Review | A Little Something Different | Sandy Hall

different

A Little Something Different

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The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common—they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together. Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out.  But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV show. Their bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes in their relationship.

Surely Gabe and Lea will figure out that they are meant to be together….


Here’s the thing: this romance is super cute and the way the story is told really is “a little something different.” But I would go so far as to say that the story is TOO cute. There’s not much substance here, to be honest. For example, two of the viewpoints come from a squirrel and a bench, and it’s kind of ridiculous in a roll-your-eyes way. Then you have the fact that all these different characters are basically the same: they talk the same ways, they think the same things, they feel the same about stuff. Even the one character, Victor, who is supposed to hate Gabe and Lea (our couple) doesn’t actually hate them. (The author tells us over and over that he does but then he’s as obsessed with them as everyone else and it makes no sense.) It’s a prime example of telling, but not showing, and it is–quite frankly–weak writing. 

I would argue that Hillary has the potential to be one of the most unique characters and yet her parts are very short, AND Sandy Hall does her a HUGE injustice by slotting her into the “blonde bimbo” trope. I mean, COME ON.

In second place is Danny (yeah for LGBTQIA!) but he has the least amount of sections (boo!), and again, he is slotted into a few stereotypical “gay college boy” tropes.

In third place is Charlotte, who starts off as a character I could like but then turns into all the other characters (they are honestly the same–take away their names and you wouldn’t know the difference). AND everyone’s obsession with this couple for sure crosses into creepy. My frustration for this book bubbleith over.

Not to mention that there’s nothing about Gabe or Lea that is particularly likeable. Not that there was anything wrong with them; I liked them both just fine. But they are tertiary character material at most. While everyone is going gaga over their supposed romance, I’m sitting here as the reader going, “But why?” Honestly, they’re so boring! And everything that happens between them is SO. BORING. Another prime example of the author going, “Oh, they’re so cute, they look great together, we love them” and providing zero actual substance for these assertions. The author was shoving this down my throat and I was choking on it going, “BUT YOU ACTUALLY HAVEN’T PROVEN ANY OF THESE THINGS!”

So much potential. So do not recommend.

MRS. HOUDINI by Victoria Kelly

Mrs Houdini

3 out of 5

In her debut novel, Victoria Kelly revives Harry Houdini’s incredible mystery. The reader is transported in time between the rise of Houdini’s career alongside his wife Bess and the years after his death in which she attempted to communicate with him in the spirit world. Two parts love story and one part detective fiction, Mrs. Houdini is an interesting rendition of the couple’s life both together and apart.

Kelly’s strength lies in her writing of the intense love between Harry and Bess, and it is a great loss that she failed to explore that thread more; the portions of the plot detailing Bess’s search for the spirit of her husband felt haphazardly pieced together, lacked spark, and were logically ambiguous. I carried on reading for the love story, although I experienced discomfort in reading Kelly’s fictional portrayal of Harry’s “secret.” It felt akin to slandering the dead and I am left feeling unsure as to why Kelly chose this route. That being said, I encourage readers to pick this up for Kelly’s mostly loving depiction of the couple and am interested to read Kelly’s next work.

THE BUREAU OF HOLIDAY AFFAIRS by Andi Marquette

bureau

4 out of 5

Marquette takes the reader on a journey through a modern interpretation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with a spunky, lesbian twist. Working towards being a CEO at Frost Enterprises, Robin, in her own words, has turned into a bit of an asshole in her climb up the corporate ladder. The Bureau of Holiday Affairs decides to pay her a visit, and Robin’s journeys into Christmas Past, Present, and Future—with a butch surfer girl, a drag queen, and none other than Mr. K. Rampus himself as guides for each—give her the chance to make things right. Her biggest opportunity presents itself in a meeting with her former lover Jill, and it is this very mature and well thought-out relationship that becomes central to the plot. With a badass and endearing narrative voice, and a surprising touch of relatability to the characters and storyline, the adventure that Marquette takes us on is exciting and full of holiday warmth. While the novel drags on a bit (I strongly believe that this should have been a novella), Marquette exudes writing savvy. The Bureau of Holiday Affairs will make you crave more of her work, and will perhaps leave a little less of the Scrooge in us all.

