Monthly Archives: September 2013

Accelerated

Accelerated
by Bronwen Hruska
Published by Pegasus
288 pages
Genre: literature
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4.5 / 5

I am a public school kid all the way. Public elementary, junior high, high school, college, and graduate school. In-state tuition! Holla!!!

I even teach at a public school. So private school is something of a a foreign entity to me. I hear the stories of elitism, parents who buy their kids out of trouble and into swanky private universities, spoiled brats who aren’t as smart as they think they are. But how much of that is clouded by public school jealousy over private school perks?

This novel doesn’t so much address the discrepancy as it does pry off the lid of what makes private schools successful. For the students in ultra private (and expensive, at over $50,000 a year) Bradley, success comes by way of medication.

Sean somewhat reluctantly sends his third grade son Toby to the school. Not that Sean foots the bill; that joy falls to his wealthy in-laws, who regularly extol the virtues of being a Bradley grad. Sean and Toby live alone in their rent controlled New York apartment, Sean’s wife Ellie having decamped in a fit of depression. When Bradley’s administrators suggest – which is a kind way of putting it – that Toby get evaluated for possible medication to solve a phantom ADD problem, Sean resists. But there is a hint of a threat: if Toby doesn’t get on Ritalin, he might be kicked out of Bradley.

There are several stories going on here, and all of them are interesting and fun to read. There is the medication thread, complete with $350 a session psychiatrists, and there is the maternal abandonment by Ellie. We also have Nicole, Sean’s sister, whose child is ensconced in a New York public school. Nicole is adamant that private schools produce snobs, but would she put her daughter in one if she had the chance? Nicole’s observations and sentiments help balance out the private versus public debate, as do those of Toby’s tutor. There also is a romance brewing between Sean and another character.

You certainly know where Bronwen Hruska comes down on public v. private. She leaves no ambiguity whatsoever regarding her opinion, but by the time you finish the book, you will agree with her. Despite the clarity of her sentiments, she does try to show you both sides of the issue. She addresses the bonuses of private school and the risks of public.

Sean is as likable a character as I’ve encountered in a while. He’s hapless at times, but he’s a good father and a good man. That he delves into self-loathing is understandable, just as we understand his frustration with Bradley and with his ex-wife. We want his romance to work out for him because he’s a decent man trying to do his best for his son.

This is a fun, interesting book. Enjoy.

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(Never) Again

(Never) Again
by Theresa Paolo
Published by Penguin Group
209 pages
Genre: young adult
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5

We’ve all been there. That teenage first love, the one you obsess over during class and race to meet in the halls. The one who makes high school more bearable.

The one who breaks your heart.

The one who finds a way to show up, just as you have put yourself back together.

Liz is just that girl. She’s a freshman in college, and she rejoices over having gotten over the loss of her first love. Zach left her, moving to a different state, and, worse, he stopped calling. Just like that. She has a new boyfriend, a best friend who is on her side, and a family who loves her. Who needs Zach?

Well, she gets the answer to that when he shows up on her college campus.

This is predictable YA lit, but fun predictable. Liz is a fairly faithful rendering of a college freshman who wants to think she has her life together, but who is only fooling herself. We know she’s settling for the current boyfriend, and we know where her heart lies. But Zach crushed her, and surely he can’t expect to show back up as if nothing happened, right?

Zach is more than a one dimensional YA love interest. He has his own struggles, although we never quite come to understand why he behaved as he did. His apparent dumping of Liz is only tacitly explained, and doesn’t make much sense once we get to know him. Still, though, we do understand why he still cares for Liz, and we also understand his frustration.

The overwrought crisis that pulls the two together is almost comically hyperbolic, but by that point, you just want Liz to realize what the rest of us have known for 200 pages: she belongs with Zach, and he’s there, waiting for her.

As an unrepentant lover of YA novels, I did enjoy this one. Yes, it’s predictable, but it’s fun. And Zach is super cute.

