The Viscount Who Loved Me

by Julia Quinn
First sentence: “Anthony Bridgerton had always know he would die young.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Um… yeah…. it’s definitely an Adult book. *blush*

I’ve always said that I prefer plot and character development with my sex (in books). So, I went into this one (a YAckers read, of course) with hopes that it would be, at the very least, entertaining.

And, thankfully, I was rewarded. (Yay!)

The basic plot is was this: Anthony Bridgerton is a rake of the worst sort. It’s 1814, in the height of the Jane Austen era, when chaperones were needed and etiquette was severely structured, and Lord Bridgerton is running around making love to all sorts of women. (Unsavory women, too!) So, of course Kate Sheffield was not going to let him any where near her sister Edwina (seriously: WHAT KIND OF NAME IS EDWINA?), even though she’s the catch of the season and Bridgerton has got it into his head to marry. And everyone knows he gets what he wants.

Except, what he wants turns out to be Kate. *wink wink* *nudge nudge*

And that’s about all the plot there is. There’s a lot (a LOT) of sassy banter between Kate and Anthony and a lot (a LOT) of innuendo and under-the-surface desire before he’s caught with his mouth on her breast, sucking the “venom” out of a bee sting (at which point I was howling with laughter), and they were forced to marry. And then the real fireworks started. Two whole chapters of a sex scene (why was there a chapter break in between?) in which Anthony desires his wife and she lets him have his way with her. (I am SURE there’s a feminist objection here, but honestly, I couldn’t see it for the blatant disregard for the time period.) It was bad. It was so horrible and awful and blush-worthy, I couldn’t stop reading. It was just so bad it turned the corner into good. (Or at least deliciously mock-worthy.) Everyone murmured.   Or had husky voices. It was just too, too delightful.

There were some honestly good bits along the way. I really enjoyed the Bridgerton dynamic as a family: there’s a croquet game that was honestly a lot of fun to read. And Quinn made them a close-knit, loving family which is not something you often see. And there was a bit of depth in both Kate and Anthony; Quinn did manage to give them some fears and insecurities, so they weren’t completely one-dimensional.

Not usually my type of book, but it ended up being a great diversion.

Gabi a Girl in Pieces

by Isabel Quintero
First sentence: “My mother named me Gabriela after my grandmother who — coincidentally — did not want to meet me when I was born because my mother was not married and was therefore living in sin.”
Support your local library: buy it there!
Content: There’s a lot here: talk of drug use, sex (off screen, not graphic), and swearing (including multiple f-bombs). It’d be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this up. I’d heard good things about it, and it won the Morris Award this year. Even so, I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emotions I’d feel while reading it.

It’s Gabi Hernandez’s senior year, and life has gotten more complicated than usual. One of her best friends is pregnant; the other just came out, and has been kicked out of his parents’ house. She’s still struggling with math in school, but she has hopes that she can get into college, the first in her family, since her parents immigrated from Mexico. She wants a boyfriend, but is afraid since she’s a self-proclaimed “fat girl” that she’ll never find love. Then there’s her meth-addicted father, and her punk younger brother. Not to mention a mom who is constantly placing pressure on her to be a “good” girl.

Writing all that down, it both sounds like a lot and not quite enough to hold a book together. One of the things that makes this book shine is the voice. Told in diary form, we get Gabi’s innermost thoughts, her insecurities and feelings, her poems and heartfelt letters to her father (which she never sends). Even though her life is complicated and hard, you can’t help but connect with Gabi on the most elemental level: she’s just a girl trying to live the best she can.

But, it’s also a feminist book, showing us the double standard we have for girls and boys. Which leads me to: oh my gosh, her mom. I wanted to smack her. She was SO hard on Gabi, from nagging her constantly about her weight to lectures about sex (while she tells Gabi’s brother “be sure to use a condom”). I know she was trying and doing the best she could under the circumstances, but I wanted to shake her. Call this another one of those reverse-parenting books, but there is no way I want to have the sort of relationship with my daughter that Gabi had with her mom.

It was Gabi’s awakening to the double standard, and her actively trying to do something about it — which came near the end of the book –which endeared me to the book. There was so much crap going on (if there’s an issue out there that deals with teenagers, it was in the book) going on in Gabi’s life that I found it difficult, initially, to relate. But by the end, I was cheering for Gabi, for her attitude toward her life, and for Quintero’s unflinching portrayal of her.

