Friday, August 31, 2012

Review: Close Enough to Touch by Victoria Dahl

I was really excited when my request to Harlequin through NetGalley resulted in an ARC of Close Enough to Touch on my e-reader. Thank you, Harlequin! Victoria Dahl has quite a following, and I was excited to read a book by an author so many of the people on GoodReads seemed to have loved!

I walked away from the book satisfied, but also with a feeling that I could have loved it had it been a bit "tighter." But first, what is it about? It follows the main character Grace Barrett, who reluctantly moves from the hustle and bustle of LA to a small Wyoming town due to a painful past that is a mystery to the reader until later in the novel. There, she is put up by her aunt, who owns an apartment building also known as Stud Farm, due to a number of studly cowboys inhabiting it. The narration shifts between that of Grace and Cole Rawlins, the romantic interest, who is one of the people in the apartment building and who has a painful history of his own. As Grace is adjusting to her new surroundings, she is introduced to a plethora of new friends and starts a new job, all the while negotiating the magnetic pull of Cole and the dilemma of whether she should follow her heart of her head.

The book basically has two protagonists, whose pasts are slowly revealed to us. Their interweaving narratives also provide a glimpse into their psychology - and this is where the story's conflict comes from. I was instantly smitten with Cole - apart from being gorgeous, a cowboy and a sex machine, he is also incredibly sweet and tormented. I thought that his torment came from a very real place that involved his teenage years, his family and his brief time in Hollywood. The mystery of what happened to Cole is mixed with his current problem, which is an injury that prevents him from working on the farm toward his dream of owning it. These were all very real, difficult conflicts and I was with Cole every step of the way.

On the other hand, Grace was challenging for me to root for. While her spunk was initially amusing, it soon became more akin to a personality disorder. Her reluctance to make friends and get involved romantically far eclipsed the necessity of creating an obstacle between Cole and her - it was an abyss which took a while for me to get used to. Due to her own past (much less riveting that Cole's), she fears being "soft," which translates into keeping Cole at a distance - even though he literally keeps her from starving, saves her ass from being fired from her job and doing everything he can for her to feel good. This left me thinking he might just be better off without her. On the other hand, Grace's job problems, coupled with the reason she moves from LA to Jackson, Wyoming, somewhat redeemed the character in my eyes, since this made her relatable.

The secondary characters are really well handled - they are colorful enough to be memorable, but the details of their life are well measured and do not drag down the story. I was particularly fond of Eve, Grace's new boss, as well as of Cole's best friend Shane, as well as the character of Lewis, who appears very briefly. And since I've just learned this to become a series, I am hoping for spin-offs featuring at least some of these characters. Another thing I really appreciated was the blending of the contemporary and western genres (the book cover may be a bit misleading in this respect, but it is really sexy, so I don't care; on the other hand and upon close inspection, what happened to Cole's big toe?), as well as the sex scenes which were scorching hot, but also contributed to the development of the story.

I am definitely not giving up on Victoria Dahl, but I am not all too sure about Close Enough to Touch. There is a definite sense of authorship here, and Dahl handles the pace of the novel masterfully. It never drags, and it balances a spectacular amount of characters flawlessly. However, the somewhat annoying heroine definitely affected my attitude towards the central romance, even though the character of Cole was worth the price of admission himself.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

30 Day Book Meme - Day 2

#02 A book you've read more than three times*

There's a lot of books that I've read more than once, and most of them have to do with my childhood and adolescence. I find that this is the period where most people are looking for (positive) affirmation, and will thus often re-read books that they identified with.

Thus, I have to start with Enid Blyton. Now, my mom used to have this book by Blyton when she was a child, and I believe it was then published in Serbia as a standalone - in other words, without any context of the series. But obviously, it's the Famous Five series, and I'm pretty sure it's one of the earlier ones. But since it was titled here as The Secret of Kirrin Island, and there is no such original titles in the series, I am unsure of which one it actually is. Just to spice it up, I've included the cover of the edition I read - it's so vintage and beautiful.

Also, there was Anne of Green Gables - the original novel, and I must admit I've never read the other books in the series. But I absolutely loved Anne and how smart and chatty she was. I also remember that I had a kid crush on Gilbert Blythe, and it was really good to watch the fabulous TV adaptation(s) and find out where the story went. As a companion to this book, I must also say that I was obsessed with the Road to Avonlea TV series, which is based on Anne, and expands the universe... It's beautiful.