-Ember Book Reviews

[ARC provided by Netgalley and Book Enthusiast Promotions in exchange for an honest review.]

Check out this book on Goodreads.

 

THE TROUBLE WITH DESTINY by Lauren Morrill

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1.5 out of 5

[ARC provided by Paper Lantern Lit in exchange for my volunteer position as a VIP Trendsetter.]

All aboard the Destiny, a cruise ship hosting a high school music competition where the winning group receives a $25,000 cheque. Liza is the only one who knows how desperately her band needs it, and her one goal as she boards the ship is to win the prize and keep her marching band afloat.

A huge mishap involving an out-of-bounds bowling alley and a stray bowling ball throws the entire competition in jeopardy, and Liza finds herself putting all the blame on the school’s quarterback, Russ, on the trip as a form of detention. Serving as the band’s—and thereby Liza’s—lackey, Russ only causes more harm than good in Liza’s eyes. To top it all off, Liza is sharing the cruise not only with her arch nemesis Demi, but with her crush and son of the band director, Lenny. She can’t afford any distractions, but one little kiss wouldn’t hurt…

It’s rare that I finish a novel and ask myself what on earth just happened, but that’s what I did upon finishing this. The Trouble with Destiny lacks the charm of Morrill’s Meant to Be and is a severe let-down in terms of plot, character building, and writing style.

Let me start off by saying that the opening was good but very long; there is not much action until about a quarter of the way in. That being said, the plot is predictable, and the writing and pace are both flat. There is way too much going on and not enough space devoted to properly developing relationships or the varying storylines in order to make the outcomes believable. For example, there was zero chemistry established between Liza and Russ. Therefore the shift in Liza’s characterization and tone, particularly towards Russ, is so sudden that I was experiencing whiplash. It takes about a paragraph for Liza’s entire personality to change, with no decent reason or warning.

Additionally, as someone with seven years of concert band experience, the band setup seemed very unrealistic to me. For example, the sheet music for Pirates of the Caribbean or Star Wars isn’t that difficult for a band with experience and skill (I’ve played both pieces in band at the senior level), so it seems unlikely that they would win a competition using such simple music. With this in mind, it is quizzical to me why someone headed for Juilliard would be wasting their time with a band that plays such lower-calibre pieces.

Overall, The Trouble with Destiny is incredibly, incredibly disappointing. Definitely steer clear of this one, but bear in mind that Morrill has done better. I look forward to seeing her next novel and hope it demonstrates the quirky skill that I know she has.

-Ember Book Reviews

Check out this book on Goodreads.

Sex in YA: An Ode to Authors

I love YA. Of all the books written in the various age groups, I find YA to be one of the most diverse groupings of novels that you can find. Even though I’m in my twenties, I still prefer YA to Adult novels, but as I get older, I do have one complaint that has been plaguing me since I was about, oh, sixteen.

In my past reviews, I’ve hinted that I love when an author actually describes a sex scene, however briefly or detailed. Now, of course I only mean when the timing is appropriate and it advances or contributes to the plot in some way. This isn’t Game of Thrones the TV show, here. But I strongly feel that a descriptive sex scene between characters can help to strengthen the growth of characters and their relationships, much like in real life. It’s so frustrating to me when a YA author builds up the steaminess in a novel to an all-time high only to skip over the sex part even though it’s strongly suggested that it happened. It’s almost like if books were given ratings, they’re trying to keep it at PG-13, and it’s super annoying, for a few reasons.

1: As I said, a descriptive sex scene helps to develop character and can strengthen the relationship between characters. I think knowing what happened during that really intimate, vulnerable moment is key from a reader’s perspective, because I want to know that both characters were respectful and caring with each other, and when it’s skipped over, I have no way of knowing that.