Isla and the Happily Ever After

by Stephanie Perkins
First sentence: “It’s midnight, it’s sweltering, and I might be high on Vicodin, but that guy — that guy right over there — that’s him.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series (you don’t have to read first, but you might want to): Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door
Review copy snagged out of the ARC box our Penguin rep sent the store.
Content: There’s a half-dozen (or more) f-bombs, and several instances of tasteful (and protected!) sex. Plus, it felt more mature than your usual romance. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Isla has had a crush on Josh ever since their freshman year at the School of America in Paris. A super major crush, one of those ones that makes her go all gooey when he’s around. But he’s unattainable, with his super-cool friends (St. Clair!) and his gorgeous girlfriend. Isla (pronounced EYE-la) just figures her crush will stay just that: a crush.

But then, their senior year starts, and Josh is unmoored, and it turns out that he’s kind of had a crush on her all these years. After an awkward start, they fall into a full-blown romance, escaping one weekend to Barcelona to be alone. Which, unfortunately, sets off a chain of events that threatens their relationship.

It’s a charming book, a sweet and tender look at first real love. Perkins captures that sense of falling for someone, that first blush of new love. I think I like Anna and Lola better than Isla as characters; Islais so insecure and somewhat needy, but that’s something that adds to the whole plot arc, so even though it bothered me on and off, I ended up touched by Isla’s growth. I also loved the art that ran through the book; one of the sexier moments (it was a really sexy book!) was when Josh drew all over Isla’s body.

It’s a worthy addition to a wonderful little collection of books.

The Vacationers

by Emma Straub
First sentence: “Leaving always came as a surprise, no matter how long the dates had been looming on the calendar.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are a dozen (or so) f-bombs, some graphic talk about sex and some actual sex (which isn’t graphic). It’s in the adult fiction section of the library.

The Posts are falling apart. Their marriage is suffering because of Jim’s affair (with a woman younger than his son). Their 28-year-old son, Bobby, is a loser. And their daughter, Sylvia, who has just graduated and is off to college, hates living with her parents. So Frannie does the only thing she knows how: rents a house in Mallorca (an island off of Spain) and forces everyone — including her best friend Charles and his husband, as well as her son’s girlfriend — on vacation for two weeks.

It’s such an adorable fantasy. You know? Life is falling apart, so let’s rent a beach house and miraculously everything will get better. Not real life. Or at least my real life.

It was very voyeuristic, this book. I really didn’t care much about Jim’s inner life, or his lust for the editorial assistant he had an affair with. Or Bobby’s relationship with Carmen (who I liked, in spite of the book’s efforts to make me despise her). Or even Sylvia’s inner angst and obsession with losing her virginity. (Which she does, on the beach, to a beautiful Mallorcan boy.) No: the people I was most interested in were Charles and Lawrence because they were the most stable, the most reasonable, the most… well, likable. They were trying to adopt a baby, and there were some struggles with belonging. But if the whole book had been from their perspective, it would have seemed much less snobby. Annoying.

The thing that really kept me reading, however, was that Straub did a wonderful job capturing place and food. Maybe not perfectly, but enough that I was interested in knowing more about Mallorca and I could almost imagine the food.

It’s too bad that I had to experience such a lovely place and read about such lovely food with such crass characters.

The Chocolate Thief

by Laura Florand
First line: “Sylvain Marquis knew what women desired: chocolate.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: Very little swearing (in English; perhaps if I knew French, this would be higher), but it’s most definitely a Blush Book. I may never think about climbing stairs the same. It would be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore, if we carried it.

I was pursuing my TBR shelf, looking for something light to read, when my eye caught this. I remember a bunch of YAckers loving it (and plus: CHOCOLATE and PARIS), so I picked it up. It is most definitely light and fluffy. And sexy. And not much else.

