Review: A Girl Like Her

(Amazon | Indiebound)

♥♥♥♥♥

This book. THIS BOOK, Y’ALL. Seriously. Why are you even still reading this review? Or really even thinking about buying this this book? Shoo. Scram. Go buy it. And the rest of the series, while you’re at it. They are THAT good. Which is not a surprise, considering who wrote it.

Talia Hibbert is a British author who writes scorchingly hot (and ridiculously good) romances with curvy Black heroines and wonderful men who love them exactly as they are. A Girl Like Her is the first full-length novel of hers I’ve read, and guys? I am KICKING myself for not having started it sooner, because it is amazing on so many levels. I sacrificed a badly-needed afternoon nap for it and I have no regrets. #BadDecisionsBookClub.

Here’s the blurb, from Talia’s website:

SHE’S THE TOWN PARIAH. HE DOESN’T GIVE A DAMN.

In Ruth Kabbah’s world, comic books are king, silence is golden, and human contact is a pesky distraction. She doesn’t like people, which works out just fine, because the people in this small town don’t like her. The exception to that rule? Evan Miller, her way-too-charming next-door neighbour…

Ex-military man Evan is all tattooed muscle on the outside—and a big, cuddly teddy bear beneath. He’s used to coaxing prickly people from their shells, but he’s never met a woman quite like Ruth. Blunt, sarcastic, and secretly sad, she’s his exact opposite. She’s also his deepest desire.

Soon, Evan’s steady patience and smouldering smiles are melting Ruth’s reserve. But when small-town gossip from her past begins to poison her future, she’s forced to make a choice. Should she trust Evan completely? Or is her heart safest alone?

Doesn’t that sound just absolutely amazing? And from Talia’s twitter (which is a hoot, you should follow her) I knew that Ruth was autistic, and I was excited to see #ActuallyAutistic rep, since I knew Talia would hit it out of the park. And I was right.

Honestly, I bought A Girl Like Her aaaages ago half because of the old cover – the heroine reminded me strongly of Kelly Rowland, who (no shade to Queen B) has always been my favourite Destiny’s Child, what with the short hair, gorgeous dark skin, and the not being married to Jay-Z. But the new cover? Is even better, even if Evan’s beard, is, sadly, nowhere to be found. (It’s a testament to Talia’s skill that she can make beards sexy to my vastly-clean-shave-preferring-self.)

But enough judging this book by its cover, let’s get to the story, which is an absolute delight, on so many levels.

SPOILER:

Ruth is in a secret (unhealthy, abusive) relationship with Daniel Burne, the aforementioned golden boy, for seven years. Not only does he tell her on the afternoon of his engagement party that he expects things to go on as they are even post his wedding, he lies to the town about what really happened, painting Ruth as a manipulative Jezebel and pretty much ruining her sister’s life for the completely deserved revenge she enacted.

Two years later, Evan moves to Ravenswood to work for Burne & Co. as a metalsmith, and runs – literally – into Ruth in a parking lot… and that’s when the book starts.

END SPOILER

We’re not told why Ruth is a pariah, just that she is – the story comes out in dribs and drabs, and I really liked how well it was paced. And having had experience of small, close-knit communities like Ravenswood… I can both believe that the townspeople rallied around the town’s golden boy (ugh!) and that Ruth had more friends than she believed she deserved. The little cameos from the townspeople, like the gossipy plumber and the town librarian, were delightful and really added to that authentic small-town vibe.

As for the characters… I legitimately cannot pick a favourite, because I adored every one. I love how complex they were, even the side characters, in just 300-odd pages.

Ruth. Oh, Ruth. I love that Talia allowed her heroine to be not just prickly but rude and unlikeable – how often do we see that, rather than a heroine who’s supposedly prickly but really doesn’t ask how high when the hero says jump? And I loved, loved, loved seeing how her mind worked – this is an #ownvoices book and it was a delight to see how beautifully Ruth’s autism was handled. And her growth over the course of her book as she moves from crushing guilt to acceptance of her own worth is just wonderful.

Another delightful thing about Ruth? While she does, like any good character in a book, have some growing to do, she’s already confident in her own body and sexuality. This bit made me laugh out loud, and then grin like a fool at Ruth.

