Beyond Strange New Words

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Reblogged from Angels With Attitude Book Reviews:

Beren and Lúthien

Beren and Lúthien - J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien, Alan Lee The story of Beren and Lúthien is one of the three central stories of Tolkien’s Elvish history, presented in this book in a new light, revealing the process of Tokien’s writing and how it evolved from its earliest concept to the latest, though never quite finished version.

Edited by Christopher Tolkien, Beren and Lúthien is actually a collection of various versions, accompanied with a commentary on their conception and development and the reasoning behind it, following by now a familiar approach when it comes to Tolkien’s posthumously published works.

As such, it comes out rather academic – perhaps overly so – to a reader only interested in a ‘story’.

However, I found Beren and Lúthien extremely readable and even refreshing and I loved rediscovering the already familiar story from The Silmarillion with its different and new angles through both in prose and verse. Although Tolkien’s poetry does at times seem awkward, it is in most places highly evocative and yet again shows Tolkien’s skill. The latest written verses in particularly make you think about what he could have done if he had had more time.

I was, nevertheless, a little ‘disappointed’ to learn that Tolkien was apparently not a cat person (just kidding, LOL.)

All in all, Beren and Lúthien was an enjoyable and quick read that only rekindled my love for all things Tolkien, so maybe even 4.5 stars.

This review was first published on my book blog, Beyond Strange New Words.

Someone Else's Fairytale

Someone Else's Fairytale - E.M. Tippetts 1.5 stars. At least it was free on Kindle.

The concept – a movie star falling for the one girl whose dream isn’t a hot movie star falling for her – was intriguing, but that was also all.

However, it kept me reading through to the end, which earns it half a star more than it would have for the plot and the characters. Because this was one of the dumbest stories I have ever read. And there were so many annoying things.

Of course the male BFF is actually pining for the main character in a romantic way. Or is she pining for him? I don’t know. Because clearly men and women can’t be ‘just’ friends. Right.

The said BFF also presumes to tell the protagonist who she shouldn’t be friends with and how often she should talk to them. Red flags rising my hackles all around.

Then, Chloe, from whose POV the story is written, sounds awfully immature, despite being through quite an ordeal in childhood and apparently having to take care of herself. She is 21, but her actions and even more her reasoning are those of a 15-year-old. As someone who basically had to grow up at 14, I couldn’t at all relate to her childishness – and it shows the author clearly wrote neither from experience nor from sufficient research.

But most of all, the story is just bland, as in, there isn’t any story – only enumeration of this and that which happens, and the reader knows the main characters will get a HEA anyway. There is some drama due to Chloe’s past, but it doesn’t really serve the story, although it is rather interesting on its own, and I think the author would have had more success with it if she had written a YA thriller about that ordeal instead of this ‘romance’.

The characters are equally bland. There are hardly any descriptions (and I don’t mean hair/eye colour, height and whatnot; there aren’t even any mannerisms and such that make up a person(ality)), unless you count unfavourable ones of the supposedly hot movie star. And while leaving physical appearances up to the reader’s imagination can work out marvellously, this isn’t the case in Someone Else’s Fairytale. Hence, everyone seemed just words on paper, dead, and I felt no connection to any of them.

Which brings me to the last and worst: the story was feeling-less. It is supposed to be a romance, but I couldn’t feel a thing reading it. Angst? Love? (Who am I kidding?) Tension? Happiness? Sadness? Anything? Nope, nothing. A phone book makes me feel more.

This review was originally posted on my book blog, Beyond Strange New Words.

#Starstruck

#Starstruck - Sariah Wilson Retracting 1 star due to the miscommunication or lack of communication as a plot device, but otherwise it was fast-paced, sweet, funny, and it tugged on all the right heart strings and sucked me in so much I devoured it in less than 24 hours.

Hostage

Hostage - Annika Martin, Skye Warren Hostage was so good that I took a break for a week at about three quarters in so it would last longer, because I didn’t want it to end too soon.

