“Guilty Pleasure” Review- Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

Apparently, I am doing a lot of “guilty pleasure” reading this summer. Well…in between my YA reads and my anti-racist reading. Here is one that I liked. Didn’t love.

Am I hard to please? Well, no, but I have read over 3000 books in my 32 years and it is hard to really surprise me with a plot. I almost feel like I have read it all before. That means I hardly ever really “love” a book, but I usually still “like” it.

Please read my previous and future reviews with that in mind.

Bringing Down the Duke

Bringing Down the Duke, to frequent readers of historical romance, has a familiar plot. Beautiful, but too intelligent to land a husband, Annabelle Archer (love an alliterative name) crosses paths with handsome but cold and aloof Sebastian Devereux, Duke of Montgomery while she is handing out fliers in support of women’s suffrage. After that, you. know what happens.

This one was fun and steamy. I loved the build up of tension and the back drop of the British women’s suffrage movement. That was a new one. It is great when a main heroine asserts her intelligence, but loved to see her using it to affect change for a larger group of people, rather than just her own place in society.

What kept me from loving it was this: I’m not a huge fan of the “woman getting a fever from being out in the cold so they have to stay at the aloof, heartless, handsome aristocrat’s manor” trope. But it’s always a pretty convenient way to advance a romantic plot. Come on. I get it, but I would have loved something more.

With that being said, I did enjoy my experience reading it last night and I will absolutely pick up Evie Dunmore’s next one.

“Guilty Pleasure” Review: Not That Kind of Guy by Andie J. Christopher

A review with no shame. Get ready.

Not that Kind of Guy

If Peter and Lara Jean or Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds made you swoon, this might be the book for you.

Not That Kind of Guy follows hard working attorney Bridget. Fresh off a break-up with the only serious boyfriend she ever had, she is saddled with handsome and wealthy intern Matt.

I found it to be hot and kind of cute.

The premise, intern/boss forbidden lust to drunken Vegas mistake to fake relationship had, had all of the fun romance tropes. I liked both characters and loved her family.

I just kind of wish there was a little more build up of tension between the two of them. They work together for three months and we learn this because the book flashes forward and we are told that three months of meaningful looks and tension have happened.

I, for one, would have enjoyed being frustrated about that with them.

That all being said, I did not love it, but I liked it. Pick it up and make your own judgement.

On Re-Reads

I think I talked about it in my post on trilogies, but I am a big re-reader.

I love delving into a book or series every few years to revisit favorite characters and favorite relationships, to see how my reading experience changes as I do, or to remind myself of previous books in a series before I tackle the newest one.

When the stay-at-home order for COVID-19 was put in place in Mass, I immediately began re-reading some of my favorite series. To be fair, I prefer reading paper books and the library was closed, so I had to re-read what I already owned.

The whole experience got me thinking about why I re-read and which books I tend to re-read. I find that I often turn to books that helped shaped my teenage years and books that contain my favorite “book boyfriends.” As a 32 year-old reader, I hold no more naivety about the idealism of fictional relationships, but that doesn’t mean I cannot read them anymore.

Books that I have re-read over the years:
1. The Ringmaster’s Secret by Carolyn Keene (my favorite of the Nancy Drew books)
2. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (I read this book for the first time in 2000 and I have read it every few years since. One year, when I was in my early twenties, I hated it. It has been with me for a long time)
3. Meg Cabot’s Heather Wells series (Ex-pop star works at a college dorm and solves murders with a hunky PI. Yes please. The first one is called Size 12 is Not Fat and I was one then,)
4. Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries Series (such fun teen angst)
5. Phillip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series
6. Deanna Rayburn’s Veronica Speedwell Series
7. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
8. Emma by Jane Austen
9. The Collected Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
10. Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series
11. Harry Potter (up until this year)
12. Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery (until after Anne and Gilbert get married and Anne’s character changes completely)
13. The Murder of Roget Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
14. All of Dan Brown’s books (they are fun and I don’t care what you think)

I’m sure there are many that I am forgetting, but no matter what, re-reading is an important part of my literary life. Sometimes I crave the comfort of a story that I know the ending of. Sometimes I need to swoon over a hero. Sometimes I have to see how a text has aged and how I have aged with it.

