Review of “The Seven Sisters” (The Seven Sisters #1) by Lucinda Riley

Riley, Lucinda. The Seven Sisters. New York: Atria Books, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1-5990-6. Hardcover List Price: $24.99. Paperback List Price: $16.99.

4 stars

I adored Lucinda Riley’s first four books, but I didn’t keep up with her once she started the Seven Sisters series. And despite something of a slow start, this one proves to be just as good as her previous work.  Riley does have a sort of “formula” with a double love story: a past one that ends sadly, and a present one connected to and learning from the past. But while her books are somewhat predictable, they are no less heart-wrenching in their portrayal of human emotions.

Maia is a great modern heroine. Even though I haven’t gone through the same experiences, I can relate to her and the journey she goes on. I find it fascinating how her story had parallels with those of the women in her birth family, but also noted where it diverged, in terms of the decisions they made. And despite her arc being told entirely through her perspective, I truly felt that Floriano was a great romantic interest and an ideal match for her.

The historical arc felt a bit lacking, particularly in the romance department. I was fascinated by how Riley situated it within the construction of Christ the Redeemer. But when it came to the romance between Bel and Laurent, I just did not get it. I mean, he’s a nice guy, and I get that artists are romantic. But if she actually left her privileged life to be with him, would she find the lifestyle romantic in the long run?

And at one point she says she is beginning to detest her husband, Gustavo. While at first he seems awful, Riley does make a point of humanizing him, instead of making him an antagonist, so it’s not another Cal Hockley situation. I honestly felt sadder when I heard about what happened to him than what happened to her in the end.

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Review of “Immortal in Death” (In Death #3) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J..D. Immortal in Death. New York: Berkley, 1996. ISBN-13: 978-0-425-15378-9. Print List Price: $7.99.

4 stars

This is hard to rate, because while the plot was hard to get into, and outright confusing at times, I still found the characters and the writing engaging. I enjoyed seeing the characters develop, with Eve and Roarke getting ready for their wedding, and seeing other relationships between major characters grow. Mavis is now one of my favorite characters, and I was glad to have a story where she plays a significant role.

However, I had a hard time investing in the plot, and figuring out the timeline of events. There is a victim killed prior to the events of the book, and most of the book follows the investigation into his murder and the murders of the two subsequent victims. The tie-in with the world of illegal drugs and the quest for eternal youth threw me, as I felt like these substances and their connections to immortality (with one even being called Immortality) weren’t really explained.

 

Review of “Ryan Higa’s How to Write Good” by Ryan Higa

Higa, Ryan. Ryan Higa’s How to Write Good. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-316-46407-9. Print List Price: $19.99.

4 stars

I am a longtime fan of Ryan’s videos, and while at first I was unsure about him jumping on the bandwagon of being another YouTuber who writes a book, I took a chance on it when I saw it displayed in the library. And while it’s not exemplary writing, it is a humorous and relatable read, especially for teens going through the problems he details in his book, like bullying and struggling to find their niche in school and in life.

The book takes the form of a combination between prose telling his life story and interwoven conversations between him and his ghostwriter, told through comic strips. And as the title suggests, the format parodies a writing manual, following the very meta narrative of “a college dropout who struggled in basic-level English classes” as a he tries to write his book.

While some of the content with the text is stuff he’s talked about in a few of his videos, the extent through which he dealt with issues relating to mental health in middle school is much more detailed, and reading about how he overcame the issue, even knowing how he turned out prior to reading the book, will bring hope to others who are going through the same thing.

Review of “So I Married a Sorcerer” (The Embraced #2) by Kerrelyn Sparks

Sparks, Kerrelyn. So I Married a Sorcerer. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-250-10823-4. Print List Price: $7.99.

4.5 stars

Kerrelyn Sparks proved to be a great new discovery of mine with the first book in the Embraced series, How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days. And the second installment proves to be just as good as the first, with (literally) enchanting characters,  great world-building, and a rich plot.

Rupert and Brigitta are both compelling characters, and I like that Sparks takes the time to let develop the relationship between the two, so even though not a lot of time has actually passed, you actually feel connected to the characters and invested in their relationship as things become more intimate between them, and the stakes rise that could keep them apart.

Brody also remains a fun character, and his banter with Nevis at one point has me eagerly awaiting the possibility that either will receive their own book.

While I did like the way Brigitta’s brother Gunther changed by the end, I felt it would have been much better if the story was more focused on him as a the main villain. The reappearance of the villain from the end of the first book, while tying the series together, was too predictable this time around, and I hope he does not pop up at the last moment of every book in the series.

