Book Review: A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer

 

Can the wrong bride become the perfect wife?

Adam Deveril, the new Viscount Lynton, is madly in love with the beautiful Julia Oversley. But he has returned from the Peninsular War to find his family on the brink of ruin and his ancestral home mortgaged to the hilt. He has little choice when he is introduced to Mr. Jonathan Chawleigh, a City man of apparently unlimited wealth and no social ambitions for himself-but with his eyes firmly fixed on a suitable match for his only daughter, the quiet and decidedly plain Jenny Chawleigh.

Another great addition to my Georgette Heyer library! Considering that I only read this amazing author for the first time last year, I’ve quickly become a fan.

A Civil Contract is quite fun. Poor Adam, whose father the Fifth Viscount was a gambler and a flagrant spender, is left to deal with overpowering debts upon his father’s death. The family faces financial ruin, including the lost of their beloved country home. What’s more, there is no possible way for Adam to marry his beloved Julia, as he has no means to support her, and even if she claims to be ready to live with Adam in poverty, would never be allowed by her parents to do so.

For a titled gentleman with money problems, there’s really just one acceptable solution: He must marry an heiress. Jenny Chawleigh is the respectable daughter of a very rich merchant whose only aim in life is to see his beloved girl elevated into the upper crust of society. Mr. Chawleigh is able to settle the Lynton debts, and Adam is able to provide Jenny with a title. They’re a mismatched pair, but Jenny’s sweetness and calm competence pave the way for the two of them to begin their married life together.

Of course, Adam never quite gets over his passion for Julia, but Jenny is clever enough to be able to take the drama out of the foiled romance, and she and Adam settle into a pleasant and companionable relationship. It takes the course of the novel for Adam and Jenny to truly develop into a strong couple, but it’s oodles of fun to see them getting there.

The novel contrasts the drama of young, ardent love with the steadiness and support of more mature married affection, and comes down decidedly on the side of the latter. While it irked me that Adam never actually contradicts Jenny when she says she’s not pretty, he treats her with respect, with appreciation, and with affection. Over time, it’s their shared interests, their little jokes, and their alignment in the important things that show that they’re actually well suited after all.

There are plenty of funny moments, especially all the scenes of Adam and Mr. Chawleigh butting heads. Jenny’s father is crass and blunt, but he’s mad about his daughter, and shows his love by buying her the best of everything, even when the best is gaudy, over the top, and simply not what truly elegant people would do. Adam is dignified, born and bred to the upper crust, and it’s constantly amusing to see his reactions to Mr. Chawleigh’s effusiveness. (The bathtub he installs for Jenny is hilarious — I won’t say more than that, but you really need to read about it to appreciate it.)

I love Heyer’s Regency romances, with their depictions of the social classes and the minutiae involved in playing the games of the nobility and gentry. The only downside for me in A Civil Contract were the overlong descriptions of the war against Napoleon — yes, the war is very much on Adam’s mind and has an impact on his fortunes, but I had a hard time keeping my mind from wandering whenever we strayed back into politics and war news.

Of course, if you’ve read and enjoyed other books by Georgette Heyer, this is another excellent one to pick up. It’s sweet and entertaining, and I found it refreshing to read a Heyer book with such a simple and unpretentious heroine.

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The details:

Title: A Civil Contract
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: 1961
Length: 422 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

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Laughing too hard to actually write a review of Texts From Jane Eyre

 

Hilariously imagined text conversations—the passive aggressive, the clever, and the strange—from classic and modern literary figures, from Scarlett O’Hara to Jessica Wakefield.

Mallory Ortberg, the co-creator of the cult-favorite website The Toast, presents this whimsical collection of hysterical text conversations from your favorite literary characters. Everyone knows that if Scarlett O’Hara had an unlimited text-and-data plan, she’d constantly try to tempt Ashley away from Melanie with suggestive messages. If Mr. Rochester could text Jane Eyre, his ardent missives would obviously be in all-caps. And Daisy Buchanan would not only text while driving, she’d text you to pick her up after she totaled her car. Based on the popular web-feature, Texts from Jane Eyre is a witty, irreverent mashup that brings the characters from your favorite books into the twenty-first century.