Although we knew about Stone’s history from Prisoner, getting his point of view was equally if not still more devastating as we saw how he, being the eldest, took upon himself the responsibility of taking take care of the others, both in the past and in the present, and doing the dirty work himself so others wouldn’t have to.

And then there is Brooke, seemingly a spoilt rich girl who has everything, but who lets us see behind that façade from the get-go and gives a reader a lot of food for thought regarding how much of the ‘happiness’ and ‘wealth’ some people have could be just putting up appearances and following the invisible rules of the elite .

Brooke, somewhat naïve and innocent to an extent, with her highly-regulated life, and the hardened, disillusioned Stone, stripped of any notions of ‘propriety’ couldn’t be more different. And yet, they complement each other and fit together perfectly.

As Brooke puts it herself, she is a good influence on him and he is a bad (but in a good way) influence on her – while she shows him he doesn’t have to be a monster and can still have a life beyond vengeance, he teaches her how to stand up for herself and be her own person, and they both help each other see a way to live a life not predetermined by their past or other people and stay true to themselves even as they change each other.

Hostage takes place over several years, encompassing the time before and after Prisoner and brings the story to a wrap. Hence, although I would love to see other guys’ stories, I would also be fine with the series ending here, as the ending is very satisfactory and actually even more so than I had expected going in.

Other qualities I praised in Prisoner – great writing, vivid side characters, real stakes, truly dark elements, and organic development of the romance among others – are also present in Hostage.

All in all, Hostage was what very few sequels are – even better than the first book, and I cannot recommend this duet enough to the lovers of dark romance.

This review was cross-posted from my blog, Beyond Strange New Words.

Prisoner

Prisoner - Annika Martin, Skye Warren Now that it has been a few days since I finished it, let me see if I can possibly put into words the absolutely gutting feelings this book provoked in all the best ways, because this was finally a dark romance that met all my expectations and more.

For starters, the plot with its twists and turns was well-thought through and made sense as did both main and other characters’ choices – there was a good reason behind every decision and outcome.

It was actually dark, as in the criminals really were criminals, and there was kidnapping, murder, and very dubious consent involved, among other things.

And yet, the solid development of the romance angle made me root for Abby and Grayson so hard from the very start, because their connection was virtually tangible on all levels, from physical to intellectual and spiritual, and they (as well as other characters) felt alive, fleshed out in all their badness, goodness, and everything in between, with their backstories getting slowly revealed in exquisite pieces in just the right spots over the course of the story.

I loved Abby, who is smart and brave, but also very aware of her anxieties and limits. And my heart broke for Grayson and his ‘crew’ even when they were darn terrifying. And speaking of his crew, they are such a rich ensemble of supporting characters that aren’t just stock chess figures but come to life on the page even with their limited time and roles – and I am so looking forward to reading more about them (as I see there is at least one more book already out, and hopefully more to come.)

And, as the cherry on top of it all, the book is not just well, but beautifully written.

The ending is not your traditional hearts-and-flowers HEA, but is still very much a happily-ever-after in a way that fits these two characters (even if not one we would want to imagine for ourselves.)

So, both gutting and heart-warming, this is an exceptional, clever story which I would highly recommend for those not of faint heart who want a look at the dark side of romance.

Point of Contact

Point of Contact - Melanie  Hansen This book had me cry both sad tears and tears of joy.

It is a heartfelt story of two people finding a connection and a new life through a devastating loss, but also so much more.

I really liked not only how the story delved into the effects of personal loss for the two main characters and their surroundings, but also on the effects of war on war veterans and their families in general through the examples of other characters.

And, with the way Hansen brought to life also those other, minor characters, and made me invested in them, this is one of the rare books I wish was a part of a series, because I would like to see and learn more of them as well.

So, all in all, this is a highly compelling, layered story I couldn't devour fast enough.

