Posts Tagged ‘contemporary romance’

Oh, Isla.  Where to begin?

I’m predicting that I will be in the minority of reviewers who don’t come out of this reading experience singing Isla’s praises. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it.  Isla is a thoroughly enjoyable book, written with the same easy flow that make Anna and Lola such accessible reads.  This book has been three long years in the making, and in that time, more readers have come to discover Perkins’ debut and sophomore novels and have fallen in love with her innate ability to place readers squarely in her characters’ shoes.  For good reason; when I first discovered Perkins’ work, for a few blissful hours, I was Anna and Lola.  Particularly with regard to Anna, her experiences were related so organically that I never once felt like I was being told a story.  Perkins wasn’t feeding us lines designed to make us swoon; she was tapping into every secret thought that we have ever had about our own love lives.IslaHappilyEverAfterSmall

Isla is a good story, but unfortunately for me, I never lost myself to it like I have with Perkins’ previous works.  Overall, I found Isla to be an engaging protagonist, and I admire Perkins’ decision to let her remain somewhat of a wallflower.  Anna and Lola both have such vivid passions and personalities that, with Isla, it was nice to see the shy girl get the spotlight for a change.  I related to Isla’s struggles regarding her future.  I had those same conversations at many points during my late high school years and early twenties, and I still struggle with the fact that, while I tend to get obsessive about my interests, they never develop into anything that I could truly consider a passion or a calling or anything that allows me to identify myself.  I would have loved to delve further into Isla’s doubts, in fact, but unfortunately we never get that chance.  What we get instead is a whirlwind, quixotic romance that could have been just as fulfilling as Anna’s and Lola’s respective tales if it had been fleshed out a bit more.

I understand that Perkins wanted to give us a different type of love story.  In Anna, we got a slow-burn friendship-turned-more;  in Lola, a resurrected romance.  Isla offers up something suspiciously close to instalove, though thankfully she avoids delving into those waters full-force.  Isla has yearned for Josh for years, and I believe we are to assume that Josh has reciprocated those feelings, despite the fact that they have barely spoken to each other.  Once they do strike up a tentative friendship, though, there is enough genuine connection between them that I bought the relationship, even if it moved at a rather quick pace.  Still, while reading, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the plausibility (and validity) of falling in love in a month.  For those of us jaded by having already weathered our teenage and twenties years away, Isla’s urgent, awe-struck voice felt too naïve at times.  I believe that love can be found and experienced at any age, and that a relationship is of no less value simply for being formed during the tumult of youth.  I don’t discount anyone’s ability to love, but I do take issue when I’m told, repeatedly, of that love when I don’t see the groundwork for its formation.  During the few conversations that Isla and Josh have, I was sold on their chemistry, but there simply wasn’t enough.  I’d all but written off the inevitable falling-out halfway through the book as the obvious consequence of two young people who are mistaking lust for love, or at least the desire for love for the real thing. 

And then, on my way to work this morning, I remembered something; I once fell in love with a boy after having dated him for four weeks, and we have now been happily together for six years.  That being said, I am intimately privy to the conversations and glances and touches that comprised our discovery of each other during those four weeks leading up to the big romantic revelation.  And I’m sure that Perkins intended for her readers to assume a similar getting-to-know-you period for Isla and Josh; she just didn’t let us see it.  And to be honest, I’m not quite sure what filled up the majority of the book’s narrative, because it felt as if this book was at once entirely focused on the romance between Isla and Josh (to the detriment of fleshing out secondary characters, as was done so well in her first two books) and yet, having finished their story, I’m still not entirely sure who either of them is.  I don’t know why Josh was drawn to Isla from the beginning, or what made him fall in love with her now.  Inadvertent breast-gazing and strolls through bookstores are cute fillers, but there wasn’t one single conversation between the two that allowed me to see how a connection fueled by outward attraction could be sustained in the long run.  What’s more disappointing, while Perkins focuses so heavily on the supposed attraction between these two, none of their interactions gave me butterflies like the ones I got during the movie theater scene in Anna, or when Anna calls St. Claire Etienne for the first time,  or when Cricket helps Lola fix her hair.  The spark was so close to being there, but it never ignited for me. 