Ha ha ha.

Man.

This book is just so much fun. Author Mallory Ortberg has reimagined classics of all ages, from Medea and Gilgamesh to Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and has put them together in a book that’s almost too great to read in one sitting (but I did it anyway). 

From Circe defending certain poor choices she’s made:

… to Mrs. Bennet being very Mrs. Bennet-ish:

… this book captures the heart and soul of the stories it includes, and makes then just too damned hilarious.

 

What’s really amazing is that the author clearly knows her stuff, because she absolutely nails the key elements of the stories and the characters, the things that make them unique and recognizable. The texts are clever and so well done — I just couldn’t get enough.

Sure, some of the bits on certain classics went right over my head, since I don’t know the originals, but that didn’t take away any of the enjoyment. This will be one of those books to keep handy and just open up at random once in a while, especially when I need something to brighten up my day.

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The details:

Title: Texts From Jane Eyre
Authors: Mallory Ortberg
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: November 4, 2014
Length: 226 pages
Genre: Humor
Source: Purchased

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Audiobook Review: Quidditch Through the Ages

 

A perennial best seller in the wizarding world and one of the most popular books in the Hogwarts School Library, Quidditch Through the Ages contains all you will ever need to know about the history, the rules – and the breaking of the rules – of the noble sport of Quidditch. Packed with fascinating facts, this definitive guide by the esteemed Quidditch writer Kennilworthy Whisp charts the game’s history from its early origins in the medieval mists on Queerditch Marsh through to the modern-day sport loved by so many wizard and Muggle families around the world. With comprehensive coverage of famous Quidditch teams, the commonest fouls, the development of racing brooms, and much more, this is a must-have sporting bible for all Harry Potter fans and Quidditch lovers and players, whether the weekend amateur or the seasoned Chudley Cannons season-ticket holder.

Narrated by Andrew Lincoln, this is the first audiobook edition of Whisp’s book ever to be released

My Thoughts:

I read the Hogwarts schoolbooks ages ago, and thought they were good silly fun, if a bit inconsequential. BUT, when I heard that Pottermore was releasing an audio version narrated by Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes, yo), I was all in.

Rick is an avid Quidditch fan.

So was it worth it?

Well, yes. Clearly, this is a fans-only book for Potter-philes. A passion for the Potter-verse is required! An interest in the minutiae of Quidditch play might be helpful too. The book itself covers the history of Quidditch, modern teams, Quidditch equipment, the evolution of the racing broom, and famous (or infamous) examples of unusual World Cup tournaments.

The audiobook includes material not found in the original printed edition, but (I believe) available via the Pottermore website — coverage of the 2014 Quidditch World Cup, as told by the Daily Prophet’s sports reporter Ginny Potter, with occasional social commentary from gossip columnist Rita Skeeter. The Skeeter bits are particularly funny; Ginny’s coverage of EVERY SINGLE GAME in the tournament, which initially amusing, gets old really fast.

This was a good, fairly entertaining companion on my daily commute. Definitely doesn’t require much concentration! It’s a bit long for what it is — the concept wears out its novelty pretty early on. Also, the production includes sound effects (all sorts of whooshes, as if Quidditch players are zooming by… constantly), which I found annoying, but a less grumpy listener might find these amusing.

All in all? A fun listen, not essential, but not a bad choice for escapist fare while your mind is mostly elsewhere.

Worth noting: Proceeds from Quidditch Through the Ages benefit Comic Relief and the Lumos Foundation. It’s always nice to support a good cause while indulging Potter obsessions!

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The details:

Title: Quidditch Through the Ages
Author: Kennilworthy Whisp (J. K. Rowling)
Narrated by: Andrew Lincoln
Publisher: Pottermore
Publication date: Audible edition released March 15, 2018; originally published 2001
Length (print): 56 pages (2001 edition)
Length (audio): 3 hours, 10 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased via Audible

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Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

 

An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

 

I’m a Stephen King fan, no question about it, but I sometimes find that his books don’t stick the landing. I’ll be absolutely fascinated, glued to my seat, on edge, for 75% of the book,,, but when the ending finally arrives and all answers are provided, I can find myself feeling a bit let down.

