Tuesday, June 12, 2018

TTT: Books That Awaken the Travel Bug In Me

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Without further ado, here are my TTT Books that Awaken the Travel Bug in Me (And Why)!

1. I See London by Chanel Cleeton is my absolute favorite New Adult book of all time! It's the only book I've reviewed and given 5 stars. While most people were mooning over Anna and the French Kiss a few years back, I was shouting my love of this London-based book from the rooftops. Anna and Etienne just don't compare to the chemistry of Maggie and Samir in London. The characters leap off the page as does the setting, which is a character of its own. I still want to go to London and experience it after reading this book.

2. London Falling by Chanel Cleeton is the sequel, give a more grown-up perspective to Maggie and Samir's love. It's less fun and game, and more seeing into the future of what these two really could have if Samir made the choice to make Maggie a permanent part of his life.

3. French Kissed by Chanel Cleeton...Noticing a pattern? I can't help it! This not-quite-sequel to the first two books is about Samir's French cousin Fleur. Not only do you get more of what London has to offer, you get a taste of France for good measure. I HIGHLY recommend all three if you like New Adult. You won't be disappointed!

4. Love, in English by Karina Halle is another New Adult offering involving a married 38-year-old Spanish man and a single 23-year-old Canadian woman who meet in Spain for conversational English lessons. While I'm not a proponent of cheating, I did enjoy the author's authentic portrayal of both of the differences between the characters and their similarities. It didn't hurt that the entire book took place in Spain.

5. The Villa in Italy by Elizabeth Edmondson is a departure from my list of New Adult novels in places 1-4 on this list. Four different people are named in a will - Delia, an opera singer robbed of her voice by illness; George, an idealistic scientist; Marjorie, desperately poor & unable to dislodge her writer's block; & Lucius, whose personal life is in chaos. This is a tale of four strangers summoned to a grand but neglected villa on the Italian coast. The setting is grand. The mystery of why the 4 of them were chosen to inherit the villa is grand. It's quite a long, involved saga that isn't an easy read, but it is a satisfying one. It makes me wish I was one of the participants going on a scavenger hunt in hopes of inheriting the villa.  

6. Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale makes me want to jump in a carriage, travel to a magnificent home, and drink lots of tea, pinky in-air, of course. I'll admit that I watched the movie, Austenland based on Ms. Hale's first book prior to reading either book, but I found her latter book much more enchanting. The characters in the original book lacked depth and style. Ms. Hale wrote Midnight using the movie's enchanting characters. Plus, I love a good mystery. If you're an Austen fan, I highly recommend this trip to Austenland!

7. Driving Sideways by Jess Riley is a heart-warming and heart-wrenching road trip book. After spending 5 years on dialysis, Leigh gets a kidney transplant from a deceased donor named Larry. She's tired of living in hospitals and wants to use her newfound freedom to meet Larry's family and thank them for their gift of life. Along the way, she picks up a teen hitchhiker, finds her wayward mother, and learns the hard way that nothing is meant to last forever. I highly recommend this one. Having a best friend in the same predicament made it mean even more to me.

8. The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham is the basis for the first episode of the British TV Show Midsomer Murders (which I'm obsessed with). While this isn't necessarily a book about travel, I do wish I could go travel to the British countryside and solve a good murder mystery. The characters in this book are so alive (and quirky) that it's no wonder it was made into a successful TV Show with 20 series under its belt. I highly recommend the show and the book!

