Wednesday, September 21, 2016

For Real by Alexis Hall

For Real  Laurence Dalziel, Laurie to his friends and D to his casual BDSM hookups, is 37, six years out of last relationship, and emotionally stuck. His life is outwardly successful: he's a doctor with a nice house, but something is missing. He doesn't expect that something to be a 19-year-old. When Toby and Laurie meet there is immediate chemistry. Laurie takes Toby home expecting nothing more than a one-night stand. Toby wants more.

This is one of the best romances I've read in a while. It goes beyond the surface of two people meeting and delves into the depths of two people figuring out how to make a relationship work amidst the chaos of real life. Toby wants a real relationship while Laurie is skeptical of how a 19-year-old could possibly know what he wants. Laurie thought he had found the love of his life before and isn't sure he can go through losing that again. Toby is still figuring out what he wants to do with his life. He wants to be Laurie's equal but isn't sure what Laure will think or say when he realizes Toby works in a cafeteria and doesn't have much more than that going on in his life. Laurie worries about taking advantage of someone so young. Toby bristles at the idea that he needs that kind of protection; he knows what he wants and is willing to go after it. The two men come together quickly but it takes some time to work out if they want to stay together, and if so, what that is going to look like. It all adds up to a steamy, heartfelt romance.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

First Frost (Waverley Family, #2)  On one of the literary podcasts I used to listen to the host always asked his guests whether there were any authors whose new books the guests bought as soon as the books were published without so much as a thought about the contents of the book. Sarah Addison Allen is one of those authors for me. Ever since reading her first book, Garden Spells I've been a fan. Any new book of hers is automatically added to my unread pile (or as the masses say, TBR list). This week I read First Frost and was once again transported to one of the small North Carolina towns in which Addison's books take place.

First Frost is a sequel to Garden Spells. Ten years have passed. Claire runs a successful candy business and is slowly drowning unhappily in work. Sydney is desperate for a baby boy. Claire's daughter Mariah has a mysterious new friend. Sydney's daughter Bay has a crush on boy. All of the Waverly women have a bit of magic. Claire's concoctions never fail to make people something, be it love, lust, or the need to tell the truth. Sydney's hairstyling can truly make or break a person's day. Bay always knows where a thing or person should be. Sometimes the Waverly gifts have a way of getting the Waverly women into trouble, but the gifts also lead them out.

The plot of First Frost is simple and to be honest, not the most compelling aspect of the novel. What's stands out are the characters. That, and the mood. Allen doesn't just tell a story, she creates a mood, an atmosphere, a reality. Her characters come alive, I feel like I could know them. I wish I could live in one of Allen's novels for a week eating fig and pepper bread and sitting under the Waverly apple tree, provided it allowed me to sit there and didn't throw apples at me.

This is what I could call "un-put-downable." I grabbed a late breakfast after my morning workout and read this book while waiting for my meal. I ended up spending an extra hour at the diner because I was so caught up in the story. Before I knew it, it was over. I hope Sarah Addison Allen writes another book soon.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti (Binti, #1)  Winner of the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novella, Binti is the story of a woman who leaves her family and her homeland to attend the prestigious Oomza University. She is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a position at the university. With an insatiable curiosity and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and learning, she can't say no to the offer although that is what her family would have her do. Himba people don't ordinarily leave their homeland. Binti boards the ship bound for the university anyway. Along the way the ship is attacked and Binti finds herself in the middle of a conflict between the Meduse and the university.

In Binti author Nnedi Okorafor may be telling many stories and one of them is clearly about race and outsiderness. At the transportation hub where Binti goes to catch her shuttle (spaceship?) women come up to her and start grabbing her hair without asking. They comment about and insult her appearance and customs in front of her as if she were an inanimate object. This is just one example of the indignities Binti endures as she travels to the university. She is made to feel unwelcome and different at every turn. Once upon the ship with her fellow classmates things improve. She is intelligent and curious and fits in well. Then disaster strikes.

I liked this a lot. This is third short piece of writing I've read in the past two weeks. As with Folding Beijing and We the Animals, I liked this but ultimately was left unfulfilled and wanting more. Maybe short fiction just isn't my thing. Then again, maybe wanting more is a good sign. I am honestly not sure.