 I think that, had Perkins expanded this story out past her main characters a bit more to focus on the other people in Isla’s life, or even on Isla herself, I could have forgiven what I see as a somewhat overworked romance story.  I get the sense that Perkins spent a bit too much time worrying about getting all of the pieces to fit together neatly, and the aftermath of serious editing is that the story lost some of its heart.  I like Isla and Josh, but until I am more fully convinced of why they love each other, I simply can’t love them as a couple.

That being said, Isla is far from a bad novel and is perfectly delightful in its own right.  Perhaps if Perkins hadn’t had two truly remarkable titles leading up to this one, a lack of comparison would have made me more inclined to love this book. 

PS- I truly hope that we one day get an alternate narration of one particular scene that occurs toward the end of the book.  You’ll know when you get to it.


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I knew it would take a special book to get me back into the swing of blogging, even if only temporarily, but it took nearly three-hundred pages for me to realize that The Sea of Tranquility would be that book. In fact, I nearly gave up on it a dozen times in the first hundred pages. Millay’s debut novel showcases writing superior to many emerging in the genre nowadays, but unfortunately it took her longer to convince me (and likely many other readers) of this than it should have. As the story unfolds into a dual narration account of two high school students’ respectively tragic lives, there is little that can be called innovative. Granted, most YA heroines today don’t employ full-on Hot Topic regalia, but Nastya’s cultivated bitterness and self-proclaimed trashy appearance did little to endear her to me early on. It’s a shame, too, since I welcome any deviation from the norm, generi-goth or no; given my own predilections for the strange and unusual, I actually relate far more to the offbeat protagonists than to those who surf the mainstream. Unfortunately, Nastya’s dive into the dark side never felt genuine to me, even after Millay begins to peel back the layers of Nastya’s painful past. Her mask is convenient, a curiosity, but a mask all the same, without the underlying depth that could make me forgive use of such literary contrivance.The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Still, I continued to read despite my initial inclinations and was pleased when Nastya and Josh’s interactions began to gain more substance at the halfway point. I fear that writing too much about the actual substance of the plot will give away the mystery, but this is a story in which the plot isn’t the driving force anyway. Oddly enough, neither are the characters when considered alone; I’ve already lamented my disappointment in how Millay handled Nastya’s character, and while I found Josh to be infinitely more appealing and interesting, he still doesn’t compare to some of his literary peers. Yet, and this is the part where my semi-coherent ramblings come fully undone, for this is a book in which my brain and my heart diverge in opinion, but somehow, when Nastya and Josh are together, Millay managed to make me feel in a way that I haven’t while reading for some months now. Their relationship holds all the angsty hallmarks that I tend to hate, but it was believable and woven together in stolen moments that had me holding my breath even as I knew where things were heading. I’ve seen several other reviewers despair at writing down their emotions for this novel, at having to mold feelings into words, and I find I’m having the same trouble, which doesn’t make for a particularly compelling review to read, but it does speak to the strength of Millay’s novel that, despite flawed characters and bungled plotlines (which I won’t get into both for spoilers’ sake and because I am still too angry at certain characters to discuss them rationally), this book had me too wrapped up in the story’s heart to care about its flimsy structure.

The Sea of Tranquility is not one of the best books I’ve read this year (and yes, I have been reading despite my lack of blogging activity). But the fact that it inspired me to write about it, even though I have nothing much to say, speaks to its strength as a story.