Why do you re-read? What do you find yourself re-reading? I would love to know!

“Guilty Pleasure” Book Project

Last week, I engaged in a Twitter discourse with followers of Epic Reads about the term “guilty pleasure” and how it applies to reading. Many fellow Tweeters expressed a similar sentiment to mine.

As I have mentioned before, almost ad nauseam, I find the term to be outdated and sexist. It mostly applies to female readers and books where the plot focuses on romance. Sometimes the book is humorous. Sometimes the book has a murder. Sometimes the book is vaguely historical. No matter the actual plot or setting, a “guilty pleasure” read usually has a steamy romance and a happy ending. Sign me up!

Readers have to hide their delight in these often predictable books. The couple meets, has some tension, has some smutty moments around page 150, has some sort of conflict, and then gets together in the end. So what if the text that brought them together would not be taught in an upperclassmen literature seminar? The idea that only highbrow novels are worthy of reading and worthy of discussing is elitist and foolish.

“Guilty pleasure” reads often provide socio-emotional and empathy training for readers without them even realizing it. These books give us an escape. These novels make us want to actually pick up and finish a book, instead of scrolling mindlessly on our phone. These books have value, even if they cost six dollars at the grocery store instead of twenty dollars at a book store.

So here it is. The newest addition to my blog: The “Guilty Pleasures” Book Project. As I review and think about books, I am going to update a new page on my blog that brings all of these reads together. Please recommend and comment so that we can start to reclaim the term and read things we enjoy without shame.

Because a love of reading is a love of reading, no matter what you choose to read.

“Guilty Pleasure” Review: The Dare by Elle Kennedy

Yes, I am still using the term.

But, am I learning that it is not a mark of shame for its reader? Also yes.

Two nights ago, I binge read The Dare by Elle Kennedy. I do not care what you think of her books or her writing style. Well, I do, but I refuse to be shamed because I enjoy them. Her books make me laugh. Her books make me swoon (a little and a lot…mostly a lot.). And, most importantly, they are something that I read because of my best friend. She shares new ones with me. She shares her favorite lines with me. We share our lol-worthy or swoon-worthy moments. As she would say: “Real friends share smutty books with each other.”

I think that is a beautiful sentiment.

This latest smutty-book-share follows elementary education major, sorority sister, curvier than she would like, college student Taylor. Very early on in the book, Taylor is dared by her arch-nemesis to seduce the hot new hockey player Conor, a tall order considering the lack of confidence that Taylor has in her body. Of course, high-jinx and smut ensue.

Not going to lie, this one is heavier on the smut, with a little bit of fun and feelings. It has the always great “fake dating” trope and fairly realistic heroine (who wants to be a teacher!)

My only gripe is that I wish Taylor had a bit more to her personality than her body image issues. As someone with a lot of hang-ups of her own, I like to think that I am more than that and I don’t need some handsome hockey player to convince me otherwise. So I found her relatable, but I thought we could have seen a little bit more of what she could be.

But complex characterization is not why you pick up an Elle Kennedy.

And I always do.

And I always enjoy it.

Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Last week, I made my way through the National Book Award Finalist book Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

This book gave me a lot to think about and a lot to Google as I read.

Pachinko follows four generations of a Korean family. It shows their love, their poverty, their ambition, and their family dynamics. Some of the family employment centers around yakuza owned Pachinko parlors. I knew nothing about these and gladly jumped into the internet rabbit hole to learn about them.

This book was beautiful and heartbreaking, giving the reader insight into the plight of Koreans in Japan. The narrative style was not my favorite. Chapters were long and the big life moments like falling in love, birth, and death were glossed over in time jumps.

