Blog Archives

Scandal Wears Satin (Loretta Chase, Dressmakers #2)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
While I don’t think that this book is for everyone (not even everyone who normally likes historical romances), it’s well-written, excellently executed, and sparkles with both wit and a certain melodramatic flair (costumes, scandals, and runaways — oh my!). Chase has given us a strong, thoroughly independent female who’s ambitious and driven… about dressmaking, as well as a boring (initially classified as just plain stupid) male lead whose main interests are usually his own. They get into a series of hijinks, none of which I would have believed could seem at all interesting: rescuing a young felon/pickpocket and a young innocent sister from a disastrous marriage, and of course, a dressmaking shop on the brink of financial ruin, but yet, all of which I found thoroughly entertaining (almost addictively so).

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A Kiss for Midwinter (Courtney Milan)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
I enjoyed this as much as I’ve ever enjoyed a historical romance novella. You’ve got a strong female protagonist with a rough past: she was deceived by a married man, lost a baby, and, (surprisingly) with the support of her family, has fought through it all and come out with a still-happy, almost-by-sheer-force-optimistic viewpoint. As her foil, you’ve got an overly sarcastic, kind of awkward doctor who makes jokes about gonorrhea instead of talking about poetry and roses (because that’s just what he knows about). He’s always been in love with her, and you can really see how they’re both made for each other, and also why they would naturally struggle learning to deal with one another.

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Posted in Romance

When Two Paths Meet (Betty Neels)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Ok, you have to be in the mood for a Cinderella story where the evil stepmother has been recast as a managing, manipulative older brother, and where the prince has been replaced by a sometimes-arrogant doctor. Once you’ve done that, and assured yourself that you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned romance where they’ll drink lots of tea, be very awkward around each other while enjoying many, many well-described meals, kiss twice and live happily-ever-after… well, this is your book. Betty Neels… she had a certain type of book she wrote (see the “Comparisons” section below), but if you like that type, this is at the top of that small niche.

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A Betty Neels Christmas: A Christmas Proposal and Winter Wedding (Betty Neels)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
I love the first novella in this collection. Though I don’t normally even like novellas, A Christmas Proposal is probably the best modern-day Cinderella rewriting I’ve read. It’s not overly exciting or even particularly innovative, it’s just… nice, in a very lingering way. And Winter Wedding, though not my favorite, is still… good. These are two heroines that you really relate to and root for — they’re more mousy than pretty, and more gentle than spirited. They’re the true underdog wallflowers that you want to have a happy ending.

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Without (Donald Hall)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
I don’t read much poetry… but what poetry I do read tends to be by Donald Hall and a handful of others. This is without a doubt my favorite single work by Hall, though it is lean, sparse, and an emotional roller coaster.  Scratch that, roller coasters have ups and downs, this is a more of an emotional spiral into all of the edges and dimensions of love, death, and grief at its rawest. It is one of my favorite all time collections.

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Posted in Literary Fiction

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education (Diane Ravitch)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is one of the most important books about education currently in print. It is timely, it speaks to important issues at both a policy and practical level (though more the former than the latter), and most importantly, it is not only well thought out and well researched, it is also accessible. Too often, I’ve read education books that are clearly tiered towards researchers, towards economists, towards just teachers, or just school leaders. This is really a book that sums up the state of education (and truly, it’s a sad state of affairs) as well as how we got here (the good intentions and so on). It’s kind of short on solutions (I think), and some have claimed that it’s a little idealistic… so fine… it’s not perfect. But, it is important, well-written, and something that I think parents and educators should read to better educate themselves on our current K-12 school system.

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Unraveled (Courtney Milan, Turner #3)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a satisfying end to a very, very well done series (perhaps one of my all-time favorites). The setup is probably my least favorite, but (as usual for Milan) the characters are just so richly drawn that you’re just engrossed in the book before you know it. Here, we have a dedicated magistrate who’s got a very, very traumatic past. He trusts almost no one, and prefers solitude (and in some ways, he prefers suffering). He falls for our heroine because she doesn’t pity or fuss over him, but rather, makes him feel calmer, more centered. Though the initial “falling” happens quickly, the relationship that develops between these two is very satisfying, and there are some nice cameos from earlier characters to make this feel like a well done finale (as opposed to just a solid standalone).

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Posted in Romance

Unveiled (Courtney Milan, Turner #1)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
So this 5 out of 5 star review is less shiny than my review for Unclaimed (which I thought was close to perfect), but having said that, this is just wonderful. You’ve got a simply fabulous male hero, one who is charming, loyal, and street smart with just a hint of insecurity in a way that makes him feel both layered and believable. He’s the type of character who makes you sigh, because you’re half in love with him by the end of the book. And, as a match, you’ve got a slight spin on the managing spinster, in that she was once one of those boring debutantes… before she was bastardized by legal machinations. I’ve been told that the legal/history part of this book isn’t accurate (it’s a major plot point, though it doesn’t really matter other than as a large McGuffin), but I can’t really confirm or deny that, and it didn’t really detract from what I thought was truly a very well done historical romance.

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Unclaimed (Courtney Milan, Turner #2)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Undoubtedly one of the best historical romances I’ve read in a long time. I found the premise a little hard to come around to: a courtesan looking to get out of the business takes a contract to seduce and defame a famous male virgin. But… the writing is so good: crisp, clear, and almost lyrical at times, and the characters are drawn so clearly that you can’t help but be drawn in. If I had to nitpick (which I am wont to do), parts of the climax might have been a tiny bit slow, and also, there are times when the pacing meanders a tiny bit… but still! Overall, this is really, by far, one of the best historical romances I’ve read in a long, long time — I recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in this genre as a wonderful example of historical romance.

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Different Seasons (Stephen King)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a collection of four different novellas, and I don’t think that they all deserve 5 out of 5 star ratings, but I think that the first, Hope Springs Eternal, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, is worthy of that rating, and makes the entire collection worth buying. Overall, this is a superbly written tome, with different subject matters and storytelling styles… the characters are thoroughly compelling (three of these have been turned into movies, some of which were Oscar-nominated), and the writing is somehow both crisp and evocative.

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