Bonus Movie Mention: Before Sunrise and its sequels, Before Sunset and Before Midnight. All three movies follow the lives of Jesse (an American) and Celine (a Parisian) who meet by chance on a train in the first movie, and spend 24 hours together exploring Vienna. The other movies are follow-ups, with the second another meet-by-chance, and the third showing them as a couple with twins. I will admit that I haven't been able to get into the third the way I did the first and second. They're all character pieces set amidst the background of Europe. If you enjoy rambling pieces which discuss a wide array of topics and show the humanity of love, I highly suggest starting at the beginning with Before Sunrise! You won't be disappointed!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Here Kitty Kitty by Jardine Libaire

Here Kitty Kitty
by Jardine Libaire

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Published by: Hogarth
Publish Date: February 27, 2018
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 3.25 Stars

New York at night is an urban playground where glamour and danger are just flip sides of the same thrilling coin. The tough, beautiful player at the heart of Jardine Libaire's acclaimed first novel is Lee, the consummate party girl. Lee has the right designer clothes, the right job managing a stylish restaurant, and the right lover, who finances all her bad habits. As the lights go down at closing time, the energy of the city is a call Lee cannot resist, even when her Cinderella-like existence begins to unravel.

The descriptive narrative style the author uses reminds me very much of Emma Forrest's breakthrough novel, Thin Skin. The difference? I found Forrest's tale more interesting and ultimately meaningful. Here Kitty Kitty is more of a pale, whiny version of the 90's movie, Party Girl, starring Parker Posey.

Lee is a spoiled brat who's never had to rely on herself for anything. She takes no responsibility in her actions, knowing someone will bail her out of her messes, as they always do.

She's come to a crossroads in her life. Her best friend, and former partner in partying, has grown up and settled down. Her much older sugar daddy of a boyfriend has a health scare which prompts him to put a ring on her finger. Still, she's spending money like she has it, ignoring her rent, drinking and drugging her days and nights through, and assuming it will all just go away if she wills that to happen hard enough.

While there is a brief turning point when a new guy enters her life, it is unbelievable. She suddenly decides to sober up and even breaks it off with the guy because she realizes she needs to learn to be on her own. The catalyst for this 180 turnaround was just not enough for me to get behind this change in her behavior. I just felt "meh" about the whole thing.

If you are looking for a character study, this honestly isn't it. It's more of a showcase for the author's quick-witted word-smithing rather than an actual plot piece. While I admire the style, I wanted more. I gave it 3.25 stars for the actual writing. That's all I could muster.

Absinthe by Winter Renshaw

by Winter Renshaw

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Published by: Amazon Digital
Publish Date: August 6, 2017
Genre: New Adult
Rating: 3.75 Stars

The name on the screen was “Absinthe.”

But I knew her as the sultry voice blowing up my phone for late night chats about Proust and Hemingway interspersed between the filthiest little … mutually satisfying exchanges ... I'd ever experienced in my life.

We’d never met.

Until the day she walked into my office, her cherry lips wrapped around a candy apple sucker and an all too familiar voice that said, “You wanted to see me, Principal Hawthorne?”

Halston Kessler is an 18-year-old senior, newly transferred to her Uncle's school district after a tumultuous upbringing. Her parents were drug addicts who had a meth operation in their basement for much of her life. She went without food and heat and basic human love for many years before her uncle was forced to take her in. Although she now has a place to stay, she doesn't fit in with her perfect cousin or her aunt and uncle who find her rough around the edges.

Enter Ford Hawthorne, the new principal at school. He's in his late 20's intent on growing his career in education, not his love life. He decides that since he's new in town, he'll try a dating app called Karma. He never intends to meet any of the women on the app - he's simply looking for a little anonymous fun. He ends up "meeting" an interesting woman who goes by the handle, Absinthe.

They spend time discussing books and sexting, progressing into a relationship neither of them saw coming. Ford ends it once he learns they've crossed the line from flirting to having real feelings for one another, as it's not what he needs in his life. He also doesn't want to hurt her, as he's never been good at commitment. All bets are off, however, when Halston walks into Principal Hawthorne's office and recognizes his voice.

This was one of those books that I really loved up to a point and then wanted more from 3/4 of the way through. I've struggled to rate it. On the one hand, I loved the concept (the student in question was almost 19), the deep discussions Absinthe and Kerouac had via the dating app, the natural tension, and the feelings between them. On the other, I felt the ending was contrived, that Ford basically used her for angry sex near the end and made her cry, and that there were years of repetitive exposition I could have done without. The scene in which Halston asks Ford to have sex with her is a tough one for me. While it was consensual, he did things to her that he knew she wouldn't be comfortable with which in my opinion, made it non-consensual to a point. It just bothered me.