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A few months ago I gushed about a recent contemporary romance I had the opportunity to review. It was called About Last Night, and its author is not only a singularly talented and exciting new voice in the romance genre, but she’s also a pretty cool person. Today I have the pleasure of asking Ruthie a little bit about her writing process, her take on the romance genre, and just what a romance author looks for in a real life hero. Read on to see what Ruthie has to say and to enter for a chance to win an e-copy of About Last Night!

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1. Was there a defining moment when you knew you wanted to be an

About Last Night by Ruthie Knox

author, and an author of romance novels in particular?

Actually, no, not that I can remember. I started writing toward the end of 2010, after reading a ton of Harlequin Blaze novels. I was in a yoga class, and I had an idea for a story of my own — a vacation fling romance set in Hawaii involving a tour guide and the geeky grad student who falls for him. So I wrote that, and then I wrote another one, and another, and somewhere in there I thought, “This is really fun. I want to keep doing this.” I found an agent, and the rest is history! (That first manuscript didn’t go anywhere, by the way, but the second one was About Last Night, and the third was Ride with Me.) I’ve never considered writing anything but romance novels. They’re the only thing I want to read and write at this point in my life.

2. Who are your favorite couples from the classics, from historical romance, and from contemporary romance?

Ooh, good question. Hmm. My favorite classic couple is … Can I stretch the definition of “classic”? Because I love nineteenth-century British literature, but I can’t think of any British couples I’d consider “favorites.” I do really love Celie and Shug from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, so I’m going to go with them. From historical romance, I have to go with Will Parker and Elly Dinsmore in LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory. *swoooon* And in contemporary romance — that’s tough! One couple that’s really stuck with me is Tara and Ford from Jill Shalvis’s The Sweetest Thing. I really believed they belonged together, in the end. Or maybe that they were stuck with each other. :-)

3. Is there a character trait that tends to turn you off to the romance when you’re reading?

I don’t like characters who are mean to each other. I’m fine with them fighting if they have strong motivations for their arguments, but I can’t hang in with a hero or a heroine who’s just plain cruel when there are options other than cruelty available to them. If it’s one or two cutting remarks, I’ll wait to see where it’s going — I thought Charlotte Stein did this really well in her erotica short Restraint — but flat-out assholery is difficult to redeem, for me. (I make an exception for Cara McKenna’s psychologically interesting assholes, who aren’t mean so much as terribly, terribly broken, with their brokenness manifesting as meanness. But that’s a whole ‘nother answer.)

4. Do you find romantic inspiration in real-life events? What’s one of the romantic things someone has done for you or for someone you know?

Um, not really? Honestly, if you met me, you would probably think I was the least romantic person you’ve ever met. I don’t really like emotional spectacles of any kind, so real-life romantic gestures make me cringey. But my parents have been married for forty years, and my dad sometimes says that my mom’s been five different women since he met her. I find love that is willing to embrace challenge and change is very romantic — which is one reason that I’m on record as having a difficult time with epilogues. They often feel so static to me (Look! Everything is perfect!), whereas my idea of romance is a relationship that remains open to constant evolution. I conceive of the happy-ever-after as a brief, perfect moment at the end of the book, followed by the resumption of real life.

5. If you could piece together the perfect romantic hero Frankenstein creation from existing romance novel characters, what would he look like (personality-wise, not physically, although that’s fine too!)?

Oh, but this is what I do for a living, right — piece together perfect romantic heroes, all Frankenstein’s-monster-like? Some people use photographic inspiration to come up with their heroes, but mine exist purely in my head. One that I’m working on right now has a lot of the personality of sheriff Seth Bullock from Deadwood — he’s intense and furiously dedicated to Right with a capital “r.” Throw in a splash of Germanic orderliness and that delicious accent, à la Ralph Fiennes, plus the whole overwhelmed-single-parent dynamic from Mr. Mom and some crazy-hot skills in the sack, and you have the man who is currently occupying my stray thoughts. I’m calling him Otto Schoen. We’ll see how he turns out. :-)

6. We all have fangirl moments, so fess up; when was the last time you fangirled?

Oh, I’m a fangirling machine. Half my Twitter friends are people I’ve fangirled. Romance novelists are so nice that pretty much everyone I’ve ever gone gushy over has turned out to be someone I consider a friend. I stalked Cara McKenna in an embarrassing fashion after I read her (genius) erotica book Skin Game. First I e-mailed her, and then I joined Twitter primarily for the purpose of further stalking. Then I made friends with all her friends. Then I got the same haircut as her and started shopping everywhere she shops, and then I stole her husband. After that, I got arrested.

