Book Club Review: “The Roommate”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “The Roommate” by Rosie Danan

Publishing Info: Berkley, September 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Romance Trope: Forced Proximity

Book Description: House Rules: Do your own dishes.
Knock before entering the bathroom.
Never look up your roommate online.

The Wheatons are infamous among the east coast elite for their lack of impulse control, except for their daughter Clara. She’s the consummate socialite: over-achieving, well-mannered, predictable. But every Wheaton has their weakness. When Clara’s childhood crush invites her to move cross-country, the offer is too much to resist. Unfortunately, it’s also too good to be true.

After a bait-and-switch, Clara finds herself sharing a lease with a charming stranger. Josh might be a bit too perceptive—not to mention handsome—for comfort, but there’s a good chance he and Clara could have survived sharing a summer sublet if she hadn’t looked him up on the Internet

Once she learns how Josh has made a name for himself, Clara realizes living with him might make her the Wheaton’s most scandalous story yet. His professional prowess inspires her to take tackling the stigma against female desire into her own hands. They may not agree on much, but Josh and Clara both believe women deserve better sex. What they decide to do about it will change both of their lives, and if they’re lucky, they’ll help everyone else get lucky too.

Kate’s Thoughts

I thought that this book had some good jumping off points for our book club discussion, which is good! But I think that part of that is because it seemed like it wasn’t overall well loved by our members. I fell into that camp as well. But I’ll start with what I did like, and there are two things that stand out for me. Firstly, I liked how this book tried to show that porn actors and actresses, and sex workers in general, are people who are doing a job and who deserve not to be dehumanized or stigmatized because of it. I liked that Josh enjoys his job, views it as a business that he excels at, and didn’t fall into any pitfalls of being shamed for his profession. Along with that, I liked that his acting partner and on again, off again girlfriend Naomi was ALSO a well thought out and interesting character, when she easily could have been used as a contrast to Clara and depicted in negative ways. Overall, I felt like Danan was doing her best to address sex positivity and the importance of remembering sex workers are people and deserve rights and respect, and not to be mistreated or shunned because of their profession. I also liked Naomi a lot as a character. As mentioned above, she isn’t used as a snide or antagonistic villain, and she was probably the most interesting character in the book.

I guess that kind of brings up the things that didn’t work as well. I thought that “The Roommate”, while setting out what it wanted to do, was kinda ho hum in other ways. Clara was fine as a main character, Josh was fine too, but neither of them were super interesting to me. I wasn’t terribly invested in their relationship, and I wasn’t terribly invested in the conflict that they met along the way. The sex scenes were serviceable and were written pretty well, but I didn’t get the kind of fun buildup I like in romance novels (however this is probably more about preference: like I’ve said in the past, I like a slow burn build up and a lot of cute and snarky banter).

I think that “The Roommate” does what it wants to do. I would have liked more oomph and chemistry between the main characters.

Serena’s Thoughts

Once again, I agree with everything Kate has already laid out. I think this book had lofty goals attempting to address sex positivity and destigmatize sex work. However, even here, I feel like the book brushed up alongside some of these issues but then didn’t really get into some of the real challenges. For example, there are a lot of factors that go into sex workers being forced into situations where they’re pushed back their comfort levels. Much of this has to do with power structures and stigmatization. However, here, we pretty much just had a “big bad” who, once dealt with, cleared the way to smooth sailing ahead. Likewise, Josh is conveniently not working when he meets Clara and then transition into a different role by the end of the book. So the author neatly sidesteps the issue of addressing sex workers who still work in the industry but are part of a committed, monogamous relationship.

Also, like Kate said, neither of the characters were particularly enthralling. I didn’t actively dislike either of them, but I never felt invested in their individual arcs or their romance as a couple. The “romance,” such as it was, felt more like falling in lust than falling in love. By the end, yes, they get there. But like Kate said, without the buildup, it’s harder to really feel any satisfaction when the romance is settled by the end of the book.

Kate’s Rating 6: I feel like it sets out to do what it wants to do, and I liked the sex positivity. But overall it was kinda lackluster.