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Leaving Haven

Leaving Haven
by Kathleen McCleary
Published by William Morrow
352 pages
Genre: women’s fiction
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
5 / 5

Oh, faithful readers. I really liked this book, and I’m still a bit annoyed that it ended.

The titular Haven in question is a newborn infant whose parentage is somewhat convoluted. His forty-year-old gestational carrier is Georgia, who has a teenage daughter with her chef husband John. Georgia and John always wanted more children, but years of lost pregnancies and failed in vitro procedures left her ready to forsake another attempt. Ready, but not quite willing. When Georgia muses out loud to best friend Alice about getting a donor egg from Georgia’s younger sister, Alice volunteers. She and her husband Duncan have a daughter the same age as Georgia and John’s, and the two women are best friends. Why not donate an egg?

If only it were that simple.

Just a couple of months before giving birth, Georgia discovers catastrophic news that careens her marriage, her friendship, and potentially her pregnancy into an abyss of agony and uncertainty.

Told from the perspectives of both Georgia and Alice, we get to know the two women and their families. We empathize with Georgia’s lost pregnancies and her frustration and grief over not getting pregnant a second time. We hurt with her, just as we both adore and are vexed by her two sisters. We feel her love and passion for her husband, even if he may not be all that he appears. When Georgia suspects him of being unfaithful with a cook at his restaurant, we hold our breath, hoping it isn’t true. Georgia deserves better than a husband who is not fully devoted to her.

Alice, too, has a husband whom we suspect is not as good as she deserves. Duncan is focused on his job, almost to the exclusivity of his family. He is a creature of habit, steady and predictable. After a decade and a half of marriage, we feel Alice’s restlessness, even if she is desperate to create the stability she lacked as a child. Duncan is a good man, but he’s boring. And he lacks passionate interest in his wife. We don’t suspect his fidelity to her, but there are different sorts of fidelity, aren’t there? Is emotional infidelity any better than sexual?

When the breach occurs between Alice and Georgia, Kathleen McCleary expertly steers us down the middle. She does not choose side and she demands that we do not either. Each woman has a reason for her actions, and rather than align ourselves with one over the other, we instead should hope that they reclaim their friendship. Even more than their marriages, their relationship with each other is the true emotional source for this novel. One of my favorite passages is when Georgia acknowledges that the loss of her friendship with Alice hurts more than any failings in her marriage.

At first, though, I thought the ending of the book pointed to McCleary picking a side. But after I thought about it, I realized that she really didn’t. She ended it as it needs to end, even though I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the characters.

There are moments of humor sprinkled throughout, which is excellent planning by McCleary. Things get emotionally fraught, so having those light-hearted episodes grounds us in how real this situation is. Even Georgia’s sisters, who could have been stock characters, are realistically drawn. We understand their jealousies and sympathies.

Is this a perfect book? No. Some of the character motivations do not ring true, and one of the husbands is so mysterious that his behavior is unaccounted for. That made me  question him more, which is not the direction the story should take. Our attention must be focused squarely on Georgia and Alice. One of the subplots, involving Georgia and Alice’s daughters, is meant to parallel their mothers’ relationship, replete with betrayals and emotional pain. The denouement of their relationship makes us wonder if the same will happen between Georgia and Alice.

Read this one, then come back and discuss it with me in the comments. Did you take a side? Whose?

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Filed under sometimes women are their own worst enemies, women's lit

The Accidental Call Girl

The Accidental Call Girl
by Portia Da Costa
Published by Virgin Digital
320 pages
Genre: erotica
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

Say you’re in a hotel bar one night, trying to relax a little and perhaps escape a dull party. An attractive man spots you, buys you a drink, and then invites you up to his room. Before you can assume it’s a generic pick-up, he mentions payment. You realize that he thinks you are an escort. What do you do?

Lizzie decides to toss aside her otherwise fairly staid and predictable life and head upstairs with the delectably gorgeous John Smith. She figures a night of hot headboard rocking sounds pretty darn fabulous, so off they go. John reveals that he occasionally enjoys spicing up his sexy times with a little spanky panky, and Lizzie is amenable. When he suggests hiring her again, she agrees, fully intending to let him in on the truth about her not really being an escort.