Wait, no, scratch the husband bit. That was a movie I saw once. But most of the rest of it is true, for realz.

Thanks for having me and for asking such great questions! This was fun.

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Ruthie has offered to send one lucky reader an e-copy (format of winner’s choice) of About Last Night. To enter, leave a comment letting me know what you’re romance hero Frankenstein’s monster would look like, along with an email address so I can contact you if you win. Contest is open until midnight, October 5.

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Where You Hurt the Most demonstrates perfectly the harmony that emotional impact and intimate detail can have in well-done erotica. Brooke’s story is only about fifty pages long, yet she manages to pack a larger punch in few words than many authors I’ve read of late who have failed to make me resonate with their characters after reading an entire series’ worth of interactions.
Brooke’s story can be seen as a modern-day Beauty and the Beast tale, and as in most of the best adaptations, the “Beast” isn’t the only one who needs saving in this story. Adrian is a man seemingly content with his lot in life. He loves his career as an escort, as it allows him to indulge in his favorite activities: sex, connecting with other people, and appreciating the simpler pleasures in life.

Where You Hurt the Most by Anne Brooke

Adrian easily could have come across as shallow, but instead his innate sensitivity and sympathy lift him above the superficial definition that his career could otherwise brand him with. We don’t learn much about Adrian’s past, yet his first-person narration is an honest-enough reflection of his nature that we don’t need to know more than the spare details we’re provided with. In contrast, while we are given a good picture of the traumas and losses that Dan has endured, leading to the disfigurement that now hinders his confidence and happiness, his emotions are a bit harder to read. We see him only through Adrian’s eyes, and since the story is so short, our glimpse isn’t a particularly comprehensive one. Yet in only a few encounters, Brooke made me believe in the relationship that grows between her two characters, even if neither of them can quite account for its cause. This is the type of writing I love, simple and sparse yet used to tenderly convey a connection of spirit that defies logic or explanation.

Because the story is so brief, I hesitate to say more lest I ruin the revelations that lay within. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Brooke’s writing in the future.


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I don’t tend to review many erotica titles on this blog, but I’d read enough glowing reviews of Delphine Dryden’s The Theory of Attraction that I knew I had to give it a go. In The Theory of Attraction, Dryden gives us a hero who is far from typical. While Ivan can accurately be categorized as a nerd, that by itself isn’t overly intriguing. Ask any number of women, myself included, and they’ll tell you that nerdy-chic is hot. But this isn’t the right forum for a discussion of the benefits of loving a Beta, particularly as Ivan winds up being as far from submissive as it gets.

Dryden flirts with introducing her readers to BDSM culture, of which I readily admit I have little knowledge. However, speaking as a member of the outside community looking in, I can attest to Dryden’s deft handling of the subject matter, as she gives us a glimpse into a way of life that intrigues even if it doesn’t tempt. Camilla and Ivan’s slow

The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden

progression from acquaintances to lovers is well paced, and the intimacy is without a doubt steamy. I would have liked to see a bit more emotional development divorced from the physical aspects of their relationship, but Dryden certainly doesn’t neglect showing us Camilla and Ivan’s mutual regard for each other. Still, I am a romantic at heart, and while I appreciate when an author has the ability to make the pages sizzle, ultimately Iwant a story to deliver on emotional depth.