A Happy Death

A Happy Death - Richard Howard, Albert Camus, Jean Sarocchi As a sort-of preconception of The Stranger, A Happy Death is also its flip-side in which Mersault gets away with pre-meditated murder (as opposed to what we could say is, if I remember correctly, involuntary manslaughter in The Stranger.)

While Mersault of A Happy Death is not yet the alienated and detached Mersault of The Stranger, for he still possesses the ability to be affected and to form attachment, the early seeds of absurdism are present in his quest of finding happiness.

In accord with his – for the lack of a better word – victim’s claim that money cannot buy happiness but it can buy time, which is essential for the pursuit of doing what you want and enabling one to be one’s true self, Mersault discovers that one can only find happiness with oneself, in the very solitude of being oneself.

However, that is easier said than done, as having time does not guarantee happiness per se. To be happy requires being the will to be happy, to immerse oneself in the present, in the here and now, and arrange the time one has to that purpose.

And that state is what Mersault manages to achieve and does in the end meet – although an outside observer would call it all but one – a happy death.

I must say I find these concepts both mind-boggling and intriguing but also agreeable – to an extent; they certainly give one food-for-thought and the desire to revisit them and this novel as well as its eventual and more famous successor.

Additionally, A Happy Death (as well as The Stranger, as far as I remember), has a certain ease of language, and I found myself liking the style very much; I particularly loved how Camus uses the wording and pacing to illustrate various settings and Mersault’s states of mind.

My edition came with a lengthy afterword, providing literary analysis I disagree with on several points.

Chiefly, it simplifies Mersault motive for his act of murder merely as greed (and jealousy, which I couldn’t see at all), whereas I saw it at least in equal part as an act – albeit certainly not selfless – of some kind of mercy that can be basically considered euthanasia of the man who per his own admission did not want to live the life he had but lacked the courage and strength to end it himself. (To be clear, I am not exonerating Mersault’s motives, I just think they are more complex that Mr. Sarrocchi would want the reader to believe.)

I also do not think the discrepancies between the autobiographical elements of Camus’s life and their imperfect alignment in fiction should be held against the novel. After all, complete truthfulness to real life is not the measure of quality of fiction.

And lastly, according to Mr. Sarrocchi, A Happy Death supposedly failed as a novel in terms of form and composition, which must have been the reason it was not published at the time of writing and was later reworked.

Nevertheless, to conclude, I think that in 80 years since the novel’s conception (and 45 since the aforementioned critique’s) the literary landscape has changed enough that we, new readers, can appreciate A Happy Death from a different perspective and with the experience of the present time which Camus’s work seems to resonate with perhaps better than it did with the time of its origin.

Loving Mr. Daniels

Loving Mr. Daniels - Brittainy C. Cherry My pre-conceptions/expectations about this story were off, but in the best way. It was such a lovely, sweet story, although a bit cliched in places and the second half also had me crying at least five times. But all's well that ends well.

The only major complaint I have was that I had to do a bit too much mind-juggling/hand-waving for dates and ages to work within the given parameters for my taste to give it five stars.

Bait

Bait - Jade West Perhaps even 4.5 stars.

Abigail and Leo start off in a way that would have been doomed to end badly, but it works out in this poignant story and that in a most heart-tugging way, and I absolutely loved it.

They both loved hard and lost harder and were left with demons that end up playing well with each other, making them start living again after having barely existed for a time. Or, as the story puts it, they are two broken people whose jagged pieces fit together. And perfectly so.

With well-crafted plot and characterisation and more than solid writing that sometimes ventures into poetic (and I mean that as a compliment), this was a beautiful story that left me with such warm feelings that still make me smile.

That said, the sex scenes in this story are something else - let me just say some parts made my insides (and other body parts) hurt. Don't try this at home, kids. But it is what makes this story what it is.

Hence, Bait is yet another proof that Jade West does unconventional/dark romance so very well.

