Review: ‘The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky’ by Summer Heacock

A humorous novel about a cupcake shop owner with a physical ailment that’s kept her from having sex for two years, and the desperate antics that ensue as she tries to overcome it.

Having sex wasn’t a big priority while Kat Carmichael’s successful cupcake shop was taking off. But when she realizes that it’s been nearly two years since she and her boyfriend, Ryan, have been intimate, she makes a pact to break her dry spell-and cure her vaginismus, a muscular condition that can make sex physically impossible.

Out of guilt, Kat calls for a break in her relationship with Ryan, so that he can see other people while she attempts to fix the issue on her own. She throws herself into physical therapy, but soon discovers her solo mission is more complicated than she anticipated. Fortunately, Ben Cleary, the shop’s best (looking) customer, is also a physical therapist, and volunteers to help out.

As time goes on, however, the boundaries Ben and Kat have set between friendship and love quickly become blurred, leaving her more confused than ever about what to hang on to and what to let go.

I haven’t read a lot of chick lit before, so this book was a brilliant way to expose myself (har har) to the genre. It is hilariously funny, with a “what can go wrong probably will” vibe and a self-described Type A main character who doesn’t like to ask for help and regularly blurts out what she’s thinking and then regrets it later.

I love Kat. But I especially love her in the context of her friends/co-workers at the cupcake shop: feisty best friend Shannon, edible-glitter-obsessed bisexual Butter and shy bride-to-be Liz. The four of them are frequently bawdy and always frank with one another, and after Kat reveals her condition to the others in a truly giggle-worthy conversation, they band around to provide moral support and sex toys to help with her therapy.

The burgeoning relationship with Ben is adorable. He’s earnest and more than a little awkward, though he generally takes things with good humour. However, he’s not a doormat and when Kat crosses the line he isn’t afraid to tell her so. Despite everything, their romance is actually touching and sweeter than one of Butter’s cupcake recipes. I ship them so hard!

As for Ryan, I was prepared to hate him, as I assumed was traditional, but — although he’s not my type (or Kat’s, really) — he is good best friend material. It just takes both of them a while to figure that out.

Summer is great at setting up awkward situations and then letting the humour roll, but where she truly shines is in writing dialogue. Kat, Ben and Ryan are also all nerds, which warms my heart. This book is a great read for anyone who likes to laugh, isn’t too prudish, and wants to read about cupcakes all day.

It even comes with some of Butter’s recipes at the back, you guys. It’s basically perfect.

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Review: ‘Obsidian’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Starting over sucks.

When we moved to West Virginia right before my senior year, I’d pretty much resigned myself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring… until I spotted my hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up.

And then he opened his mouth.

Daemon is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. We do not get along. At all. But when a stranger attacks me and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something… unexpected happens. 

The hot alien living next door marks me.

You heard me. Alien. Turns out Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities, and Daemon’s touch has me lit up like the Vegas Strip. The only way I’m getting out of this alive is by sticking close to Daemon until my alien mojo fades. 

If I don’t kill him first, that is.

This is the second Jennifer L. Armentrout book I’ve read; the first was Half-Blood, the review of which you can find here if you’re curious. I saw a review that described Obsidian as Twilight, redone with the leading lady given a dose of spine. And I can definitely see the comparison. It is, however, another paranormal romance — and anyone who read my last review will know they aren’t usually my cup of tea. Why do I do this to myself?

Okay, here we go

I really like Katy. She’s a book blogger who spends a lot of her time reading and reviewing books (which is obviously an awesome hobby to have! 😉 ) and the rest of her time looking after her workaholic nurse mother: cooking, doing groceries, cleaning. Oh, and perving at the hot neighbour.

The neighbour, sadly, is an awful human being (or, actually, not, which you’ll know if you’ve read the blurb).

For the record, I never went through the bad boy phase, and I don’t think I’ve ever been attracted to the moody and broody love interest type in a book. Daemon is, for me, no exception. He is instantly hostile to Katy, I guess because she’s getting human on his porch? He is rude, gets inside Katy’s personal space in a way I frequently found confronting, and is generally unlikeable.