That being said, I suspect that what I found to be the most compelling aspect of the novel was also the one that prevented Camilla and Ivan’s emotional connection from feeling fully explored. Though it is never confirmed, Dryden’s depiction of Ivan’s obsessive need for control and routine, coupled with his extreme discomfort and confusion regarding social interaction, suggest that he is afflicted with a disorder akin to Asperger’s or high-functioning autism. As a result, it remains somewhat unclear up until the end whether both characters are on the same page regarding their relationship, and while Dryden did a good job to clarify things by the end, it nevertheless lacked an extra something that would have made the ending truly satisfying. I would have liked to see Dryden explore a dual-narrative format, as it would have been lovely to see the contrast in Camilla and Ivan’s thoughts as their relationship progressed. Still, I wound up enjoying The Theory of Attraction quite a bit and recommend it to any readers who like their heroes cast in an unconventional mould and who are seeking a little extra heat to their romantic read.

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I can’t remember another reading experience during which I was hyper-conscious of the fact that I was reading what would ultimately become a guilty pleasure. Rest assured, I feel thoroughly guilty after finishing Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster, in no small part due to my knowledge that this is not a good book. Beautiful Disaster suffers from pacing problems and a meandering plot that is bulked up only slightly by various nonromantic threads towards the latter parts of the story. Yet it’s the relationship that really stands out as the book’s biggest problem, for the title is a perfect description of the whirlwind chaos that is Abby and Travis’s courtship.

I’ve been intrigued by this title for over a year now, but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able to get my hands on a copy. (Formerly available only as a self-published title, Beautiful Disaster was picked up by a big publisher and will be released in print next month). I’ve combed the depths of the young adult contemporary market, certain new releases excluded, yet on nearly every new adult romance list I’ve come across, this book seemed to be at the top. When I saw it available on NetGalley last week, I snatched it up, yet having read numerous reviews and spoilers over the past few months, I knew I was in for a potentially rough ride.

I’m in the camp of readers who believe that Twilightand books cast from a similar

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

mold depict a completely unhealthy, unstable, and frankly terrifying relationship dynamic. Some readers might find appeal in a hero who insists on making all of his girlfriend’s decisions for her, cannot support any sign that she might exhibit agency of her own, and breaks down at the thought of her centering her universe on something other than him. I, on the other hand, am disturbed by these authors’ seeming belief that co-dependency and control equal romance. Still, that didn’t stop me from reading all four of Meyer’s books when they came out, nor many other books in which the male lead’s alpha-demeanor is a mere proxy for abusive stalker behavior.

That being said, it seems fitting that my perception of Beautiful Disaster made me liken it to a Fifty Shades of Gray for the twenty-something set. Granted, I’ve not read the ubiquitious Twi-fic-turned-middle-aged-porn piece, but I’ve had enough discussions with friends who have been ensnared by Fifty Shades‘ apparently undeniable appeal that the comparisons surfaced while I read. Beautiful Disaster, while by no means innocent, doesn’t have the same level of explicit content that Fifty Shades of Gray is famous for introducing to housewives everywhere, yet the explosive, volatile relationship that forms between Abby and Travis will likely appeal to fans of the aforementioned work.

Basing my rating on pure entertainment alone, Beautiful Disaster would be a five-cup book. I can’t deny that, as sick and twisted as I knew this relationship was, as damaged a character as Travis persists in being and as typically bland as Abby usually is, I found their story compulsively readable. I knew that they were not only terrible together, but quite frankly were awful examples of decision-makers in their individual capacities. That didn’t stop me from wanting them to get their happily-ever-after. Honestly, though Travis is by far the more flawed of the two, I found him more sympathetic; I wanted this relationship to work for his sake, regardless of the warning signs that seemed to be flaring with each new chapter.  Though he is a prime example of someone you wouldn’t want to become involved with, he is also at turns one of the sweetest (nearly unbelievably so) characters I’ve read of late. This dichotomy is in itself disturbing, as it seems to represent the dual nature that keeps so many women in bad relationships despite their better judgment. Viewed solely through the lens of the lessons that Beautiful Disaster seemily teaches, this should be a one-star read. However, when divorced from the real-life ramifications of these sort of relationship dynamics, I can’t deny that I enjoyed myself while reading. And so, my final verdict for Beautiful Disaster is three cups. Read at your own risk, and beware that this is far from a good book. However, for pure escapism, it’s one of the better works I’ve come across lately, and I know I will be returning to it again in the future. Whether I hold my head in shame as I read it is to be determined.