Sugar Daddies

Sugar Daddies - Jade West This book is definitely a case of when you shouldn't judge a book by the title or the cover, because neither of them does this wonderful story justice.

Is there, as the author puts it, filthy smut? Sure is. But there is also so much more.

A heroine with an actual personality who is smart and knows what she wants and doesn't relinquish her dreams and/or becomes a doormat when you throw a d*** (or two) and some money at her? Check.

Men who actually treat the woman with respect and honour her wishes and needs and don't scream 'me, Tarzan, my p****!'? Check.

Multi-dimensional, well-developed characters, both main and supporting ones, who change and grow through the story? Check.

Well thought-through backgrounds that fit the characters and help make sense of them? Check.

A story that goes well beyond the romantic trio getting together, with parts and elements that were tragic and touching (and beautiful) that they made me cry (one and a half times)? Check.

A side serving of a human and animal friendship that melted my heart? Check.

And all of it well-written? Check, as well.

Basically, erotica the way I like it best. Well done, Ms. West, you got yourself a new reader.

(I have to note, though, that this wasn't the first book by this author I read - I gave it a shot because I fairly liked one I had read before, but this one exceeded my expectations.)

Their Virgin Concubine

Their Virgin Concubine - Shayla Black, Lexi Blake Maybe 2.5, because I skimmed the first quarter pages or so, but then it got interesting. The concept lacked some development and I found the token 'exoticism' of the setting annoying. I did like that the heroine didn't take any of the 'I'm pushing you away for your safety' BS.

Brave New World

Brave New World - Margaret Atwood, David Bradshaw, Aldous Huxley I am only giving it two stars because this book is for some reason considered a great classic, but I really didn’t like it.

After overcoming the initial shock of Huxley’s brave new capitalist eugenics utopia, I kept asking myself through most of the book what Huxley was high on and reminding myself that he was into experimenting with hallucinogens at the time and thus he might have actually been high on something.

While I have so far liked what I have read of contemporary dystopia, I have found the ‘old’, classic dystopia, such as Brave New World or, also recently read, Animal Farm much less likeable. On the other hand, I tremendously enjoyed Verne’s Paris in the Twentieth Century. So perhaps the fault is in these specific books.

It is strange how all these authors of the past viewed the future, which has in the meantime become our present in some cases, as a world of complete ‘moral’ disintegration of society that is entirely submitted to the ‘values’ of capitalism, consumerism, and (to an extent) technological advancement, rejecting emotion, art, and personal freedom.

And yet, I don’t see – or foresee – these bleak visions coming true. Granted, the 17th century after Ford of the Brave New World is still quite a bit ahead. Nevertheless, I think we can safely hope – as we see the very elements (or similar ones) of the scientific progress mentioned in these stories having already become our reality without most of the ‘predicted’ accompanying societal degradation – humanity will never come that far, or better said, fall that low. Maybe it is because, as a self-identified pessimistic idealist, I think individual people can be horrible (as well as others can be amazing), but I have faith in humanity as a whole.

But I digress.

To return to Brave New World, this strangely hopeless (and implausible) vision of the distant future (despite its utter ‘stability’ and overall ‘happiness’ of its inhabitants) was not even the major reason for my dislike of this book.

My biggest complaint is that Huxley keeps picking up various characters’ stories and not finishing them, save one, and what we see of them just seems under-developed, going against all the most important rules of writing a good story – at least by modern standards. I daresay that if any contemporary author pitched this story, it wouldn’t get published without some major additional work.

For example, when we first meet Bernard and Lenina, they both act ‘queer’ for the ‘civilised’ society of the book’s universe, seeking solitude, lacking lovers, or being too attached to a single one – and nothing comes out of it, apart from their trip to the reservation.

