1 show I liked, 1 book I loved, and a novel that was meh.

The Great

I saw the trailer for this series earlier in the year, and it’s now available on Hulu. Produced by Oscar Award nominee, Tony McNamara (screenwriter of The Favourite), I knew I would be watching.  Given my love of a) women in history b) period dramas and c) amazing writing, I am literally the target demographic for the show.  Add in a wonderful amount of diversity (well, in casting, not so much for the LGBTQ crowd, sorry gang), and I’m basically recommending this show to anyone who will listen.  For their roles, Nicolas Hoult and Dakota Fanning might be at their peak, and I can only think both were delighted to take on such interesting characters.  I sincerely hope there is another season.

American Royals

I think you’re probably sending a theme here.  Although I finished this book last year (oops), I didn’t manage to write a review, even though I loved it.  Imagine a world where America is ruled by a monarch.  Now, put the story in modern times, add in the first Queen apparent, and of course – some romantic entanglements.  The sequel is out this year, and I cannot wait.  (For those looking for similar, The Royal We, by the Fug Girls, is also a fab ‘what if’ royal book).

A Shadow Bright and Burning

An alternate history Victorian England? One with magic?  Well, that certainly sounds familiar.  Unfortuantely, Ms. Cluess seems determined to overload the story with so many names and people that it’s nearly impossible to keep them all straight (never mind that there seem to be no less than three love interests).  The world building is so clunky, it constantly took me out of the story.  While there are other books in the story, I have no desire to read them.  with a protagonist that kind of has things happen to her (albeit with some cool magic thrown in), this one was a struggle to finish, and I won’t be reading the rest of the series.

So, have you read or watched anything interesting recently?  Let me know!

Popsugar 2020 Reading Challenge.

We’re here again – another year, another challenge!  Lots of great choices in the selection this year… And let’s see where I can help.

  • A book set in a city that’s held the Olympics.  Get started with The Queen of England: Coronation, set in London.
  • A book with a three word title.  Life After Joe gets the job done just fine.
  • A book published in 2020.  Well, check back with this post, as I expect The Queen of England: Ascension to be published, as well as maybe (?), Under the Rain of Light.  Keep your fingers crossed.
  • A book written by an author in their twenties.  There will always be a special place in my heart for The Line and A Fine Line, both firmly written in my 20’s.
  • A book with more than 20 letters in the title.  Well, my Confessions of a Teenage Band Geek rocks in at 29 letters (!), so that’s another one to pick up.

In case you need more reading suggestions, here are the links to 20192018, and 2016.

Happy reading!

Book Review: The Wedding Date.

I haven’t done too much on this blog that can be considered ‘research’ for my HS Reunion manuscript.  In fact, I think this is my first official post related to the book — even though I finished the rough draft in May.  Oops.  I think that’s because it’s a straight rom-com, which I have plenty of research in already.  Having lived almost forty years, and a fan of obvious tropes, sitcoms, chick lit, and other Basic™ romance, I felt more than adequately prepared for the challenge ahead.

So, The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory was on sale, marked down from its usual $7.99 (!) to either .99 or $1.99, which made it reasonable.  And with a lot of travel in the next few months, I guessed there would be some down time for me to read the book.

To start, although I’m self-published, I do always compare traditionally published books to my own.  In the case of The Wedding Date, I definitely found my work to come out ahead (and wondered why on earth Penguin would publish this novel in its current form).

Where did the book go so wrong?  While I loved the initial trope of Meeting In A Condensed Space (in this instance, trapped in an elevator), followed by an even better trope of Fake Dating (the best!), the book kind of ran out of steam at the 20% point, after the pair go on the titular ‘wedding date.’  There was no conflict.  I mean, other than the hero/heroine live in two different cities (but see each other all the time) and have a few communication errors, there’s really nothing going on.

Oh, except the boning.

I unapologetically love romance novels, and am nearly always reading one.  I have read some amazing sex scenes — ones charged with passion and tension.  Ones that are beautifully written and do right by the characters.  I can tell you that The Wedding Date is filled with absolute vanilla nonsense, that somehow is both what I would consider a ‘clean’ read (i.e. the descriptions are quite limited when it comes to anatomy) and ‘turning the lights out’ as in, the author leaves the audience to imagine what happens.

