Review: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – Volume II. Cosette

I don’t fuck with ouija boards but reading the first Book of Volume II, Waterloo, made me want to summon Hugo just so I could make him defend his decision to spend an entire book rehashing Napoleon’s defeat purely to introduce us in the last moments to Cosette’s future love interest’s father. I’m sure there are other important French history reasons for this, but I remain bitter.

The second, surprisingly short book covers how Jean Valjean was taken back into imprisonment but escaped after saving someone’s life and faking his own death.

The third is where we finally bring Cosette into the main narrative. Cosette and Jean Valjean find each other in the dark woods. She feels safe with him and he feels drawn to protect her even before he figures out who she is, and it reinforced that this is a story about many things, most of all family. I love a good found family trope and while I suspect I won’t be too invested in her and Marius’s relationship later on, I have many feelings about Jean Valjean and Cosette. In the words of Victor Hugo:

“One, in fact, completed the other. Cosette’s instinct sought a father, as Jean Valjean’s instinct sought a child. To meet was to find each other.”

A modern equivalent in many ways is probably Hopper and Eleven in Stranger Things, down to the whole ‘reuniting in the woods’ and ‘running from the law’ stuff. Oh man, there’s a whole essay waiting right there.

Through the rest of Cosette’s volume it covers their narrow escape from Javert into a horrifying convent (with a detailed history of the convent of course) which includes some graverobbing. For a volume named after Cosette I was surprised by how little she appeared. Granted, all of the action going on is propelled by Jean Valjean’s fervent effort to protect her and give them both a better life. In many ways she’s been present from the beginning and will be throughout.

The next volume is Marius which I’m currently about halfway through and I have a lot of feelings about him and his whole family history and his flirtation practices. I also have many feelings about the Friends of the A B C, especially my Beloved Enjolras. Look forward to that next week and take care.

Review: Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost

Twice Tempted is the second of four books in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Prince series. I read and reviewed its predecessor, Once Burned, last year. I genuinely enjoyed it and I enjoyed this one too for the most part! Quick summary time!

“Leila’s psychic abilities have been failing her, and now she isn’t sure what the future holds. If that weren’t enough, her lover, Vlad, has been acting distant. Though Leila is a mere mortal, she’s also a modern woman who refuses to accept the cold shoulder treatment forever–especially from the darkly handsome vampire who still won’t admit that he loves her.

Soon circumstances send Leila back to the carnival circuit, where tragedy strikes. And when she finds herself in the crosshairs of a killer who may be closer than she realizes, Leila must decide who to trust– the fiery vampire who arouses her passions like no other or the tortured knight who longs to be more than a friend? With danger stalking her every step of the way, all it takes is one wrong move to damn her for eternity.”

Vlad continues to be an alpha who doesn’t slide into alpha-hole territory. Leila remains independently powerful. The sex remains just ok – save for a moment where he literally pierces her clit with his fang which was a step too far for me. The primary conflict between the couple surprised me a little bit.

If they’d been together for years and he still didn’t acknowledge or verbalize that he loved her I would have understood her disappointment more, but as Vlad fairly states, they’ve been together for what’s essentially a blink of the eye for him and still a short time for her. There’s a scene where he makes a public proposal – of vampirism. I understand her being upset about that, especially since she believed he was maybe proposing marriage, but I empathized with Vlad who shows her repeatedly how much she means to him.

A lot of big relationship things happened in this book and I wonder if it would have been worth pacing that out a bit more because one of the things I enjoy about romance is seeing how the relationship grows and changes, especially when following one couple through a series. There’s definitely still room to grow, but I wish we’d had a bit more time before some of those big changes happened.

I still enjoyed it, though, and will likely find a way for the third book to fit into the 2022 reading embrace.

Review: Never Seduce a Scot by Maya Banks

Never Seduce a Scot is about as cliched HIghlander romance as you can get. It has a frail, petite, virginal heroine and a stoic, warrior hero. It also has a refreshingly consent positive throughline and a well handled enemies to lovers approach.

The plot is a familiar one. Two rival clans are forced into peace via marriage and the two who are chosen – Eveline Armstrong and Graeme Montgomery – are resistant but eventually fall in love. I hesitate to call it enemies to lovers because the tension that’s usually aligned with that is resolved pretty quickly and easily, at least on Eveline’s part.

