Thursday, January 30, 2020

JUST JULIET by Charlotte Reagan


Rating: A rainbow jumper that doesn't quite fit me

Summary:  A highschooler realizes she's bisexual when she meets and is dazzled by the new girl in school.

Would you read more by this author? Possibly, but I'm not rushing to.


This book has been recommended to me a lot, so I was rather disappointed that I failed to love it. It covers the entirety of Len's senior year and just never seemed to develop much urgency in my opinion. The only things keeping the girls apart at the start was that Len needed to break up with the guy it was obvious she was going to break up with and she didn't realize she liked girls, but it was quickly clear she liked Juliet and while she spent a while being preoccupied about identifying her sexuality, she never seemed to have much issue with it. She didn't realize she was bisexual, but wasn't upset to learn she was.

This book felt like a retelling of a year of someone's life more than it really felt like a novel. Things happened, but it's hard to really call them a plot. So, basically, the book was just really character driven and light on things to fight against or overcome or achieve. Some people really like that type of romance and wouldn't have spent half the book going, "That's nice, but why am I reading this?" I'm just not one of them.

And the ending? I was solidly "meh" over it.

Len and Juliet were likable enough, I guess. I say "I guess" because I never really accepted Len's sense of humor. She and her friends are constantly attacking each other, calling each other nasty names, and being generally mean. They proudly self-describe as bitches, and it just really didn't work for me. It went beyond teasing and well past the point that they seemed really toxic and like people I'd be alarmed to learn my kid was hanging out with.

The two characters I really did like were Juliet's cousin and his boyfriend. There's a companion novel about them that I actually am tempted to pick up as it sounds like they had a lot more drama to overcome in their early relationship. But, well, I'm not sure the cousin was really very likable when not seen being cute with his boyfriend, so I hesitate.

Overall, I don't exactly regret spending the time to read this book. I did manage to finish it. But if it served any purpose for me, it was to prove that I'm right in wanting to revise a stronger plot for my work-in-progress.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

6% The fact that London's plays aren't on Broadway brings Juliet's narrative into question. I'm assuming her mother isn't actually dead.

9% I wonder why Juliet is going to the new school...

12% Scott and Lakyn really are too adorable.

13% Yes! No one takes an intolerance seriously! That's exactly why I tell people in allergic to bell peppers.

37% Well, that coming out was odd. I can't figure out if I love the playful bitchiness this friends group has or hate it.

39% Apparently Juliet's mom really is dead. Go figure.

44% Ok, that was adorable. I'm not sure how the tension for the rest of the book will go. Will there be an argumentduring the date? Or will it just be trying to figure out how to come out to everyone? Lacey already knows, but the other friends and parents don't.

45% Hmm... Does Mom suspect something?

56% I'm not sure why she's so scared to tell her parents. They seem to know already. And if they had a problem with it, they'd have pressed the subject rather than waiting patiently for her to feel comfortable enough to come out.

71% I clearly was wrong to expect better of her parents. They didn't throw a fit, but they seem overly concerned.

80% I'm increasingly uncomfortable with all this "playful" hate speech the characters direct at each other.

84% This vacation is cute, but I'm not sure what the point of all this is.

92% Juliet is going to London. Bet she'll be really confused when she asks for directions to Broadway.

94% And now they're breaking up to go to different schools. Why did people tell me to read this thing?

95% At least Len's living with Lakyn and Scott.

100% Hooked up again at the boys' wedding. And hopefully are now over the "me first!" attitude that split them up.

THE END
Overall, just not my type of book I think. No conflict. No excitement. And then they decided their relationship wasn't as important as doing whatever they hell they wanted without regards to the other party, getting back together only when it was convenient for them.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The BEDEVILED Series by Shani Petroff


Rating: A  jewel-encrusted pitchfork in sparkling pink hues

Summary: The daughter of the devil fights against the evil world that is middle school.

Would you read more in this series? I would, but as the last one came out in 2010, I don't anticipate there being any more.

I read this series in one big burst and decided to just do one big review of all of them because I'd be saying largely the same things about them all. Each book has a very similar plot: Angel uses the powers she inherited from her dad, Lou (AKA Lucifer) to try to help herself or her friends, things get messed up by the powers either being too literal or not literal enough, Angel runs around trying to fix the situation, and things eventually work out somehow. The repetitive nature didn't really hurt my enjoyment of the stories though. It reminded me a lot of the Melissa Joan Hart version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which I adored despite being an adult before it debuted.

The series is solidly Middle Grade and stars a cast of eighth graders led by Angel, who learns on her thirteenth birthday that her mother wasn't being hyperbolic when she described her dad as the devil. (He had agreed to stay out of Angel's life until she was an adult, then said thirteen counted because several religions say so and because US states frequently try thirteen-year-olds as adults in court. In fact, they're in Pennsylvania, a state which has tried at least one twelve-year-old as an adult, so he could have played this card a year earlier.) By the end of the first book, she has realized she inherited his supernatural powers and is causing chaos with them.

Angel is a vibrant character. Although she sometimes makes shallow and rash choices, it is very easy to excuse them with the explanation that she's thirteen. Her best friend is very similar. When the third book saw her getting all of her wishes granted, she delved into a more selfish place than I expected her to, but I think maybe one of the wishes changed her attitude toward life.

Angel has a love interest who she feels she must hide her powers from. I never figured out why she felt she couldn't tell him. (Again, I was reminded of Sabrina, who did eventually tell Harvey what was going on, but took her time about it.) He was a nice kid, popular but not a jerk. I got a little tired of hearing about how cute he was, but it's hard to fault a tween narrator from getting wrapped up in her crush's cuteness.

