Monday, February 27, 2017

seriously romantic: off the ice by julie cross

you guys, this book gave me so many feels. welcome to juniper falls, mn, where you live and breathe hockey given that there are few opportunities to enjoy anything else. off the ice, is more than a sports romance though. it's an emotional coming-of-age story set in a small town with many secrets. the story opens at claire o'connors goodbye party. she's leaving juniper falls to pursue her dream of singing on the stage, starting at an advance studies musical theater program at northwestern. she's had a crush on luke pratt since forever and for the first time ever he's paying attention to her and she wants this to go somewhere.

except it doesn't go anywhere good. in the meantime, tate tanley, claire's best friend's little brother sees what's happening while dealing with problems of his own. his father is a hockey hero, revered in the town, but behind closed doors his behavior is less than honorable. he's a mean drunk, and while tate is trying to keep the keys away from his dad so he doesn't drive things get heated. claire tries to intervene, but the situation escalates so quickly and tate ends up with an arm broken in two places. when they go to the emergency room, they come up with a cover story and swear to never talk about the events of that night again.

but a year later claire is back in town. her father is recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor, and claire is trying to help keep the family afloat by working at her parents' bar and restaurant and staying on top of the bills. college seems like an expense that should be cut away, not splurged on. her initial intention is to take a semester off, but as things get even more dire with her family and their finances a year seems like a more realistic option. and that's if she can even continue at northwestern. there are cheaper schools out there.

when tate sees that claire is back, he finds himself drawn to her. she was always more that just his big sister's friend. but he never expected her to see him in a different light. but that night in the back alley changed them both. for the first time, they really saw each other. and tate, for one, is so relieved to know that there is someone else who sees him--flaws and all. he's not just the hockey hero's son following in daddy's footsteps. he's someone who has the ability to fix and repair things. he's someone you can count on when you need him. he's honorable. he's holding the weight of the world on his shoulders and claire knows it.

other people suspect it, like tate's stepfather and his best friends. but claire is the only one he trusts with all of his truths. and as both tate's and claire's worlds are rocked with tragedy and misunderstandings, the connection they forge and how they help each other rise above the madness is both emotionally draining and utterly satisfying. things come to a head, as they do, and it's totally chaotic and tense and terrifying, but even as things implode around claire and tate you don't doubt the depth of their feelings for each other. they walk through fire for one another, even when they aren't speaking, it's clear that there is so much love there. it wouldn't hurt so bad if they didn't care so deeply.

i just loved everything about this novel. the characters, the setting, the romance, the stakes--it all worked for me. and i honestly am so excited to know that there will be more stories set in juniper falls, it seems to me like it's a town worth knowing.

**off the ice will publish on february 28, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (entangled: teen) in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

seriously romantic: sweet victory by gina maxwell

i love a good fake marriage story, and xander and sophie really deliver in sweet victory. sophie's uncle holds the key to the trust that owns the commercial development where sophia's bakery and xander's gym are based. until she turns thirty or she gets married she has no say in what happens to the trust, and her uncle is unscrupulous enough to use that to his advantage.

when he makes a real estate development deal that will force all the tenants in the development to relocate, xander is furious and when he goes to talk to sophie about the situation he overhears the possible solution straight from mr. caldwell's mouth. so he barges in and pretends that they're engaged to be married.

sophie's been intrigued by xander for a long time, and his kiss is so hot and so surprising that she simply follows his lead. and when he proved that he is willing to do anything that is needed to preserve her bakery she decides to take him at his word.

she has every intention of things remaining platonic for the 180 days demanded by the court to prove the validity of their marriage. but there is so much explosive chemistry between them that when an outing to a carnival results in a bet where the payout is three orgasms, it's not really a surprise. and from there we get to see sophie and xander build a real marriage, a real relationship, a real friendship. even though they don't actually talk about what happens once their 180 days are up.

there's this wonderful scene with sophie's grandmother, who suffers from alzheimer's disease, where you see how deeply they are both in this relationship. the undeniable sweetness of their feelings, the incredible chemistry of these two characters--it all gets to develop so realistically. so often in romance novels you go from chemistry to love with nothing in between, and then there's some ridiculous blow up and then everything is magically solved. and yes, there is a moment where xander and sophie's wires get crossed, but even this is understandable. and i don't want to give anything more away, but to say that everything gets sorted out in exactly the right way.

sweet victory closes out the fighting for love series with a deeply emotional, satisfying love story. xander and sophie are perfect for each other from page 1 and seeing their love grow as the days count down in their pretend marriage is an absolute delight.