Maybe that makes sense. Maybe the author was making a point that the characters could not take the time to dwell on any emotion. I would have loved to dwell on so many of them. When I read, I usually am swept up in the character’s emotions. They become my own. They urge me to finish a book, so that I can resolve the emotions. With this book, it was not the point, leaving me with my own unresolved emotions. Again, perhaps that is the point.

Pick it up and see for yourself!

On Trilogies

Three is the best number of books to read in a series (or movies to watch.)

Controversial thought. Yay or nay?

Many of my favorite book series (and movie series) are trilogies. There is just something about the set-up in the first book. The real drama of the second book. The cliff hanger that brings you into book three. The neatly wrapped-up plot of the three books in the third. On a reread of the series, there is only three books to read.

I know that sometimes a series is good if there are more than three books (but name one…I’ll wait.) Often a series becomes more complex and unbelievable, moving away from the story told in the first few books. Of course, a well plotted series can support more than three books. As a reader, I just find trilogies to be the sweet spot. For me.

Now that I am on summer break, I am re-reading Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy. It is a fabulous YA series that follows the daughter of two brilliant scientists through parallel dimensions to avenge her father’s killer. Of course, there is futuristic London, a version of imperial St. Petersburg, and swoon-worthy heroes. I am not always a sci-fi fan, but this trilogy does not really feel like sci-fi.

Some other favorite trilogies include:
1. The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare (do or don’t judge me. Your choice.)
2. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
3. The Summer I Turned Pretty series by Jenny Han
4. The Caraval Series by Stephanie Garber
5. The Little Lady Agency series by Hester Browne
6. The Dark Days Club series by Alison Goodman
Of course there are others. I also have favorite series that have four books or 22 books. Some, I even thought were trilogies and was confused when plot points were not wrapping up at the end of book three (looking at you The Raven Boys.)

You know that there is no shame on this blog. You know that I believe people should read what they like and love. So, get out there and read some of your favorite trilogies. Or don’t. Read a stand alone. Read a book of short stories. Read a series that won’t end. It’s your reading life. So live it.

Leave a comment below with your favorite trilogies or your ideal number of books in a series.

YA Book Review: Mirage

I am allowed to read Young Adult books.

We are all allowed to read this genre. Some of the most moving and interesting stories that I have encountered in my adult life have been about teenagers. There seems to be this freedom in the genre for the authors. Perhaps they don’t feel that they have the limitations of adult literary fiction and they have a less critical audience. Whatever the reason, us benefit from their ability to indulgence in their own imaginations.

I pretend that I read YA for my job. I mean, I DO read YA for my job, but often read it for me. Last week, I read Mirage by Somaiya Daud. Here are my thoughts about it.

 

Mirage

BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 3.5 Stars.

In Mirage, the main character Amani, is kidnapped by an evil regime due to her resemblance to its princess. Amani must try to impersonate this princess or risk the lives of her family and herself. While she does does enjoy the benefits of living in a palace, rather than her poor village, she is always in danger of being discovered and losing everything.

I did not do enough research on this one before I read it and did not realize that it was scifi/fantasy. That one is on me. I am never good with world building and trying to picture a new world always makes the reading experience a bit challenging.

Setting/genre aside, I really like the main character and her gradual development of confidence and sense of identity, even as she was trying to learn to become someone else. The mythology and poetry were gorgeous, as was our main love interest Idris.

I am not great with books that take place on a variety of planets, with new technology, but I enjoyed everything else about this one. I probably would have loved it, if I was more of a sci-fi/fantasy fan.

 

“Guilty Pleasure” Book Review: The Happy Ever After Playlist

Using the term in quotations makes it not real, right? Remember, no shame allowed on this blog!

After Buzzfeed published its list of romance novels to read over the summer (you know, beach reads, mainly targeted at women..which I love,) I immediately put holds on most of them. Buzzfeed does do a great list of books. This particular list was diverse and intriguing to a teacher about to have a lot more time for reading. I have gotten through a few on the list and wanted to spotlight one that many people loved and I found to be just okay.

