’ve read.

This book really surprised me by being hot without being gross, being exciting without being too over-the-top, and being a twist on the usual step-sibling romance.  I really liked both Belle and Albie, and some of the side characters (like Albie’s little sister Alex and bodyguard Max) also stole my heart. It was such a 180 from Double Team that I didn’t even really know what to think while I was reading it!

Prince Albert has definitely redeemed Sabrina Paige in my eyes, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for whatever she comes up with next.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

#mmdreading: three books by the same author

Book review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Series: Magic Cleaning #1
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Source: Borrowed

Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international best seller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home – and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

When I checked this book out from my library, I was dead set on learning something from it. “TEACH ME HOW TO BE ORGANIZED,” I thought. “SHOW ME HOW TO GET RID OF ALL THE STUFF I DON’T NEED!” After finishing this book (six days later, an incredible length of time for a book so short) I have to confess that I know no more about cleaning and organizing than I did last week. I am, however, considerably more irritated.

First, let me say that this book is translated from the original Japanese, so some of the quirks in language may be due to translation issues. Some of the suggestions that seem weird might just be due to cultural differences. But come on, the word “tidying” shows up about thirty times per page and Kondo is just. so. judgy.

Now, let me say that for a book that praises downsizing and has the main goal of getting you to trash everything in your life that you don’t absolutely need, it is so much longer than it needs to be. On how many pages, and in how many ways, can Kondo rave about her process? Yes, I understand. I must quickly, all at once (over six months), get rid of everything that does not spark joy in my life. Then I must properly store what’s left over in a way that is respectful to the item, and respectful to my home. It’s really not a very complicated method. Honestly, it could have been summarized with a few gifs in a Buzzfeed article. But for some reason, this book is more than 200 pages.

Much of the book is dedicated to little anecdotes about Kondo’s clients. Imagine paying this woman some obscene amount of money to come into your house and tell you everything you’re doing wrong. “Does it spark joy?” she asks you. “Yes, absolutely,” you say. “Are you sure? It’s kinda ugly…” she responds. At this point, I would find myself showing her the door.

But that’s not all. Kondo won’t let you keep excess anything. One client has a toothbrush stash. Another person stockpiles toilet paper. “Get rid of it all,” she says. “You don’t need it. It’s fun to see how long you can go without it!” Um, we are talking about toothbrushes and toilet paper, right? I can’t say that a toothbrush or a roll of toilet paper has ever sparked joy in my heart, but I certainly miss them when they’re gone.

Oh, and don’t forget about that time you invited her into your home to help you purge your unnecessary possessions and got diarrhea. That’s now immortalized in her international bestselling self-help book. Congrats! (Don’t worry, it’s just a side effect of cleansing your home of toxins.)

Prepare to be judged about your wardrobe:

The worst thing you can do is to wear a sloppy sweat suit. I occasionally meet people who dress like this all the time, whether waking or sleeping. If sweatpants are your everyday attire, you’ll end up looking like you belong in them, which is not very attractive. What you wear in the house does impact your self-image.“

You know what? I don’t even wear sweatpants, but I am tempted to go buy some just to spite Marie Kondo. Let people wear what they want. Life’s too short to worry about whether some random author thinks your pants are attractive.

And then the heresy. The blasphemy. The worst paragraph I have ever read in any book:

“Books are essentially paper – sheets of paper printed with letters and bound together. Their true purpose is to be read, to convey the information to their readers. There is no meaning in their just being on your shelves.”

But, Marie, what if beautiful bookcases spark joy in my heart?

This woman really has some kind of grudge against books. I mean:

“If you missed your chance to read a particular book, even if it was recommended to you or is one you have been intending to read for years, this is your chance to let it go. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it.”

She has clearly never done a #killingthetbr challenge.

And she’s super into wasting money. Everything about this book is wasteful. But especially this:

“Only by discarding it will you be able to test how passionate you are about that subject. If your feelings don’t change after discarding it, then you’re fine as is. If you want the book so badly after getting rid of it that you’re willing to buy another copy, then buy one – and this time read and study it.”