**sweet victory will publish on february 27, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (brazen) in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, February 24, 2017

print versus screen: shadowhunters, season 2

i haven't had time to squeeze in any talk about shadowhunters, something so badly done of me because i continue to be obsessed. i read all the mortal instruments books last year and binge-watched the first season on a whim after i finished reading the novels. and then i binge-watched season 1 again before starting season 2 because i just wanted to watch jace and clary fall for each other all over again.

like i said, i've read the novels. and i'm going to assume that most people watching this show have read the novels. or have read about jace and clary in the novels and know, know that whatever they are to one another, they are not blood relatives. this whole plot point was icky in the novels, but it's even more icky on the screen, especially since jace and clary so clearly want to jump each other's bones whenever they share a scene together. it was like that in the novels too, so the actors are playing this correctly.

the thing is, because i loved these books, i can't really separate the novels from the television show. what i read informs how i feel about the things that happen on the show. even if the path taken is different. because i think that in the end the novels and the show are headed in the same direction. there is so much material here that i don't see how the show would suddenly start making up its own way. cinematically speaking, not all things written will translate well onto the screen, so the differences in plot or setting don't actually bother me. that the timelines of things happening on the show don't follow the exact same timeline from the books is irrelevant. but jace and clary were endgame in the books, and i believe they are endgame on the show, so actually one thing i hope they change is the timline for finding out that they aren't really siblings. this was something that didn't totally work for me in the books, and doesn't work on the show.

if i'm being honest, watching jace grapple with his feelings for clary is torturous. he is so not okay with how he feels. he knows it's wrong to want your sister. but he also fell in love with her. and given that everyone in his life is telling him that he is infected with demon blood, he can't help feeling super awful about himself. and yet, the guy still tries to save the world single-handedly every chance he gets. the way jace is broken apart in the novels and on the television series does make sense dramatically speaking, but i'm also kind of impatient and want to see him stop stressing about being in love with his sister because we all know he is not.

but there is that one scene in city of ashes that takes place in the seelie court that is so good, that i kind of hope is brought to life on the screen. but at the same time i'm ready for the clary and jace are siblings thing to be over. because the first season was a combo of books 1 and 2 and this season seems to combine books 2 and 3, i guess i don't know where they will fit things in. i will say that the subtle production tweaks they've made from season 1 to season 2 of the show have been for the better. the rune tattoos look better in black and the weapons less silly.

obviously, jace and clary are still working for me. even though i know that we need to get through simon and clary before we see anything significant happen for jace and clary. and i know that simon and clary are just getting off the ground, so to speak, and here i am already dying for it to be over. i think part of the issue i have is that i know how much story there is left to go before jace and clary learn they aren't really siblings. though i hear we will meet sebastian this season, so maybe we'll find out sooner rather than later. but there are several pieces of key information regarding jace's identity that have yet to be revealed. the connection to the herondale family still hasn't been made. there were hints of it well before the truth of jace's heritage was finally revealed. obviously i'm obsessed with jace. i can't help it.

as to the other characters, i mean, i'm really just enjoying the show. i love alec and magnus. izzy's plot of being hooked on the ying fen seems to be stolen from the infernal devices series, but i'm willing to give this the benefit of the doubt. izzy was always a character who was somewhat underserved in the novels, so this gives her an additional way to stand out.

i think the challenge of watching a show where you've already read the source material to its conclusion is what feeds my total impatience. like i said, i actually don't care about the differences in timeline or the changes to certain characters stories. i understand that what works on the written page is not always going to work on film. it's more that i hate being privy to information that is important to the plot and that the characters are wholly unaware of. if only there were a way to get jace to jump into the purity pool at the iron sister's, then clary and the rest of the clave would know that there is no truth to the claim that valentine injected him with demon blood, and maybe they'd figure out that jace isn't exactly who valentine says he is.

the second season isn't even at it's halfway mark, and i'm already thinking of binge-watching it again. i could just spend hours watching these characters. i also admit that i have a weakness for the fan videos on youtube. they are like a drug.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

slightly silly: riverdale, episode 4: the last picture show

okay so finally everyone knows about archie and miss grundy. these teacher-student things never end well or in a satisfying manner on these shows. back when pacey had an affair with his teacher on dawson's creek the resolution of that left a lot to be desired. and this one isn't really all that much better. betty, her mom, and archie's dad confront the two of them and miss grundy agrees to leave town. this is after betty's snooping reveals that her real name is jennifer gibson and that she tutored jason blossom and owns a gun. there's this final scene when miss grundy is leaving town that you think, maybe she is just a sexual predator. will she be back?

honestly, i kind of hope not. the character was too poorly developed and the illicit romance wasn't really working. having betty find out about it was good for drama though. and finally we got some scenes with archie that showed some actual depth. we see how deep his friendship with betty goes, and archie's good heart in his willingness to understand and forgive her part in the confrontation with grundy. and then there's the moment with his dad, who tells archie that he's not selfish or dumb for falling in love with his teacher, and that things will work out, and then simply holds archie as he cries. and the moments with jughead where you can just tell how long they've been friends, and how different their lives have become.

because jughead is totally worried about the fact that the drive-in is shutting down. and partly he's worried about this because it's a landmark. and partly because it's where he works. and partly because the drive-in was a haven for his family when he was a child. and partly because it's where he sleeps at night. we finally get to learn a little more about the mysterious jughead jones. we meet his gang member father, who is played by skeet ulrich by the way! skeet ulrich. i feel like this show is going out of its way to make me feel old.