The Happy Ever AFter Playlist

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 3 STARS

Trying not to give books three stars, but honestly, I found this one to be just okay. The Happy Ever After Playlist starts out with a dog jumping into to the car of Sloan Monroe; a character who lost her fiance in an accident and is having trouble finding herself and moving on. Luckily for her, the dog’s owner, handsome rockstar Jason, is away and she has found herself a new friend in the dog and a flirty penpal in the man.

The plot was fun and predictable. The characters were quirky and mostly well rounded. I really liked the main character’s best friend who was fierce and protective of Sloan, but also hilarious. I really enjoyed the villainizing of the media and music industry. The story does dig into grief, loss, and the toll fame can take on a person’s mental health fairly well. Sometimes it all seemed a little overly dramatic to me and I worried that it made the otherwise strong Sloan seem like she needed saving, but this drama certainly added to the evolution of the characters and their relationships.

Otherwise, I mostly finished it to finish it. Cute, but nothing super special…to be fair, I am very hard to surprise or impress when it comes to this type of novels.

If you are looking for something fun, you can find it here!

On Reading BIPOC: Reviews of The Underground Railroad and There There.

As a reader, I am often drawn to the same genres (mystery, YA, historical fiction) with similar settings (Victorian England) and characters (spunky spinster women that solve crime and end up winning over the tall, handsome, grumpy man.)

I do read everything that I can, but I recognize that I need to expand my reading of BIPOC even further. I always made a purposeful choice to read diverse authors, but re-prioritized this after hearing author Varian Johnson speak at the Boston Globe Horn Book Award Ceremony in 2018. He told the librarians and teachers in the audience that we need to think about who is in our classroom and choose books for them. Children need to see themselves in what they are reading and need exposure to other children that are not like them. Representation and the cultivation of empathy became an even more important goal in my classroom and in my life.

To that end, I started adding even more diverse books, genres, and authors to my reading list. Today, I am going to tell you about two: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and There There by Tommy Orange

The Underground Railroad

Colson’s Whitehead’s book is the story of Cora, who is living as a slave on a Georgia plantation, and follows her from her plantation and onto her journey on the Underground Railroad. This was a book that I had on my ebook TBR list for a few years and kept putting off in favor of paper books. Without my usual provider of paper books (the library,) I finally picked it up last week.

BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 4 STARS.

Structurally, I appreciated the vignettes and multiple perspectives. What a fascinating and horrifying story. In school, we always learned about the Underground Railroad, never in such detail. The danger, the horror, the lack of humanity, and emotions in the book made it difficult to read and difficult to stop reading. Although the book takes place in the 1800s, many of the scenes could have been ripped from the news in 2020. Worth a read, if not just to put human emotions with the facts that you learned in 8th grade history class.

THERe There

Like The Underground Railroad, There There by Tommy Orange uses multiple perspectives to tell the story of another persecuted group: Native Americans. Orange’s book follows the lives of characters that are loosely connected to each other and to an upcoming festival in California.

BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 3 STARS

I know I said I wouldn’t use the 3 star rating, but I feel it is deserved here and not just my own hang-ups regarding honest reviews. At the end of the day, I liked the book. I found the bits of informative text fascinating and disturbing. I was moved by the stories of the characters. I was shocked at the ending. I loved the first half of the book. However, around the halfway point, I felt like there were too many stories and characters to follow. The build up to the end of the book dragged because the focus of the narrative kept jumping around.

Overall, my issues with the book’s structure did not take away from the complexity of the stories and their importance. Everyone should read at least the first third to a half of this book for insight into these characters who are living as many current people of Native American heritage are.

READING BIPOC IN THE FUTURE

For the second half of 2020, a few colleagues and I will be doing a reading BIPOC authors challenge. I am excited to continue to broaden my reading and find some great new recommendations for friends and students.

What do we HAVE to read?