I missed Banned Books Week. Actually, I didn’t miss it. I was aware it was going on. I’d planned to do a post on a book I found on the list, Like Water for Chocolate (banned in Nampa, Idaho high schools). In the end, the week got away from me, and I ended up spending my weekend painting the interior of my new house. The good news is, most of the rooms are painted. The bad news is my knees are bruised (we’ve got hardwood floors. Kneeling is a bad idea.)
But you’re not here to listen to me whine about the headache I got from inhaling paint fumes. You’re looking for some books to read, aren’t you?
Might I recommend Chum? I freely admit to a publishing crush on Tyrus Books. If you read their submissions page (which I’ve done a few times, always with longing), you’ll find they want books not about crime, but how crime affects people. I grew up on mysteries and thrillers, but I’d never looked at a crime novel that way before, so Jeff Somers’ Chum wasn’t something that falls into my usual categories of books I’d read. Mary and Bick have just gotten married. Their friends are in attendance and show varying degrees of support. The story takes place over the course of a year, in which Mary and Bick get engaged, married, someone dies, and everyone deals with the fallout in the myriad ways people deal with grief and death. It’s told from alternating points of view, usually Hank and Tommy, with a few of the others thrown in for spice. Some characters were only heard from once and did little to add to the depth of the story. Denise in particular bugged the shit out of me. As Hank’s girlfriend, she comes across as insecure and bitchy about it. The one time we get to see things from her point of view only solidifies that she’s just extremely unlikeable. Tommy’s unlikeable, too. But he’s unlikeable in that weird sociopathic way, where you want to keep watching because you know he’s going to do something revolting or stupid or otherwise unbelievable and you want to be there to watch the car wreck. Seeing how Tommy and Hank view each other was interesting, and seeing how Tommy viewed himself was disturbingly fascinating. Despite the issues with the back and forth in the narrative, it’s a well-paced and engaging story, and the ending will leave you scratching your head and wondering why you didn’t see it coming.
The thing I always hear about erotic romance is that the sex is what drives the relationship forward; it’s how the characters relate to each other. Uncommon Passion by Anne Calhoun was probably the first erotic romance I’ve read where I could actually see, quite clearly, the characters progression through the sex they had. Rachel’s left behind the strict religious community she grew up in, and she wants to experience all that life has to offer. Including sex. She figures the quickest and easiest way to get rid of her virginity is to use the man she won during a bachelor auction. Ben’s got a reputation for being love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy, so she figures as long as she doesn’t say anything, she’ll get in, get out, move on to the next new thing. Only problem is Ben figures it out (after the fact) and decides he’d rather teach her about the pleasures of sex. While I thought Rachel was a little flat and I had a harder time getting emotionally involved with her, I adored Ben. You really could see the progress he made through their physical relationship, not just developing feelings for Rachel, but in ripping open old wounds and cauterizing them for good. The character growth he experiences was phenomenal, so it’s easy to overlook the sort of meh feeling you get about Rachel.
Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh had the potential to be amazing, and to someone else, it probably was. Angry over a break up, Rob’s not paying attention and runs over a woman and kills her. She ends up as part of the Bridesicle program, and out of guilt, he starts visiting her. Veronika’s a dating coach determined to make someone’s life better, and tries to stop a man from jumping off a bridge. Mira’s been placed in the Bridesicle program as well, and she’s desperate to get out. The first hundred pages or so of Eighty is spent on character development and world building, and frankly, should have been cut, or at least edited down. The real meat of the story doesn’t start until people begin protesting the inhumanity of the Bridesicle program, but even then, the pace isn’t very fast. While I loved the world McIntosh built, I just couldn’t get into the story.
I had no such problems with Linda Kage’s Price of a Kiss. Reese has come to live with her cousin in Florida after her ex-boyfriend tried to kill her. She’s not ready to start dating again, but that doesn’t stop her from being attracted to Mason. It’s just as well she’s not willing to get involved with another guy, because Mason’s a gigolo. No, I’m serious. He’s actually a male prostitute. I’ll wait while until you stop laughing.
Are you done? Good. Because this book did several things very, very well. Reese’s voice was amazing: funny, self-deprecating, smart and witty. Reese herself wasn’t about to let her stalker ex ruin her ability to have a full life, and I loved her for it. The sexual tension between Reese and Mason was thick and heady, and the two shared a couple of almost-kisses that just about turned me into a puddle of goo. And when they weren’t trying to keep from tearing each other’s clothes off, they built a genuine friendship. Reese won’t so much as kiss Mason while he’s still selling himself, so she contents herself with getting to know him as a person. This makes the evolution of their relationship much more natural and believable, although there were still some WTF moments (Mason’s mom and her inability to manage her own finances comes to mind). And it doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger! It’s a stand alone New Adult title, and while the ending was a bit “huh?” inducing, it was a solid and solidly entertaining read.
I’m looking forward to curling up on the couch in my new house next month. The stack of books next to my elbow just keeps growing…
Copy of Chum provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.