Serena’s Rating 6: Not for me. The romance lacked any real connection and while I liked some of the topics tackled, I think there were some other missed opportunities.

Book Club Questions

  1. Did you think that the forced proximity trope in this story worked well within this context?
  2. Did this book subvert any romance tropes (forced proximity or not) in ways that you liked?
  3. Besides Naomi, were there any side characters that you would have liked to see more of? Any that you’d read another book about?
  4. What did you think of Clara and Josh’s business idea of porn that teaches about giving women pleasure during sex? Do you think there would be a market for it?
  5. What were your thoughts on how this book handled the themes of sex work and sex workers? Do you think it would make people think differently about sex work?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Roommate” is included on the Goodreads lists “Radical Romance”, and “My Favorite Trope”.

Next Book Club Book: “Payback’s a Witch” by Lana Harper

Serena’s Review: “When a Princess Proposes”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “When a Princess Proposes” by Kerrelyn Sparks

Publishing Info: Kensington Books, April 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: All Princess Eviana needs is an escape. Possessed of an unfortunate and unusual Embraced gift, which she’s been banned from using, she required no training. Now, her overprotective parents want her to wed. As a result, the palace is crammed with obnoxious noblemen. . . . Until Quentin, the enigmatic eagle shifter and royal spy, maneuvers several of the unsuitable suitors into revealing their most embarrassing secrets before the court. Finally, Eviana has an excuse to free herself. If only her family knew the blow that’s shaken her: golden-eyed Quentin’s refusal to let her near . . .

Heroic, but low born, Quentin’s infatuation with Eviana is as inappropriate as it is unshakable. He must keep away from her, for his own sake. But after a series of suspicious deaths, and the princess’s narrow escape from kidnapping, Quentin knows that only together can they expose the danger stalking Aerthlan’s Embraced. On foot, in disguise, they’ll need trust and quick wits to uncover the vicious conspiracy closing around them. But finding the truth might break down their own defenses as well . . .

Review: I’m always trying to strike a balance between epic fantasy, often full of dark, depressing wars and political machinations, and the light-hearted fare to be found on the other side of the spectrum. I stumbled upon this book while browsing NetGalley one day, and thought it was just the sort of lighter read I was in the mood for. I realized that it was the third book in a series, but it seemed the sort of series that focused on new characters and stories with each book, so I thought it safe enough to jump in without reading the others first. And, while it turned out this was actually something like the fifth book in this series/world, it was still a fun enough read on its own, if not really what I was hoping for it would be.

The Embraced are those born on a particular day of the year, and with this date comes a magical gift. No one knows what their gift may be, whether it will be useful or silly, but the Embraced all have something. It is Princess Eviana’s curse that when her gift shows itself it’s of the sort that her over-protective parents see as more of a threat than a blessing. As such, Eviana has been kept home with her main social opportunities being only the ever-constant search for a betrothed. For his part, master spy Quentin has loved Evian from afar. While he knows that he is unworthy of her hand, he also knows that these supposed suitors are even worse. So when he reveals some of their duplicitousness, Quentin and Eviana’s paths finally overlap. Soon they find themselves on a greater adventure than either could have imagined.

So, like I said, I knew this was a book in the middle of a series when I picked it up. But, being a romantic fantasy series, I quickly noticed that there had to be far more than three books out already. And that’s because you could spot the previous couples around every single corner! It became a sort of game, picking out the various couples that featured as main characters in the other books. And while this book wasn’t really my favorite in the end, some of these other characters did intrigue me. So, who knows? Maybe I’ll go back and check out their stories.

This is definitely a more light-hearted fantasy story. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on characters with only the lightest touches on world-building and magic systems. More than anything, the Embraced reminded me of those with Graces in “Graceling.” The same random gifts bestowed on seemingly random people, some of them being immensely popular and some ridiculous to the point of uselessness. In this world, however, and with the known factor of the Embraced, the story lost me almost immediately with Eviana and her gift. I won’t spoil what it is, though it does come out pretty early on. But I will say that it’s of the sort that could in no way be the most powerful or most dangerous gift that has ever come about. It is definitely powerful, but its advantages seem to pretty clearly outweigh any supposed concerns there could be over it. All of this immediately makes the entire premise of the book a big question mark: that her parents have restricted her choices and life so drastically over this supposedly dangerous gift.