I like the concept of the enemies to lovers trope but struggle to find reads that feature it which I enjoy because I really need a solid reason for the enemies part and I also don’t like how usually “enemy” is just an excuse for either character to be a flagrant asshole. You can be angry and bitter and vengeful – but don’t be a dick about it. The reasoning in this story is that the hero’s father was killed by the heroine’s father in a battle over a grudge that has lasted for a long time, somewhat like Romeo and Juliet where no one can really remember THE reason and it’s just how things are. Both characters are loathe to wed each other right up till the moment Eveline first “hears” Graeme and then she’s totally on board. Graeme, though recognizing her as a beautiful angel of gorgeousness, is still reluctant because he believes they cannot be together sexually because she is “touched” and he simply refuses to either initiate something with her that she might not fully understand or be able to consent to OR go sleep around with someone else. You love to see it.

Eveline is not mentally altered in any way however – she’s deaf. She can hear some things sometimes, specifically she can somewhat hear Graeme’s voice, but otherwise goes through life by reading people’s lips. This is the result of a horse riding accident and ensuing sickness and she allows people to think she is “simple” to avoid a marriage with a truly disgusting person. I spent half of this book thinking Graeme was just an idiot because he kept asking her questions and getting upset when she wouldn’t answer but in truth it was I who was the idiot as I fell prey to the most common reading mistake ever, forgetting that I knew things other characters did not. When she explains her deafness to Graeme they are able to establish a steadier form of communication. I kept waiting for her to be “cured” by true love or some doctor to have a miracle suddenly but it never happened. Banks actually allowed her heroine to have a disability and showed her find ways to adapt and have her loved ones adapt with her and she gets her happily ever after without having to change.

There are some things that gave me pause. The sex scenes were ok but the hero kept referring to her “woman’s release” and her “woman’s parts” and I feel like the author was going for “this is historical and they use historical phrases” but it took me out of the scenes. So did some of the “historically accurate” sexism like them chiding their little sister for wanting to learn to read (though they do finally allow it).

Overall I appreciated how the families clearly care about each other and the event that leads to the families agreeing to move beyond their feuding past was reasonable. I like that these characters could have been one-note but had conflicting feelings and loyalties and I know I’ll be going back to read the other two in the series when I need a break from my reading challenges. If you’re looking for a classic Highlander romance without the unfortunately common rape heavy plots or stoic to the point of not feeling heroes, this is a good one to try out.

Trigger warning: Eveline does describe being molested and abused by her betrothed (before Graeme) but this is not done graphically and it is brief. Their first time together is also painful for Eveline but she offers repeated, clear consent and the hero is careful to be attentive and gentle.

Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace 2021

My final reading list for the year is the Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace! You may remember (or read) that I planned on completing it last year but 2020 happened all over the place and here we are, trying again!

  1. Darkness Button – Twice Tempted, Jeaniene Frost
  2. Defcon Most Extreme – The Obsession, Nora Roberts
  3. Englandtimes America – A Daring Arrangement, Joanna Shupe
  4. Furrrrrr – Moonrise, Ines Johnson
  5. Ghost Boner – Highlander in Her Bed, Allie Mackay
  6. HB Author – What Comes After, Blair Leigh
  7. Holy Cats That’s A Nice Nipple! – Get A Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert
  8. Keep Being A Badass- First Grave on the Right, Darynda Jones
  9. Lady Love – Sunsets and Shades, Erica Lee
  10. Morality Boner – Rafe, Rebekah Weatherspoon
  11. Murder Smolder – Big Bad Wolf, Suleikha Snyder
  12. Never Seen Snow Before – Love at First Snow, Jami Davenport
  13. Orgasms and Waffles – The Waffle House on the Pier, Tilly Tennant
  14. Remembering Things in 2021 – The Wallflower Wager, Tessa Dare
  15. Roll Butter – The Widow of Rose House, Diana Biller
  16. Royal Boner – A Duke By Default, Alyssa Cole
  17. The Seven Seas – Savage of the Sea, Eliza Knight
  18. The Sheriff of My Vagina – Dance Upon the Air, Nora Roberts
  19. Traditional Naperville Tree Lightings – A Lake House Holiday, Megan Squires
  20. War Horniness – A Heart of Blood and Ashes, Milla Vane

*All books subject to change

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2021

Creator: Elijah Forbes

Oh hello there.

I disappeared shortly after The Troubles began because I simply stopped reading. Some of my friends coped with this year by reading even more, I delved into writing fanfiction. We all find our way.