Finally, there's Harry Potter. Obviously. I started reading HP at the age of 11, and it is without a doubt something that left its biggest impact on me. I remember being shocked by the candidness of the books (something that I feel people often overlook, particularly in light of the somewhat sugarcoated films) - the graphic violence, the negotiation of death, the characters' struggle to fit in, poverty... It is without a doubt the most important series of books that I've read in my life.

What are some of the books that you've read more than three times?

*for the complete list of questions, and the links to the answers, click here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: Metroland by Julian Barnes

Oh Julian Barnes, how I have a love-hate relationship with you.

My readers may remember my glowing review of Barnes' brilliant A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, a book so hard to define when it comes to form and genre, it makes for a completely unique reading experience. On the other hand, there's Flaubert's Parrot, which is really Barnes' master thesis thinly disguised as a novel that everyone seemed to love and I couldn't get past the few first pages - though, in the spirit of full disclosure, I never really gave it a chance either.

So although I have great respect for the man, I don't approach Barnes' novels easily. In the case of Metroland, it is a mostly superb reading experience (and a relief in that). A coming-of-age novel about a boy, Christopher, from the suburb of London called Metroland, who with his best friend Toni escapes the monotony of home by reading French writers and philosophers is adorable and profound and grounded in a very realistic depiction of adolescence and young adulthood.

There are three parts of the book. The first, set in Metroland, finds the 16 y.o. characters dreaming of adulthood; the second finds the protagonist living it up in Paris during his college years; the third sees him back in Metroland, with a wife and a daughter. It is also this third part where the real conflict begins, with Toni feeling betrayed for Christopher's normative life choices while he is still obsessing about art and philosophy and being a free spirit.

Since there is no plot to speak of (and the novel is in fact a collection of vignettes), I guess the reader will naturally gravitate to their favorite section of the book based on the time period they cover. I myself enjoyed the adolescent part, but absolutely loved Christopher's years in Paris, where we read about his sexual awakening and first love(s). I also found the conflict between him and Toni surprisingly poignant and gripping, which gave the book an overall nostalgic, somewhat sad, feel. I could have gone without some of the cutesy, boys-will-be-boys type writing in the overlong first part, as well as some slightly homophobic comments, but all in all, I am very happy with Metroland - it is a really good, poignant novel, though it is definitely no History.


Trivia Bit #1 - There is a film adaptation of the book, starring Christian Bale, and it seems like a colossally bad idea. Naturally, I got my hands on a copy and will hopefully watch it soon and post about it.

Trivia Bit #2 - I am obsessed with the Russian cover of the book, because: a) it is obviously marketed as a YA novel, which it obviously isn't, and b) it features the English model and musician George Craig (of Burberry and One Night Only fame; he also dated Emma Watson) on the cover, for no apparent reason.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

30 Day Book Meme - Day 1

Since I'm determined to really push my book blog and post frequently on it, but am at the same time cramming for my exams (which is good - it means I'm reading a lot, but also lacking the time to write reviews), I decided to start the 30 Day Book Meme, which I stumbled upon at Ellen's book blog here. Obviously, the meme isn't going to take over the blog completely, but it's a nice way to break up the upcoming reviews, get to know me a little bit and point to some of my earlier reviews.

I love the idea of the meme, as it seems to me more meaningful than most memes I've seen around book blogs - those were mostly temporary and would lose their validity about a day or so after you filled it out. This one, however, I decided to really invest some time in so it can still be (somewhat) truthful even if accessed in five years, or whatever. So here we go!

Day 1 - The Best Book You Read Last Year

The year of 2011 was pretty eclectic, reading-wise. I've read some modern classics, been introduced to Chicano lit (reviews to come!) and read a LOT of GLBT fiction and non-fiction, but all in all, the book that I feel I've thought about the most was the one that I've reviewed already - Gregory Maguire's Wicked. It is a novel that I had wanted to read for a long time, but also one that can easily be described as a chore, since it is long and unfocused and often requires some previous Wizard of Oz knowledge to fully appreciate it.

So not to write a review again, let me just say it was a fabulous read. The sort-of-prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Wicked is a book you invest a lot into - your time, patience, emotions - and it is rewarding in the sense that you walk away with a sense of thinking you know what it did to you. It is heavy with symbols, metaphors and such, making it far from transparent (in fact, it can sometimes get pretty confusing, as well as a little too abstract). On the one hand, this can make for a frustrating reading experience. On the other, it's one of those things where I will randomly be reminded of Wicked and its ideas when I least expect to be - and it will often be things I hadn't exactly thought of while reading the book.