Or, you could, y’know, not throw away the original? By the way, she also advocates disposing of “tangles of cords” (because it’s too hard to find the one you need in that mess, so you might as well throw them all out and rebuy) and pennies (so they don’t get moldy, and since no one has ever used a penny ever).

You’re also supposed to wipe off your shampoo bottles and store them outside of the shower so they don’t start dripping with serratia (since your shower is that dirty) and hang your sponges to dry on the veranda (because everybody has a veranda, and it’s not like it’s ever winter).

I mean, I guess the book does make some good points. We can all use a little downsizing. This book, unfortunately, isn’t for everybody. And it certainly wasn’t for me.

Book review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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“For as long as I could remember, I had been apologizing for existing, for trying to be who I was, to live the life I was meant to lead.”

I have been trying for about thirty minutes to come up with an adequate summary of this book.  A summary that doesn’t belittle the subject matter or leave out any important details. A summary that doesn’t reveal any spoilers. I’m at a loss, honestly, so here is the official blurb:

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself…including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.

So first things first, I think I need to start with a little disclaimer.  I am a straight cisgender female.  I understand and fully acknowledge that I cannot relate to Amanda’s struggles.  This book was not written for me, and that is completely okay.

Now, onto some rants, which you are fully welcome to skip–

In case you hadn’t realized, the year is 2017 and for some reason, trans people are still an issue.  I work in a medical practice, and we have trans patients. (Not many, but some.) Is this is a big deal? No. Do people make it a big deal? Yes. My boss, in fact, will often strike up a conversation about famous trans people just to get a rise out of me.  She thinks it’s funny when I get angry about this. She doesn’t care one bit about whether the patients overhear.  Small children can understand people wanting to be referred to differently, but this forty-year-old woman can’t.

Personally, I don’t understand this, since someone else’s gender has literally no bearing on my life, but we evidently live in a time in which politicians think it’s a-okay to make laws about who can use what bathroom under the guise of “women’s safety.”  Now, I don’t mean to get all political on this blog (although I kind of do), but I am much more comfortable with the idea of peeing next to a trans woman than I am with the idea of peeing next to somebody who feels like it’s their place to dictate what someone else does with their own genitalia.

Anyway, on to my review.

The main criticism I’ve seen of this book is that it’s too easy. That Amanda never really struggles.  Her mother accepts her immediately. Her father, though a little more reluctant, makes an effort. She’s given easy access to hormones and surgery despite her (seemingly) lower-middle-class upbringing. She’s into stereotypically girly things like makeup and pretty dresses. She easily passes as a woman and not one of her new classmates suspects that she’s trans. Upon walking into a new school, she instantly has two football players hitting on her and four girls clamoring to be her new best friends. The criticism, it seems, is that Russo should have written a more honest book.

I have a lot to say on this matter.

First, imagine Amanda is not trans. Imagine she’s your average female YA protagonist starting at a new school. Would you be all up in arms that two boys thought she’s cute?  Would you think it’s weird that a bunch of girls accepted her into their inner circle?  No, you would think it’s just any other YA book.  So why does this have to be different?

Second, I don’t see why a book featuring a trans character must immediately be heartbreaking. There are enough sad stories on the news. This is not an exposé. It’s not a list of every awful event that has ever happened. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the wrong place.  This is a book that brings awareness to a group that is very rarely shown in literature, especially young adult literature.

I have been thinking and thinking and thinking since I finished this book and I have been unable to come up with any book I’ve ever read that’s featured a trans protagonist. (I should probably put a disclaimer here though that I have read a ton of books in my life, and it’s entirely possible that I have read such a book and just forgotten about it.)

I do recall that Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters features a trans character, but she’s not the protagonist, and also, I read that book 10+ years ago, so I’m not sure if it even counts anymore.  My point here is that it’s really uncommon for a book, especially a young adult book, to feature trans characters, so I think it is wonderful that this book even exists, let alone that Amanda is such an accessible character.