It may seem like I’m harping on a small bit of the book, but ultimately, this book lives and dies by its small moments. The plot itself is very straight forward and simple, which leaves a lot of room to think about these minor flaws. On top of the weirdness around her abilities, I struggled to really connect with either Eviana or Quentin. Everything felt too shallow and too low stakes. I never felt any true concern for either of them or any true investment in the various conflicts thrown their way. They’re perfectly fine characters, but that’s a “fine” in the most dull sense of the word: nothing offensive but nothing to inspire either.

The writing was fine in a similar sense. While the story flowed well enough, the style lacked any sense of flair and unique voice. Instead, it felt very standard and bland. Like the characters, I never felt myself feeling particularly invested in the outcome of the various plot points we move through the story. Honestly, I’m struggling to come up with much more to say about this book, so I’ll just leave it here. This author has quite a few books out, so there are definitely readers out there who will connect with this. And for those looking for a light-hearted romantic fantasy, maybe this will be for you. But for me there was just something crucial missing from the book.

Rating: Fine writing. Fine characters. Fine story. But with three “fine’s” comes a pretty poor reading experience, in my book.

Reader’s Advisory:

“When a Princess Proposes” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Humorous Paranormal Books.

Kate’s Review: “The Turnout”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Turnout” by Megan Abbott

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, August 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Where You Can Get this Book: WorldCat | Amazon | IndieBound

Book Description: Bestselling and award-winning author Megan Abbott’s revelatory, mesmerizing, and game-changing new novel set against the hothouse of a family-run ballet studio, and an interloper who arrives to bring down the carefully crafted Eden-like facade.

Ballet flows through their veins. Dara and Marie Durant were dancers since birth, with their long necks and matching buns and pink tights, homeschooled and trained by their mother. Decades later the Durant School of Dance is theirs. The two sisters, together with Charlie, Dara’s husband and once their mother’s prize student, inherited the school after their parents died in a tragic accident nearly a dozen years ago. Marie, warm and soft, teaches the younger students; Dara, with her precision, trains the older ones; and Charlie, back broken after years of injuries, rules over the back office. Circling around each other, the three have perfected a dance, six days a week, that keeps the studio thriving. But when a suspicious accident occurs, just at the onset of the school’s annual performance of The Nutcracker, a season of competition, anxiety, and exhilaration, an interloper arrives and threatens the delicate balance of everything they’ve worked for.

Taut and unnerving, The Turnout is Megan Abbott at the height of her game. With uncanny insight and hypnotic writing, it is a sharp and strange dissection of family ties and sexuality, femininity and power, and a tale that is both alarming and irresistible.

Review: Megan Abbott is an author who I keep coming back to because of a couple good experiences. When I’ve liked her books, I’ve REALLY liked her books (titles like “The Fever” and “You Will Know Me” spring to mind), but when I haven’t they’ve clunked hard. And given that I have an undeniable love for ballet stories, especially if there is drama to be found along with the pas de deuxs, when I read the description for “The Turnout” I was absolutely down for giving it a go! Even if there was a bit of hesitation, wondering whether it would be landing more hot or cold, as with all other Abbott books I’ve read there is no in between.

“The Turnout”, in spite of the ballet drama, is bit more on the clunker side of things. But there are also aspects of it that I did like, and let’s start there. The first is that there is no doubt that Abbott knows how to create a deeply unsettling undercurrent with her characters. When we meet our trio of protagonists, sisters Dara and Marie and Dara’s husband Charlie, they are successful owners of a dance school that was founded by the sister’s mother. Immediately you get the sense that there is an underlying tension between all three of them, though the reasons why are hidden at first, and well tamped down in their minds and psyches. It gets under the skin, and it makes for a building tension, especially as things start to crumble, specifically when a contractor named Derek enters their lives after a fire and offsets the strained dynamic that they all have. I kind of figured what was going on, but I was surprised by some of the reveals that entered into the dynamic. And legitimately skeeved by it, without feeling like it was poorly done or melodramatic.