The mean girls who pick on Angel are incredibly shallow. I kept expecting to see a hint of more from them and never did. I like to think that if the stories continued into high school, they'd eventually grow into better people. Or at least more complex ones.

The character with the most change over the series is a guy called DL. We never learn what DL stands for, although I have a theory. (His last name is Helper, so my guess is Devil's Little Helper.) He is the boyfriend of the chief mean girl and comes in acting truly awful. But he shows moments of genuine concern and at several times seems to be more aware of what Angel is than he should be. By the end of book four, he seems to be sick of his girlfriend and possibly moving on to Angel's bestie. I found him really intriguing because I never could figure out what he deal was.

Overall, I found the books on the simple side, but was okay with that since this is Middle Grade literature with a young narrator who hasn't learned to see the world in shades of grey yet.

I would be very interested in picking up this story a few years later, maybe looking at Angel's senior year of high school. I'd also actually be interested in seeing Angel's parents star in a romance. At the end of things, they clearly still care about each other and I think it would be fun to see a single mom learning to trust her daughter's father again even though he's literally the devil.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes


26% I didn't take notes in the first quarter because my phone was dead and the power was out. It went by quickly. I was a little surprised that Angel is only 13 and in middle school since one of the later books mentions prom in the title. Maybe she ages. Or maybe it's a middle school prom?  (Correction: it's and UGLY dress rather than a prom dress. And is for a middle school formal.)

So far, Angel is alright but I'm liking Lou. The devil usually is a show stealer. :)

Also, Angel is crushing on Cole, but I predict Max will be her object of affection by the end of the series.

27% Angel LIKED having the entire stadium sing her Happy Birthday? I would have died of embarrassment. Also, did these girls sell their souls to be rock stars or something?

29% I'd say begging on his knees for his daughter to talk to him is overly dramatic, but Lucifer is typically over-the-top with the drama.

40% Lucifer's face on a volley ball is straight up weird.

60% Yeah, Cole is possibly really shallow. Although it's also possible that he didn't know what else to talk about so stuck to something they have in common.

64% At least she made the right choice when pressed.

65% Why is she believing Lou quit? He told her mom the same thing and was lying then. ... She figured it out it quickly. Ok.

77% The meanness has really escalated.

86% Yeah, you really should listened to your dad, you silly middle schooler.



THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY DRESS

40% I don't seem to be taking notes on this book... Not sure why.  Anyway... I don't know what's up with Cole. But if he doesn't like Angel anymore, it's because of her powers. The bit where they respond to thoughts and fears as well as voices desires is harsh. I would argue she should be homeschooled while she figures them out.

41% Damn, DL is Super Douchebag, ain't he? On the plus side, he'll probably do something awful to Courtney eventually.

42% Mom's cleansing ritual involves vanilla, lavender, and mint, but no sage? No wonder the devil just pops up at will.

57% The dance is two weeks away and being advertised already. I feel it should already have a theme.

80% The adults at this school really seem to enable bullying.

90% Not sure why Cole suddenly has a problem with Jayden being mean to people, but whatevs.

THE END Well, that was abrupt.



BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

1% Picking up from the last book like that was a scene break and not a jump between novels... The last ending really did just cut off.

7% He said he'd stop messing with innocent souls. Why assume this guy's innocent? ... And the claim it was a joke is actually plausible since "Meant to put him in the major leagues and now he's a ballet dancer/Senator who's trying to outlaw the name Susan" seems like a level of screw up that wouldn't actually happen.

11% Ok, so the cock up really did happen. I don't think Gremory is a good successor...

18% I like the spine Angel is growing.

20% I'm not sure being popular is Max's wish...

35% I'm fairly confident that when Angel said Gabi would get a boyfriend too, her powers decided to give them the same boyfriend...

61% I'd been figuring the band sold their souls.  Being demons works at least as well though.

68% I'm not exactly sure why Gabi has gone so evil. I'm guessing maybe the wishing she was a star altered her personality.

75% Yeah, the big boobs wish wasn't well thought out.

82% I'm increasing curious as to who/what DL actually is. This isn't the first scene he's seemed to know way too much in. And maybe he just embraced meanness because it went with his camp persona, the one he named Courtney with. (Could his ID be related to his weird name? DL Helper... Devil's Little Helper? I mean, what kind of name is DL?)

95% I'm was willing to grant that maybe ten years ago kids still knew who Barney was, but recognizing the "You've got mail!" chime from AOL? That seems like a stretch.

96% I'm not really surprised Lou knew what was going on the whole time. He'd be a pretty crappy devil if he didn't, really.


LOVE STRUCK

10% I'm tempted to have a panic attack imagining being in this crowd.

17% Hmm... I wonder who Lance's manager is. Clearly someone who recognizes Angel and has powers herself.

18% Oh, dear. Angel is madly in love with herself. And not in a healthy way. You'd think she'd learn to stop doing this stuff.

19% Oh, dear. EVERYONE is in love with Angel. Everyone who was behind her, I'm guessing. Because I don't think Lance is.

24% Lance's mom is a guardian angel. Cool.

36% Teen parents. Ha.

37% If I were in this situation, I'd go find that guardian angel who's hanging around. But Angel has shown a lot of reluctance to get help.

38% I guess Lou only cured Angel, not everyone hit with the spell. Oops.

38% Point of fact: I never minded seeing my parents kiss. I really don't understand why anyone is bothered by that.

49% What's gross about mice? Mice are cute.

51% wow, Harmony is a crap angel, isn't she? Not a very good mother either. I mean, she's just leaving her son as a mouse? ... Ok, she helped. Good 

61% And now Harmony helped fix the problem she helped make. And isn't fixing the rest, but seems to think it'll work out okay.