Review of “Glory in Death” (In Death #2) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Glory in Death. New York: Berkley, 1995. ISBN-13: 978-0-425-15098-6. Print List Price: $7.99

5 stars

Glory in Death is a great second installment in the “In Death” series. While following a similar basic “formula” to the first, this one still has a number of twists and turns, as well as a great use of misdirection, which makes this another wonderfully suspenseful read.

And while the first book focused on the common trope of political families with skeletons in their closet, this one is more multifaceted, focusing first on the relations between a rich family with spoiled children whose actions make them potential suspects, and then on misogyny, as the victims (or intended victims) are all women in positions of power. I love how Robb is able to weave all these together into a cohesive story that actually gives you a feeling of what it is like during a complicated police investigation.

Both Eve and Roarke are developed a bit more this time around, and, it’s compelling to see how out of her depth she is when trying to understand the actions of the Angelini family at times, due to her own difficult childhood. I also like how we see Eve struggle with committing to a future with Roarke, and even struggling to say she loves him, which presents parallels with the lifestyle of one of the victims in the case. And I love that Roarke, despite his own difficult past, is the one who is more open about his affection. And the ending? It may not be conventional, but it is definitely a memorable romantic moment.

Why We Need Diversity in Romance (and Books in General)

While I make it a policy to keep my interactions with the literary community as non-political as possible, since romance does not shy away from tough topics, I am making an exception here, but I promise to keep it as nonpartisan as I can.

Romance bookstore The Ripped Bodice posted their report on “The State of Racial Diversity in 2016. And while it is nice to see the genre making strides toward inclusion, I still found the data worrying. Only two publishers came close to have 20% of their books written by an author of color: Kensington at 19.8 and Forever/Forever Yours at 17.5%. Crimson Romance features 12.2%, but all other publishers publish less than 10% of books by authors of color.

There is an argument that it’s all about the publisher’s expectations of the manuscript. Romance, despite being varied, does  see enduring trends (e.g. Regency dukes) or new trends that rise in popularity, which will dictate what publishing houses are looking for. One member of OSRBC, responding to a post about the Ripped Bodice’s data started off by pointing out that they don’t ask the color of your skin when you submit the manuscript.

Fair enough, especially as so many aspiring authors query agents and publishers online. But she demonstrated a lack of understanding of why we need diverse books, which shows her white privilege. I shared with her a video of a talk that the writer Chimamanda Adichie did, and she was perplexed when I explained that Adichie could not identify with what she was reading in books by white people about white people, deflecting by comparing to her own experience, and then suggesting that we prove that some races are aliens, because they can’t identify with everything. In her attempt to prove that somehow focusing on the lack of books by authors of color was racist, she made herself look like one.

As I began to think about this concept of not identifying a bit more, however, I began to realize I may have conveyed the idea of Adichie’s talk in an inaccurate way. Yes, it’s true there are things she could not identify with. But they are just as much geographical as they are racial, if not more so. When I read books set in England, taking for granted what the weather might be like during the season (when it is mentioned). I live in Hawaii, and have never traveled anywhere except within the state, and to California and Las Vegas (Side note: Prayers to all affected by the recent shooting). As a result, I know nothing about extremely cold winters and snowstorms, or even the obvious signs of seasonal change. I can read about it, and look at photos or videos, but I don’t get to experience it firsthand.

And this is just one of several reasons why I support diverse books. They can allow you to go anywhere without monetary cost, and the experience of being able to read about people like yourself, or recommend those books to others to broaden their horizons, is a truly rewarding experience.

Review of “The Wrath & the Dawn” (The Wrath & the Dawn #1) by Renee Ahdieh

-Ahdieh, Renee. The Wrath & the Dawn. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-0-399-1761-1. Hardcover List Price: $17.99. Paperback List Price: $10.99.

4.5 stars

This is a wonderful book. While it’s advertised as retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, you will also find just as much political intrigue as an episode of Game of Thrones, and a hint of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Shahrzad is a great heroine. I love how Ahdieh added some new touches to the frame story, giving the characters of Shahrzad and the king deeper motivations and backstories. While I did not know how it was possible to humanize someone who murders his wives the morning after the wedding, Khalid is written in a way where you can root for him, especially when you read his letter to Shahrzad at the end. Needless to say, I am anxious to read the sequel. Among other things, I want to find out how the alliance between Reza and the Sultan of Parthia turns out in the next book, and how it will impact Tariq’s friendship with Shahrzad.