That said, I would try another book by this author. Have you tried one? What did you think?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Waking Olivia by Elizabeth O'Roark

Waking Olivia
by Elizabeth O'Roark

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Published by: Amazon Digital
Publish Date: March 12, 2016
Genre: New Adult
Rating: 4.5 Stars

A college track star with nothing to lose.
A coach who may lose everything to save her.

Will Langstrom has a failing farm, his father’s debt and a struggling college track team. The last thing he needs is Olivia Finnegan, a beautiful but troubled new transfer student.

Olivia Finnegan is her own worst enemy, with a past she can't seem to escape, and the last person she wants help from is a cocky track coach she can never seem to please.

Refusing to be pushed away, Will is determined to save her.
And determined to resist an attraction that could destroy them both.

I read this book as an ARC quite some time ago via NetGalley, but I just realized I never reviewed it on here. It was one of my favorite New Adult novels, so I knew I needed to get this review up on my page.

This is a character piece with a well-built relationship arc between Will and Olivia written in. I could tell the author spent a lot of time planning the narrative before she began writing. That's the mark of a truly great writer, in my opinion.

Both Will and Olivia are fully-realized with back stories that shape themselves and their relationship to one another. I liked the comparison to Olivia as a track star and the fact that in her sleep, she literally runs away from her demons, sleep-running only to wake up and not know where she is. Will decides to help her by letting her sleep at his family's farm so that he can prevent her nightly escapes. He truly cares about her and wants her to succeed in track and in life.

The romance between them was slow brewing which made it more believable and less taboo than most authors have the talent to portray. I was rooting for them the whole way through.

If you like new adult fiction, do yourself a favor and read this one immediately. You won't regret it.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Cross Your Heart by Kierney Scott

Cross Your Heart
by Kierney Scott

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Published by: Amazon Digital
Publish Date: April 25, 2018
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Three young girls are missing. All of them cold cases. All of them forgotten. But when Detective Jess Bishop identifies a disturbing link between them, she’s determined to find out what happened, and fights to re-open their cases. At the scene of each abduction the kidnapper left a clue – a small bag of candy – in place of the missing child. And then a fourth child is taken. Eight-year-old Ava is snatched from her hospital bed and when a bag of candy is found in her room, Jessica knows it’s the same kidnapper. As the pressure to solve the case pushes Jess and her team to breaking point, Jess takes a personal risk she fears she’ll live to regret. But she has no choice. Out of hospital, Ava can only get sicker: Jess is running out of time. Can she find Ava before it’s too late?

I typically like thrillers about detective work, cold cases, missing persons, and protagonists with a past. This book had all of those elements, so I was looking forward to reading it.

Immediately, I felt as if I should have read Book 1 in the series prior to reading the Book 2. I received this one as an ARC and was slightly confused about the references to the first installment, including what exactly happened to Detective Bishop to cause the mutilation to her hand. The author mentioned she cut it on glass while trying to escape from the perpetrator in the first book, but it was very foggy and unclear. I would have liked more of an explanation to tie it to her issues of PTSD in present day.

While she was on leave from her injuries, Det. Bishop spent time looking over cold case files. She found 3 cases in which there was a common denominator: blue cotton candy under the fingernails of the deceased children. Predictably, upon her return to work, none of her colleagues believe there is a serial killer out there targeting children by giving them blue cotton candy. Even more predictably, the next day, a fourth child is taken and blue cotton candy is found at the scene.

With those obvious issues with the beginning of the story, I was tempted to stop reading. I was worried that the plot would be transparent and wouldn't keep my interest. However, I pressed on.

Ultimately, I never saw the ending coming. The identity of the killer was surprising and unique. I enjoyed that twist.

While I found the story driven and surprising, I only gave this 3.5 stars as I don't think I'll be reading any more books in the series. I fear I'd have to go back and read the first one in order to really know what's going on in the overall arc.