She wondered if she should do this lying down, to minimise the roll situation, but then decided that rolls were fine. If they were going to do anything interesting, rolls would eventually occur. She couldn’t lie down constantly whenever they were naked.

Plus, Evan didn’t seem to have any complaints.

Usually, I read books for the heroines, but Evan stole my heart in this one, to the point where I’m really, really sad he’s neither real nor my next-door neighbour. More than his looks or his build (a bearded ex-military metalsmith… Talia knows her audience’s catnip) what made me fall in love with Ethan was his kindness. And how easily he accepts everything about Ruth, from her pyjamas to her prickliness. It’s no secret that I love beta heroes and emotionally fluent men, and Ethan scores on both counts. And he cooks!

Evan could have been a Nice Guy (ugh!) but it’s clear that he’s just a good egg period, the kind of guy who helps you with your groceries and walks little old ladies across the street and rescues treed kittens. He cooks for Ruth, yes, but it’s because he wants to take care of her and be her friend, independent of anything else. He’s committed to earning her trust and while he does misstep a couple of times, seeing their bond slowly deepen and blossom is just delightful.

Sometimes, with romance novels, although the main couple are superbly written, everyone else is a cardboard cut-out, a stereotype, or both. Not so with A Girl Like Her; even the minor characters in Ravenswood felt rich and real, from Ruth’s sister Hannah (who both loves and is deeply frustrated by her sister), to the town’s other inhabitants and Daniel’s father and his wife. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting either of them to have the complexity and depth they did and it made an already stellar book even better. Laura, especially, is the heroine of the next book and I can’t wait to see what Talia does with her story.

As for Ruth’s ex (and Laura’s current husband) Daniel? All I’ll say about him is that he deserves to die in a fire and not from smoke inhalation. I’m glad that he was only minimally in the book, which is centred on Ruth and Evan, as it should be.

Right, I’ve babbled on quite long enough. If you want to read a brilliantly written love story with hot-like-burning super-consensual sex, laugh-out-loud snark, and minor characters that leave you chomping at the bit for their stories even as you wouldn’t mind a further 300 pages of this one? A Girl Like Her is the book for you. 

Five hearts.

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Review: Tempest

(Amazon | Indiebound)

♥♥♥♥

After slogging my way through the Tenderness of Wolves, I was in desperate need of the book equivalent of a chocolate milkshake – delicious, comforting, and just plain fun.

As I said to someone at my book club, I’m a simple woman with simple needs. All I want from a book is for the experience to be pleasant, the protagonists people I would like to spend time with, and for me to end the book happier than when I started.

Tempest delivers on all three counts – it’s a low-angst love story with fun characters, both main and side, and an ending that for the most part left me satisfied.

What kind of mail-order bride greets her intended with a bullet instead of a kiss? One like Regan Carmichael—an independent spirit equally at home in denims and dresses. Shooting Dr. Colton Lee in the shoulder is an honest error, but soon Regan wonders if her entire plan to marry a man she’s never met is a mistake. Colton, who buried his heart along with his first wife, insists he only wants someone to care for his daughter. Yet Regan is drawn to the unmistakable desire in his gaze.

Regan’s far from the docile bride Colton was expecting. Still, few women would brave the wilds of Wyoming Territory for an uncertain future with a widower and his child. The thought of having a bold, forthright woman like Regan in his life—and in his arms—begins to inspire a new dream. And despite his family’s disapproval and an unseen enemy, he’ll risk all to make this match a real union of body and soul.

I was pretty much guaranteed to love Regan right from that introductory line, and the book just deepened my affection. I love that Regan is feisty and independent, that she comes from money and doesn’t allow anyone to shame her for it, that she’s got an open, loving heart and a can-do attitude in addition to her steadfast refusal to take any shit whatsoever. In fact, reading Tempest left me with the burning desire for a YA series centred around Regan and her sister and all the awesome adventures they must have had.

Colton Lee isn’t quite as well developed as Regan is, but he’s a solidly written character and generally a good man, with only occasional bouts of masculine stupidity, to paraphrase a comment from Regan. I really appreciated that while he’s not sure what to make of Regan, especially with how different she is from his beloved first wife Adele, his comments and behaviour never veer into the misogynistic. In fact, once he’s had a bit to adjust, he’s quick to fall in love with her for who she is rather than in spite of it.