But on the flip side, there were elements that didn’t work for me. While I like that Abbott did some experimentation with the narrative, more telling the story in split paragraph chunks versus longer bodies of action, the construction felt a little disjointed at times. We would be in the same scene, the same moment, and really in the head of the same character, but we would have a jump on the page that didn’t feel like it was necessary. It would just take me out of the moment and make it feel jerky. Along with that, I didn’t feel like we got an even distribution of character development between our main players, specifically between the sisters Dara and Marie. Granted, this story is mostly from Dara’s third person POV, so we really got to know her (and I actually did find her compelling and interesting), but as for Marie, someone part of an arguably important pas de deux within the narrative (see what I did?), I really didn’t feel like we got enough insight into her character. It ended up feeling like her frustrating actions were more to drive the plot forward as opposed to being a foregone conclusion in terms of the choices that she would make based on what we know about her. Even by the time things did get expanded upon throughout various twists and turns, I STILL didn’t think that we got enough insight into Marie, and that made me more frustrated than anything else.

So “The Turnout” was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I think I retract my statement about it being a clunker, but it did leave me wanting more. So my relationship with Megan Abbott books continues to be a mixed bag, but mixed enough that I will probably keep giving her books a shot. If you have had a better experience with her work, this will probably click more with you than I.

Rating 6: Unnerving and brimming with unease, “The Turnout” is a suspenseful tale, but at times feels disjointed and strangely paced, and we didn’t get to know all the characters as well as I’d have liked.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Turnout” is included on the Goodreads lists “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2021”.

Kate’s Review: “The Resting Place”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Resting Place” by Camilla Stem (translation: Alexandra Fleming)

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, March 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A spine-chilling, propulsive psychological suspense from international sensation Camilla Sten.

The medical term is prosopagnosia. The average person calls it face blindness—the inability to recognize a familiar person’s face, even the faces of those closest to you. When Eleanor walked in on the scene of her capriciously cruel grandmother, Vivianne’s, murder, she came face to face with the killer—a maddening expression that means nothing to someone like her. With each passing day, her anxiety mounts. The dark feelings of having brushed by a killer, yet not know who could do this—or if they’d be back—overtakes both her dreams and her waking moments, thwarting her perception of reality.

Then a lawyer calls. Vivianne has left her a house—a looming estate tucked away in the Swedish woods. The place her grandfather died, suddenly. A place that has housed a dark past for over fifty years.

Eleanor. Her steadfast boyfriend, Sebastian. Her reckless aunt, Veronika. The lawyer. All will go to this house of secrets, looking for answers. But as they get closer to bringing the truth to light, they’ll wish they had never come to disturb what rests there. A heart-thumping, relentless thriller that will shake you to your core, The Resting Place is an unforgettable novel of horror and suspense.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Last year I was really impressed with Camilla Sten’s horror novel “The Lost Village”, as it not only creeped me out throughout the narrative, it also felt like it was a fresh take on a story that’s been done before. I kicked myself for passing it by initially, and I told myself I wouldn’t do that again with Camilla Sten’s next novel. Which brings us to “The Resting Place”, the new thriller by Sten that has made it from Scandinavia to the U.S. I picked it up right as our Minnesota winter was starting the Great Thaw, and the thought of a new scary thriller with a snow storm element was detached enough from the doldrums of our eternal winters that I figured it would be fun (I’ve probably jinxed us with an April snow storm now, however). And I said that I wasn’t going to let Sten pass me by again, after all. However, “The Resting Place” probably didn’t need the urgency I assumed it did.