95% Gabi and DL, huh? Yeah, I'd love to see Courtney react to that.

98% I'm not going to lie, I'd love to see this universe revisited from Maggie's POV. Can she trust the man she used to love, who clearly adores their daughter and still loves her, even though he's the the devil?

THE END
That ending certainly seemed more solid than the earlier ones. I'd be interested in continuing to learn about Angel's life. Maybe flashforward to her senior year of high school or something? She has more control over her powers, but something big happens? Her dad goes missing and she has to take over Hell. Or her baby brother is kidnapped by people who think he's the Antichrist and are trying to start Armageddon, and they transfer all of Lou's powers to the toddler so that Angel has to save both her brother and the world without her dad's help.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

THE BEHOLDER by Anna Bright

Rating: An epic score played by a world class symphony on the deck of a tall ship.

Highlight of note: A well imagined alt-Earth setting and a swashbuckling crew of sailors.

Will you read more in this series? Absolutely!

Selah is the heir to the nation of Potomac. In her world, England gave up its unprofitable North American colonies when rebels on the other side of the world forced the Empire into a war. I spent a while puzzling as to what went differently in her world and ours. Obviously, the colonies that became the US failed to rebel, or to join together after being released from English rule. There are some things I pegged as different, but overall I think the theme that small things can make big changes is the relevant thing to cite. (I never figured out why England is still England. All the other nations mentioned have alternate names in this world. That didn't dampen my enjoyment of the novel though.)

Despite her deep worry about her father's health, teenaged Selah is sent on a European tour for her after the marriage proposal she offers her local friend is refused. (Europe is still called Europe. I'm not sure why.) During this tour, Selah is tasked with finding a husband to return with. She is to go to at least four places, and this book only covers the first two. The tales at the two stops covered are a bit more like two novellas than two halves of one novel. When the open ending of the book is taken into account, I get the impression that the first (only? Is this a trilogy or a duology?) two books in this series are more accurately described as a series of four novellas. Selah and the crew of The Beholder stay the same, but each court visited comes with a new cast and plot.

I liked Selah quite a bit. She grows over the course of the book and really learns a lot, although she still has a way to mature. The love interests are all interesting as well and the crew of the ship are a lot of fun to read about.

The ending of the book is very much not an ending but a stoppage of narration. Sailing from Norge really didn't feel any more concrete than sailing from England, which happened halfway through the book. There is a solid call to action for the next installment, though, and I'm eager to get started on it.

I entered the book thinking it was a romance. I does have several strong romantic arcs, but by the end of the book, it's the political intrigue that drives my desire to see what will happen next.


Overall, I loved this book much more than I expected to. (I had actually forgotten why it was in my queue and considered not reading it so that I can focus on getting the most of the three months of Kindle Unlimited I purchased on the cheap in December.) What exactly I love so much about it is hard to pinpoint, but it had me enchanted by the time the ship landed in England. My library still lists the second installment as unpurchased, but I've requested it and will probably be right at the start of the line for it when they hopefully buy it.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

2% She calls her stepmother her "smother" I love it.

3% I love that they are deviated with wreaths for Arbor Day. I frequently feel we should do more for Arbor Day.

7% So apparently in this world, India flight back harder against the British, which cost England enough money that they abandoned Potomac as unprofitable. Clearly not the only difference in our worlds though as they abandoned Potomac rather than Maryland or Virginia... Also, the Raj was established in the mid 1800s and Potomac seems more like it came of Maryland in the 1600s, so the timeline may have been reversed? England occupied India prior to America?  Except that would have likely resulted in someone else conquerimg the Mid-Atlantic area... This says all of the empires of Europe turned inward when England went broke, but I can't imagine why that would be. So there are several differences in our worlds, but I'm not sure what they all are.

7% Hold on. There are no slaves. Without slavery most of the states south of PA wouldn't have been profitable colonies. So maybe the slaves were freed without a civil war, but maybe they were never there. Which would make the world a better place, for sure, but would also explain why the imperialism didn't work as well in our world and would mean their European North America is little like ours.

7% Where the heck is Totunkheym? Egypt? ... Tsarytsya. Russia then?

7% I wonder why England is called England and Europe is called Europe but nowhere else has the same name as it does I'm our world... ... Except New York, apparently.

8% Maybe it's the word "protocol" being in his description, but Sir Perrault reminds me of C3PO. I assume he is not the Love Interest. And the navigator is too old even if Selah does trust him on sight. I'm guessing Captain Lang is the Love Interest via process of elimination and based on an assumption that he'll be someone who is around the entire book rather than a guy she meets on stop number five of this European tour. So unless Peter comes with them, it would seem like the captain is the guy.

9% Hmm... Godmother send to the the stepmother influenced Peter to reject the proposal. That would make sense. I was wondering why he would do that and was wandering between he loves another and/or he's gay, but he was bribed or threatened would also work.

13% Captain Lang is clearly a good guy who didn't understand what he was being hired for. He is a suitable Love Interest. And one assumes someone who is a Captain at such a young age in a world like that one is a suitable match for her if Peter was good enough. Of course, this assumes he is a Captain and not secretly the last prince on the tour. After all, I noticed that he said he'd never sailed across the Atlantic, not that he'd never been to Europe.

15% These suitors sound like the sort of people who wouldn't leave their homelands... Which I would guess is part of the point.

16% And the Captain has Selah's lost shoe. I'm case the Cinderella vibe hadn't taken yet.

23% Ah. And Selah has figured out that none of these suitors would take her home to Potomac.

24% I too wonder what Anansi (friend of Homer... What's with these names?) didn't say about the state of things in England. I guess we'll find out soon. I wonder if it's related to why there's no picture or age listed for their prince in the portfolio.