No so in The Outsider. This is one terrific (and horribly disturbing) read, start to finish.

From the start, the premise is tantalizing and well-executed. A horrible, disgusting crime is committed. There are reliable eyewitnesses who definitively ID the perpetrator, a beloved public figure in their small town. Terry Maitland’s fingerprints are all over the crime scene and weapon and the interior of the vehicle used to commit the crime. He’s seen leaving the area, covered with blood. DNA at the crime scene is his. Ralph Anderson, lead detective on the case, is so outraged and infuriated that he orders the arrest to be made in as public a way as possible. There’s no doubt that Maitland committed the crime, and the public is aghast and infuriated.

But wait. Maitland has an alibi, and the more Ralph investigates, the more unbreakable the alibi seems. He was with other teachers at a conference out of town, and not only will they all attest to his being there, but he’s actually caught on video at the event at the same time of the murder. Can a man be in two places at one time?

By the time enough doubt has come up, more tragedies have piled on top of the initial murder. An out of town investigator is brought in, and soon, the trail seems to point to not only more crimes with a mystery double involved, but a fact pattern that can’t be explained by anything in the realm of what’s considered normal.

Wow.

This book grabbed me from page 1, and just didn’t let up. If pesky things like work and sleep hadn’t interfered, I’d have read it straight through — it’s that good, and that compelling.

I was particularly delighted by the appearance of…

MINOR SPOILER FOR KING FANS AHEAD!

STOP HERE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW!

(BUT NOT A SPOILER FOR THE RESOLUTION OF THE OUTSIDER)

Holly Gibney, the memorable, remarkable, oddball heroine of the Bill Hodges trilogy, who has carried on with Finders Keepers, the detective agency she founded with Bill, even after Bill’s death at the end of the trilogy. Holly is brought into the investigation here on the recommendation of one of the Maitland family lawyers when a strange set of facts emerge about a family trip months earlier. Holly jumps in, unearths enough odd clues to start connecting some seriously weird dots, and ultimately is the one who gets the investigatory team to consider answers that lean more toward the supernatural than any of them could possibly have considered on their own.

I loved seeing Holly again. She brings a humanity to the proceedings that’s a breath of fresh air, and her offbeat demeanor and unlikely acts of courage are what’s needed to crack the case.

The entire cast of characters is well drawn and quite strong. Ralph is a great leading man, and I loved his relationship with his wife Jeannie. The lawyer, the DA, the investigator, the state policeman — all are quite good, and really emerge as individuals rather than stock characters in a legal drama.

But it’s the unfolding plot, with its mystery and creepiness and outright scenes of horror, that propels The Outsider at such a dynamic pace. I don’t want to say much more about what happens or why — but this is top-notch King, and you shouldn’t miss it.

A final word of caution for King readers: If you haven’t finished the Bill Hodges trilogy, but you plan to, you might want to hold off on reading The Outsider. The plots aren’t connected, but in conversations, Holly and the detectives discuss the cases she and Bill handled, and basically give away major plot point resolutions from the trilogy.

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The details:

Title: The Outsider
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: May 22, 2018
Length: 561 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Library

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

The small suburb of Pleasant Court lives up to its name. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbours, and children play in the street.

Isabelle Heatherington doesn’t fit into this picture of family paradise. Husbandless and childless, she soon catches the attention of three Pleasant Court mothers.

But Ange, Fran and Essie have their own secrets to hide. Like the reason behind Ange’s compulsion to control every aspect of her life. Or why Fran won’t let her sweet, gentle husband near her new baby. Or why, three years ago, Essie took her daughter to the park – and returned home without her.

As their obsession with their new neighbour grows, the secrets of these three women begin to spread – and they’ll soon find out that when you look at something too closely, you see things you never wanted to see.

 

My Thoughts:

The Family Next Door is a quick read about a neighborhood teeming with secrets. The three women at the center of the story, Essie, Fran, and Ange, are all wives and mothers, and each has her own set of problems and worries that she keeps hidden away behind a facade of domestic bliss. It’s Isabelle’s arrival in the neighborhood that kicks off the cascade of revelations, as secrets come out and lives are upended.