For his part, John is drawn to Lizzie. He suspects she is new to the escorting business, but her lack of experience turns him on even more. And when John Smith is turned on, sexy times ensue. These two don’t just rock the headboard, they rock a bathroom stall. Amongst other locales.

Don’t go looking for a lot of substance here. This book is what it is, and that’s hot. HOT, I tell you. John and Lizzie know how to enjoy the carnality out of each other, and Portia Da Costa can write some hot headboard rocking, let me tell you.

This is the first in a series, and if the rest of them are this steamy, consider me sold.

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Filed under erotica, hot headboard rockin'

Cartwheel

Cartwheel
by Jennifer duBois
Published by Random House
384 pages
Genre: fiction, mystery
Thanks to NetGalley and edelweiss for the preview
4.5 / 5

Earlier this year, I read and loved (LOVED, I tell you) Dangerous Girls, which was sort of a mashup between the Amanda Knox and Natalee Holloway stories. Now comes Cartwheel, which so clearly takes inspiration from Amanda Knox’s murder trial that the author wrote a disclaimer at the start of the novel.

After five weeks studying abroad in Argentina, Lily Hayes is quite certain that she and roommate Katy Kellers will never be besties. She’s also certain that her host family hates her. What she isn’t so sure about is how she feels about mysterious neighbor Sebastien Le Comte, whom she’s dating and kind of likes, but whose eccentricities are more than she cares to withstand.

Another thing she knows is that she did not murder Katy Kellers.

Lily’s family is also certain that she is not the murderer, as is Sebastien. The prosecutor, however, is very, very certain that she did.

Told from the perspectives of Lily, her professor father Andrew, her younger sister, Sebastien, and the prosecutor, Jennifer duBois expertly crafts a story that keeps us wondering if Lily might just be the killer. Her behavior is certainly Knoxian; she does a cartwheel shortly after discovering Katy’s body, and she and Sebastien are seen on security footage purchasing condoms. Is that how a bereaved roommate would act? Lily herself is almost preternaturally unlikable. She is selfish, self-centered, flaky, and not nearly as intelligent as she thinks she is. She doesn’t like Katy because the girl has perfect teeth and is “boring.” She pursues Sebastien, albeit not terribly aggressively, but doesn’t really care for him. But she is lost and fragile, and you find yourself reluctantly – VERY reluctantly – hoping she is innocent.

The likability factor of the characters in this book is fairly dim. Andrew wants to believe in his daughter, yet he doesn’t seem to know how to parent her. He spares no times for younger daughter Anna and doesn’t appear terribly guilty over it, and his relationship with his ex-wife is as seamless as he can make it. Anna seeks solace in running, the metaphor for which is plain. She wants to escape her family and her jailbird older sister, about whom her feelings are ambivalent at best. Anna would like to see Lily freed, even if she believes Lily has it in her to kill someone. Prosecutor Eduardo thinks himself an upright, ethical man, yet he relies too heavily on his instincts and too lightly on facts. He wants Lily found guilty, and when another character does not believe her to be so, Eduardo does not care. He thinks Lily did it, so it must be true.

Then there is Sebastien. I think we’re supposed to pity him, an immensely wealthy orphan of two international assassins. (For reals.) But he’s so weird and odd that we can’t empathize with him. He rarely leaves his home, and when he develops feelings for one of the American students next door to him, we feel tremendous discomfort at watching him try to woo her. He does not think Lily is a murderer, and in his own awkward way he tries to help her. But his quirks are too extreme.

The thing is, this book is good. I hated having to put it down, and even if I didn’t like the characters, I didn’t want to stop reading about them. The ending comes in a rush, and that, in fact, is the only complaint I have. I couldn’t figure out why duBois suddenly races through the conclusion after having unfolded her story with steady, sold pacing.

Read it. It’s good storytelling.

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Filed under literature, mystery, really really GOOD literature!