He does have moments where he can be sweet, and, as a reader, it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that he’s trying to drive Katy away so she won’t befriend Daemon’s sister, Dee, and find out their secret (and that, later, he wants Katy away from him because he’s attracted to her and their love is forbidden etc etc). But that’s no excuse for his bad behaviour. And poor Dee a couple of times came across as a battered partner, apologising and cringing about her brother’s attitude. I felt so sad for her.

Now, to Katy’s credit, she doesn’t take Daemon’s crap. She admits to herself that she finds him hot and she lusts after him to her lady parts’ content, but she is more than happy to tell him what she thinks of him, and at no point does the off-the-charts tension between them cross over into (to me) inexplicable love. That fact alone is why I gave this book three stars — it is so unusual to find a paranormal romance where the leading lady doesn’t confuse lust for love, and is willing to say no to the pretty supernatural paramour when he finally caves in and deigns to be with her.

The story is fairly predictable. Katy gets herself in trouble on several occasions, and is saved by Daemon every time. (She does save him once too, which is nice.) The bad guys didn’t scare me as much as I’d hoped they would, probably because I didn’t really get their motivation. The writing is good (especially the kissing scenes), and the story ticks along fast enough that I wasn’t bored.

If you love paranormal romance, brooding-but-super-hot leading men, a heroine with a backbone, and some fairly serious sexual tension with very little follow-through, then this is the book for you.


Review: ‘RoseBlood’ by A. G. Howard

In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.

This book broke my heart, you guys — and not in an “OMG, so many feels” way. No, it broke my heart in the sense that I wanted it to be so much more than what it was. I’m giving it two stars, which is “it’s okay” in the admittedly terse Goodreads star system. And it was okay. But I wanted it to be glorious.

I was a mad Phantom of the Opera fan in my teens. I haven’t read the original novel, but I have the Susan Kay novel and can sing the musical by heart. The idea of an urban fantasy inspired by the Phantom made me giddy with delight.

The first thing you need to know (and that I wish I’d known) is that, unlike Howard’s Splintered series, RoseBlood isn’t urban fantasy but its kissing cousin, paranormal romance. That means that the romance is the central focus of the plot, rather than a subplot. I’m not generally a huge fan of paranormal romance, for the same reason there aren’t too many pure romance stories that I enjoy. They just aren’t to my taste.

Secondly, RoseBlood uses the insta-love plot device via the mechanism of a soul mate — only in the book it’s referred to by the admittedly pretty phrase “twin flame”. The thing I didn’t find so pretty was that a twin flame was two people who shared a soul. Every time I ready about that, I cringed — not so much because of the cheesiness (although it is a tiny bit cheesy, let’s be honest) but because I couldn’t shake the mental image that the two parts of the soul were going to burst out of the two main characters in a spray of gore like baby monsters from Alien, desperate to be reunited.

(Sorry!)

Also, I found the romance more broadly a little problematic. Thorn, the male in the relationship, has all the knowledge and most of the power, and he regards the whole thing as preordained. At one point he tells Rune that they are destined to be lovers. He watches Rune sleep. Some (especially those who love Edward Cullen) will find this romantic, but I … did not.

Onto the things I did enjoy, the world is gloriously gothic. Rune’s school, RoseBlood, is all creepy props cupboards and chandeliers and secret passages behind one-way mirrors. It doesn’t have internet or cell phone access, increasing that very gothic sense of isolation. I loved the feel of it.

Just don’t ask why it’s called RoseBlood; we never find out, which is a shame.

I also enjoyed Rune’s aesthetic. She’s into handmade clothes and knitting, and has curly brown hair (something we don’t see that much of in spec-fic — I say this as a person with curly brown hair!). She does suffer from being a bit wet in the relationship stakes and doesn’t have the fire I prefer in my heroines, but I suspect that may be because Howard was trying to parallel Erik’s power over Christine in the original story.