But what did I like? We will start there, as always. A few things to be sure! For one, the setting and atmosphere was awesome. I love me a Gothic thriller and mystery, and “The Resting Place” is bursting with that sensibility. I loved the isolation of the Swedish country home of Solhoga, which has the potential to be tranquil and peaceful but due to a poorly timed blizzard and a potential killer on the loose makes it far less inviting. The isolation tactics are well worn, but effective nonetheless, and I felt like I could see the snow, the old home, and the landscapes. I also did like the dual narratives, the first being Eleanor et als’ dangerous time at Solhoga and the second being diary entries of Anuska, a servant in the 1960s who knew Vivianne and her husband due to her employment and other, more secretive, ties. I thought that the slow unveiling of the mysteries, be it what Vivianne was hiding, or who is out to perhaps kill those who were left behind, was an entertaining plot that kept me reading. In terms of characters, I liked Eleanor enough as she grapples with the trauma of walking in on her grandmother’s murder, as well as the guilt that due to her prosopagnosia she couldn’t be of any help as a witness. The tension that is there not only within her inner self, but also between her and her boyfriend Sebastian, is just another factor in the tension that is slowly rising in this narrative.

But entertaining as it is, we aren’t really doing much new here. Outside of Eleanor’s face blindness, I guess, though even that is something that could be easily done away with with some tweaking and none would be the wiser. While it’s true that I didn’t really guess a few of the big reveals, I did guess others, and the big reveals I didn’t guess felt a little underwhelming because of how they felt like a bit of a cheat. It wasn’t so much farfetched as too easily explainable under kind of nutty circumstances. Ultimately, while I thought that “The Lost Village” did a lot of new and interesting stuff with the genre it was within, “The Resting Place” didn’t feel all that unique to me, and more like the kind of thriller I read once and then don’t really think about again. Serviceable for sure, but nothing that made me say ‘now THAT was a ride!’

I am eager to see what Camilla Sten does next, as this was by no means a book that made me lose my faith in her talents. But “The Resting Place” didn’t have the oomph I was hoping for going into it.

Rating 6: Pretty standard thriller. Serviceable for sure, but nothing really wowed me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Resting Place” is included on the Goodreads lists “Bring On The Creepy!”, and “The Most Anticipated Mysteries and Thrillers of 2022”.

Serena’s Review: “A Promise of Fire”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “A Promise of Fire” by Amanda Bouchet

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, August 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Catalia “Cat” Fisa lives disguised as a soothsayer in a traveling circus. She is perfectly content avoiding the danger and destiny the Gods-and her homicidal mother-have saddled her with. That is, until Griffin, an ambitious warlord from the magic-deprived south, fixes her with his steely gaze and upsets her illusion of safety forever.

Griffin knows Cat is the Kingmaker, the woman who divines the truth through lies. He wants her as a powerful weapon for his newly conquered realm-until he realizes he wants her for much more than her magic. Cat fights him at every turn, but Griffin’s fairness, loyalty, and smoldering advances make him increasingly hard to resist and leave her wondering if life really does have to be short, and lived alone.

Review: This book ended up on my TBR list for a few reasons. For one thing, I’m still on the hunt for a new urban fantasy series to follow. And while this book wouldn’t technically fall into that category, the fast action and quippy heroine is definitely on par with what you find in that subgenre. I’ve also been perusing various romantic fantasy recommendation lists and this book has popped up on a few of them. So I went in with high hopes. Alas, this one was definitely not my cup of tea.

Cat has slowly built up a quiet and unnoticeable life as a soothsayer in the circus. There she has found not only freedom from attention but a found family in the others who don’t quite fit into the world and see the circus as a place of acceptance. But apparently Cat isn’t quite unnoticeable enough, as one day she draws the attention of a warlord who sees her magical abilities for what they are: the power to tell truth from lie. Now, captured and hauled across the kingdom to work for the warlord’s Queen, Cat begins to find her past rising up to catch her once again. Slowly, however, she begins to feel herself drawn to this warlord and his band of merry men. Could there be another future for her?

I was so disappointed with this book. And that’s mostly because when it started out, I was sure I was going to love it! I got through at least of a quarter of it and maybe closer to a third still thinking this. The writing is quick, the action is entertaining, and the dialogue was quippy and funny. Cat herself was immediately likeable and relatable. She seemed like the perfect kind of heroine to lead up a story like this (and did feel very “urban fantasy” like, for what it’s worth). I also had high hopes for Griffin as a love interest. He was definitely holding down the “dark and brooding” fort pretty thoroughly.

