Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Magical, Awe Inspiring Tale | On The Island by Tracey Garvis Graves #MustRead

On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves
First Published: 2011
Adult, Romance
When thirty-year-old English teacher Anna Emerson is offered a job tutoring T.J. Callahan at his family's summer rental in the Maldives, she accepts without hesitation; a working vacation on a tropical island trumps the library any day.
T.J. Callahan has no desire to leave town, not that anyone asked him. He's almost seventeen and if having cancer wasn't bad enough, now he has to spend his first summer in remission with his family - and a stack of overdue assignments -- instead of his friends.

Anna and T.J. are en route to join T.J.'s family in the Maldives when the pilot of their seaplane suffers a fatal heart attack and crash-lands in the Indian Ocean. Adrift in shark-infested waters, their life jackets keep them afloat until they make it to the shore of an uninhabited island. Now Anna and T.J. just want to survive and they must work together to obtain water, food, fire, and shelter.
Their basic needs might be met but as the days turn to weeks, and then months, the castaways encounter plenty of other obstacles, including violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.'s cancer could return. As T.J. celebrates yet another birthday on the island, Anna begins to wonder if the biggest challenge of all might be living with a boy who is gradually becoming a man.
When I first read On the Island, I couldn't stop thinking about it for months. I talked about it non-stop, recommended it to whoever agreed to listen--and some who didn't. I was captured by this story in a way that happens rarely. It even haunted my dreams.

And for a long while after, I wanted to re-read it. But I was also afraid. Afraid this novel, which I remember in my head as total perfection, would fail to bring forth the same feelings in me a second time.

Can someone please hit me over the head with a club forever, ever doubting this magical adventure? Finally re-reading it as I've always wanted to do, I was swept in this storm of emotions once again; fear, exhilaration, awe, disbelief. And so, so much wonder and love.

Anna and T.J go through a harrowing experience, and yet everything that happens on the island--and especially between them--is just magical. It almost feels like a fairy-tale. A really realistic one with some totally heartbreaking moments, but a fairy-tale nonetheless.

And those heartbreaking moments... boy, what heartbreak. But it's the type of heartbreak I recommend. The kind that makes you cry, but also mends something in your heart as you do so.

Anna and T.J's journey takes four and a half years. Four and a half years filled with craziness and danger that brings the two very slowly together. Four years of having no one else to rely on but each other.

Four and a half years to prove that love has no boundaries or rules or conventions. 

T.J starts the journey an almost seventeen years old boy who had just survived a near death experience. This already puts him ahead of his years in behavior and thought process. Being faced with mortality so early in life does that to a guy. So he's adaptable. He is ready to face whatever may come his way, even if it means finding ways to survive a freakin' plane crash and an uninhabited island.

But through the course of the novel, he evolves and grows into a man. And the overwhelming, astonishing part of all this is that you can see it happen right in front of you. He becomes the rock that holds him and Anna encored, and not the other way around. And... he's a swoon-worthy rock. Yes, I went there.

As for Anna, she is a balanced combination of strong and weak. She cries and gets scared easily, but she will still fight for her life and T.J's with a fierce determination. She is a caretaker, through and through.

And the two of them fit. They balance and center each other. They are each other's reason for fighting, for never giving up. It sure as hell didn't start romantic for them, but developed slowly into friendship and then to more in a way so natural it was obvious it was meant to be. Almost as if the whole plane crash was god's way to bring these two together.

The island forged an unbreakable bond between these two. Made them see the best and worst of each other in a way no one has or will see. Made them know each other from the inside out. You can't escape such an ordeal without it leaving a mark. And Anna and T.J's mark is... love.

Now, I'm sure there are those of you who are like "wait, isn't he 17 and she's, like, 31 or something?" Yes, dear reader, they are. And you know what? it doesn't fucking matter. When I first read this novel, I felt like the first thing I had to do was defend the age gap between our lovely main characters. I had to first tell people how adult T.J is mentally, how it grows naturally and yada yada yada. The best defense is offense, right?

Well, fuck that. This book needs no defending from me--it does its own defending well enough on its own. If my adamant love towards this novel doesn't tell you enough on the heavy themes and subjects it tackles so incredibly, nothing I say will.

As for everyone else... do yourselves a service and READ THIS BOOK.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean | Book Review

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean
First Published: 2010
Paperback & Kindle
Adult, Historical Romance
A lady does not smoke cheroot. She does not ride astride. She does not fence or attend duels. She does not fire a pistol, and she never gambles at a gentlemen's club.
Lady Calpurnia Hartwell has always followed the rules, rules that have left her unmarried—and more than a little unsatisfied. And so she's vowed to break the rules and live the life of pleasure she's been missing.
But to dance every dance, to steal a midnight kiss—to do those things, Callie will need a willing partner. Someone who knows everything about rule-breaking. Someone like Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston—charming and devastatingly handsome, his wicked reputation matched only by his sinful smile.
If she's not careful, she'll break the most important rule of all—the one that says that pleasure-seekers should never fall hopelessly, desperately in love.
When I re-read Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake at the beginning of 2017, I thought I'll just take my old review of this novel, clean it up a little and compare my original thoughts to this re-read and viola, I'll have a ready post. Kind of like instant noodles.