While this story is almost flawless, it is somewhat tiring to see countless books (particularly within YA) which fall back on a love triangle to create drama. I found Tariq very annoying at times, especially when he and the others are so determined to rescue her, when she clearly doesn’t need it. While this one can almost make it work, as the view of women as possessions is something that is accurate to the culture and time period Ahdieh is evoking, the YA love triangle is one I wish would go away.

Review of “The Collector of Dying Breaths” (Reincarnationist #6) by M.J. Rose

Rose, M.J. The Collector of Dying Breaths. New York: Atria Books, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-1-4516-2153-2. Hardcover List Price: $25.00. Paperback List Price: $16.00.

5 stars

This was a book I picked up by chance, not realizing it was part of a series, and despite my typical fanatical need to read in order, I dove in. And it ended up being amazing, with just enough information about the backstories of the characters (some of whom appear in previous installments, based on the synopses) that the reader doesn’t get lost, and is able to focus on what’s going on in the present story.

This is a book that combines all the elements I love into one book: rich historical detail, paranormal elements, lost and rekindled love, and of course, suspense. And these elements come together to form a narrative with a powerful message regarding death and immortality.

Of the two narratives within the story, I found myself more absorbed into the historical one following Rene le Florentin and his work in Catherine ‘de Medici’s court. I had heard rumors about her practice of witchcraft and that she was a formidable woman, and while that is a facet of her character, I like that Rose does not villainize her, but chooses to write from the perspective of someone who was one of her closest confidantes for years.

The modern narrative was not lacking, however. I like how the arcs fit so seamlessly together, with both arcs beginning and ending with death, as a way to present the over-arching message of the story.

 

 

Should Critics Critique Enthusiastically?: An Update on the New York Times Books Fiasco + Related Real Life Stuff

Today another piece posted by the New York Times made waves, this time by their  Books editorial director Radhika Jones, who had previously issued a weak response on Facebook. But in this follow-up post, she begins by poorly defending their choice of Robert Gottlieb as a writer for their piece on romance, stating that he is “an accomplished critic who has written on dance, music, biography and a wide range of fiction and nonfiction; and also a voracious reader of contemporary romance.” And while he definitely shows some knowledge of what’s out there in the genre, being a “voracious reader” of a genre doesn’t mean he appreciates it.

But while Jones does feature some comments from romance readers, she quickly proves that she does not appreciate these readers. She states, further on: “Our goal is not simply to recommend books or enthuse about them…Our goal is to assess and critique the books on offer. Mr. Gottlieb’s assessments include drawing positive attention to the “robust sex and amusing plotting” in one writer’s novel and noting another’s “preposterous” story line (though he adds that the preposterousness is what allows for the fun).”

But this idea that critique and enthusiasm should never meet is preposterous, and results in alienating your audience. I consider myself a critical thinking person, and I don’t shy away from critiquing bits of the romance novels I find problematic, or just lacking, while still enjoying them. If I can’t find a connection to a text, the reading experience feels soulless and uninvigorating.

By coincidence, I met with my professor for a literary theory course I’m taking, as it’s a requirement for my thesis, to discuss an upcoming project. The topic being “Resistance,” I thought I might find a way to pitch something romance-related. But just as I was explaining that I had no connection to anything in the course that we’ve read, he shut me down by saying that “you don’t have to like something to write about it.” As the conversation concluded, I thought to myself something along the lines of, “But surely Derrida or Freud or Marx were passionate about what they wrote about?”

Review of “From Duke Till Dawn” (The London Underground #1) by Eva Leigh

Leigh, Eva. From Duke Till Dawn. New York: Avon Books, 2017. 978-0-06-249941-7. Print List Price: $7.99.

2.5 stars

Having enjoyed Eva Leigh’s previous series, the Wicked Quills, I was curious as to what she would write next. But while the premise is interesting, I found the execution lacking.

The past romance between Alex and Cassandra is built on one night spent together. I’m not sure if I’m inexperienced in love, or it’s their past is poorly written, but there are no details as to what made that night so special, or what drew them to each other.

The characters as individuals are interesting, and in a different book, with a slightly different premise, I might have liked them more. I like that Alex isn’t overly angsty, and has an appreciation for what he has, and over the course of the book, we see him exposed to the realities of the world for those less fortunate, especially women. And through Cassandra, we see someone who has grown up with real hardship, but it doesn’t affect her hoping for the possibility of a better life for herself.