Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: Keeping Sweets by Cate Ashwood

I have been dying to read a porn-to-love romance novel, mostly because I found it surprising it became such a trope in MM romance (wouldn't it be a tad raunchy for most readers, provided it really aims to portray gay porn?). Now, I can totally see why it works for so many readers. I have always associated porn stars with loneliness - I feel like whenever someone works in a line of business that requires them to check their humanity at the door (think prostitutes, or clowns for that matter), it becomes very hard to make a meaningful connection with another person, particularly if that line of work is porn. Granted, Keeping Sweets is not exactly the kind of story where one person needs to get over the fact that their love interest is a porn actor; indeed, both heroes are, albeit in different stages of their respective careers. Yet, I give huge kudos to Cate Ashwood for keeping the porn aspect of the book both arousing and integral to the plot and character building.

The novel concerns Evan, a recent high school graduate who is all too happy to move away to college from his abusive stepfather. In order to pay the tuition, however, he decides to appear in a porn film, which leads him to a meeting with a veteran porn star Brandon, whom he instantly feels attracted to. Brandon, on the other hand, is looking to get out of the business and settle down, but can't help the butterflies he feels for the young and naive Evan, and he soon finds himself compromising his work ethic and the facade he has built over the years.

I really, really enjoyed the character of Brandon. He is a man bruised by life and further disillusioned by his work as a porn actor. He was really the character through which we got the most opinions about the business, and I liked how Ashwood managed to portray pornography both as a job, an emotional strain, and even a fetish for some. Brandon really shone when it came to his protectiveness of Evan, and I was very much invested in their relationship. The scenes where he takes Evan shopping or to see the ocean nearly slayed me. Granted, Evan was a little too naive for my tastes, but I liked how he went from a lonely, marginalized youth unaware of sex or his own body to someone who was deemed very alluring on the set of the porn movie, and not just for his body. Thus, the pairing of Evan and Brandon worked not only on the physical level, but on the emotional one as well, each learning a lot from the other person.

Although I did have minor problems with the book (the whole I won't do what I want to do because I don't feel like I should, even though I will obviously have to at some point because this is a romance novel argument that Brandon kept clinging to got old rather quickly), I just can't bring myself to rate it anything under five stars. The snappy pace of the novel and Ashwood's obvious writing talent made Keeping Sweets a heartwarming and engaging experience I am not afraid to recommend to any romance afficionado - and this is her debut novel, so she is definitely an author to look out for. Also, I am really hoping that the minor character of Colt gets a spin-off novel, he was such an alluring mystery!


Find Keeping Sweets on Amazon, or add it to your to-read list on GoodReads.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Top Ten Things to Read When You Need Something Light and Fun

Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish.

Although I rarely re-read books (too many books on my TBR list for that!), there are some books I can't help but pick up time and time again, and more often than not, they are light and fun!

1. Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson. This is the first in the Queen Betsy series of novels, and although I haven't continued reading the series yet, I've read this one at least twice. It is just hilarious - Betsy (short for Elizabeth Taylor) is a cynical, shoe-obsessed newborn vampire, and the book is mostly concerned with her coping with her vampire powers and just being annoyed by everything. I was quite honestly surprised by this book, as it managed to blend chick lit tropes with wit and an engrossing plot. A real winner! My Review | GoodReads | Amazon

2. Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell. A lot of people disliked this book because it's so different from the TV show - there is no warmth or real storylines, and the characters are mere sketches compared to Sarah Jessica Parker and the gang. But the reason why I like it so much is because it is essentially a collection of Bushnell's Sex and the City columns featuring her alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw. Essentially, it is the things Carrie types out on her computer, like pieces on Toxic Bachelors or Psycho Moms. It works whether you read it in order, as Mr. Big starts to reappear and become more fleshed out, or if you just turn to any random piece and read it as part of the collage that is the New York dating scene. GoodReads | Amazon

3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling. Book four is hands down my favorite in the Boy Wizard series, and for a number of reasons. It has such great dynamics between the characters - Harry and Ron's fight, for example, is some of the best writing Rowling has done in the series, and the burgeoning romance on all fronts is so much fun to read. Moreover, both the Triwizard Challenge and the Quidditch World Cup are such exciting and unique set pieces! It is an altogether dynamic book with one of the funniest (and most frustrating) characters in the entire series - Rita Skeeter! GoodReads | Amazon

4. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend. I must have read this book at least ten times. It is a hilarious fictional diary of a confused, klutzy and pseudo-intelectual teen boy in early '80s Britain. Not only is his worldview skewed and downright delusional, making the book side-splittingly funny, it is also set against historical events such as Lady Diana's wedding or Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's political activity, all of which are misinterpreted by Adrian. Also, his pining after his high school sweetheart Pandora is beyond sweet! Get two copies of this book - one for you, and for the teen in your family. You'll read it again and again, and laugh until your sides hurt! GoodReads | Amazon

5. I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson. I first read this book a thousand years ago, long before its popularity was somewhat revived by the somewhat unsuccessful movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker (what is it about SJP that I so adore!?). It is a year or so in a life of a working mother who juggles her children and her career, usually with a lot of panic and hysteria. It's been a while since I last picked it up, and I'm not sure how the book would hold up against the gender worldviews I've acquired since then, but I am just about certain I would enjoy it again! GoodReads | Amazon