25% He knows how to read a map. :: Swoon ::

27% Lang is very confident he'll manage to get her home. There hasn't been much support for the theory that he's secretly one of these suitors (either one without a picture or one who has been lied about) although I haven't seen much to counter it either. He's never said where he's from, never mentioned his family, never implied how much money he has. And he's obviously the Prince Charming to her Cinderella, so why not be a literal prince?

31% I'm not sold on Bear just being a guard. Could he be Prince Bertilak's son? He seems to have lost his mother and apparently Bertilak is a widower. And Bertilak II would lend itself to the nickname Bear ... Lang could be his brother, although they'd probably look enough for that to be mentioned unless they're only half-brothers... It occurs to me that the reason Lang isn't on this field trip could well be that he didn't trust he wouldn't be outted. If the court is in on it, he could be seen there, but they couldn't tell the whole country.

37% ok, so Selah is starting to crush on Bear. Who i continue to think is not just a guard. I wonder what Lang is up to.

41% Yes, a mere guard scooping the crown prince's intended would be treasonous. So either Bear is an idiot or more than a guard.

42% An oddly familiar look between Bertilak and Bear. Yeah, totes family.

44% Wait... Igraine isn't Bertilak's sister. She's his wife, isn't she?

50% So Lang is with the mysterious cowslip people and has presumedly been off doing cowslip things. They seem to the be the ones who want to fight the evil empire rather than hide from it. Which explains why he's willing to sail into it.

51% Yep, Igraine is Bertilak's wife. Bear's their son. ... And Selah is not talking being manipulated well.

57% The King of Asgard has an eyeoatch. He's taking the Odin connectiom pretty far, isn't he?

58% And Torden (which sounds a lot like Thor) has a dark haired adopted brother who was born to enemies and describes himself as trouble.

67% Yeah, I really can't imagine this guy moving to Potomac. Plus, we haven't actually established who inherits here. That he's the head if the running stuff implies to me Torden is the heir.

73% I have a bad feeling about these summer rites.

76% Long hours of the night? In Scandinavia just before midsummer?

77% So he's not heir. He just convinced everyone to let him be the suitor because he worried about a shy bookish girl having to live with his brother. That kind of sweet.

78% Ok... That sweet. What's the catch? That he won't go to Potomac? That he dies in the rites? Or will the Beholder crew just kidnap her for the next leg of her tour?

80% So there's a psuedoRussian plot. Maybe it will kill the older brothers and make Torden heir.

85% Poor Aleksei. It totally wasn't his fault.

86% Yeah, he won't leave. And really wouldn't thrive well in Potomac anyway.

91% Ouch. They're willing to compromise but his daddy won't allow it. And Torden probably won't accept being disowned. Also, the king is an asshole.

93% The ship is gone? I wasn't expecting that.

98% Viva la restitance!

THE END Love it! Can't wait for the next book!


Sunday, December 29, 2019

PRINCESS CLAUS AND THE GREAT ESCAPE by J.L. Gillham



Rating: A snowglobe with a Christmas village inside of it

Highlight of note: Our lead is set to be the first female Santa!

Will you read more in this series? Hopefully. None have been published yet, but I am interested in what happens next.

Noelle, AKA Princess Claus, is the daughter of the current Santa. She lives at the North Pole with her family, lots of elves, some reindeer, and a pet polar bear. The tagline on the cover of the novel reads "Even Winter Wonderland can be a prison" but the story isn't nearly as dark as that makes it sound. Noelle does feel trapped. She's not allowed to leave the protective dome around her home because there's an evil elf out there who wants to kidnap her, and as she's a teenager this really chafes. But it's not like she's being tortured or anything.

Overall, the story is fun if not incredibly deep. I particularly liked seeing the growth in Noelle's relationship with her younger brother. They start off not liking each other at all, but find common ground and some degree of affection over the course of the novel.

My other favorite part was definitely the polar bear. He's timid and addicted to sugar. And he can fly when hooked up to Santa's sleigh. It almost goes without saying that I find the sleigh being pulled by polar bears to be a way cooler idea than having reindeer do it.

I never felt too invested in the romantic arc of the story. The love interest is likable, but he didn't seem very complicated and I was a bit put off by the fact that Noelle only appears to know two guys her age who aren't related to her and seems to feel they are the only romantic choices she has. The other guy we don't get to see until the end. There's some hint that the next book may have more of a love triangle conflict, but I think it's going to require this second fellow move to closer to Winter Wonderland.

I found it a bit hard to feel too sorry for Noelle, who clearly wanted me to feel sorry for her. Maybe I'm getting old, but I looked at her escape attempts and said stuff like, "You know you'll need money, right? Have you heard of ID?" and "You're just now asking where the nearest airport is? Seriously? Where did you think you were going running out into the countryside of Alaska?" Basically, I was hoping she'd fail to escape because I didn't want to watch her freeze to death or get eaten by a polar bear that hadn't been raised as a pet. And that was without taking the evil elf into consideration. All of this foolishness may be explained by her being young and very sheltered, but she felt more like a twelve-year-old than a seventeen-year-old to me.

As for the "I don't know that I want to be Santa" thing... I felt that was something that really should have been brought up in a conversation with her parents. She tries to talk to them exactly once. She says "Let's do this thing!" without explaining why she thinks it will help her, then storms out when they say "We can't do this thing!" without letting her parents fully explain their side. This is, I'll admit, somewhat accurate to how many teenagers behave. I would have liked to see more effort from her parents, though. They seem aware that something is up with her but never sit her down and try to talk to her about it, let alone force her to sit in a room until things have been discussed. Her mom says near the end that it might have been a mistake not to tell her certain things earlier and I was like, "No duh, Mom." Overall, I thought it would make a more interesting story if it was Noelle's brother who was supposed to be Santa and she was arguing that it should go to the firstborn child, not the firstborn son. (Also, if it's always been the firstborn child rather than son, how have we gone this long without a female inheriting? That seems statistically unlikely as the Santas appear to want to hand the job over by the time they're forty.)