The problem is that the main characters bone a lot.  Like, half the book is just them having sex.  Great, kudos for them.  However, when sex is written poorly and while it appears they are fucking just to fuck, it doesn’t add anything to the book, especially when it’s poorly written nonsense.  If there’s any silver lining, I am glad the author focuses on safe sex, and they use a condom every time (no mention of birth control for the heroine).

So, if I learned anything from reading this book, it’s to make sure the sex in my novel is there for a reason.  That it’s well written and not just to take up space.  In my current draft, there are three separate scenes where the characters are intimate, but now I’m wondering if the third one isn’t a little gratuitous.  Also, writing smut has always been a weakness of mine, so when I go back to edit, I’ll need to make sure that the scenes are worth reading and not clunky Tab A / Slot B descriptions.

Also, why are these characters ALWAYS EATING?  Nearly every scene revolves around food in some strange way.  I’m not saying people don’t need to eat, but the constant eating made me feel full.  Also, who eats donuts that much?  Have the characters, one of whom is a doctor, never heard of diabetes?

Finally, while there is no doubt I’m happy to see representation with a POC lead, I wish it had been with another book.

Am I encouraged to read another book by Ms. Guillory?  No, unfortuantely, I am not.

Have you read The Wedding Date?  What did you think?  What are you favorite romance/chick lit tropes?

Book Club Questions: Foul Is Fair.

foul is fair book club questions, foul is fair book club

I cannot establish how much I’m infatuated with this book.  The language, the fierceness, the unapologetic nature…

Anyway, are you here for the book club questions?  I hope so!  If you haven’t read Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin, yes there will be spoilers ahead, so I highly recommend you finish the book first.  Spoiler alert: I read it in one sitting.  (Buy it here, in care you’re looking).

  • How do you feel about the inciting action taking place ‘off screen?’ Do you think it was an interesting choice by the narrator/author?  Do you think it makes the event stronger to only occur in flashbacks and conversation?
  • Violence is a key theme in the book.  Do you think it’s overused or realistic in the context of what happened to the protagonist?
  • Revenge at any cost.  Do you agree?  Do you think that the end justifies the means?
  • Parental oversight is used sparingly in the book, as are the involvement of parents overall.  Does this ring true for the novel, or is it a convienent plot point?
  • Who is your favorite character?  Why?
  • If you had to trade places with any character in the book, who would you choose and why?
  • What made the setting unique or important?  Could the story have taken place anywhere?
  • How reliable is Jade/Elle as a narrator?
  • Do you think this novel would be better adapted as a film or series?  Any suggestions for a dream cast?
  • The language in this book is unique.  Do you have any favorite quotes?
  • While there are many comparisons, describe at length the allusions and similarities to Macbeth.  Do you feel the ‘modernization’ of Shakespeare’s tragedy works in the context of the novel?
  • What do you think of representation/diveristy in the novel?  How are the POC/non-binary characters portrayed?
  • Who would you recommend this book to?
  • This book is listed as Book #1, what do you think will happen in Book #2?  Will there be another tragedy involved?
  • Based on this novel, would you read other work by Ms. Capin?

Would love to hear your suggestions for other questions to accompany this amazing book.  Please list them in the comments below!

Book Club Questions: Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi.

In preparing for my book club this month, I realized there were almost no book club questions in place for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize Winner, Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi.

So, in the spirit of our upcoming discussion, here are a few questions to consider.  I would love to hear additional suggestions!

  • Have you read any other Man Booker prize winners? What are your thoughts or comparisons to the 2019 selection?
  • Did you like any of the characters?  Was there anyone you identified with?
  • What do you think of the authors choice to include so many characters?  Did having so many people to keep track of enhance or hurt your appreciation of the novel?
  • Did you know about the Omani slave trade prior to reading this book?  How do you think it is presented?
  • Who would you recommend this book to?  Why?
  • What do you think of the first person narrative?  Is it used effectively?
  • Does Celestial Bodies represent what you thought of Oman?  Did you learn anything about the country?
  • What role does tradition play throughout the novel?  Which traditions did you find the most interesting?
  • How do feel about how the role of gender throughout the novel?  How did the expectations of gender and class play into the development of the characters?
  • Why do you think the author chose to conclude the book where she did?
  • What, if any, is the role of time in the novel?  Do you think a linear storyline would have changed the book?