Cade Corey is the daughter of a Hershey’s-like family. They’re in the basic chocolate bar business, and own a huge percentage of the market. While she’s not the CEO, she’s being groomed to take over the company. But what she really wants is Parisian chocolates. Artisan chocolates. Sylvain Marquis’s chocolates, since they’re the best. But she quickly discovers that while money can buy a whole lot it can’t buy her Sylvain. He’s much, much too proud of his French chocolates and much much too disdainful of her American crap. So, she does the only logical thing (right.): breaks into his store, and pilfers through his chocolates, tasting, eating, leaving hints of herself behind.

Which totally turns him on.

From there, the plot is immaterial. It’s all sex. sex. sex. and then more sex. Mostly tastefully written (but not-off screen) sex. And there’s chocolate. Descriptions of luscious, rich, delicate, expensive chocolate. I found myself craving chocolate while I read, so I think Florand did her job. I did have issues with the way that Cad wanted Sylvain to control her… part of me rebelled at the idea of a man being SO in charge of sex, of wanting to master a woman, but to each their own. It did what I wanted to do: transport me to Paris (not enough of that, though), indulge me in chocolate, and be eye candy.

I have no interest in reading the others, though. And I may need some non-fiction to follow up on all that candy. But it was enjoyable while it lasted.

Grasshopper Jungle

by Andrew Smith
First sentence: “I read somewhere that human beings are genetically predisposed to record history.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy highly recommended by our publisher rep.
Content: Weeelll….. sh*t is Austin’s favorite word, and all grasshoppers do is “f**k and eat”. Which gives you a pretty good idea of the language. And Austin and Robby smoke. There is some drinking and one very unsexy sex scene (and talk of masturbating and erections and sex). It’s in the teen section of the bookstore, but I know I’m going to find it difficult to find a parent willing to buy this one for their kid. (That’s not to say the kids won’t like it. They might.)

The short version, the one I’ve been pitching at work (after I realized it was more than “grasshoppers and sex” — though it is that), is that it’s what would happen if Holden Caulfield found himself in a Stephen King novel. Austin — he’s the 16-year-old, sex-obsessed boy whose head we’re living in — is confused and lonely (even though he has a best friend and a girlfriend) and angsty and more than a little self-absorbed, much like Holden. And yet, the setting is so utterly antithetical to our character: a strain of mutant bacteria gets out and starts changing people into six-foot-tall praying mantises whose sole purpose in life is to eat — everything, including each other — and procreate.

Who dreams up these sorts of things? (Well, Stephen King and Andrew Smith, obviously.)

At any rate, it’s nothing like what I expected. I think with all the advance buzz — not just from our rep, but also Publisher’s Weekly, and just the reviews on Goodreads — I expected something, well, amazing. And I got… well, a sex-obsessed, selfish, confused 16-year-old boy. I can deal with that, for the most part (I did make it through Winger after all), and I appreciated Smith for giving us a confused sex-obsessed boy; Austin’s not only confused about life, but also about his own sexuality: how can a person be in love with — and desire — both of his best friends at once?

But, reading through the Goodreads reviews, I stumbled upon one from Kellie at Stacked that made points that I think had been at the back of my mind while reading this book. Nominally, it boils down to this: a woman couldn’t have written a book like this about a girl talking so frankly about sex or her vagina and have it receive the same amount of buzz and acclaim that this one is getting. And secondly: Austin treats girls and women as objects.

The first point, I can see and understand and am a little bit miffed about. It really does go back to this “boy books” and “girl books” thing we (publishers/sellers/parents) have gotten into. We “need” this book because boys “need” this book (because they’re not reading anything else). But that least me to point number two, which is what was bothering me while I read the book. I had chalked it up to being inside a 16-year-old boy’s mind, which is not a comfortable place. But, looking back, it’s really because, to Austin, all women (well, perhaps all people) are a means to an end: sex. He says he “loves” his girlfriend, but honestly, he just wants to jump her. And this — at my very core — bothered me. (In fact, when Robby finally confronts Austin and tells him he’s selfish, I cheered. More of that, please.)

I was talking to a friend at work about this and she pointed out that maybe, just maybe, it was meant to be satirical or ironic. That perhaps we, as readers, were meant to see that Austin is a complete jerk, and find humor in that. Or at the very least, self-reflection.  Perhaps. All I found was discomfort.