The book is fast-paced, and while some of the secrets may be simpler to guess, the big reveal at the end is shocking and very unexpected. I enjoyed the characters, although overall the tone of the book was a bit too Desperate Housewives for my taste.

For readers who enjoy dramas about marriage, family, lies, and life-long secrets, this will make a great choice for summer beach reading.

Interested in this author? Check out my review of other books by Sally Hepworth:
The Things We Keep
The Mother’s Promise

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The details:

Title: The Family Next Door
Author: Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: March 6, 2018
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Take A Peek Book Review: Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.

Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.

He knows his left arm will go next.

Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.

When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.

Poignant and powerful, Every Note Played is a masterful exploration of redemption and what it means to find peace inside of forgiveness.

 

My Thoughts:

I’ve read several other books by Lisa Genova, and in all, she finds a way to not only spotlight drastic medical conditions but to show the human impact of people dealing with diagnosis and life-altering diseases.

In Every Note Played, she showcases the horror of a life irreparably changed by ALS. Using both Richard and Karina’s perspectives, we’re led through the stages of deterioration, each with its own sets of loss, frustration, humiliation, and increasing dependency. Truly, this is an eye-opening book in terms of what it feels like to lose ability and control, as well as what it feels like to be the witness to a process that can’t be stopped.

At the same time, I didn’t feel particularly connected to either of the main characters as people, and didn’t become emotionally invested in their complicated relationship or inner lives. While I was fascinated by the medical aspects of Richard’s condition, the story of the failed marriage and finding peace with one another after a lifetime of resentment mostly fell flat for me.

I was never bored reading this book, but something about it didn’t quite resonate. It’s definitely worth reading, and I learned quite a bit about ALS from it, but it lacked the emotional impact I’ve experienced with other books by this talented author.

Interested in this author? Check out my review of Inside the O’Briens.

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The details:

Title: Every Note Played
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Scout Press
Publication date: March 20, 2018
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Novella Review: How to Marry a Werewolf by Gail Carriger

 

Guilty of an indiscretion? Time to marry a werewolf.

WEREWOLVES

The monsters left Faith ruined in the eyes of society, so now they’re her only option. Rejected by her family, Faith crosses the Atlantic, looking for a marriage of convenience and revenge.

But things are done differently in London. Werewolves are civilized. At least they pretend to be.

AMERICANS

Backward heathens with no culture, Major Channing has never had time for any of them. But there’s something special about Faith. Channing finds himself fighting to prove himself and defend his species. But this werewolf has good reason not to trust human women.

Even if they learn to love, can either of them forgive?

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Parasol Protectorate series comes a stand alone romance set in the same universe. Look out for appearances from favorite characters and the serious consequences of unwarranted geology.

Another adorable and slightly steamy romantic adventure from the talented Gail Carriger!

When a young American lady of good standing is indiscreet, kind parent retire her quietly to the country with a maiden aunt and a modest stipend. Faith’s parents decided to marry her off to a werewolf.

Faith Wigglesworth is an American young woman in disgrace, whose absolutely horrible parents are shipping her off to London to land a werewolf husband, hoping to both be rid of her and to subject her to the humiliation they believe she deserves.

A werewolf was lower than a Californian, all things considered — rough rural hillbillies with too much hair. And open shirt collars. And no table manners.

Major Channing is instantly entranced by Faith’s brash American manners, her ability to stand up for herself, and those amazing blue eyes of hers. What follows is a playful, tempestuous courtship, as each must learn to trust enough to share and then put aside the painful secrets of their pasts. At the same time, there’s instant chemistry and heat between Faith and Channing, and sparks fly. Channing’s Alpha wants him to find happiness and to treat Faith as she should be treated, and Faith yearns to find someone to love, someone to enjoy intimacy with, and a place to belong and be herself.

This is a charming novella that works as a stand-alone, although prior experience with Gail Carriger’s steampunk/supernatural world certainly is helpful (and possibly even essential). I love everything about her books, and this piece fits nicely into the world she’s created, featuring a lovely story all its own as well as a chance to spend time once again with favorite characters like Biffy and Lyall.