But then, as the story continued, it became clear that the dynamic between these two wasn’t going to change in the way I needed it to to enjoy it. The writing began to feel more juvenile. And the twist of the story began to feel so predictable and convenient that I couldn’t help being bothered by it. I almost had whiplash at how fast I went from really gobbling up a book to really struggling to even finish the thing.

I got on a pretty big soapbox when talking to a friend recently about romance novels and how the “problematic” approach to romance as a genre needs to be tempered with the escapism that we always look for in our fiction. Obviously, the terrible situations found in horror and thrillers novels are not something we would approve of in real life. So some of the relationships in romance novels may have elements in them that we wouldn’t love in real life, but because they are romance novels and have an essential promise of safety and love between the characters, it’s essentially a safe place to experience romantic arcs. Alas, this little speech doesn’t work for everything, and shortly after I made it, I came across this book.

Like I said, I wouldn’t not recommend this book because of the “problematic” relationship at its core. Indeed, this is a fairly high rated book on Goodreads. It was only that in my completely objective scale of what I can appreciate about in the traditional “alpha” romantic hero and what I can’t stand, this one fell too far in the negative direction. Obviously, the story starts out with kidnapping, so there’s a power dynamic at play there from the very start. And I was totally fine with that! It was just that as the book went on, I kept waiting for Griffin to essentially realize what he’d done in taking way Cat’s choices and, given his growing respect and love for her, giver her the choice to stay or go. Sadly, that didn’t come. Instead, Cat essentially talked herself into staying based, at least in my observation, on very few truly positive qualities to be found in Griffin and his band. Again and again, Griffin would ignore Cat’s language rebuffing him. We the reader know that she’s into it, but he didn’t come around to any of the respect I need these alpha types to have to keep my scale balanced. This is one of the reasons I’ve liked the “From Blood and Ash” series so far; the hero there has all of the moments of respect and understanding of his heroine that I definitely need to see in my romances.

I also began to be annoyed by Cat’s inner dialogue. Initially, I found her spunky and fun, just the right tone of snark and sarcasm that I like in my action fantasy heroines. But then she said “Ack!” one too many times in her head and…yeah, I couldn’t stop seeing it from then on. I really dislike this writing technique. I’m not sure what it’s meant to add, but it made Cat seem childish and silly. Something I definitely didn’t need from a heroine who is supposed to be standing up to her alpha male captor. Definitely don’t need anything that tips that power imbalance to an even worse degree.

Some of the supposed reveals were also really easy to spot. I don’t think this would have been a problem had I not been already struggling with the romance and Cat’s inner monologue. I didn’t go into this book expecting epic style twists or world-building that shocked and amazed. But on top of the other flaws, these weaker aspects also began to hurt the book more and more as it went.

This was so disappointing. Like I said, it was worse because I was so excited as I was reading the first part of the book. I even had the second one all lined up on my library hold list, that’s how sure I was that I was going to gobble this series up. And then it just tanked. Again, this book has pretty high ratings on Goodreads, and it did have that fun, quick reading style that some (including me at times) love, so this may still be for you. I really think it comes down to your tolerance level with alpha male leading men.

Rating 6: The “hero” of this book was not so heroic in my estimation, and the heroine’s inner dialogue was very cringey at times.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Promise of Fire” is on these Goodreads lists: Slow-burn romance and (strangely) Sci-Fi/Fantasy with Healthy Relationships.

Book Club Review: “Project Duchess”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Project Duchess” by Sabrina Jeffries

Publishing Info: Zebra, June 2019

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Romance Trope: Grumpy/Sunshine

Book Description: A series of stepfathers and a difficult childhood have left Fletcher “Grey” Pryde, 5th Duke of Greycourt, with a guarded heart, enviable wealth, and the undeserved reputation of a rogue. Grey’s focus on expanding his dukedom allows him little time to find a wife. But when his mother is widowed yet again and he meets the charmingly unconventional woman managing his stepfather’s funeral, he’s shocked to discover how much they have in common. Still, Grey isn’t interested in love, no matter how pretty, or delightfully outspoken, the lady . . .
 