There were other things I was disappointed in: Austin’s circular telling of his own personal history, his constant repeating of people’s names (yes, I know Shann’s name is Shann Collins and her stepfather is Johnny McKeon, can you PLEASE stop already?), and just the general uneven pace of the narrative. That said, there were things to admire: actual sentences that made me laugh aloud. Or the fact that Austin’s (and Robby’s for that matter) sexuality was just a thing, and not an “issue”. Or six-foot-tall unstoppable praying mantises.

But I don’t think the positives outweigh the negatives on this one.

The Importance of Being Ernest

by Ernest Cline
First sentence: “I started writing and performing poetry in the mid-90s when I moved to Austin, TX.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Chock full of sex talk (no actual sex, though), f-bombs, and other swearing.

I’m going to start a review — granted this is more a reaction than a review; then again, most of my “reviews” are “reactions”, I’m just being up front about this one — the way I’m not supposed to and say: I dislike poetry.

I don’t “get” it, I don’t particularly like it, and even though we have a shelf of poetry books — collected best-ofs as well as the Shel Silverstein/Jack Pretlusky ones parents are supposed to have — I rarely crack them open.

And so when my manager — who usually is spot-on pinpointing taste and books people will like — suggested I give this one a shot (because I really did love Ready Player One) I didn’t jump up and say, “Sure! I’d love to!”  It was only as we were paring down the inventory after Christmas when she said she thinks it’s worth a shot, and couldn’t I please give it a look over so maybe we can sell it? Please?

So I did.


It’s Geeky poetry. There’s that.
But I’m not sure I’m the target audience.
And they are really foul. Like REALLY. Foul.
I’m not one to get turned off by language, usually,
but I did this time.

Some of the poems — most notably
“When I Was a Kid” —
made me laugh.
And “Nerd Porn Auteur” was spot-on
about smart girls
even though it made me blush.

But some of it was just
very Geek Gamer Guy
which I’m not.
And I don’t care enough
about poetry
in order to care enough
about Geeky Gamers
to like/get/understand
this collection.

That said,
I guess I know who I
can sell it to now.


by Andrew Smith
ages: 14+
First sentence: “I said a silent prayer.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy picked up at ABA Winter institute for me. Yes, I have taken that long to get to it.

Ryan Dean (yes, that’s his whole first name) West has a lot going for him: he’s a junior at Pine Mountain, a boarding school for troubled rich kids (his dad’s a high-powered Boston lawyer) in the Pacific Northwest. He is first string winger (think running back in football, but more intense) for the rugby team. He’s pretty smart.

But there are some downsides: he got transferred into O-Hall this year because he was caught hacking into a cell phone account at the end of last year. And, to top it all off: hes only 14.

And when you’re in O-Hall with all the delinquent football and rugby players? It’s not going to be a stellar year.

Add to that some major girl drama (he’s in love with his best friend, Annie, but snogging his roomate’s girlfriend), late night poker games (let’s just say that Ryan Dean is not a good drunk), and lots and lots of testosterone-induced fights. Let’s just say, I was impressed that Ryan Dean — who was decent human being underneath all the 14-year-old boy nonsense — survived until Thanksgiving.

I’m of two minds about this book. On the one hand, I can sum it up in two words: sex and rugby. Actually, the sex is all in Ryan Dean’s mind: he’s incredibly immature, and objectifies EVERY girl, and EVERY situation becomes about sex. In other words: he’s a normal 14-year-old boy. But unlike Carter’s Unfocused One-Track Mind which I couldn’t get through (and which is the best comparison to this one), I found myself endeared to Ryan Dean. Maybe it was the underdog element. Maybe it was because although he was annoying, he was almost mostly harmless. Maybe it was because he really did mean well, in the end.

Because, I found myself compelled by this. I was invested in Ryan Dean’s drama. I loved the camaraderie of the rugby team. I enjoyed Ryan Dean, dork that he was.

My only real problem was with the ending. See: Ryan Dean becomes good friends with the rugby captain, Joey, who also happens to be gay. Joey’s sexuality isn’t a big deal for Ryan Dean (though he feels the need to comment that he isn’t a lot), but it is for other guys in O-Hall. And in the last 20 pages of the book, it takes a sharp left turn and stops being a fun boarding school drama, and becomes Something More. Not that I minded something more, it was the sharp left turn that threw me. It didn’t work. I didn’t feel pain, or anguish, or anything at all at the end, because I was flabbergasted that a fun and entertaining book so suddenly became Serious. It came off as bad pacing and lack of focus rather than anything more substantial.