Missing

Missing
by Noelle Adams
Published by Amazon Digital
194 pages
Genre: erotica
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

Sometimes you just want to have sex.

Hot, steamy, satisfying, rock that headboard into next week sex. No strings, no commitments. Just rock the headboard right through the wall.

Such is the case with Lynn and Nathan, two Washington, DC, denizens who meet every three months to scratch their collective itches. It’s great. They enjoy satisfying each others’ needs, and the fact that they enjoy an occasional chat or two makes it all the better.

But sometimes you want more than just sex. So what happens then?

In Lynn and Nathan’s case, what happens is confusing and discombobulating.

Nathan has a daughter in college who ran away, so to say he is preoccupied with that is to minimize his pain and discomfort. He needs his time with Lynn, not just as a sexual release but for a few hours to forget his personal pain. While Lynn’s life is less dramatic, she is just as uncertain and confused as Nathan. She senses she is developing stronger feelings for him than merely sexual, and that thought fills her with fear and dismay.

The sexy times are hot. These two know how to please each other and know what each other want and need. Sometimes several times a night … wink wink. When their need for each other goes beyond once every three months, they need to figure out why. What is it that they truly want from each other?

The subplot with Nathan’s daughter is predictable, but as a vehicle for progressing Nathan and Lynn’s relationship, it works.

I enjoyed this book. If you are in the mood for some steamy headboard rockin’ and likable characters, you will too.

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Filed under erotica, hot headboard rockin'

A Little Too Far

A Little Too Far
by Lisa Desrochers
Published by William Morrow
336 pages
Genre: romance; New Adult
Thanks to edleweiss for the preview
3.5 / 5

Have you ever read a book that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be? Perhaps you’ve read a Hot Romance Novel that attempts to address an issue. Abuse, hubris, societal prejudice. And it does neither very well. Or perhaps you’ve read a book that addresses one of those issues but decides to throw in some slapstick comedy. You’re left trying to figure out what you just read.

That, to some degree, is the problem with this book.

Oh, it’s fun, and the sexy times are very hot. But right when it finds its groove, it veers off into another type of book.

The basic plot entails Lexie Banks, an intelligent and gorgeous college co-ed, jetting off to attend a year of college in Italy within hours of rocking the headboard with her irresistible stepbrother, who also happens to be her best friend and confidante. Lexie struggles with guilt. Well, she struggles to a degree. How can she truly regret the vigorous and glorious session of headboard rocking when she would really like to do it again?

Trying to help her understand her conflicting emotions is priest-in-training Alessandro, every bit as irresistible as Lexie’s stepbrother.

And here is where Lisa Desrochers seems to lose the script she started out with. There are chuckle-out-loud comedic moments involving Lexie making a confession, and then there are the question-your-calling moments with Alessandro. Lexie being the super swell girl she is appears designated as Alessandro’s mother confessor of sorts, and that navel gazing bogs down the story.

The good news is that the storyline with Lexie and her stepbrother is quite well done. We empathize with the two of them and the mess that their emotions cause. They are siblings, but not really siblings. They are best friends and soul mates, yet they also share parents. They love each other, as siblings and lovers. Desrochers presents these complications truthfully and unflinchingly, respecting her characters and asking that we do as well.

Unfortunately, however, there is the secondary storyline. I liked that Alessandro questioned his clerical path; Desrochers unfolded his questioning in a natural, almost organic way. I suppose it is intended as a parallel storyline, with a character second-guessing something he’s always assumed to be true. Much like Lexie questioning the platonic nature of her relationship with her stepbrother, Alessandro questions his with the priesthood. But then we wind up in a sort of comedic no man’s land, with Lexie bumbling through Rome like a Keystone Cop.

Despite the occasional veering away, though, this is a fun book to read. Lexie is annoying and frustrating, but we like her. We want her to figure out her feelings and find peace in her life.

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Filed under New Adult lit, some hot romance and some not so hot romance, sometimes a book doesn't know what it wants to be