A must-read for Carriger fans!
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The details:

Title: How to Marry a Werewolf (Claw & Courtship, #1)
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Gail Carriger LLC
Publication date: May 13, 2018
Length: 196 pages
Genre: Supernatural/steampunk/romance
Source: Purchased

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Audiobook Review: Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel (The Themis Files, #3)

 

 

In her childhood, Rose Franklin accidentally discovered a giant metal hand buried beneath the ground outside Deadwood, South Dakota. As an adult, Dr. Rose Franklin led the team that uncovered the rest of the body parts which together form Themis: a powerful robot of mysterious alien origin. She, along with linguist Vincent, pilot Kara, and the unnamed Interviewer, protected the Earth from geopolitical conflict and alien invasion alike. Now, after nearly ten years on another world, Rose returns to find her old alliances forfeit and the planet in shambles. And she must pick up the pieces of the Earth Defense Corps as her own friends turn against each other.

I have loved The Themis Files books since day one, so it’s probably no surprise that I really and truly loved this concluding volume as well. In the first two Themis Files books, we see the discovery of a giant robot, which is in truth an alien artifact, leading to an alien invasion that threatens the survival of all humankind. Here, in Only Human, we find out how it all works out.

The previous book, Waking Gods, ends on a cliffhanger. With the immediate threat removed, Vincent, Rose, and Eva are celebrating their victory, when they suddenly realize they’re not on Earth any longer. As Only Human opens, we learn that our Earthlings have been transported to the alien home planet, which finally gets a name – Esat Ekt. And there they stay, learning the Ekt language, culture, and sense of morality, with no means of going home.

The Ekt’s principal code of morality is non-interference. They will not allow themselves to alter the course of any other species’ progress, development, or evolution. If a species is meant to go extinct, the Ekt will not interfere. And if a species, such as the human race, develops in a way that they should not have because of Ekt interference in the past, then all signs of that interference must be eliminated. Of course, the Ekt didn’t mean to commit mass murder, as they did in book #2, and here in book #3, the people of Esat Ekt are deeply embroiled in a reexamination of their non-interference policy after realizing their responsibility for the deaths of tens of millions on Earth.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, in the years following the great battle which concluded in the previous book, human interactions have changed dramatically. One of the giant robots ended up left behind, then seized as property of the United States, which then used it to rewrite the geopolitical lines of the planet. When Rose, Vincent, and Eva return almost a decade later aboard Themis, the Russians want the robot — badly — and will do just about anything to get it and its pilots under their control, in an effort to reshape the world’s balance of power.

As with the earlier books, Only Human is told via interview transcripts and journal entries, with the entries from the humans on Esat Ekt interwoven with the entries from Earth upon the gang’s arrival back on their home planet all those years later. Through these entries, we learn about life on Esat Ekt — the politics, the participatory democracy, the casual bigotry, and the way a free society can have hidden biases and injustices. Meanwhile, we see the ongoing complicated dynamics between the main characters. The highlight is the relationship between Vincent and his daughter Eva. Only 10  years old when they were whisked off to an alien planet, by the start of the action in this book Eva is a 19-year-old young woman who is strong-willed and ready to jump into action to pursue justice, never mind her own safety. Naturally, she and Vincent are on a collision course, and when their conflict finally comes to a head, it’s spectucular.

There are so many memorable characters in these books. An old favorite, Mr. Burns, returns in Only Human, and I also was really fascinated by the American-raised Russian agent Katherine, whose Americanisms and snark hide a truly terrifying ruthless streak.

The audiobook version is amazing, performed by a full cast. In fact, while I had the e-book ARC for some time before the official release date, I chose to wait until the Audible edition became available because I really wanted to experience the story in that way, as I did with the first two books. The voice actors are terrific. I love Vincent, with his French-Canadian accent and excitable nature; Rose’s calm demeanor, Mr. Burns’s humor, and — big treat here — the Ekt characters as well, speaking both a mangled sort of English as well as their own native language. My only complaint is that Eva’s accent has completely changed from the previous book, and it was weird and distracting at first. Oh well. I got over it. As a whole, the audiobook experience is a delight.