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Book Beginnings on Fridays is a meme hosted at Rose City Reader designed to feature the book you are reading right now by sharing the first few lines of the story.

Yesterday I devoured Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire.

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

“Everything in the room screamed that I didn’t belong. The stairs were crumbling, the rowdy patrons were shoulder to shoulder, and the air was a medley of sweat, blood, and mold.”

This book is everything that the title says it is, and I still haven’t quite assimilated my thoughts on it. Expect a review later this week.

Here’s the summary, taken from Goodreads:

The new Abby Abernathy is a good girl. She doesn’t drink or swear, and she has the appropriate percentage of cardigans in her wardrobe. Abby believes she has enough distance between her and the darkness of her past, but when she arrives at college with her best friend, her path to a new beginning is quickly challenged by Eastern University’s Walking One-Night Stand.

Travis Maddox, lean, cut, and covered in tattoos, is exactly what Abby needs—and wants—to avoid. He spends his nights winning money in a floating fight ring, and his days as the ultimate college campus charmer. Intrigued by Abby’s resistance to his appeal, Travis tricks her into his daily life with a simple bet. If he loses, he must remain abstinent for a month. If Abby loses, she must live in Travis’s apartment for the same amount of time. Either way, Travis has no idea that he has met his match.

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It often seems like an uphill battle to find a good contemporary romance. Too often, seemingly promising stories are riddled with contrivances that keep me at a distance. Unlikeable characters, trust issues, lack of communication, infidelity, they’re all factors that seem rampant in the contemporary genre, yet they rarely inspire me to connect with the romance as it unfolds.

A few chapters into Ruthie Knox’s About Last Night, I was sure that it was only a matter of time before one of the aforementioned annoyances reared its ugly head. Cath was far too engaging a narrator: smart with both self-deprecating humor and confidence, a nice yet normal (read:unvoluptuous) physique, and a striking narrative style as an American amidst Londoners. I was wary of the skeletons that Cath had hidden in her closet, and make no mistake, Knox makes sure that her characters are real people. Both Cath and Nev have flaws, but they are flaws that make me want to know them better to contrast the good with the bad.

About Last Night by Ruthie Knox

Knox doesn’t avoid all the typical romance novel themes, and Cath exhibits massive trust issues throughout much of the novel. However, what makes Knox’s take on this trope so refreshing is Nev’s acknowledgment and understanding of Cath’s skittishness. He knows that the road to her heart will not be easily paved, and he goes in anyway, fully expecting it to take a lot of time and effort. I did get somewhat annoyed with Cath at times for pushing Nev away, but I always got where she was coming from. What’s more amazing is that Knox managed to inspire such sympathy while withholding from both Nev and the readers the full story behind Cath’s past. Even without fully understanding why Cath has adopted her defense mechanisms, I still supported her desire to keep Nev, and the potential for heartbreak, at a distance. Nev’s character is a bit more straightforward, though never predictable. Despite his distaste for Cath’s “nice” moniker, his words and actions belie the fact that he is a good man, through and through. I was so glad that Knox didn’t feel the need to besmirch his character in order to provide depth. Sometimes, good people remain good and simply exhibit poor judgment every now and then. In the end, Nev was a great guy who made the mistake of acting like a typical guy, but his character never changed to suit plot purposes.