2: I’ve noticed that in a lot of older YA books (where the characters are sixteen or older), the steaminess will be really loaded on but none of the actual sex is seen. This relates to my PG-13 comment. First of all, the characters are older. They know about sex. Most likely, the older readers know about sex. When you make the book really steamy and sometimes even talk about the character getting turned on but leave out the sex, it’s like you’re saying we can only handle it to a certain extent. That we, as readers around the same age as the characters, can handle the foreplay but not what’s happening behind closed doors. I think it sends extremely mixed messages to the audience, and it often leaves me feeling confused, left out, and like the book wasn’t fully whole. My feelings on this are that either the author thinks we can handle sex or thinks that we can’t, but they need to decide one way or the other before writing the book. It’s like if you write a book but end it right before the climax (no pun intended). I mean, really? As a reader, I feel really condescended to.

3: It also really annoys me because the writers of YA are adults. They are adults who know about sex, might have even had sex, and have a bunch of life experience behind them. All this considered, their book is a platform where they can share that life experience and help to shape the viewpoints of their readers. When it comes to sex, descriptive sex scenes can help teenagers to form healthy ideas about sex, consent, and come to understand themselves better through that. I mean, we start getting taught sex-ed at ten years old, so why can’t we read about it at sixteen?

My complaint is that there isn’t enough descriptive sex (like I said, however brief or detailed) in older YA novels and the previous are my three reasons to support that complaint. Basically, at the end of the day, it just feels really condescending, especially considering the authors are adults. I mean, come on. You’re an adult writing for teenagers. You’ve been a teenager. Surely you know that we know about sex and aren’t afraid to read about it. And for those that are (likely a very few percentage), they can just not read that part. It’s really that simple.

Feel free to share any of your thoughts on this subject. I know it can be touchy for some, and I’m happy to clarify anything I’ve said in this post. Happy reading!

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

WILDFLOWER HILL by Kimberley Freeman

wildflower hill

5 out of 5

A young woman named Beattie in pre-depression-era Scotland finds that the result of her passionate affair with Henry, a married man, is that she becomes pregnant and her entire life begins to fall apart. Unable to secure a divorce, she and her lover run away to Tasmania where they attempt to raise their daughter while pretending to be husband and wife. But soon their passionate affair becomes a bitter war as Henry gambles their way into deeper and deeper debt and succumbs to drinking. Beattie tries to do what is best for their daughter by running away with her, but soon Henry catches up with them. His wife has come into an inheritance and wants to take him back, and he wants Lucy—their daughter—with him. As a single mother working to let her daughter thrive, rumours begin to swirl as to Beattie’s morality and she finds herself battling more than just her ex-lover and his wife over her daughter’s love: an entire town has turned against her and everything that she holds dear.

Nearly eighty years later, Emma Blaxland-Hunter is not only the granddaughter of an Australian fashion tycoon but is a famous prima ballerina as well. That is, until she falls down the stairs after practise one evening and permanently wrecks her knee so that she will never be able to dance again. Abandoned by her boyfriend for another woman and now having an injury that dashes all of her dreams, Emma is forced to return to the one place she has been avoiding for so many years: home. While there, her grandmother’s lawyer informs her that she has been left with a huge property, Wildflower Hill, and it was her grandmother’s wish that Emma visit it. Reluctantly Emma goes, but while there she uncovers more than just empty rooms and boxes accumulating dust. She finds a secret past, pictures of a young woman—clearly her grandmother—with a child that Emma doesn’t recognize as having been her grandmother’s own. Yet, the story keeps unfolding, and after finding a cross in the garden clearly marking a man named Charlie’s grave, Emma realizes that there was more to her grandmother’s life than it may have seemed.

Family secrets and the unyielding power of love—that is what you will find in Kimberley Freeman’s breathtaking novel Wildflower Hill about two young women trying to make their ways in life throughout two very different eras, and what it means to be strong.