Review: Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Yes, it’s been a minute since I reviewed something, hasn’t it?

From the outset of Evvie Drake Starts Over, I couldn’t help but wish this had been published before I finished writing Life After Joe, as I know I would’ve been very positively influenced by Ms. Holmes’s novel.  Similar to my Joe, the book opens with the death of a husband (not a spoiler).  What follows is a wonderful story about Evvie and Dean, two well-developed and complicated characters.  Even Tim (the dead husband), who is ‘present’ throughout the book gets an excellent, believable backstory.  The chemistry felt natural, and I loved the supporting cast (just as realistic as the main characters).  Overall, I loved Ms. Holmes’s voice and would be happy to pick up her next novel.  The book brings up great questions, and yes, there is romance.  A weird sub-genre, but if reading about modern widows is something you’re interested in, then this is one to add to your list.  I have no doubt this will be optioned for film (maybe Hallmark, maybe someone bigger) by the end of the year.

I received this book as an ARC through NetGalley.  Opinions are my own!

Book review: Heist Society.

Noticing a theme here, are we?  😉

For the next of my heist research novels, I turned to (what else?) YA.  When writing UTROL earlier in the year, I briefly debated knocking ten years off everyone’s ages, but there’s far too much suspension of disbelief that would need to take place for that to read in any realistic format.

Like The Heist, it took me a sold two efforts to get into the book — as in, I put the book down for over a month — something that really surprised me.  Because really, the hook of any heist should be something of a page turner.  Especially in the YA genre.  In this instance Kat (Katerina Bishop) comes from a family of n’er do wells, who have been conning and running schemes for years (it’s mentioned she was on a job when she was 5, which seems like very poor parenting).  Everyone needs an origin story, but we only get bits and pieces of Kat’s before she leaves the school she’s attending (where she escaped to get away from a life of crime).

Things I liked?  Go big or go home.  Why shouldn’t there be a teen with more or less unlimited wealth?  Why shouldn’t 15 year olds regularly interact with grown men and crime bosses without hesitation?  Why can’t a group of kids knock off a major museum?  Why wouldn’t they visit (what felt like) 17 countries in a week?  Who needs adult supervision?  Ahem.  In reality, there were a few terms and ideas I picked up for UTROL,  and I loved how the group had chemistry, and lots of inside jokes/events that we, as the audience, are never given any further details on.  Character development was a bit meh, but there were plenty of fun moments, even if the pacing at the start was a bit difficult to get into.  Similar to Ocean’s 11, what works is that we know no one will be killed.  This is a heist with high stakes, but not everything on the line.  I have threats in my own manuscript, but as of now (spoiler alert), I’m keeping everyone alive.

Stuff that needs work?  $7.99 feels high for a book that can be read in one or two sittings (even if it took me 9 or 10).  $4.99 feels much more in line.  Within the book itself, the ‘twist’ was one I saw coming a mile away — and was based on a  decision that felt WILDLY out of character for our protagonist.  Also, as mentioned above, there is simply a bit to much suspension of disbelief to really ground the book.  Ms. Carter, I think you could’ve done better.  Given the feedback on Amazon/Goodreads, I seem to be in the minority, with most readers enjoying the novel.

 Unfortunately, while there are other books in the series, given their price point, I’m not in any particular hurry to pick them up.  I like Kat as a protagonist, but I’m not really invested in her life.  Damn not having a library.

Have you read the series?  What do you think?

Book review: The Heist.

We’ve already established I wasn’t wild about my first outing with Gabriel Allon.  However, given the reviews for The Heist (another novel in the same series by author Daniel Silva), and writing a manuscript where an art heist is the central activity, I thought, “Okay, why not?”