Knox once again surprised me when she infused actual character growth into the story with nearly half the book remaining. Cath retains some of her trust issues, but she nevertheless decides to open up to Nev bit by bit. Most heroines would doggedly adhere to their misguided convictions to the very end, so I was thrilled to witness Cath’s gradual evolution start midway through the book. Knox avoided another potential pitfall in the way she handled Nev’s family situation. While I was fully expecting Nev’s predicament to precipitate a falling-out between Cath and Nev, I was pleasantly surprised to see Nev come clean to Cath before that could happen. Too often, characters exhibit an unnerving lack of communication that does nothing to convince me of their actual regard for each other. Yet, even though Cath has trouble opening up about her past, she and Nev are honest with each other in the ways that count. They might not have known each other for very long, but the mere fact that Nev lets Cath in on this facet of his life rather than try to hide it from her tells so much about their mutual respect. That’s not to say that the inevitable fight isn’t provoked, but the way in which it comes about is one that I didn’t see coming.

Perhaps what I loved most about this story is the fact that, even though Cath and Nev barely know each other, I never felt as if their relationship was fueled solely by lust. Knox shows how connection doesn’t always have to be built on a shared past; sometimes, the present is enough to provide the foundation for something that, while new and tenuous, is nonetheless real. From the first, Cath and Nev enjoy being in each other’s company, and I was as lost as Cath as soon as Nev revealed the nicely naughty man that hid beneath City’s cool exterior.

Knox has found a spot on my auto-buy list with this fun, moving title. I can’t wait to see what else she has in store and hope she continues to turn the typical tropes on their heads.

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“Waiting On” Wednesday is a meme created at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming releases that we can’t wait to read.

This week I’m intrigued by Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook.

Here’s the summary, taken from Goodreads:

Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook

Bonnie and Clyde meets Simone Elkeles in this addictively heart-wrenching story of two desperate teenagers on the run from their pasts.

They’re young. They’re in love. They’re on the run.

Zoe wants to save Will as much as Will wants to save Zoe. When Will turns eighteen, they decide to run away together. But they never expected their escape to be so fraught with danger….

When the whole world is after you, sometimes it seems like you can’t run fast enough.

Nobody But Us, told in alternating perspectives from Will and Zoe, is an unflinching novel, in turns heartbreaking and hopeful, about survival, choices, and love…and how having love doesn’t always mean that you get a happy ending. Described as “beautiful, heartbreaking, and exhilarating” by Kody Keplinger, author of The DUFF, Nobody But Us will prove irresistible to fans of Nina Lacour, Jenny Han, and Sara Zarr.

I’m always on the lookout for great contemporary young adult books, and this one looks right up my alley.

This title is released on January 29, 2013.

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This week I’m excited to be taking part in the On the Island Blog Tour. For the full schedule of tour events, click here.

I read Hatchet ten times in the fifth grade. That might be an exaggeration, but the sentiment remains; I couldn’t get enough of Gary Paulsen’s tale of a young boy fighting the odds against survival.

I’m not ashamed to say that, when I saw the description of On the Island on NetGalley, I was hoping for an adult version of one of my favorite childhood novels. On the Islandfeatures one of the lesser-utilized romance tropes, that of a (considerably) younger man and an older woman. T.J. is only sixteen when he and Anna first arrive on the island, while Anna is thirty. Compound that with the fact that T.J. is in remission for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Anna has been hired as his tutor to help him catch up with school, and On the Island could easily have succumbed to a coercive ickiness that would have cast a pall over their relationship, no matter how sweet that relationship wound up being. For this

On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves

reason, I applaud Garvis Graves for her portrayal of the progression of Anna’s and T.J.’s feelings. Though the book is quite short, Garvis Graves successfully conveyed the gradual evolution of the couple’s notions regarding themselves and the possibilities for a more intimate relationship to grow. Though Anna counsels herself repeatedly against acknowledging any desire on her part early on in the novel, her eventual decision to embrace their relationship did not feel like a renunciation of her better judgment. To be more blunt, she never gave off cougar vibes, which I sorely feared going into this story. T.J. was a perfect foil for Anna, displaying a mature temperament even before he and Anna were stranded. I particularly loved how Garvis Graves slowly shifted the power dynamics between T.J. and Anna to reflect their respective maturities. Anna might have experienced more years than T.J., but in the context of their new environment, a surfeit of years means very little compared to the common sense, ingenuity, and fortitude necessary to survive.