I can’t say it simply enough: this book was amazing. It’s been a while since I’ve found myself so attached to a story and a set of characters, but I truly craved this book anytime I was away from it. It made sleeping a nightmare, to be honest.

I usually dislike it when books flip back and forth between past and present storylines. I’m not sure why, as in some cases it does improve the depth of the plot and characters. That was definitely the case with Wildflower Hill. I loved that the story flipped back and forth between past and present, especially because Freeman seemed to understand that one thread was more interesting than the other and so devoted more time to that one. As I said, it improved the depth of the characters and story and was so, so interesting.

The writing was extremely elegant. For those who read my blog regularly, you may have noticed that a complaint I’ve had recently was that I’ve been having trouble finding adult books for young women my age (21), but the writing in this book was perfect for anyone of any age. I honestly enjoyed it so much, no matter who the character being examined was. Young or old, man or woman, I was able to relate to everybody. The writing style was so spot-on.

Something that surprised me with this book, and that told me I was totally in love with it, was that I wasn’t annoyed by the characters’ flaws. Sometimes I find that the characters’ flaws are so over-done that I find myself rolling my eyes at them. But I actually found myself getting defensive for the characters even when they were beating themselves up over their not-so-ideal traits. The characters were written in such a complete way that I forgave their flaws because they felt so human to me: nobody is perfect, and so I accepted these characters as not being so and felt for them in a way that I would a friend. There was honestly an incredible amount of intricacy to the characters; I can’t even get over it. They felt like fully formed people that I could easily walk up to on the street

I also liked the vein of truth that ran throughout this novel. The happy endings that you expect don’t always happen. You have to make your own instead, and I loved that message.

My only wish is that we’d had more: that more characters were explored, that the ending hadn’t ever come. Of course, this can’t be done in just one novel. I hope that Freeman writes more to do with this set of characters and storyline. I want to know what happened to Lucy in Scotland, what happened after the ending. I just can’t get enough!

One thing is for sure: I absolutely have a new favourite author in the adult fiction genre!

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

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Purchase this book on Amazon.

Or, check this book out at your local indie store or library.

Tuesday’s Picks: Three Great Summer Reads!

Hi everybody! Today I thought I’d do a quick little post about some of my favourite books that I really think everybody should read. As I said in a post last week, I’ve been finding myself in a bit of a book slump recently. I’m really picky when it comes to my books. Often, if I find myself reading a book I don’t like, I’ll set it aside and possibly never look at it again. As I type this, I keep glancing over at the ever-growing pile of such books sitting on my bookshelf…This is part of the reason why I’ve been checking out more and more books from the library recently rather than buying them.

That being said, when I find a book that I really love, it’s kind of heartbreaking to finish it, and I constantly find myself staring longingly at the spine as it sits on my bookshelf wishing I could go back to that time when I was immersed within its pages. Don’t you just love it when a book is so deliciously good that you think about it for years afterwards? I’ve been missing certain books as I trudge through this book slump, and I thought I’d share some of those titles with you today.

  1. A Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore

This book is amazing, you guys. I read it a couple of years ago, so my description of it may be a bit foggy (and I always hate putting up the publisher’s description—that’s what Goodreads is for, right?), but basically the book is about a young woman named Jude who is an auction house appraiser. Early in the book, she escapes a loveless relationship and heads out to the English countryside to appraise antiques that are being sold out of Starbrough Hall. She meets Chantal Wickham, the estate’s owner, and a friendship instantly blooms between them as they discover that they have something in common: they are both widowed. But Jude’s past haunts her. Her husband’s death, the strange relationship he had shared with Jude’s sister, Claire, and her niece, whose father is unknown, begins to have strange nightmares that are inexplicably linked to Starbrough Hall—all of these things pester Jude as she unearths the estate’s interesting past. Then there’s Euan, a gypsy man with a caravan parked in his backyard who works for Starbrough Hall. He’s interesting and serious, and as Jude works with the past she begins to piece back together her present as well…