Anna, Colton’s daughter and the reason he advertised for a mail-order bride in the first place, was a pleasant surprise – she’s not a plot moppet, and how she blossoms under Regan’s care is a joy to read. I also loved that Ms. Jenkins portrayed Colton as a loving father determined to do what was best for his daughter, even if he was sometimes at a loss for how to do so.

Although Regan and Colton’s marriage begins as one of convenience, they quickly realise that their feelings run deeper than that. I loved that their relationship is founded on friendship and respect from the beginning, and that Regan is happy to call Colton on his bullshit, and that Colton – despite the occasional bouts of orneriness – doesn’t spend half the book getting his knickers in a twist about that he’s suddenly discovered he has Feelings.

While Colton and Regan’s romance is pretty smooth, that doesn’t mean there’s no conflict in the book. Among other things, Regan must deal with hostility from Minnie, Adele’s aunt, who is resentful of what she sees as Colton’s attempts to replace her and Adele. She also has to navigate town politics, and of course, prejudice. Regan isn’t allowed to testify at the trial of one of the men who attacked her coach because of her race, and the Rock Springs massacre (CW for violence and people being awful) is a minor plot point, as Colton is one of the doctors who goes to the aid of the Chinese mine workers.

I’m glad that while Ms. Jenkins doesn’t shy away from depicting the realities of racism, it’s never allowed to define her characters or their existence, or take away from the joy and hope and love that is also a part of their lives.

There’s just one thing I didn’t like about Tempest, and that’s the ending.

SPOILER:

The bad guy (the brother of the bandit Regan killed) is eaten by a leopard. While it was more than deserved, I couldn’t help but feel let down that it wasn’t Regan or Colt who got to put a bullet in him, or at least see him hauled off to jail for kidnapping and attempted murder.

END SPOILER

Recently, I’ve become more aware that wish fulfilment doesn’t look the same for Black women as it does for White women – Black women are so often cast as the strong ones, the caretakers, the people who give and give without a single word of complaint, that having them be delicate and fragile, the ones needing to be saved rather than the ones doing the saving, is ground-breaking, revolutionary, even. And while I would have loved to see that in this book, the bad guy eating the leopard didn’t feel like that. It felt like reading all the way to the end of a murder mystery only for Mr Poirot to conclude that the victim had expired of natural causes – a disappointing plot twist and one that took away from my enjoyment of the story a little.

That said, Tempest is still a wonderful book and one for the keeper shelf. I’ll be rereading it often, especially when I want a reminder that it’s possible to be both beautiful and bad-ass.

Four hearts.

Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

 

So I have a confession to make: I actually bought A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas on release day. Pre-ordered it, even. And then let it languish, sad and ignored, on my Kindle for a year and change between grad school and the fact that I’ve been leaning more and more towards non-fiction.

acotarAnd then I found the sequel (A Court of Mist And Fury) in the library, so of course I had to go back and finally read ACOTAR.

I have been a dingbat, y’all. An absolute dingbat, letting this absolute treasure of a book go unread so long. This book is if someone took about half a dozen things that make Poorva make happy seal noises (world-building! kick-ass women! beautiful imagery! fairytale retellings!), bundled them all up together, added in a spoonful of romance and a large dollop of gorgeous writing, and baked it all up into 474 pages of utter gorgeousness.

From Maas’ site:

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it…or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.
  
At its heart, this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast… but Maas adds so much depth and richness to it that it took me a while to realise it. None of the characters, even the secondary ones, are quite what they seem and while I’ll hush now before I spoil anything, there were pages that made me tear up – and gasp in delighted glee.

One thing I’ve always loved about Maas’ writing is her heroines. Like Celaena from Throne of Glass, Feyre is complex, and flawed. She makes mistakes, she has shortcomings – real ones – due to her background that almost wreck the story, she’s not perfect… but she’s also brave, and loyal, and willing to do anything for the people she loves.

And then there’s Tamlin. Oh, Tamlin. I loved him in this book, loved that he’s Fae and therefore Not Human in some very important ways (leaving aside that he transforms into an actual beast) but (without spoiling ACOMAF) all I can say is that Maas is bloody brilliant at foreshadowing, and I’m going to be eagerly rereading ACOTAR to see if I can find the breadcrumb trails she left.