Let’s pause here to admire author Sylvain Neuvel’s fantastic use of his linguistics background to create a language for the Ekt that’s weird and alien and sounds just awesome to listen to. I loved the words and phrases, and very much enjoyed learning a yokits swear word in Ekt.

Needless to say, I highly recommend the Themis Files series. If you enjoy audiobooks, absolutely listen to these! The production is top-notch and really added to my enjoyment. But even without the audio, it’s an incredible story, so well written, full of sci-fi adventure and surprises — but even more so, full of human emotion and heart, which are what truly makes this story work.

I really do hope that the author will choose to write more in the Themis-verse… but if not, I’ll still want to read whatever he writes next.

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The details:

Title: Only Human (The Themis Files, #3)
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Narrator: Full cast production
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: May 1, 2018
Length (print): 336 pages
Length (audiobook): 8 hours, 43 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: E-book review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley; audiobook downloaded via Audible

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Book Review: Surface Tension by Mike Mullin

 

After witnessing an act of domestic terrorism while training on his bike, Jake is found near death, with a serious head injury and unable to remember the plane crash or the aftermath that landed him in the hospital.

A terrorist leader’s teenage daughter, Betsy, is sent to kill Jake and eliminate him as a possible witness. When Jake’s mother blames his head injury for his tales of attempted murder, he has to rely on his girlfriend, Laurissa, to help him escape the killers and the law enforcement agents convinced that Jake himself had a role in the crash.

Mike Mullin, author of the Ashfall series, delivers a gripping story with memorable characters and all-too-real scenarios.

Surface Tension is a high-action suspense thriller about a 17-year-old boy, Jake, who stumbles into a domestic terror attack by accident — but because of a traumatic brain injury and corrupt law officials, isn’t believed when he tells his story. Thanks to his remarkably loyal girlfriend Laurissa, he persists in trying to uncover the truth while staying a few steps ahead of both the terrorists and the FBI agent who want to see him dead.

Meanwhile, the lead terrorist’s daughter Betsy is embroiled in the attack and the follow-up attempts on Jake’s life, but as she learns unpleasant truths about her father, she too realizes that he and his organization must be stopped.

Mike Mullin, who wrote the amazing Ashfall trilogy, excels at quick bursts of action and leaving the reader panting for more at the end of each chapter. This is a hard book to put down once you start. At the same time, I felt that the credibility of the plot got thinner and thinner as the story moved forward, until the climax and resolution seemed basically unbelievable. Add to that a tacked-on final chapter that makes it clear that this story isn’t actually over, and I wound up feeling somehow underwhelmed by the book as a whole.

It’s a fast, entertaining read, but the plot doesn’t really hold together in a way that makes a whole lot of sense. I stayed interested all the way through, but if there is a sequel, I won’t be bothering with it.

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The details:

Title: Surface Tension
Author: Mike Mullin
Publisher: Tanglewood
Publication date: May 8, 2018
Length: 350 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

 

Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future ahead of her: a fiancé she adores, her dream job, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in one tumultuous moment.

In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Margaret must figure out how to move forward on her own terms while facing long-held family secrets, devastating heartbreak, and the idea that love might find her in the last place she would ever expect.

How to Walk Away is Katherine Center at her very best: an utterly charming, hopeful, and romantic novel that will capture reader’s hearts with every page.

Margaret seems to have it all on the day we meet her, but as she tells us right up front:

The biggest irony about that night is that I was always scared to fly.

Her too-perfect-for words boyfriend Chip has been working toward getting his pilot’s license. He’s gorgeous, head over heels for Margaret, and has told her to prepare for a special night. She knows they have a dinner reservation at a nice restaurant, and has a hunch that this is the moment when he’ll propose. But there’s an unwelcome surprise waiting for her — instead of heading toward dinner, Chip drives them to the airfield instead. He’s taking her up for a flight, and does not want to take no for an answer. Margaret realizes that this is a test of sorts. Does she have enough faith in Chip to accept the flight despite her absolutely not wanting to?

She does. Big mistake.