We the Animals by Justin Torres

We the Animals  We the Animals centers around three half-Puerto Rican, half-white brothers growing up in upstate New York. They are the Three Musketeers, the Three Bears, the Three Stooges, Frankenstein, the bride of Frankenstein and the baby of Frankenstein. Narrated by the youngest brother, they are always three, always a "we." They grow up in poverty with parents who work long hours in an effort to put food on the table, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. Together they watch their parents fight and love, in both cases violently and passionately. They struggle to make sense of what they witness. What is obvious to the reader - the violence of the father in particular, is not at all obvious to the three brothers. As the three brothers grow older "we" shifts to "I." His good grades and sexuality begin to set the youngest brother apart, with painful consequences. 

The word that kept popping up in my mind as I read We the Animals was lyrical. The writing was so alive. It felt like someone was speaking directly to me, telling me his story with the eloquence of a poet. I recently read this great post on Book Riot about what one sees when one reads. The author of the post has a condition which prevents him from seeing images as he reads. When he reads all he sees are words on a page. I do see, or rather imagine, as I read. With Torres's writing I could see everything. I saw the boys smashing tomatoes. I saw them hiding in the bathtub. I saw them staring at her mother when she asked them what they should do - return home or runaway. Every scene Torres wrote painted a picture.

My only complaint, and really it is less of a complaint and more of a question, was the ending. It confused me. I don't want to say what the ending is lest someone hasn't read the book yet, but to me it came out of nowhere. There were steps missing. It either seemed like it didn't fit, or that it should be a transition to another story about the narrator as a grownup or teenager. The story can't simply be over.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Darkest Passion by Gena Showalter

Title: The Darkest Passion, Author: Gena Showalter The Darkest Passion continues Gena Showalter's Lords of the Underworld series about a group of immortal warriors, each of whom holds a demon inside of him or her. If the lord is killed his or her demon would be released into the world. And so, the lords must protect themselves not only because they want to live but to prevent their demons from wreaking havoc in the world. The hunters don't see it that way. They blame the lords for everything bad that is happened and believe killing the lords will fix all the problems of the world.

Every book in this series has at least two main plot lines: (1) the particular lonely lord at the center of the book who will soon be lonely no more and (2) and the ongoing battle between the loads and the hunters. In The Darkest Passion Aeron, the keeper of wrath, is the lucky lord who finds love.

Early in the book Aeron and fellow lord Paris (keeper of promiscuity) are debating the merits of relationships. Paris whose demon forces him to bed a different woman (and the occasional man) every night or lose his strength, longs for a relationship. One woman in particular has caught his eye but that's a story for a different book. Aeron doesn't see the point of relationships. They are immortal after all, and a relationship with a human woman means watching her get older and eventually die as he continues to exist. It also means worrying about someone and given the lifestyle of the lords, namely that they continually find themselves in bloody battles with the hunters, having someone else to worry about holds no appeal for him. No Aeron, is content with his brothers and Legion, the little demon he loves like a daughter. Enter Olivia, the fallen Angel.

Olivia's first job as an angel was to bring joy to people who needed it. Then she got promoted to warrior status and was given the task of killing Aeron. She follows him, or rather stalks him, and simply cannot bring herself to kill the heavily tattooed warrior. So she gives up her wings for the chance to be with Aeron. Unfortunately, Aeron is not at all interested in her and Legion can't stand her. Guess how long that lasts.

These books are always fun. The men are always resistant, the women very insistent and at the end there's a love match. Olivia is naive and pure love. She's eager to dive into Aeron's arms and his bed. Everything is new to her. As an angel her life was perfection. She knew neither the joy nor the agony of longing for something or someone for she had all she needed to be content. Something about Aeron changed that. Aeron doesn't quite know what to make of her. He literally has a demon inside him and has done terrible things, that an angel would want him so ardently makes no sense to him. Complicating everything is Legion. Aeron always thought of her as a little girl but she doesn't think of herself that way. The guy who wanted no attachments suddenly has two women to deal with.

I liked this but admit I didn't fully buy in to Olivia and Aeron's relationship. He's wrath - a demon who revels in punishing people for their sins. She is an angel. I get how all the lords are secretly super lovable despite their demons but I wish there was little more about what attracted Olivia to Aeron in the first place. That would have made the love story come alive for me.

The side characters helped redeem the not entirely satisfying romance plot. William always makes me laugh. I'm not sure if there will be a book about him since technically he is not one of the lords but I would love to get his story. Gideon, keeper of lies, and the wife he can't remember - can't wait to read that story.