I made a pretty decent dent in the BRRHC for 2020 but I am here with a new syllabus and new determination for BRRHC 2021:

  1. Read a book you’ve been intimidated to read – Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
  2. Read a nonfiction book about anti-racism – Fatal Invention, Dorothy L. Sayers
  3. Read a non-European novel in translation – Our Lady of the Nile, Scholastique Mukasonga
  4. Read an LGBTQ+ history book – Bisexuality in the Ancient World, Eva Cantarella
  5. Read a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author – The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones
  6. Read a fanfic – TBD
  7. Read a fat-positive romance – Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade
  8. Read a romance by a trans or nonbinary author – Reverb, Anna Zabo
  9. Read a middle grade mystery – A Spy in the House, Y.S. Lee
  10. Read an SFF anthology edited by a person of color – Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, ed. Sheree R. Thomas
  11. Read a food memoir by an author of color – The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, Michael W. Twitty
  12. Read a work of investigative nonfiction by an author of color – Explaining Humans, Camilla Pang
  13. Read a book with a cover you don’t like – Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins, Emma Donoghue
  14. Read a realistic YA book not set in the U.S., UK, or Canada – A Girl Like That, Tanaz Bhathena
  15. Read a memoir by a Latinx author – My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education, Jennine Capó Crucet
  16. Read an own voices book about disability – Run, Kody Keplinger
  17. Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain – If It Makes You Happy, Claire Kann
  18. Read a book by/about a non-Western world leader – Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff
  19. Read a historical fiction with a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist – Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters
  20. Read a book of nature poems – A Thousand Mornings: Poems, Mary Oliver
  21. Read a children’s book that centers a disabled character but not their disability – Hands & Hearts, Donna Jo Napoli
  22. Read a book set in the Midwest – Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  23. Read a book that demystifies a common mental illness – Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss, Stephanie Wittels Wachs
  24. Read a book featuring a beloved pet where the pet doesn’t die – The Familiars, Stacy Halls

All books are subject to change via DNFing or difficulty accessing them.


	

Review: Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski (trans. Danusia Stok)

I read Blood of Elves  by Andrzej Sapkowski (trans. Danusia Stok) because for the last month and a half instead of doing anything remotely productive like reading or writing reviews here, I’ve been writing fanfiction for Netflix’s The Witcher. For COVID-19 reasons.

Quick Note: I hope that all of you reading this are doing well and able to take the necessary measures to be safe. I know some of you will be essential workers. I hope that your employees are ensuring your safety by providing you with the proper PPE and that you’re doing a lot of self-care. For those of us who are quarantined and either working from home or (in my case) just kind of trying to hang in there, my thoughts are with you as well.

I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about Sapkowski’s series but frankly I really enjoyed this. I appreciated that the male figures aren’t just a bunch of stoic heroes but have feelings and concerns. There was a sense of humor that I also wasn’t expecting because in my admittedly limited experience in reading Fantasy, that isn’t usually a thing. I’m invested in the characters and looking forward to reading on in the series.

Review: Romancing the Inventor by Gail Carriger

I read Romancing the Inventor by Gail Carriger for the “Competency Boner” category of the Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace. I read Romancing the Werewolf last year and thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m happy to report this author is the gift that keeps on giving.

This is a wlw novella featuring a parlourmaid eager to be ruined and a mature inventor anxious to avoid the mistakes of the past. Both work and live in a local vampire hive (it’s Carrigers world so vampires and werewolves are just facts and I’m all the way on board). Imogene, the parlourmaid, is smitten with the inventor on sight and despite herself Genevieve, the inventor, is as well. The barriers to them being together are understandable and I was cheering for the couple throughout. I also loved the friendship between Imogene and Major Channing, the hero from Romancing the Werewolf.

I will definitely be checking out the rest of Carriger’s catalogue and if you enjoy Victorian Fantasy Romance with likable, realistic characters I suggest you do as well.

Review: His Naughty Waitress by Bella Love-Wins

I read His Naughty Waitress by Bella Love-Wins for the “I’m a Waitress!” category of the Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace.

This is a very, very short read, only 69 (*snicker*) pages. The premise is simple; a billionaire and his friends stop by a diner on their way to their annual hedonist retreat. There they meet the heroine, a waitress stuck in a small town in a dead-end job. The hero and the heroine hook up in the bathroom and then he invites her over where they hook up again and she agrees to go back to New York with him and they are in love. It’s most contemporary romance novels just ramped up on speed to hit the required page limit and not go too far over while still giving the reader an HEA and a minimum of two sex scenes. Both were written well. I don’t read many billionaire novels (this may have been my first actually) but he was the right balance of cocky without being an arrogant dick head which is the way I feel most billionaires skew. If you want a breezy read, pick this up. It’s one in a series I probably won’t be reading but it’s still good fun.