For me, that sort of literary impact is more than impressive. It ensures that the memory of the novel will stay with me, and that Maguire has managed to tune some of my brain cells to dance to his tune.

30 Day Book Meme:
#01 The best book you read last year
#03 Your favorite series
#04 Favorite book of your favorite series
#05 A book that makes you happy
#06 A book that makes you sad
#07 Most underrated book
#08 Most overrated book
#09 A book you thought you wouldn't like but ended up loving
#10 Favorite classic book
#11 A book you hated
#12 A book you used to love but don't anymore
#13 Your favorite writer
#14 Favorite book of your favorite writer
#15 Favorite male character
#16 Favorite female character
#17 Favorite quote from your favorite book
#18 A book that disappointed you
#19 Favorite book turned into a movie
#20 Favorite romance book
#21 Favorite book from your childhood
#22 Favorite book you own
#23 A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven't
#24 A book that you wish more people would've read
#25 A character who you can relate to the most
#26 A book that changed your opinion about something
#27 The most surprising plot twist or ending
#28 Favorite title
#29 A book everyone hated but you liked
#30 Your favorite book of all time.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

You didn't think I left the blogosphere for good, did you? Good, 'cause y'all would be wrong. :) It's been a while since I posted, but I've had a year full of excitement, all sorts of different experiences and keeping a book blog just couldn't fit in it. And how I've missed it! So I'm back now and I hope to catch up with all my favorite bloggers and authors ASAP.

As for one of my recent reads (more reviews coming soon, of course): It's the book on everyone's lips, a book that I think has been making the rounds so much, everyone is sick of it, regardless of whether they've read it or not. It's Fifty Shades of Grey, otherwise known as mommy porn, a feminist's wet dream, a feminist's nightmare, a book that will change your life, a book that shouldn't have happened...

What's important is that it's the best-selling book of all time. Period.

(And if you've read the book, that last word will surely have another layer of meaning for you.)

The Fifty Shades trilogy is a story of one Anastasia Steele, who gets involved with one Christian Grey. It's actually a smorgasboard of every known romance cliche convention known to man. Anastasia is, for one, ridiculously inexperienced - she has never had sex, never masturbated, never thought about sex... Which, for a 21st century twenty-something girl seems highly unlikely, even in the improbable case that she's Amish. Furthermore, Christian Grey is a gorgeous, wealthy businessman who finds Ana's not-so-particular mix of klutziness, innocence and "spunk" (I use the term very loosely) simply irresistible. The thing is, he's into the bondage lifestyle, and wants Ana either as her sub, or not at all. Yet, Ana wants "more," and although she's desperately inept at what exactly this "more" means, she's not ready to give in completely to Grey's desires... Except when she does, because otherwise there would be no book.

Oh, and if you just called Ana Bella, and Christian Edward, you'd be about right, since Fifty started off as Twilight fanfiction. In all fairness, while it's easy to spot certain similarities while reading Fifty, it is its own book entirely.

The truth is, it's a page-turner. While she certainly doesn't come close to such chick lit icons as Sophie Kinsella or Hellen Fielding, E. L. James certainly knows what to sell. And while Anastasia Steele is not a particularly interesting heroine (in fact, she's more of a caricature of a chick lit heroine), the dynamics between her and Grey, both in and out of the bedroom, sometimes border on truly fascinating. I can honestly say that I groaned and rolled my eyes, but finished the book in record time. Take that as you will, but keep in mind that page turners sell, and if that's anything to go by, it's one of the factors of this book's success.

Also, there's the sex. Quite simply, this is erotica, and if you've read erotica before, I'm sure that nothing here  will shock you (although there is one particular scene, hinted at above, that I'm sure is contrary to most erotica submission guidelines). There is sex, and lots of it, and more often than not, it does not serve the story. I say more often than not, because there are certain sex scenes that are crucial to the plot, and when this happens (mainly the loss of Ana's virginity, as well as the very last scene in the novel), they are truly gripping. Also, when the sex scenes serve the story, they escape the trap of being pornographic, which is a slippery slope for James, who tends to write as if her life depended on the next orgasm, of which Ana experiences an extraordinary amount.

All in all, it's a book more interesting to me as a pop culture phenomenon and the fact that it's outselling even Harry-freakin'-Potter means that there is something here that the world wants to read. And whatever you feel about the book, you cannot deny that it's (become) relevant. I just wish it wasn't as terribly written.