I felt Noelle's parents were doing a bad job of passing on the Santa torch. Not only did they never actually talk to Noelle about why it was important she, and not her brother, be the new Santa, they never explained why she had to take on this mantle on her seventeenth birthday. Her father did plan on doing the Christmas Eve run with her the first few years rather than just tossing her into it like apparently happened to him despite his dad still being alive, but he never explains why it's happening now rather than after his daughter is grown. It's pretty obvious Noelle isn't mature enough to be more than an apprentice, if that, at the start of all of this, so I assume there's a reason for not saying, "You know what, we'll do the whole coronation thing when you're twenty one. Or maybe thirty," but the only clue we're given is that Dad seems tired.

As to Noelle' grandparents... Both sets live in Winter Wonderland, but we never see any of them. The closest we come is a cameo by her grandmother's dog. I'm not sure what was up with that. As indicated earlier, I don't quite get what triggers Santa handing the job down to his offspring and I never figured out what he does after he's stopped being Santa.

The villain was very shallow, although it looks like the next book in the series will flesh him out some. He doesn't have any motivation in this book other than the standard "ruin Christmas" desire villains in stories like this tend to get assigned. I'm hoping that when we see him again later we'll get more about why he's trying to take down Santa.

So, yeah, there were some problems with this book, but I did enjoy it and fully intend to read the next installment whenever it gets released. And actual teens may find it easier to relate to Noelle than I did. I recommend it as a playful Santa story for people who are looking for more fun than depth. Which, let's face is, is a lot of people in December as the holiday stress makes many of us desperate for escape.

Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.


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Notes


6% These elves seem more like dwarves, but okay.

8% Santa's sleigh being pulled by flying by polar bears would be way cooler than reindeer.

9% I have no idea what she thinks will happen when she runs away. Is she not aware that money is a thing she'll need? You know, in addition to there being someone who wants to kidnap her.

12% Cracked snow globe doesn't sound good

13% I'm not sure who the boy with her brother is or if his presence is related to the broken snow globe. I assumed she would have recognized Cole.

13% Yeah, so the snow globe represents the shield around their house. She should probably tell her parents it's broken.

14% I'm not sure how she managed to forget about finding a secret tunnel already. I would think finding a secret passage in your house would stand out in your memory.

16% Finn has drinkable eyes, huh?

17% A box of whale blubber? WTF? Also, how does Noelle recognize what it is? Does the Santa family routinely murder whales? If I saw some, I'd probably be like, "Something bloody and foul smelling" but wouldn't know exactly what it was.

17% So the town outside Santa's globe is in Alaska. Okay. I would have thought Greenland or Lapland, but fine. Maybe we're going with the idea that North Pole is so obvious because no one would suspect a real connection to Santa somewhere that garishly Christmas.

17% If Finn and Nicky are good friends, shouldn't Noelle have deduced he was the one following her brother in the workshop?

18% Anyone who needs warned that hot chocolate is hot has a problem that should probably be taken into consideration if you're wanting to form a romantic bond with them...

19% She's clearly going to be annoyed with Finn for sharing the secret she blabbed, but she didn't wait long enough to see what he was gossiping about. My money is on it having been the hot chocolate being yummy.

20% She doesn't even know where town is? It seems she really should have researched all this before she started making escape attempts.

30% So apparently the gossip was the she's a flirt? Weird...

43% And now she says she did hear him tell others about the actual secret. Although I don't think she actually told him not to tell people that, so being pisses a year later seems like a lot.

44% This dapper dude at the beach seems out of place. I'm betting he's the evil elf.

50% Animal stowaway, huh? So evil elf shape shifts or has a trained animal?

53% Someone rerouted her string and she isn't curious about this?

57% I'd be more curious about why the sim was cancelled. I'm assuming its safety features are turned off or something.

75% Finn says he didn't blad about the evil elf and is amused she thinks he did. I'm back to thinking he was telling the girls about the hot chocolate and the narration saying otherwise was unreliable.

76% Hmm... I don't know why the snow globe started healing. Is it because Noelle is close to fixing things with Finn? I've been thinking for a while that it will repair itself when she accepts being Santa.

78% Dapper Guy from the Beach was the evil elf! How... Not surprising. It might have been surprising if he was more stealthy, like if the hikers wound up being Evil Guy and His Evil Wife.

82% Evil Elf was pretty easy to defeat. Although I suppose not everyone would have a pet polar bear with a sweet tooth at the ready.

83% Yep, Finn was talking about the hot chocolate.

86% If it's always just the firstborn, it seems statistically unlikely there wouldn't have been another female...

91% I'm not sure I like her mom's reaction to being told she doesn't want to marry young. Makes me wonder if there's going to be a sequel along the line of the second Santa Clause, the one about the Mrs Clause.

93% Cole's into Noelle. We've hardly seen him so it's hard to care too much though.

98% Kissing Finn. He's not a bad love interest, but I kinda felt the only thing keeping them apart was the misunderstanding that I never fell for.

THE END
Overall, I'm kinda underwhelmed. Did search for the next one though in the hopes it will have more romantic tension than this one. It isn't out yet.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

HEARTS ALIGHT by Elliot Cooper


Rating: A giant pile of newly won Hanukkah gelt.