6. Speaking With the Angel, edited by Nick Hornby. This is a real gem. Although Hornby himself is a hit-and-miss for me, the anthology of short stories he compiled for charity is a roller coaster of different voices and experiences, including those of Hornby himself, Helen Fielding and Colin Firth (yes, that Colin Firth). There wasn't a single story here I disliked, and the great thing about an anthology like this is that you can revisit your favorite stories for an instant dose of positivity and happiness! GoodReads | Amazon

7.  Muscling Through by J. L. Merrow. You guys, you have no idea how incredibly sweet and cute this romance is. As if the pairing of a Cambridge art professor and a sensitive street thug wasn't dreamy enough, Al's somewhat dimwitted point of view reveals both protectiveness and confusion when it comes to the higher-class professor. I have seen many bloggers and reviewers gush over this novella and J. L. Merrow in general, and I am so glad. This author deserves all the readers that he can get! My Review | GoodReads | Amazon

8. The Fran Lebowitz Reader by Fran Lebowitz. The collection of previously published pieces by the celebrated humorist is both outrageous and profoundly observant. A reviewer on GoodReads noted how her writing is so rhythmic, you can't help but read certain parts aloud, and I agree completely. Another calls her "a cross between Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, and that friend of yours who never shuts the fuck up." Again, so true. Read this to find out why Los Angeles and its people suck, what an irresponsible author does when she misses her deadline, or why children are infinitely better conversations companions than adults (hint: they will never ask for a loan!). GoodReads | Amazon

9. Ms. Taken Identity by Dan Begley. If for no other reason, this book should be cherished for promoting the criminally overlooked dick lit (or lad lit, if you wanna be appropriate) genre. It is about a PhD candidate with serious girlfriend issues who can't sell his serious book and instead decides to come up with a female pen name and write a chick lit novel. Although he initially thinks this would be an easy feat, he realizes there's more to understanding women than watching Oxygen and Oprah, and develops a newfound respect for the genre, as well as a romantic interest way out of his league. My Review | GoodReads | Amazon

10. Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding. Obviously. I am not exactly sure whether I prefer the book or the movie when I want to get away and experience the hell of Bridget's life, but good old Bridget never fails to put a smile on my face! I also find it very motivational - as the heroine would say, "It is proved by surveys that happiness does not come from love, wealth, or power but the pursuit of attainable goals." She is the underdog in all of us, and seeing her win just makes me feel all warm inside! GoodReads | Amazon

Thanks for reading through this massive post - I hope I've given you some good ideas for your future reading! What do you like to read when you're in the mood for something light and fun?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review: The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife has literally been everywhere for the longest time. This in itself is not surprising - Ms. Obreht is the youngest-ever winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, and this fact is even more fascinating considering that The Tiger's Wife is her debut novel. Furthermore, she has been chosen as one of New Yorker's 20 Under 40 (aka, 20 promising authors who are younger than 40).  Not to mention, everyone and their mom bought a copy of The Tiger's Book, its exotic-looking cover beckoning from the shelf of your friendly neighborhood Barnes and Noble.

On the one hand, I am glad Tea Obreht sold so many books. She is a talented writer, and I am sure she is bound to be a great one after her skills receive some more polishing. Her prose has an ethereal quality about it, which is fitting for a book that revolves so much around folklore and magic. Its elements are deeply engrossing - whether its the contemporary story of a young doctor from a worn-torn Balkan country facing the horrors of war while seeking answers about her grandfathers' death, or the two myths that talk of a mysterious tiger and his human companion, and a man who has been denied the right to die.

It is all very fascinating, however the book ends up being less than the sum of its parts. Much of it has to do with the structure - Obreht's prose is quite wordy, and as soon as you get engrossed in one of the three prominent plot lines, the chapter finishes and you are forced to plunge into another one. I found this to be a particular problem, as I felt quite distanced from the majority of the book. I also couldn't but mentally compare it to Katherine Neville's The Eight, a book quite unlike The Tiger's Wife, for sure, but one that handled multiple storylines more than skillfully, building one on top of the other for a unity of effect I'm sure even Poe would be thrilled with. Obreht, on the other hand, simply meshes them together which, unfortunately, results in an ending I found very underwhelming and honestly, quite confusing.

Another thing that I feel inclined to speak when it comes to the novel is its treatment of the ex-Yugoslavian countries and the warfare that serves as its background, particularly since I happen to come from these parts. Obreht consciously misnames (or flat out refuses to name) geographical locations, which, coupled with anachronisms and fabrication of myth and folklore, effectively reduces the unfortunate history of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia to legend, producing a sense of all-pervading vagueness and distrust of history. While I may feel inclined to reason that this particular instance of Orientalization (or Balkanization, if you will) works toward painting a version of history blind of national and ethnic particularities, underscoring the essence of humanity, pain and loss, I can very much see how some, especially those that like to keep their hold on history firm and as unambivalent as possible, will and have found this irritating and even disrespectful.

The Tiger's Wife is a mixed bag for sure. The book is almost saved by its enchanting eloquence and prose, which effectively overshadows what its trying to do and how it comes close to failing at it miserably. I think it is interesting to compare it to the prose of Anne Rice, which, although quite purple at times, never really detracts from the experience, as the author's intents mostly lie in the realm of entertainment. However, even if one gets the sense that Tea Obreht bit off more than she could chew, her debut novel makes for an often-mesmerizing reading experience and has made this blogger excited for the young author's sophomore effort.