So imagine my absolute surprise (and a bit of horror) to discover I had never reviewed this novel. Impossible! I thought to myself. How could I have never reviewed THE novel that made me fall madly in love with historical? There had to be a mistake. Only there wasn't one. Cue face palm and desk bang.

I will attempt to write a satisfactory review for this wonderful novel, that managed to tug at my every heartstring without seeming to be anything special at all at first glance.

The thing, or rather person, who alleviated this novel to me and made it one of the measuring scales for all other heroines after it is the main character, Callie Hartwell. Callie is me. She is the girl who reads a lot and isn't terribly beautiful and fantasizes about the day someone will think her beautiful. Someone will think her special. Someone will notice the woman she is and how much she has to offer. I felt her insecurity and her fear in me, like they were my own emotions

But unlike me, once she realizes that by all accounts, she is never going to get that--that she is far too old (in Victorian area times) and far too "boring" for anyone... well, she might as well have some fun. Do all the things she never let herself do. Be daring and brave... so that if no one else can call her interesting--she will always know that she is.

Callie Hartwell decides to become a doer. To say fuck you to all of the rules that have gotten her diddly squat and do something exciting.

And this is where Callie Hartwell stole my heart. Because she makes me think that if she can do it, all wrapped up in a society that doesn't think a woman can do anything, then so can I. I can be brave. I can be daring. I can do anything I've always dreamed of.

I cannot even begin to explain how powerful of a feeling this character gives me.

When I first read about her, I was a coward, connected to Callie by what might be. Today, I'm a lot more outspoken and unafraid, and a part of me things this is because of the seed of courage Callie installed in me. That voice in your head saying yes you can. If that's not something incredible to say about any novel, I don't know what is. 

Now, after I prattled on and on about Callie, a bit about her choice in men. And what a yummy choice it is. Gabriel is that rake we love to read of so much - the one who is the most eligible bachelor of the ton, but also the one most rumored about. But there is more to Gabriel than that - he appreciates family above all, his bond to his twin is irrevocable, he is a responsible marquess if nothing else, and he has a dry sense of humor. My favorite kind.

Now, Gabriel must act at least somewhat reputable, bringing a bastard sister into the sharp folds of the ton, and who better teach her the ways than the one female he knows who doesn't have a blemish to her name; Callie.

So what if they met when she came to ask him for a kiss, in his bedroom, in the depth of the night. So what if he can't seem to stop thinking about her. So what if she thrills and scares him all at the same time. So what... 

Their romance is scorching hot, people. You will need to fan yourself, repeatedly. You will also scream at them to do it already because god darn it, they are making you uncomfortable with all this sexual tension!

And can I also get a hallelujah for this couple talking to each other, and not letting any stupid misunderstandings come between them for more than a day? I mean, seriously, some book couples make it seem like "communication" is a crude word!!!

If I haven't made myself clear with this gashing (and highly personal) review... go read this novel if you like historical romances, or romances in general. I mean do it now. Go on... scoot!

(BTW - I literally read this two months ago and writing this review made me desperately want to pick up this novel again like, right now. What is my life.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan | Book Review

The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan
First Published: 2013
Adult, Historical Romance
Miss Jane Fairfield can’t do anything right. When she’s in company, she always says the wrong thing—and rather too much of it. No matter how costly they are, her gowns fall on the unfortunate side of fashion. Even her immense dowry can’t save her from being an object of derision.
And that’s precisely what she wants. She’ll do anything, even risk humiliation, if it means she can stay unmarried and keep her sister safe.
Mr. Oliver Marshall has to do everything right. He’s the bastard son of a duke, raised in humble circumstances—and he intends to give voice and power to the common people. If he makes one false step, he’ll never get the chance to accomplish anything. He doesn’t need to come to the rescue of the wrong woman. He certainly doesn’t need to fall in love with her. But there’s something about the lovely, courageous Jane that he can’t resist…even though it could mean the ruin of them both.
Whenever I am in need of a historical that will go deep and deal with difficult issues, I pick one of Milan's novels. She is one of those very rare authors that are unafraid to examine the unfairness of Victorian times and the position they often put women in, and she does so beautifully through mature and beautiful relationships that celebrate women, and men, and the love between them.

The Heiress Effect is no different. In it, Milan explores what a woman might do when she is put in a position where her marriage will leave her sister to harm, and what a woman who has money can afford to do in those times where women were supposed to be breathing decorations to highlight a man's success.

As always, Jane is a pristine example of Milan's heroines - smart, funny and unconventional. Jane always puts herself last, and I loved her outrageous fashion style and unwavering loyalty to her sister. In the end, it is Jane who is the strongest and bravest character in this novel. Far braver than Oliver.