Highlight of note: It's a Hanukkah romance starring a golem. A golem!

Will you read more by this author? I plan to.

Other note: This is an adult romance but does NOT have explicit sex in it.

I mentioned earlier that it's really hard to find full-length Hanukkah romances. That's why I wound up reading this even though its short length would usually rule it out for me. Adding other subplots or switching between points-of-view to show both love interests' sides of the story could have easily grew this into a full novel, but it does work as a novella.

For the first while, I had doubts about enjoying this book. The main character, Dave, is very much against the consumerism he sees in American Hanukkah celebrations, and bemoans this to the point that he's actively annoying. If it hadn't been for the early introduction of his mom, who made my heart warm by very clearly not caring one wit about what gender of person her bisexual son dates but just wants him to find someone who makes him happy, I probably would have abandoned it. I might not have had I remembered the bit about the love interest being a golem, but long enough had passed between me downloading the book and starting it that I had forgotten. It's not actually spelled out in the book (as opposed to the cover text) until about a third of the way through things.

So, yeah... Dave can be annoying when you get him talking about commercialization of holidays. But he's a pretty adorable geek otherwise. He works in a paint-your-own-pottery place and plays online D&D several evenings a week. I did find his relationship with beer unconvincing. Supposedly he's into craft beer, but he more than once drinks a porter out of the bottle. Yuck! When bartender Amit gave him a bottled porter and he started swigging it, I went, "Dude! A worthy love interest, or a half-decent bartender, would have given you a glass!" But apparently Amit was experiencing really severe issues regarding the spell that keeps him alive at the time, so maybe he was just too distracted to protect his crush from making Very Bad Choices. (Note: this is not just me being a snob. What you drink a beer from strongly affects how it tastes and nothing dark is good when funneled through a narrow neck. The narrow neck removes subtleties and sinks the malt profile, drowning them under bitterness.)

Amit is really likable, aside from the whole didn't-give-his-customer-a-glass-for-his-beer thing. He's a golem, and worries about people who know that seeing him as a thing rather than a person, but he is very clearly a person. He was created by someone whose brother had just died as a sort of replacement, which is a bit messed up and I would have liked to get to know his creator more. The spell is starting to fade and part of the story is figuring out how to combat that. It actually gets solved pretty fast and it might would have been nice to spend more time working on the mystery of it. I think I would have liked to see what Amit is like when Dave isn't around. To me, the main advantage in writing in third person is that you can follow more than one character, so I sometimes get a little sad when writers fail to do that, particularly as exploring the way a golem sees the world would be really interesting to me.

It would also have been nice to get to know some of the supporting cast a little better. I already mentioned that I'd love to know more about Amit's creator/brother, but I was also rather interested in the other family members.

I did love this story. My only wish is that there had been more of it. There could have been more time spent developing the romantic tension, more time fleshing out characters, and more time working on the mystery of what was going wrong with Amit and how it could be fixed.


Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.


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Notes

5%. A Jewish bar named Gin Teal. I love it. Although our main character is coming across as rather lecture-y.

8% Dave is apparently bi. Cool.

10% Silent Amit, huh?

12% I like how Dave's mom honestly doesn't care what gender of person he dates, she just wants him to have someone who loves him. I also agree with her that romance novels shouldn't end in death.

23% Dave is drinking a porter out of a bottle. Yuck. If the bartender were a worthy love Interest, he would have provided a glass.

27% A flash of light on his temple scars? Weird.

37% Wait... Golem? I was not expecting that. I guess that explains both the light through the cracks and the name tattooed on his fingers.

45% Current hope: Amit's problem is that he can't serve his purpose, which has something to do with how much his brother needs and/or loves him. He can shift that purpose to being needed/loved by Dave and thus avoid the whole dying thing he's doing. (The early assertion that romance novels shouldn't end in death makes me hope this isn't a tradgedy.)

47% Or maybe he just needs new paint on the tattoo every now and then...

53% He had to touch someone who cares about him. Looks like I was close with my hope.

69% Amit's ranger sounds more like a rogue who's into archery than a ranger to me, but okay. If he's a one shot, it really doesn't matter. One imagines he isn't so his progression will be interesting.

73% Love the way Amit fits into the D&D group.

90% A metal D20 for Hanukkah. Yay! Of course, there are eight nights of Hanukkah. In theory, he could be given one of seven dice each night with a nice box for them on the eighth night... A full set of metal dice are pretty pricey though and we all know how Dave feels about expensive Hanukkah gifting.

91% I'm really enjoying the actual Hanukkah celebration. It's really nice that it's an entire week.

95% Dave's going to learn magic. Yay!

97% THE END
Sweet ending. I like that Dave assumes he'll spend other Hanukkahs with Amit. Although one really does have to hope they will stay together since Amit will apparantly die if Dave stops loving him...

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS by Clare Lydon


Rating: A mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows on top and a shot of peppermint schnapps

Highlight of note: One of our lead's dates goes so badly she falls asleep in the loo...

Will you read more by this author? Probably. (Especially as I signed up for her mailing list and got a free novel!)

Other note: This is an adult romance and does have some explicit sex in it.

This sapphic romance is enjoyably cute with moments of hilarity. Tori decides in late November that she wants to have a girlfriend to spend Christmas with and figures that surely someone in London must be suitable. So she signs up on a dating app and launches into a series of comically bad dates. During the second disaster, right after she wakes up from a twenty minute nap in the bathroom during which her date bailed, she runs into a friend who has recently become engaged to a woman Tori hadn't met yet. Except when they meet, it turns out they did know each other. In fact, they were best friends in school, up until they shared a kiss and the other girl, Nicola, freaked so bad that not only did she stop talking to Tori altogether, she got pregnant! To say that this distracts Tori from her quest would be an understatement. Not only is her first love now openly interested in women and living in London, but she's a firefighter. Who wouldn't be distracted by that?