Her friends are delightful and I wish they’d been in the book more. As for the Phantom himself, Erik is in the book, although as a largely off-screen menace and (occasionally) tragic figure. Still, in the love/hate balance I came down on the side of hate.

The paranormal element of the book is a little bizarre, but not the weirdest thing I’ve ever read in spec-fic. I won’t go into details, though, because I don’t want to include spoilers.

If you love paranormal romance, heavy gothic atmosphere, lush prose and Twilight, then RoseBlood is for you. If not, I’d suggest checking out the Splintered series instead.

 

 

 


Review: “Once Dead, Twice Shy” by Kim Harrison

My name is Madison Avery, and I’m here to tell you that there’s more out there than you can see, hear, or touch. Because I’m there. Seeing it. Touching it. Living it.

Madison’s prom was killer—literally. For some reason she’s been targeted by a dark reaper—yeah, that kind of reaper—intent on getting rid of her, body and soul. But before the reaper could finish the job, Madison was able to snag his strange, glowing amulet and get away.

Now she’s stuck on Earth—dead but not gone. Somehow the amulet gives her the illusion of a body, allowing her to toe the line between life and death. She still doesn’t know why the dark reaper is after her, but she’s not about to just sit around and let fate take its course.

With a little ingenuity, some light-bending, and the help of a light reaper (one of the good guys! Maybe…), her cute crush, and oh yeah, her guardian angel, Madison’s ready to take control of her own destiny once and for all, before it takes control of her.

Well, if she believed in that stuff.

I had high hopes for this book. I love Harrison’s The Hollows series (I reviewed the first book here if you want to see what that’s all about), and I was in the mood for some YA, so this seemed the perfect fit. It’s always a risk, going into a book with the bar set so high. And I did like it … but not as much as I wanted to.

The first chapter drops you in the middle of things to the point that I double-checked I hadn’t inadvertently bought the second book the series. It heavily references the events around prom night and Madison’s death (mentioned in the blurb), but in a “you should know this” way rather than a “here’s a drip feeding of backstory” way. I discovered when I looked at Goodreads afterwards that there is a short story in a previously published compilation, Prom Nights From Hell, which covered those events. Something to be aware of. I expect that, if you read the compilation first, the start of this book would be less discombobulating.

I didn’t mind Madison as a main character, though she felt a little underdone. Again, I think it was the lack of backstory. For example, one of the elements of character growth that became apparent by the end is that she realises she needs to forge a new life with her dad and stop rejecting new friends because they can’t compete with her best friend at her old school. But her only interaction with her old best friend was that she texted her selfies a couple of times, so I didn’t realise she was rejecting new friends etc till she decided not to do it anymore.

Still, Madison is a pastel goth who has skulls on her shoes and purple hair, and is an amateur photographer. I dug that, as well as her hard-headed determination to not be a damsel in distress.

Barnabas is the light reaper (think: specialised angel) who was meant to save Madison’s life and is now stuck with teaching her how to use the new powers she should be able to access by virtue of … not being dead, I guess? It’s unclear. He looks — and acts — like a broody seventeen year old boy. Ugh. The love interest, Josh, is actually seventeen, and is much more mature. Get it together, Barnabas.

Plot-wise, once I accepted that Madison had somehow managed to evade final death by swiping the amulet, the book wasn’t too bad. I guessed from the first description of the amulets what one of the plot twists was, which was kind of disappointing. But there was another one that I didn’t see coming, which meant the end of the book was more entertaining than the first half.

Once Dead, Twice Shy is a straightforward read that would suit a younger teen (especially one who has read the story that sets this book up!). I gather it’s the first book in a trilogy, but I’m not sure I’ll be reading any further. 


Mini-reviews: ‘Words of Radiance’ by Brandon Sanderson and ‘Summer Falls’ by James Goss

Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status “darkeyes.” Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.

The Assassin, Szeth, is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.

Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.

I only just reviewed The Way of Kings (the first book in this series) last month, and a lot of what I said about that book is true for this one too. Hence the mini-review; I think the blurb will be longer than the new things I have to say. :p

Brandon Sanderson: still a world-building god.