Because even though this book might not be “honest,” all of the characters felt so real. I feel like I could wander into the nearest high school and find these people.  And sure, maybe Grant was a little too good to be true.  (Many YA love interests are.)  Maybe it’s a little unrealistic that Amanda could immediately find a group of four girls willing to take her on shopping sprees and teach her about sports bras and defend her to the death, but I just keep coming back to my point that it’s absolutely irrelevant.  Because this happens in so many young adult novels. It’s not exclusive to this one, and to insinuate that this book can’t use the same tropes as a young adult novel featuring a cis protagonist is ridiculous.

Before I get on to my next point, I just want to give a warning to any readers that might be sensitive to it: Throughout her life, Amanda is subjected to an awful lot of bullying, including being attacked in a bathroom. Prior to her move to Lambertville, she attempts suicide using her mother’s prescription pain medication. I feel like it’s important to mention this not only for people who may want to avoid these triggers in the books they read but also because it explains the undercurrent of anxiety that runs through the book. Amanda’s life in Lambertville might be pretty good, but she’s always prepared for the fallout. She’s always ready for someone to be just around the corner, poised to attack. She knows that peace and quiet never lasts.

I had my expectations about what would happen. I thought maybe Grant would find out and make a scene. Or Parker, Grant’s friend that Amanda rejects at the beginning of the book, would find someone from her hometown to tell the entire school her secret. I try to maintain spoiler-free reviews at all times, so I can’t comment on what finally happens, but it was not what I expected. It was also not unbelievable. Another credit to the author for not taking the easy road, but also not randomly throwing a wrench in the plot.

I almost wanted this book to be longer.  I definitely wished for a more concrete ending. But then I thought about it, and I decided that I’m okay with the book being short and I’m okay with the ending. I think it’s better to hold out hope that everything turned out well for Amanda.  As a rule, I generally despise open endings, but I’m not convinced that a nice tidy ending with a pretty bow would have been any better in this book. So while I might have wanted to see the entire town simply accept Amanda as she is as she and Grant run off to New York together to start a new life together, I’m sure this would have brought even more criticism and even more cries of “impossible” or “unrealistic” or “dishonest.”

I just loved this book so much. I can hardly believe it was a debut, and I am so impressed with the way Meredith Russo was able to touch my heart. I will absolutely keep an eye out for her future work. I hope that she continues to write books like this one.

As a side note, I would ask you to read the author’s note at the end of the book. I often skip over these, but for some reason, I was compelled to read this one. It is so, so important and explains a lot of the criticisms people have had with the book.

Final rating: ★★★★★

#mmdreading: a book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author

Book review: Sula by Toni Morrison

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Being good to somebody is just like being mean to somebody. Risky. You don’t get nothing for it.

It’s the early 20th century in The Bottom, and Nel and Sula are the best friends that have ever lived. They’ve grown up together, sharing all the same experiences, until Sula decides to head off to college while Nel decides to stay in The Bottom and start a family.  The two women reunite later in life, only to suffer a great betrayal due to Sula’s lack of understanding even the most basic of human decency.

I know that – objectively speaking – this book is very well-written.  I know that Morrison has a way with words that many authors can only hope to imitate.  I know that her books are American classics.  (I also know that she used to live a mere 1.2 miles from where I currently live, and that made me want to like her writing even more.)  But this book didn’t make me feel anything aside from mild discomfort.

Sula feels like a book you’d read in a college lit class, followed by an in-depth analysis of the imagery and actions of the characters.  It doesn’t feel like the kind of book you read as you wait to eat a holiday dinner with your boyfriend’s parents.  Unfortunately, that’s the exact context in which I finished this book, and that might contribute to me feeling less than thrilled with it.

While the plot is certainly interesting, the characters (particularly Sula) were so awful that I just didn’t want to read anything more about the horrors in their lives.  A surprising amount of terrible things happen in the 175 pages of this book, some of which I’m sure will stick with me for years to come.

And, as a feminist, I really want to understand Sula.  I really want to know just what she got out of sleeping with nearly every married man in town.  I want to find some point to it other than her being a generally horrible person.  And I can’t.  Because even Sula doesn’t have a good reason for it.  It makes her feel bad, so she does it?

I’ve read a lot of review of this book, both positive and negative, trying to really understand what I was supposed to get out of it.  I’m still not really sure.  So I’ve given it three stars, mostly for the writing, since the plot seems to have gone over my head.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