Tori's best friend and flatmate is named Holly due to being born on Christmas. (I really need to remember to thank my parents that I'm neither Holly nor Noelle.) I related a lot to Holly, being also tall and gorgeous. Wait. No. I'm short and, at best, cute. But when we find Holly sitting on the couch eating Picked Onion Monster Munch, watching soccer, and telling her friend she'd be happy to write a dating blurb for her but not until halftime, I went, "It's me! If I were younger, taller, and British!" Clearly, she was my favorite cast member.

Nicola was an interesting love interest, although clearly she has a lot of issues, not the least of which is that she's engaged to be married in a few weeks to someone who she's only known for a few months but is flirting and eventually making passes at "The Girl Who Got Away." Clearly, impulse control is something that Nicola struggles with.

And I'm not sure what to think of Tori's coworkers. Between her and her officemates, the same toaster sets of the fire alarm three times over the course of the month this book covers. Each time the buildinging is evacuated and the fire department shows up. If someone in my building did that and still hadn't replaced said toaster, I'm pretty sure I would gift them one for the holidays just so that I wouldn't keep getting forced out onto the sidewalk while I'm trying to work. Also, the fire department probably should have insisted on a new one by the time this had happened twice, shouldn't they?

At any rate... As I said before, parts of this book are riotously funny. And the romance is sweet with a resolution that made me smile. My only real complaint is that I felt like the book could have ended with the chapter that concluded at the 79% marker. The remaining twenty percent had some tie-up value, but nothing at all tense was left to resolve.

Overall, I really liked this book even if I thought it could have ended a smidge earlier. The author has a lot of other books out, including more in the "All I Want" series that covers what happens to Tori and her beloved later, and I will probably be checking those out.


Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.


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Notes


5% They both want a girlfriend by Christmas... Hollywood ending would dictate they end up together.



6% Holly has a history degree and is willing to help, but not until halftime. I relate to Holly.


10% An alcoholic Jesus freak lesbian. Oh, dear. Date One is not going well.

12% Holly is also addicted to Pickled Onion Monster Munch. She is exactly what I would be were I an English lesbian.

13% Mum seems to think Holly is the Love Interest. This may be accurate. I may be biased as she is Young British Me, but Holly is awesome. And she does keep telling Tori things like "I get you," and "You'll always have me to come back to."

19% Ouch. Her first love, who insisted she wasn't into women when breaking off their friendship after Tori's first kiss, arrives engaged to another woman right after Tori falls asleep in a bathroom stall, this causing her date to flee.

22% "...and I pick up the pieces. It's always me." Yeah, I'm pretty sure Holly is in love with Tori. Has been since they were teenagers from the sound of this conversation.

25% First Love (Nicola) is a fire fighter. Wow. Also, they exchanged numbers. If she didn't have a FIANCEE I might start thinking Holly won't get the girl after all.

31% Yeah... Mid-sex thoughts about hurrying to be done before the Tube shuts down aren't good...

33% Oh, yeah, Holly is giving her shivers. :)

38% ROFL. Her date is trying to sell her insurance. That is hilarious.

41% I'm not sure why Nicola is bothering with a fancy wedding dress. She's getting married by the city then just having a reception...

43% Nicola is pretty messed up. Run, Tori! And also Melanie, honestly...

45% Of course it's always Holly you come home to. Come on, girl, figure this out!

56% The toaster set off the fire alarm again? These people need a new toaster. Mine has never once done that.

57% She's giving Holly's Dixie Chicks ticket to Nicola? I am I'm physical distress here!

58% Minced Pie liqueur? Now I feel sick for a different reason.

60% I'm not sure what the point of telling Holly about the Dixie Chicks thing was if she was planning to un-offer them to Nicola.

64% The toaster AGAIN? They really need a new one, STAT.

72% Yay for kissing Holly! Not so yay for her getting concussed, but at least it'll make for a good story to tell people when they're old and grey.

74% In my experience, the weirdest part of someone going from friend to love interest is how weird it DOESN'T feel. So I'd say this is spot on.

77% The last ten percent of the book was a sex scene. I skimmed it.

79% That kinda felt like the ending. Not sure what else there is to do here.

82% Looks like there could be more drama with Nicola even though Tori is certain she doesn't want to be with her now.

88% No drama at the Christmas party, just more assertions they belong together. And apparently another sex scene. I feel the story really did end at the 79% marker 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

BEN'S BAKERY AND THE HANUKKAH MIRACLE by Penelope Peters

Rating: An electric menorah.

Highlight of note: Hanukkah romances are still rare enough that just being one is noteworthy, especially as it's a full length novel rather than a novella.

Will you read more by this author? Maybe? Leaning toward unlikely.

Note: I am not Jewish. The author of the book is. Not sure if that's important to point out, but both things are true.

Also note: this is an adult romance, not the YA that I usually read. That means there are graphic sex scenes. I skipped over them because I'm not into sex scenes, though, so I can't tell you if there were "good" or not.

I really wanted to like this m/m Hanukkah romance, particularly as it involved a hockey team AND a bakery. At times I did. I liked it enough to finish it at any rate. My main issue was with one of the leads. While Ben is absolutely adorable and quite possibly the nicest man on Earth (to the point that you could probably call him a Mary Sue pretty easily), Adam kept rubbing me the wrong way. Every conflict between the pair came down to Adam questioning Ben's Jewishness. The first time he did it, I was willing to say it was a misstep and him not saying what he really meant to convey. The third time? I was wishing there was anyone else in Boston interested in an overly sweet gay Jewish baker.