Review: The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

I read The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson for the “Read a picture book with a human main character from a marginalized community” category of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. This was a quick read but it contained a great deal.

The book, written for children ages 5 – 8, speaks to the experience of realizing that you stand out in some way from your peers. For some of the children represented this is due to race, for others it is culture or a disability. Woodson does not sugar coat or pretend away the pain this can cause. She doesn’t make it a metaphor or write that this feeling will never happen again. Instead she acknowledges this feeling, draws parallels between how people can feel this way for many reasons and how valid this is, and then emphasizes that this moment doesn’t diminish their value. Woodson also discusses the way our differences don’t need to be barriers and that while people may ask questions or make you feel like the odd one out, they can also be inclusive and you can be felt seen and accepted in your uniqueness.

Too often the answer to working with people who are different is to just say you “can’t see” those differences, most often coming up when people talk about race. This is an issue for many reasons, chiefly that it attempts to ignore or diminish someone’s identity for personal comfort. Woodson shows children from a very pivotal age where these differences are becoming clearer and socialization, which is filled with biases and prejudices, that you do not have to be the same and you do not have to pretend others are the same as you to benefit from knowing them and accepting them.

Though short it is a powerful piece and I would encourage people who have small children in their lives to get it for them. Even if your child doesn’t stray from the cultural norm of their environment, this is a lesson that needs to be learned by all.

Review: Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin

I read Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin for the Book Riot Reader Harder Challenge’s “Read an audiobook of poetry” category. It is a contemporary, poetic retelling of Romeo and Juliet about an Israeli girl and a Palestinian boy living in modern Palestine. With the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, the trope of star-crossed lovers becomes more understandable and heartbreaking.

I am a defender of Romeo & Juliet, both the characters and the play. Yes, they were kids. Yes, they were rash. But suicide is always in some element tragic, especially when it is young people who feel driven to commit the act in the face of overwhelming despair. It is easy for adults (or cynical teens) to scoff and look at all of the life left for these two but I wonder how many of them remember what it feels like to be a teen and to have these feelings for the first time. You don’t exist in a timeline when you’re young, you’re far more focused in the moment and if the ones you trust and have been told to follow are forcing you into a future you can’t stand, it’s normal to feel trapped. The big miscommunications are hard for modern audiences to understand when we can reach out and talk to someone in an instant instead of sending letters that can be mixed up or delayed. And when you break down the primary catalysts for catastrophe it is more about the meddling and influence of adults trying to guide and push Romeo & Juliet, regardless of theri intent, rather than just spontaneity or stupidity on the protagonists’ part. All of that being said, I was open to a modern take on a much lampooned story and I was not disappointed in the slightest.

The language of Ronit & Jamil is beautiful and I felt it was fairly easy to navigate. I did feel, much like when I read The Presence of Absence by Mahmoud Darwish, that I would have gained more by being more educated about the conflict as well as the culture of both Israel and Palestine. I am very glad I had read Darwish’s work before so I had some level of familiarity with the topic overall. That being said, I don’t feel that anything I didn’t understand impeded my enjoyment of the work. As I said the language is beautiful and the stakes are much clearer and higher, which may help people who don’t like Romeo & Juliet to still enjoy this work. The author also provides a space for fathers of Ronit & Jamil to monologue about their inner thoughts and fears for their children which helps humanize the parents and validate their concerns.

The author makes an interesting choice to give Ronit & Jamil an open-ended but decidedly happier ending than the original play. It does not end in their mutual suicides but instead with them going over their plans to run away to America with the help of distant family members, mourning the losses they must bear and trying to give each other hope with thoughts of the future they may have together. It is possible to view the ending as just as tragic as the original with the couple doomed to the same fate as the original pair they represent. But I think that Laskin was making a choice to give these two some peace. In the play Romeo & Juliet’s lives, while fraught with interfamily conflict, is still a fairly privileged one. They’re both financially and socially well off and while their lives are not without challenges they have a much better prospect than most. Ronit & Jamil grow up in an area fraught with conflict far beyond anything Romeo & Juliet faced and their prospects are much more dire. I liked Laskin providing this chance at happiness for Ronit & Jamil, while leaving the ending open enough for the reader to consider and decide what they thought may happen on their own. And the reader knows that the life they try to have in America will be rife with new challenges and obstacles such as xenophobia, racism, and a struggle to survive. But they will have a chance and I think that a chance is the best anyone can hope for in the end.