The thing with a romance – and this is a romance at heart, even with all the brewing war and political intrigue – is that it’s easy for secondary characters to get lost in the bargain. I loved Lucien’s slow warming up to Feyre, and Alis helping her even as she thought Feyre a stupid human… and Rheysand, oh, Rheysand… but to say anything more would be spoiling it, so… run, don’t walk, and pick up A Court of Thorns and Roses (and A Court of Mist and Fury!)

Available at: Amazon.in | Flipkart | (fingers crossed) your local bookstore/library.
 

Review: The Hunger Games

Or, as they say in France, ‘Les ‘unger gems!’

(Yes, I know it’s been forever since the movie came out, but I’m trying to clear my backlog of posts while I get back into the gear of this blogging thing. Pliss echoos.)

ImageBeing in France and not having much access to English bookstores and media in general, I’d somehow managed to completely miss the hype surrounding Susan Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. Early in 2012, however, posters for the movie started to pop up everywhere, and so for a lark I picked up the first book.

From IMDB: In a dystopian future, the totalitarian nation of Panem is divided between 12 districts and the Capitol. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal retribution for a past rebellion, the televised games are broadcast throughout Panem. The 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors while the citizens of Panem are required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss’s younger sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.

Now, generally, I avoid dystopias like the plague. I like my futures more Star Trek than 1984. But The Hunger Games? I got so impatient with my slower reading pace in French and so desperate to find out what happened next that I stopped five chapters in, got the English versions of the trilogy, and devoured the lot in one sitting. That’s how good these books are.

Given how much I loved the books, I was extremely apprehensive about seeing THG on the big screen. I mean, just look at the Harry Potter films. But the intial reviews were good, so good that I decided to brave both the French dubbing and the wrath of my best friend for seeing it without her, and go ahead and book tickets.

And boy, am I glad I did.

The Hunger Games is amazing. It’s up there with LoTR in terms of sheer quality. Even having it in French didn’t bother me that much. I’ve never seen any of the actors in any major roles, so the different voices didn’t bother me. Plus, I thought the dubbers did a really good job.

Now for the movie itself. Please be warned that this review contains SPOILERS for The Hunger Games!

Continue reading

Review: Snow White And The Huntsman

 

 

Poster for Snow White and the Huntsman. Kristin Stewart on the left, Charlize Theron centre, Chris Hemsworth on the right. Text: Snow White and the Huntsman.

 

 

 

Before I saw this movie, I was under the impression that Kristen Stewart was a bad actress.

 

I stand corrected. 

 

Kristen Stewart is an atrocious actress.

 

In all fairness, she does do a better job in Snow White and the Huntsman than in Twilight. Then again, she could have been replaced by a wet noodle in those movies and I doubt anyone would have noticed.

That’s not to say Snow White is a bad film. The story, a reimangining of the Grimm fairy tale, has solid bones, both Charlize Theron as the evil queen Ravenna and Chris Hemsworth as the widowed drunkard Huntsman doing a fantastic job. The supporting cast also shine, Sam Spruell playing Finn, Ravenna’s brother and perhaps the closest thing she knows to a friend, while Sam Clafin plays the handsome, if rather bland William, son of  Duke Hammond and Snow White’s childhood friend.  

With such a talented cast surrounding her, Ms. Stewart’s inadequacies are only magnified. And the script does her no favours. A great actor can elevate even the most banal dialogue to greatness, but give a bad actor a bad script and both will drag each other down to even greater depths of mediocrity. The scene where Snow White attempts to rally her people, especially, sounds like something out of amateur night at a third-rate theatre.

However, the movie does have its redeeming points. First, the character herself. This princess needs no Prince Charming, first rescuing herself, then donning her own sword and shield in order to defeat the evil Queen. Plus, the film is visually striking, with wonderfully crafted CGI and action sequences to rival many more traditional blockbusters.

Ultimately, however, Snow White and the Huntsman is a film that must be carried by its leads. And while Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron play their roles masterfully, the character of Snow White proves to be a bit too much to ask of Kristin Stewart. Pity, really, since this film really does rest very heavily on her shoulders.

Overall, Snow White and the Huntsman is an ordinary film. It’s worth watching if you have a couple hours to spare and a high tolerance for wooden faces, but it doesn’t come close to the magic of the Disney original.

Three out of five stars.