We can only guess that Lenina finds the experience so terrible that she decides to fully immerse herself in what is considered proper behaviour in the ‘civilisation’– but that is just a guess, as her change of heart is abrupt, never explained, and her past ‘queerness’ is never mentioned again. (Shouldn’t she be able to at least somewhat understand or compare her, albeit past, fleeting feelings, to Bernard’s or even John’s?)

Bernard and Helmholtz, who remain ‘queer’ and dissatisfied with the ‘civilisation’, get sent to an island for that reason – and we learn that that is actually more a reward than a punishment because islands are where people can be more individual than within the rest of the society – but that is the end of their story. Whereas, I would be very much interested in how they fare afterwards and whether they can realise their selves better there, outside of the ‘civilisation’.

And finally, there is John, the ‘Savage’. I’ll just mention the two things that irked me the most, besides the blatant racism typical of Huxley’s time.

Firstly, John forgetting about Linda when she dies. Sure, he remembers her. What I mean is: this is a man who was raised on a reservation, who is used to the human customs as we know them (mostly), who must have surely been used to something akin mourning and funerals, and he just walks out of the hospital? He doesn’t even suggest a funeral? I assume he has been told what happens to the dead, but he just accepts it? This goes completely against his character.

And secondly, how he ends up: yes, sure, in line with Huxley’s racist, capitalist, eugenics beliefs, whoever cannot adapt to his brave new world can only be driven to death by both their internal and external demons. What a pile of equine excrement.

To top it all, the writing itself, sometimes verging on stream of consciousness, is not anything to laud, either.

Hence, in conclusion, for all that Brave New World may be a classic – and it certainly has an intriguing concept that could provoke much thought, but lacks in execution and development – it just did not work for me.

Twenty One

Twenty One - Clarissa Wild I was about to give this even up to 3.5 stars until about 3/4 of the book, because in a sea of incredibly contrived and stupid so-called "dark" romance, this one seemed to have a rather credible plot, reasonable characterisation, and mostly solid writing.

Alas, it all went down the drain. For starters, although the characters were fairly smart, the silliness of the protagonist's demands to be released, even after being through so much, irked me - as if it was that easy!

The worst, however, was the back-end of the story, where horrible injuries start piling up, and yet, people who sustain them just keep going? I'm not well-versed in medicine, but I don't think human body works like that after all that pain and blood loss. I guess the author wanted to up the ante, but, as it was implausible, it did the story no good. Less would have definitely been more in this case.

The implausibility continued with the manner of getting rescued (how did that woman learn the phone number?) and the speed of recovery, and the happy resolution felt rushed.

And, of course, the answer(s) to the initial "mystery" were obvious to me since the beginning.

So, overall, another disappointment. Why is it so hard to find a well-conceived and executed story in this genre? (And why do I have an unlucky hand with my reading picks, lately? Here's to hoping I have better luck next time, I suppose.)

Captivated by You

Captivated by You - Sylvia Day Gideon's POV every other chapter or so was a delightful surprise and it was great to see things from his side. Again, I loved how even if things aren't always pretty in their relationship, with ups and downs, they continue working them out.

Entwined with You

Entwined with You  - Sylvia Day I love when a book or a series provides something more than the turbulent romance arc that ends in a HEA, and this series is exactly that. It's not just conflict and problems and a happy resolution with an a run-of-the-mill abrupt ending, but we actually get to see Eva and Gideon talking and working through their issues.

What I loved the most was seeing how they have become to trust each other from the beginning of the series and how their relationship has developed and grown stronger through ups and downs in a very realistic, believable way.

And as a cherry on the top, I loved that despite all the troubles life threw in their way, we also got to see their light moments, with them being playful and having fun, and just being happy together.

While the book doesn't end on a cliffhanger, tare a few matters in their story left unfinished, so I am looking forward to the final two instalments.

Currently reading

Deviant
Natasha Knight
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien
Progress: 81/480 pages
The Complete Chronicles of Narnia (The Chronicles of Narnia)
C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes
Progress: 75/528 pages