Wow, past Courtney, great job. /s

Unfortunately, this ‘adventure’ with everyone’s favorite Israeli/painter/spy/assassin/man who knows everyone everywhere, while the first 15% of the novel does actually have to do with a stolen Caravaggio, the book then veers sharply into politics.  The book wasn’t a page turner, in fact, I tried valiantly on three separate occasions to finish the book.  In the end, I skipped SWATHES of novel after Gabriel goes back to Israel (for reasons I don’t remember and really don’t care about).  Although part of a series, which I realize that fans of said series would have some investment in Gabriel, his wife (who is STILL nothing but meaningless arm candy/mother to be/vessel for carrying twins), and Gabriel’s career path, however, as a casual reader, the only thing I cared about was the plot, which was convoluted and certainly not the heist or recovery I expected it to be.

Reading the reviews on Goodreads, it appears I am not alone, and is perhaps my thoughts are best summed up by this account: “And before I knew it, my fun art heist caper was gone, and had been replaced by a dreary political thriller.”

For $9.99, I wildly overpaid for this novel, and it will be my last purchase supporting this author.  Perhaps if I had access to a library, I could check out books and skim through them, however, I’m not about to pay for another.

Did I pick up a few things for my novel?  Yes.  Could I have found these details elsewhere? Also, yes.

I’m also befuddled how this book has a 4.1 on Goodreads and a 4.5 on Amazon.  Perhaps Mr. Silva has his audience and people are willing to show up for the previous 13 BOOKS in this series.  No, thank you.

Send any good heist novel recommendations my way…

Book Review: The Portrait of Molly Dean.

I requested The Portrait of Molly Dean via NetGalley (which, full disclosure, was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review).  With an art and mystery angle, I knew it was one that would be good research for the heist book I’m currently working on.

To start, Ms. Kovacic does an impressive job of pulling the audience straight into the world of these characters.  We quickly are immersed in not only the buying and selling of art, but more specifically, art in Melbourne, Australia. In addition, a few chapters in, we get some insight to Melbourne in the 1930s.  With two simultaneous timelines, it’s easy to follow the actions (even if we know one character is moving closer to her – not spoiler alert – death).  Our protagonist, Alex, is a no-nonsense woman who deals in art and, in her research and due diligence for a recently purchased. stumbles onto a bit of a mystery with one Molly Dean, the subject of a painting.  In a well integrated 1930s timeline, we walk the last footsteps of Molly Dean.  Overall, the story is interesting and very well researched, with lots of wonderful details that truly create reveal the unique voice of the author.

Unfortunately, and only because it’s one of the biggest problems in my own writing, is that nearly all the characters sound the same.  Furthermore, we spend an inordinate amount of time with Alex.  Maybe it’s because I’m more used to reading books with more ensemble types casts, but in Portrait, we’re pretty much with Alex 70% of the time.  If she had a little more personality, that would be great, but in my mind, she ends up much as an audience insert — some readers might be happy with that, but I found the device a bit boring.  With the problem of everyone using the same ‘voice,’ the discussions of whodunit become almost like Alex speaking to herself (or us).  Anyway, I didn’t mind too much and continued reading.

Overall, my biggest problems with the book are the cover and price.  For all the research Ms. Kovacic did (and really, it is a staggering amount), the cover, which I assume to be the title, looks NOTHING like what was described in the book.  I think the publisher missed a huge opportunity here, and am quite shocked it was approved.  I realize we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but really…  Additionally, $9.99 seems high for a debut author.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely novel, however, I think the price point seems quite high for a book that I finished in three sessions.  My final issue is a bit nit picky, but the book is HEAVILY focused on Melbourne, to the point that it’s almost alienating if you’ve never been.  Even having visited last summer, I still thought the heavy handed references were a bit much.  Although the artist and portrait are (surprise) Australian, I think the author would have done better to make this somehow a more universal book, by perhaps choosing a different artist/subject.

Would I read another book featuring Alex?  I suppose so, but I would feel comfortable checking the book out from the library or paying under $5.

Have you read this book yet?  Will you check it out?