With that being said, On the Island displays numerous weaknesses that betray its inital publication as an independent release. The novel is quite short, and though Anna and T.J. are the sole characters for over half the novel, I nonetheless would have appreciated a little more depth of analysis regarding their respective emotions. I felt that T.J., in particular, should have devoted much more of his narration to reflection on the health battles he had faced, yet we are given only short glimpses into his life prior to the story’s beginning. In contrast, Anna spends countless pages lamenting the state of her relationship with her quasi-ex-boyfriend and the issues they faced. While those issues and their role in ending her previous relationship are integral to cementing her relationship with T.J., there’s no reason why Garvis Graves couldn’t have expanded the story to allow for that same level of reflection between the two main characters.

I am no survival expert, yet I can’t help but feel that Garvis Graves made things a little too easy on her two protagonists. I appreciate that this is a romance novel and, as such, readers probably don’t want to read about characters’ intimate encounters despite years without hygiene products. In this regard, I commend Garvis Graves for at least recognizing the issue and giving an explanation, even if that explanation seemed a tad too expedient. Likewise, her recognition and explanation of issues surrounding birth control was a welcome addition to the narrative, as too many authors conveniently tend to forget that these problems exist. However, I would have liked more attention to detail regarding the day-to-day factors that allowed Anna and T.J. to exist in relative comfort (or at least, without the extreme discomfort that would be expected in these circumstances).

Going into the novel, I fully expected Garvis Graves to present a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, see our characters rescued anyway, and leave any practical consequences of their relationship for resolution in the reader’s mind only. So when Anna and T.J. leave the island with nearly a third of the story to go, I was excited to see how and to what extent Garvis Graves actually explored the implications of two people in their circumstances having formed a relationship. I’d love to say that, given their extraordinary odds against survival, Anna and T.J.’s relationship would have been spared too much scrutiny after the initial journalistic intrigue died down, but unfortunately I believe that Garvis Graves’s portrayal of the fallout was fairly realistic. Still, I am a romantic purist at heart (translate to “I abhor adultery sublines”) and so one particular development, while perhaps realistic, nevertheless dampened my love for the story somewhat. Still, overall, I enjoyed On the Island for offering an interesting perspective on an atypical romance.

Thank you for participating in the ON THE ISLAND Event! This week in addition to reviews and posts, select blogs are hosting a word from the author’s favorite quotes in the book as a Scavenger Hunt! There is one quote from Anna and one from T.J. Visit each stop this week to find the hidden words (they will be numbered for order) and after July 22nd, submit your answer to the quotes here! Random winners for books and swag will be chosen and notified by July 29th.

Also, next week July 23-27, there will be even more events and chances to win the book and swag!

  • Monday, July 23 at 8:00 pm CST – Chat with the author Tracey Garvis Graves! We will be chatting with the author on Savor Chat:http://www.savorchat.com/chat/on-the-island-chat Come join us! (You can sign in with twitter or facebook)
  • Each day look at #ontheisland on twitter for random shout outs to win books and swag! @Tale_of_Reviews
  • ON THE ISLAND released in bookstores Tuesday, July 10th! If you see the book in stores or ‘in the wild’ take a picture. Please tweet it and use hashtag #ontheisland. Or you can post it to facebook! Please submit twitter and facebook links of your post/tweet here!  All entries need to be submitted by July 29th.

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