It didn’t ruin the book for me, but it did take some of the shine off. Which is too bad, because I was having fun with it before then.

Highland Fling

by Katie Fforde
ages: adult
First sentence: “‘I gave you a home, for goodness’ sake!’ said Henry.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

After being laid off when her IT firm went bust, Jenny Porter decided that she’d never work for anyone but herself again. She became a virtual assistant, which is essentially a glorified secretary, even though she rarely meets her clients. Then, one of her clients, M. R. Grant-Dempsey, decides to send her into the wilds of Scotland to check out Dalmain Mills, and see whether or not it’s worth salvaging.

Once up in the wilds of Scotland, away from her increasingly insufferable boyfriend, Henry, (yes, he really is that bad) she discovers that not only does she really like Scotland, enjoys working in a fast food stand, and wants to find a way to salvage the mill, she is really attracted to possibly the least amiable man in the region: Ross Grant. (Yes, it is who you think it is.)

It’s fluff. Really. There’s no way around it. It’s predictable, enjoyable, fluffy romance, where you want the guy to get with the girl, and the stupid, silly boyfriend out of the way. Everything else about the plot is immaterial. There isn’t much sex (just one scene, in a snow cave… cozy…), though Fforde does know how to write a good kiss. And to be gratuitous in my review, this is who Ross Grant looked like in my head:

You’re welcome.

Not a bad way to spend some time, I think.

A Discovery of Witches

by Deborah Harkness
ages: adult
First sentence: “The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

Although I liked this one quite a bit — more than I was expecting, actually — by the end of it, I was quite torn. So, let’s just say, up front, that my enjoyment of this one was tempered by some hangups.

The good:
I loved the world that Harkness created. It’s basically our world, except it’s inhabited by vampires, witches, and daemons. They’re generally brilliant, generally long-lived, and generally go unnoticed by humans. Our main character, Diana, is a witch who, ever since her parents’ deaths when she was 7, has shunned her magic. She’s a historian of 17th-century science, which means she dabbles in Alchemy. She’s pretty content with her life. Until she meets Matthew. Who is a vampire.

Which brings me to good point number 2: Harkness has a debt to owe to Stephenie Meyer, but she one-ups her. Matthew is 1500 years old, which makes him incredibly fascinating. (And I suppose it’s kind of creepy that a 1500 year old would fall in love with a 37 year old?) There’s a lot of history in this book, and no accident that Diana, as a historian, is fascinated by Matthew.

The bad:
It’s still True Love, and while it’s not as stifling as Edward and Bella’s love, it’s still pretty sappy. (What is it with vampires and a reluctance to have sex?) There’s also that element of over-protectiveness that drove me batty in the Twilight series. The only difference is that Diana can — and does — hold her own as a witch, though it takes her most of the book to do so. She also struggles against Matthew’s edicts, which helps with the whole damsel-in-distress thing. That, and the fact that she’s in REAL danger as opposed to supposed danger helps temper Matthew’s irritating behavior.

The good:
The plot is intriguing and complex: there’s a lost manuscript that all the “creatures” (as they call themselves) are longing to get their hands on. But, more importantly, there’s the forbidden love (really?) between Diana and Matthew: it seems the creatures aren’t suppose to cross-mate because of an age old (like centuries) covenant that the creatures made with each other. This leads to a lot of things, the most important being an impending “war” between the creatures who are okay with Diana and Matthew’s love and those who are not.

The bad:
On some levels, the idea of anyone being able to love anyone they want is a good story. But my main complaint with this book is that it’s 576 pages, and they don’t get to the point until the last 1/4. The plot pacing is bad as well: it’ll be interesting, then Harkness will divert into pages and pages of wine, food and romancing (M contended that if she cut out all the bits about wine, she would have lost about 75 pages…), none of which had anything to do with the plot. More than once, I nearly lost patience with the book.

That said, I’m invested now, and I’m interested in where Harkness is going to go with the sequel. Hopefully, it won’t be nearly as long. (Then again, she’s a historian, so I’m not really expecting a more tightly written book. Just hoping.)