My overall impression of Words of Radiance is that the pace feels a little faster than the first book did, but maybe that’s because I’d already been sucked into the story and the descriptions of the world’s little details didn’t bother me so much. Even the interludes were clearly more directly relevant than they seemed in the first book (though they were relevant then, too; as I said in my last review, Sanderson is the master of literary sleight of hand).

I adore Shallan and Kaladin and ship them super-hard — which is awkward (no spoilers). Both of them experience a fair bit of character growth; Shallan needs to face up to her past, while Kaladin needs to overcome his. I adore them. Dalinar is still all noble and awesome, and my other favourite character is Jasnah, Shallan’s mentor. She is an atheist who defies all of the religiously derived expectations of her as a princess and a woman (the world has some unique cultural expectations of both men and women — only women are allowed to read, for example, making them the clerks, scientists and scholars, while only men can fight). She’s basically the best.

The book has intrigue, attempted assassinations, an interesting magic system, visions, a looming Big Bad, characters you love to hate, characters you kinda hate but feel sorry for, and loads more.

The only tragedy is that this is the first time I’ve started on a Sanderson series that wasn’t already complete. The third book doesn’t come out until November. So I’ll be sitting over here.

Waiting.


In the seaside village of Watchcombe, young Kate is determined to make the most of her last week of summer holiday. But when she discovers a mysterious painting entitled ‘The Lord of Winter’ in a charity shop, it leads her on an adventure she never could have planned. Kate soon realises the old seacape, painted long ago by an eccentric local artist, is actually a puzzle. And with the help of some bizarre new acquaintances – including a museum curator’s magical cat, a miserable neighbour, and a lonely boy – she plans on solving it.

And then, one morning Kate wakes up to a world changed forever. For the Lord of Winter is coming – and Kate has a very important decision to make.

This is a fun little novella that is about the length and complexity of a middle grade book. It is published under the pen name Amelia Williams, which fans of Doctor Who will know is the name companion Amy Pond writes under after she is consigned to the past (and out of the Doctor’s life) in series seven. After finishing the tome Words of Radiance, I was in the mood for something short and light.

Kate is a lot like Amy was — she’s strong, decisive, and doesn’t much like the company of silly people. She befriends a man she names Barnabus, the curator of a museum next door to her house. Barnabus is clearly based on Amy’s Doctor, but he doesn’t take over the story, leaving Kate with the agency to investigate and resolve the plot. The plot itself is fairly traditional Doctor Who fare: an alien masquerading as a supernatural force, clearly inspired by Amy’s experiences with the Doctor. It’s a little bit Lovecraftian without being overt horror, which I quite enjoyed, and is entirely suitable for children.

I love the double-layered fiction in this: that it’s written by a fictional character about another fictional character. Amy’s hand being so clear behind the story shows the talent of the real human that wrote it, James Goss. My only regret is that I accidentally bought the stand-alone novella rather than the collection of three (which has almost the same title).


Review: ‘The Way of Kings’ by Brandon Sanderson

Speak again the ancient oaths,

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

And return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.

Roshar is a world of stone swept by tempests that shape ecology and civilization. Animals and plants retract; cities are built in shelter. In centuries since ten orders of Knights fell, their Shardblade swords and Shardplate armor still transform men into near-invincible warriors. Wars are fought for them, and won by them.

In one such war on the ruined Shattered Plains, slave Kaladin struggles to save his men and fathom leaders who deem them expendable, in senseless wars where ten armies fight separately against one foe.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Fascinated by the ancient text named The Way of Kings and troubled by visions of ancient times, he doubts his sanity.

Across the ocean, Shallan trains under eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece Jasnah. Though Shallan genuinely loves learning, she plans a daring theft. Her research hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

Brandon Sanderson is a world-building, story-crafting genius. I strongly recommend his works if you like your fantasy on the EPIC side of epic — Goodreads tells me the hardcover of The Way of Kings is over 1000 pages. I listened to this on audiobook and it was 45+ hours long. That is a lot of 30-minute commutes.

Still, the time commitment is worth it.