The rest of this contains more spoilers than I usually use, so if you're going to rush out and read this book, you should stop here.


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Positives about the novel... As I mentioned already, Ben is really loveable and that makes him super easy to pull for. And I adored Adam's hockey team, a rambunctious pack of good hearted teen boys who have a tendency to curse in French due to being from Quebec. I also liked the supportive best friend characters each of the love interests had, especially Adam's female Muslim assistant coach and her constantly-slipping hijab. We never see Ben's parents, but Adam's dad, a retired rabbi who likes to say he's a walking joke because his closest friends are an Islamic Imam and a Catholic priest, is beyond awesome. (The rabbi, the Imam, and the priest like to play golf together with either a Buddhist monk or a protestant preacher because they are all happy running with this interfaith thing.)

There were a few issues though. The first is why didn't the author ever describe the men's "I'm Gay!" forehead tattoos? I assume they have them because random strangers peg both of them as into other dudes with less than a second of observation. This, of course, meant that there was zero tension from the guys playing the "Is he flirting or straight and oblivious to how I'm reading this?" game.

The lack of tension was my second problem. There was never anything other than them arguing to keep the lovers apart. That one lives in Montreal and the other in Boston would seem like a problem, except the guy from Montreal was offered a job in Boston before the book even starts. He's shy about taking it because he wants to be near his dad's nursing home, but it's quickly made clear that his dad can move to Boston too! Neither lead has had a boyfriend in a while, but they weren't left scarred and scared to care by their pasts or anything like that. There is never anything that makes you say, "Maybe it will be hard for this to work out!" except for the repeated fights.

When I say "fight" though, I'm overselling what happens. On multiple occasions, Adam says something horrible to Ben that Ben (and I) hear as, "You're not a proper Jew!" for things like using unusual fillings in his sufganiyot, being awkward with Hebrew grammar, and having parents who like secular Christmas trees. (Adam does this despite the awesome rabbi father who would go ballistic if he heard his son say this stuff.) They then both feel bad. Ben then apologizes profusely. Yes, BEN apologizes everytime he gets upset due to Adam acting like an ass. And although Adam typically responds along the lines of "Why are YOU apologizing?" I never get the impression Adam grows out of it, just that he's found a guy who'll let him get away with being crappy.

The author says in her afterward that she is a Jewish woman who grew up in a Jewish household that always put up a Christmas tree, so I suspect she had to deal with a lot of the same things that got thrown at Ben. And I suspect she reacted the same way he does, by being briefly angry but then shrugging it off. I'd say more about that, but it's not my place.

So... Yeah. It's good that people of Jewish persuasion are writing holiday romances around their holidays, but this one fell flat for me. I may give Peters another shot, because maybe my problem was simply that Adam grated on me too much. We'll see.



Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers. 

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Notes


1% I'm all for a female youth hockey coach, but why is she in the boys lockerroom? I hope they made sure everyone was dressed before she came in.

5% Yeah, Ben's a great guy, and I can certainly relate to the Christmas fatigue, but it's pretty clear why he's running out of money. I don't really want to see that change though. I WANT him to make choices with his heart rather than his accounting ledger.

6% Adam has a job opportunity in Boston. Isn't that convenient? :)

9% Ok, he really could charge for coffee without being a heartless money grubber.

10% There has been a lot of people assuming strangers are into same sex relationships in this book.

13% I love these kids.

22% Not sure where that accusation came from, Adam, but you certainly did fuck things up. I am actually kinda rooting for another option for Ben to show up now. The fact that he's going to talk to you again demonstrates that he really is the nicest man in the world.

26% Yeah, Ben's totally not the one who needed to apologize so profusely. Glad Adam realized that even if Ben didn't.

32% Sex scene. Sigh. Still haven't met one I wouldn't just as soon of skipped. At one point each if these guys had semen all over their hand without there being any mention of cleaning it off. No hand washing or rubbing it off somewhere, they just continued life with pools of goop held in their palms.  

34% Ok, the shower scene was actually kind of sweet. 

39% I wonder what else Adam does. Doesn't seem like coaching youth hockey is a full time job, so presumedly he has another job...

51% Ben's phobia of the ice is breaking my heart.

51% Skipped over the sex scene nicely. They enjoyed themselves and it was very tender. All I need to know really.

52% This book is kinda boring. There's nothing really keeping these guys apart at all... The closest is Adam not wanting to leave his dad, and I'm pretty sure his dad would insist Adam move if he knew about the job offer, let alone a job offer and possible eventual husband.

61% Do they really put plastic buckles on rental skates these days? I've always had actual laces...

65% Why can't we have ice cream at breakfast, Ben? Saying it's just for afternoon is silly.

68% Adam is only 27. How is his dad so old? Must have been a late in life baby. Or Dad is really not aging well 

70% "I hear they play hockey in Boston too." Dad hasn't even gotten to there being multiple jobs offers in the States and he's already suggesting Adam move! :)

73% I'm pretty tired of Adam being the Asshole Jewish Police. And his dad would be pissed at him. I'm back to wanting Ben to find someone else, because he doesn't need this bullshit.

Also, Christmas trees AREN'T a Christian symbol. They're a pagan one. So get your bigotry right.

93% Adam acts like he's over questioning Ben's Jewish status, but this is the third time he's apologized for the same thing. It makes it difficult to feel really happy about this happy ending.

THE END
Epilogue is mostly just a very long sex scene that I skipped most of. I'm still not sure how I feel about Adam always getting forgiven for repeatedly being a jerk, but I think I'm annoyed about it. I don't feel he really learned much or is better now, he just has a boyfriend who lets him get away with being an ass.