we get to know a little more about veronica and her parents' shady dealings. and kevin and his dad and their relationship. even though the miss grundy plot came to an unsatisfying conclusion, and the episode did little to advance the mystery behind jason blossom's disappearance, it did develop these characters further, gave us glimpses into each of their psyches in a way that i ultimately found satisfying. i can't wait to see where it goes. there are still so many threads to untangle, everything in riverdale seems to spin a wicked web.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

seriously romantic: saying goodbye, part one by abigail drake

the cover of this book is so pretty, i could just stare at it forever. i didn't, i read the book, and am more ambivalent about that. saying goodbye is a two-part story that i've only read part one of. so my take on this is incomplete, but also an argument against these kinds of duologies. i get the business model, but the reader experience is often frustrating given the stop in action.

as far as cliffhangers go, though, this one isn't bad. in some respects, you can say this is a complete story. samantha barnes meets ethan hunter at a frat party. she's already had three relationships that she considers mistakes and isn't looking for #4. she's studying japanese and has a semester abroad planned in january and doesn't need the commitment or drama of a relationship.

at first, ethan seems so different from the other college guys she knows. he's more mature, in part because he had to take a year off for reasons that aren't explained until later. things move quickly in their relationship, getting serious in ways that sam never intended to be. when he tells her he loves her, she says it in return. except as she is doing it she acknowledges that she doesn't actually feel that way about him.

and this is the hardest thing about sam, we spend all this time in her head, and we know how she really feels about people. but she doesn't treat them well. the author tries to portray ethan as controlling, and sam's friends claim he's borderline abusive, except that while he was certainly jealous and took the lead on planning most of their time together, the parts of the relationship you do see don't seem to be all that bad. it's clear that he is a guy who has some issues, but the reality is that sam is just not as into him, so he keeps trying harder and harder to make things perfect so that she won't leave him. and if she had actually expressed what she wanted, maybe things would have been different. the thing is she was attracted to ethan, and she wanted to sleep with him. and the sex was great. and then she found herself in a relationship where things meant more to him than they did to her and she didn't know how to be the bad guy in that scenario. but that's not a good excuse. especially given how all these people keep warning her to be careful with him.

so when things come to a head, alongside all this other heavy stuff going on with one of ethan's frat brothers and one of sam's sorority sisters, it all blows up impressively. there are reasons why ethan is the way he is. when he starts to go off the rails it's kind of obvious that something is going on with him, and sam's inability to fully comprehend his issues, as well as her inability to express what she really wants in her friendships and her relationships that exacerbate the situation to an untenable degree. and i think it's my ambivalence about sam given that she carries the book, that makes it difficult to discern my feelings about the part of the story i do have. my guess is that the second part will do more to redeem sam than the first one is able to.

**saying goodbye published on september 16, 2016. i received a reader copy courtesy of netgalley/backlit publicity in exchange for my honest review. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

seriously romantic: the undateable by sarah title

when you accidentally become a meme due to your resting bitch face and fall into stereotypes you've long tried to rise above, it makes life a little difficult. it's not like bernie had an active dating life. she wasn't even wishing she had an active dating life.

but colin, the only male on staff at a fashion blog/e-zine, needs a story that will up readership and solidify his place as the features writer. so he approaches bernie with a plan. he'll prove that she isn't undateable, if she'll let the magazine feature her dates as a series, and offer some help in the fashion, makeup, and hair department.

the undateable follows bernie and colin as they navigate her horrible dates and he posts dispatches about the highlights and lowlights. it's not all terrible. and some of the dates show some promise. bernie realizes that making an effort for a date doesn't mean becoming someone she is not. it's not an assault on feminism if you dress up or put on a little mascara. there is something to be said for looking good for yourself. making time to feel good about how you look isn't a horrible thing. if it helps you feel good, then there is nothing wrong with it. and bernie figures out what her limits are--what things are for her and what changes cross the line.

feeling better about herself does improve her dating life. and this improvement proves to be unsettling for colin. he can't deny he is attracted to bernie. in some ways he's the one who spends the most time with her throughout the dating series. they start out antagonizing each other, only to become friends. they never put up the walls that often exist when you start out on a relationship with someone. bernie and colin see the worst of each other, and for a time believe the worst of one another, but the truth is that they know each other better than anyone. the friendship that grows between them is something real and precious.

when colin kisses bernie after she is stood up on one of her dates, he's not sure how he crossed that line. but soon they find themselves crossing it more and more. but bernie is committed to having thirty first dates in thirty days and colin has committed to seeing it through. and when colin's boss insists on a bachelor-like finale, colin is put in an untenable position. he knows that bernie doesn't want anything like that. at the same time he can't say no. it's his job to see this through. and his avoidance of the issue cause some real problems that he and bernie need to figure out.

**the undateable will publish on february 28, 2017. i received an advance ready copy courtesy of netgalley/kensington books (zebra shout) in exchange for my honest review.