I really loved this book. It flips back and forth between past and present as Jude reads documents found at Starbrough Hall, which is a feature I don’t normally enjoy in books, but it worked well here. A mystery, ghost story, and romance all in one, this book was incredibly absorbing. The writing style is spot-on. I didn’t feel dragged through the story, but like I was a part of it. The descriptions were fantastic. Overall, it was just an amazing story. This is also the only novel by Rachel Hore that is for sale in Canada. I wish more of her work was over here. She’s such a great writer.

a place of secrets

  1. The Starcrossed Trilogy by Josephine Angelini

Wow. This series, as I was reading it, actually took my breath away. I’ve rarely been this excited to read the next books in a series, outside of something like Harry Potter, so it was such a thrill to come across the first book in this series, Starcrossed, and know there were more to come. In order, this trilogy features Starcrossed, Dreamless, and Goddess. The basic premise is that a teenager named Helen has lived on the island of Nantucket her whole life with only her father as family—she’s never known her mother, only that she broke her father’s heart. A strange family moves onto the island and instantly, Helen wants to murder one of the sons, a boy her age named Lucas. Coupled with a few of her strange traits that she’s always tried to keep hidden—such as her super-human speed—Helen begins to realize that her existence is far from ordinary. As the series progresses, Helen realizes that she’s a demigod and, as the relationship between her and Lucas thickens, they all must fight to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. After all, Lucas was supposed to be named Paris.

These. Books. Rock. I don’t know how else to say it. I’ve read another of Angelini’s books and it just doesn’t compare. She really struck gold with these ones. My heart pounded as I read. It broke a few times. There was nothing that could pull me away when I held one of these beauties in my hands. Angelini loves to tease. She makes the reader fall hard for the romance in the book and dangles it in front of our faces. It’s one tiny aspect that I do find frustrating (and perhaps a little patronizing) in her writing. News flash—seventeen-year-olds know what sex is! At that age, as I was reading, I wouldn’t have been surprised or scandalized to read a sex scene. I wish more YA authors got this.

Even still, this series is one of my all-time favourites and was so incredibly satisfying to read. Ugh, I wish I could go back and read them all anew. Can someone please find me a time-turner? That’d be great, thanks.

starcrossed dreamless goddess

  1. Beachcombers by Nancy Thayer

So, I really love books that take place on Nantucket. This book is about three sisters who, after not seeing each other for years, gather back into their childhood home on the island after Emma is dumped by her fiancé. The youngest, Lily, is concerned that the woman renting their guesthouse is looking to move in on their father, who was widowed by their mentally-ill mother many years ago. As the sisters band together, they discover their similarities but also their differences, and at times it is a struggle to work around those. They pick up a few odd jobs around the island, which brings them into contact with new people from all walks of life but, most importantly, new beginnings. Set in the hot summer on the island of Nantucket, this novel—told from four different perspectives—features friendship, sisterhood, and steamy romance in such a beautiful story that I yearn for it nearly every day.

It’s often difficult for me to find romance books—or books written in this style—that feature characters my age (21). Many of the romance novels in my library are written by older women about older women, so I have a really hard time getting into them. Not so with Beachcombers. Lily is in her early twenties, and Abbie, the oldest, is just around thirty. Even still, the setting and writing are so breathtaking that I was lost in this book. I never wanted it to end. As I read it out in the sun in my backyard, I could almost smell the sand and the salty ocean air. One thing I did notice with this book was that Lily, the youngest, was written to seem immature because of her age, but had the maturity of a thirteen-year-old. I don’t know a single person my age who is as immature as Lily was written to be. The book was still delightful. I would highly recommend it, especially if you’re looking for a good beach read as the weather gets warmer and summer fast approaches. It’s definitely worth the time spent slathering on sunscreen and laying out the towel on the sand.

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-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

Check out these books on Goodreads: A Place of Secrets, Starcrossed, Dreamless, Goddess, Beachcombers

Purchase these books on Amazon: A Place of Secrets, Starcrossed, Dreamless, Goddess, Beachcombers