But that doesn't mean I didn't like Oliver, because I adored him. Conflicted between his dreams and the way Jane could hinder them if he gives in to their attraction, but also unable not to appreciate the clever girl and her methods. His weary humor blended well with Jane's, and there wasn't anyone happier in the room when he finally said a metaphorical "screw it" to the world!

Together, these two had mad chemistry and their banter was just delightful to read. They fit, in a way that makes it natural for them to end up together. I never doubted, you guys!

The one side character that I just have to mention is Emily, Jane's sister. Emily does not know fear, and she is not going to let society and their ridiculous (yet well meaning) deeming of her "un-whole" just because she has some non life threatening seizures stop her from living life, no matter how hard they might try. And what a life she chooses to live... filled with love (to the beautiful Anjan, no less) and laughter and spunk! Rock on, girl!

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan | Spoiler Book Review

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
First Published: 2012
Adult, historical romance
Hugo Marshall earned the nickname "the Wolf of Clermont" for his ruthless ambition--a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner's son to the right hand man of a duke. When he's ordered to get rid of a pestering governess by fair means or foul, it's just another day at work.
But after everything Miss Serena Barton has been through at the hands of his employer, she is determined to make him pay. She won't let anyone stop her--not even the man that all of London fears. They might call Hugo Marshall the Wolf of Clermont, but even wolves can be brought to heel...
Courtney Milan is one of those rare historical authors who is unafraid to tackle serious issues in her historicals. Most of the historicals I read are fun and games -- and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I adore those books and gobble them up like candy. But sometimes, you want something deeper.

And Milan is the author for those times.

All of her heroine are strong and brave, and shine like a bright light in spite--and definitely because--of the times they live in, which don't nurture any of their many qualities... in women. And they have pasts. Pasts that have shaped and made them into what they are today.

As for Milan's heroes, they are the rare brand of historical heroes that are simply good people. They treat their women with respect, even before they fall in love. They put them first... eventually. They are in awe of their female partners, which is something that I simply delight in seeing.

And this prequel novella is not any different in those regards.

Now, I've contemplated writing a non spoilery review, but that will force me to cut off this review here and leave me unable to talk about all the things I want to talk about in regards to this short novella, and that is so not my M.O.

So from this point on... SPOILERS!!!

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Rose & The Dagger by Renee Ahdieh | Book Review

The Rose & The Dagger by Renee Ahdieh
First Published: 2016
Young Adult, romance
I am surrounded on all sides by a desert. A guest, in a prison of sand and sun. My family is here. And I do not know whom I can trust.

In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse-one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid's empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.
While her father, Jahandar, continues to play with magical forces he doesn't yet understand, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love.
Reading this book was an absolute joy, and a wonderful finale to Shazi and Khalid's story. It's been a long time since I breathed such a satisfied sigh at the end of a series. Although... I don't feel like we are nearly done with this world. There are so many aspects and stories left to explore that I am filled with hope that Ahdieh will expand on this world and give me more!

The Wrath & The Dawn ended on a somewhat dire note for our heroine, so I was a bit worried for Shazi, but it seems like I forgot who I was dealing with here. Shazi is as strong and stubborn as ever, and a mere curse is not going to be what stops her from helping her loved ones! 

Now Khalid... if you had told me last week that I would fall head over heels in love with a murdering king, I would have laughed in your face. Joke's on me, because I fell, and fell hard. This guy is so precious and needs to be protected and loved openly and freely to heal his broken soul! Luckily, Shazi is very open to doing exactly that.

Together, these two are #relationshipgoals. Seriously, they just... understand each other. There is no unnecessary trust issues or misunderstandings between them. They don't rely on words to send their message across. And they would never, ever do anything to hurt the other... even emotionally. And if that means forgiving your wife's ex... so be it.

Speaking of said ex... I finally love the guy! Tariq had to work in order to win me over, but I'm happy with the outcome. A guy I didn't have to work hard to love? Tariq's bestie, Rahim! He's a total book-boyfriend, and an instant fave with his laid back and funny commentary, combined with his unwavering loyalty. The way he was with Irsa? Total perfection!

On the point of Irsa, what a pleasant surprise she was! As different from her older sister as the sea is to the dessert, yet just as fierce and formidable in her own way. She both delighted me and broke my heart, and I cannot express how happy I am that this series dishes out so many incredible female characters.

The one thing I was really kind of bummed about with this novel is Jalal and Despina. I left The Wrath & the Dawn looking forward to seeing more of these two, especially in regards to their relationship, because I shipped it way before I knew she was pregnant with his baby. And then you go and give me a book with nearly no Despina or Jalal (who is a favorite on par with Rahim)??

And to add insult to injury, you put Jalal and Khalid at odds because of it? Bringing my two favorite cousins to blows?? STOP MESSING WITH MY BROTP, WORLD!

I highly, highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves beautiful storytelling and stories.