I started out a little concerned, because Sanderson does something a little unorthodox in modern fiction and starts you off with not one but two prologues. I felt a little dropped in the deep end, and wanted to get to the main character so I could begin to learn about this new world. But Sanderson came good. And, boy, do we get to know this world. With a book this big, he can immerse you in many of the cultures, let you see how different characters think, let the characters and their decisions and mistakes drive events.

It turns out there are three main characters — which I’d have known if I read the blurb rather than buying the book on faith and diving straight in. (I’ve read/listened to quite a few Sanderson novels now and he’s an autobuy for me.) But we get chapters from other characters too. Honestly, I could have lived without some — though not all — of the interludes, because they didn’t seem that relevant to the main story. However, Sanderson has tricked me before when I’ve thought details were interesting but not relevant. He’s the master of literary sleight of hand.

I enjoyed all three main characters: Shallan is very intelligent and quick of wit but also incredibly naive; Dalinar is a hot older guy (I’m showing my age) who is a true noble, big on honour in a society where war and betrayal are almost tenets of faith; Kaladin is young, determined and a talented warrior and leader, but struggles with depression and bitterness due to some awful betrayals in his past.

Although this is a hugely character-driven story, there is a big bad looming in the background, a force or deity called Odium (which I imagine is like the elemental force Ruin in Sanderson’s Mistborn series: something that seeks the destruction of the world and is resisted by a Preservation equivalent). The more you read, the more you realise how all-pervasive Odium’s influence is over the world of Roshar. I suspect from this first book that the disintegration of the Alethi culture of which Dalinar is a part can be attributed to Odium’s influence.

I’m super-excited to read the rest of the series to find out if I’m right.


Review: ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more — she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Without Wren, Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She’s got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible.

I read my first Rainbow Rowell novel last year: Eleanor & Park is exceptionally well written, albeit darker than I was expecting. Maybe I was subconsciously misled by the fact the author’s first name was “Rainbow”? :p

Still, when I heard Rowell had written a novel about a girl obsessed with fan fiction (aka fanfic) about a series of books inspired by Harry Potter, I was definitely keen. Those are two brands of geeky subculture that I’m familiar with; I experimented with fanfic when I was in my 20s (although when I say it like that it makes fanfic sound like illegal drugs or something!) — and Harry Potter … well, duh! I haven’t been living under a bush.

Fangirl blew me away. I’ve really fallen in love with the subgenre of YA that is geeky contemporary over the past few years, and this book is another addition to that shelf. Rowell’s writing shines here, both in the day-to-day tale of Cath’s life and in the extensive excerpts of her fanfic. I was just as hooked by her take on her Simon/Baz fic as I was by her main storyline. Happily, Carry On, the fanfic story that Cath works on throughout Fangirl, is also now available as a novel — a fact so meta that it makes me grin. I’ll definitely be buying it as soon as I can.

As for Cath, it’s hard not to love her. She struggles with anxiety, which is made worse by her twin, Wren, effectively abandoning her as soon as they hit university. Her father is bipolar so Cath spends a lot of time worrying about him — and Wren has her own issues, which she seeks to forget about through her new party lifestyle. At times, as much as I understood what she was going through, I wanted to shake Wren till her teeth rattled; she has moments where she is particularly mean-spirited. The times that Cath stood up to her were some of my favourite parts of the book.

There is a romance here, though it’s hard not to name names without spoilers. There are a couple of different males on the scene, but this isn’t a love triangle in the traditional sense. One of the guys turns out to be a selfish a-hole and the other is a sweetheart. There’s no competition. And that’s all I will say about that.

As far as other characters go, I adored Reagan, Cath’s roommate. Despite how prickly she is, she takes Cath under her wing in a “tough love” way that it’s hard not to love. Also, Professor Piper receives a notable mention — she’s the sort of supportive writing lecturer I wish I’d had when I was at university. (And I love the way Rowell handled the storyline as it related to Cath and Wren’s mother. So realistic!)

Fangirl is a story about stories, about getting out of your comfort zone, and about finding out who you are. I love it.