After a mid-air proposal and the presentation of a ring (that’s too big and not her taste — could that be a sign?), the weather turns on the way back to the airfield. They make it to the ground, but then the wind flips the plane. And it takes quite a while, from Chip running for help to the ambulance arriving to the helicopter flight to the hospital and beyond, for Margaret to realize that something might really be wrong.

In fact, things are very wrong. Margaret’s face and neck are burned, and she has a spinal cord injury. She may never walk again, and she’ll have scars from her skin grafts for life. And where is Chip? Poor dear is so effin’ distraught that he’s out getting drunk, too upset to actually see Margaret or, you know, be there for her.

Chip is a total dick, by the way, in case it’s not perfectly evident by now. I mean, for starters, you know your girlfriend is scared to death of planes, but you force her into one anyway through emotional blackmail when you don’t even have your license yet? And then he makes it all about himself. Boo hoo. I feel so bad. My girlfriend isn’t perfect anymore. I’m not even kidding — he actually says this:

“You used to be so beautiful — and now you look like a pizza.”

It takes Margaret a surprisingly long time to realize that he’s a total asshole. I’m sorry, but perhaps this pre-flight moment should have tipped her off:

Then he pulled me into a kiss — a manly, determined, all-this-can-be-yours kiss, digging his tongue into my mouth in a way that he clearly found powerful and erotic, but that I, given how the sheer terror of what I was about to do had iced my blood, was too numb to feel.

Like I say. Dick.

But as Margaret passes the initial weeks in the hospital, learning about her future and starting physical therapy, other pieces of her life start to come together. Her sister Kitty, estranged from the family for three years, comes home from New York and commits to spending every night in Margaret’s hospital room, giving the sisters a chance to reconnect and rediscover the joy in their relationship. Margaret’s mother is a lot to take, but certain truths come out that have an impact on the family as well.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Margaret’s physical therapist is a gorgeous, brooding, terse Scottish fellow who’s a genius at therapy and exuding quiet manliness, practically begging for just the right woman to find the key to his bruised heart. (Okay, I exaggerate, but not by much.) It’s not a spoiler to say that Ian the PT becomes Margaret’s new love interest — it couldn’t be more obvious if it was written in cotton candy-colored glitter paint.

So… did I enjoy How to Walk Away?

Actually, I did. Despite being fairly predictable and having some truly groan-worthy dialogue, the story itself kept me turning the pages — basically, a one-day read since I couldn’t stop once I started. I did care about Margaret and wanted to see how her life would turn out. I admired her bluntness, her honesty, and her ability to keep going at the worst of times. She’s deluged by advice and unwanted input, all about how staying upbeat is the answer to everything, and yet, she’s straight-forward in showing how staying optimistic isn’t easy or a cure-all, and despite all her best positivity, isn’t going to repair the damage to her spinal cord.

There was always a kind of backward logic to my mom’s crazy. I got it now. She hadn’t accidentally revealed to me that I was facing a possible lifetime of being unfuckable. She was doing it on purpose. She was attempting to motivate me. To get me focused. To rouse some unsinkable part of my soul that would stand up in outrage and simply refuse to give in.

Mother of the year award, anyone?

Despite the seriousness of Margaret’s condition and the challenging prospects ahead of her, the writing still manages to include plenty of humorous moments as well, in addition (of course) to a few swoonier bits too.

The ending includes a pretty farcical trip to Europe for a wedding, with lots of near misses, odd encounters, and physical comedy. It’s all a little silly and slapstick, but it was nice to get a happy ending after all of the ups and downs.

Do I recommend this book?

Yes. As I’ve said in plenty of reviews of contemporary romances before, this is not my usual genre. I like contemporary fiction, and every once in a while, I enjoy the hell out of a good romantic tale. But in general, modern-day love stories don’t really rock my world, so take my somewhat snarky comments with a grain of salt.

Bottom line, it’s a good sign that even a curmudgeon like me (kidding, mostly) enjoyed reading How to Walk Away — so if you are in fact a fan of romances and stories that explore family relationships and dynamics, this would probably be a great choice.

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The details:

Title: How to Walk Away
Author: Katherine Center
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: May 15, 2018
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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