Beatrice Wolfe gave up on romance long ago, and the arrogant Duke of Greycourt with his rakish reputation isn’t exactly changing her mind. Then Grey agrees to assist his grief-stricken mother with her latest “project”: schooling spirited, unfashionable Beatrice for her debut. Now that Beatrice is seeing through Grey’s charms to his wounded heart, she’s having trouble keeping him at arm’s length. But once Grey starts digging into her family’s secrets, she must decide whether her loyalties lie with her family . . . or with the man whose lessons capture her heart . . .   

Serena’s Thoughts

Ostensibly, this book should have been for me. When I do read romance, I generally prefer historical romance, with all of those grand ball scenes and the obsessively weird culture of manners. I find that the overly formal way of moving through life in these books is a nice balance to the actual bodice-ripping romance of them. Sadly, this book wasn’t for me though.

There were a few problems that I had. Firstly, the romance itself doesn’t feel very well built up, with the “hero” pretty much sexualizing the heroine immediately. Obviously, some of this is expected in romance novels, so it’s not the fact that it happened that was the problem. More, it was the fact that it was right off the bat which just immediately set him up in a bad light for me. Beyond that, the book is very “tell-y” with this character in general. We’re told over and over again that he’s this “rake-ish” individual, but we never see any evidence of this “bad boy” persona.

Much of this problem comes down to the fact that the entire book takes place on the family’s country estate. That’s right! There are no grand ball room scenes or society gossip, because the entire story is removed from all of that. Instead, we have only Grey’s family and Beatrice’s brother for any and all social interactions. Not only does it feel limited, but it was very obvious that the author was almost equally devoted to setting up all of these other characters as potential leads in her future books as she was with telling the actual story on hand. It all played against me becoming at all invested in Grey and Beatrice.

I also didn’t love the mystery that was included in this story. Again, this probably should have been a hit for me as, when I do read mysteries, they’re often historical mysteries of just this sort. But here, by cramming the mystery in alongside the romance, the author missed the mark on both. The romance was lukewarm. And the mystery was unappealing. Not only did we always know that the main suspect would be innocent, but the story ends on a cliffhanger in a misguided attempt to get readers to pick up the next book. In my case, that just worked against it. I felt even more put off by the story in not having this resolved. This plot line took up a ton of page time and arguably reduced changes to increase my interest in the romance of the story, the thing most readers who pick up this kind of book will be looking for. Fans of historical romance can likely find better options out there.

Kate’s Thoughts

Okay, we have officially moved into romance territory that I rarely dare to tread. I can count the number of ‘bodice ripper’ romance on one hand, including this one… And I think that the number is 2. MAYBE 3 if we want to be a little loosey goosey with our time periods. And while thus far our book club romances have been mostly contemporary (with one fantasy), I knew a Regency romance would probably have to happen. So I went into “Project Duchess” trying to have an open mind. But by the time I was finished, I realized that this subgenre of romance really… REALLY isn’t for me.

I have a lot of the same thoughts as Serena, from the clunky way that the characters are used, to the telling vs showing, to the isolated setting (though I admit that I had NO idea that this was a thing until it came up in book club; it wasn’t until Serena pointed out that keeping it on a country estate with no dances, urban gossip, or new characters was incredibly limiting. Once she pointed it out I was like ‘oh hey, yeah!!!’). I also thought that giving Beatrice a darker backstory involving her lecherous uncle wasn’t handled super well, as it was there to make her tragic but wasn’t examined in a way that felt healthy. One good fuck probably isn’t going to wash away trauma. I know it’s a romance novel and a little unrealistic storytelling isn’t a crime (in any book really), but it just didn’t sit right with me.

AND I am going to echo my frustration with the mystery. I, being a gal who loves a good murder plot, wanted to know what HAD happened to all of Lydia’s husbands! Once it clicked that we weren’t going to get any answers in this book, as the story was setting up a whole series involving all the boring characters (excluding Gwyn. I liked Gwyn), I was pretty frustrated.

“Project Duchess” was a miss for me. I would say that maybe it’s just because it’s not my genre, but seeing Serena’s review above, it makes me think it’s maybe a miss all around.

Serena’s Rating 6: Not for me, which was a shock considering that, on paper, it should have been right up my alley.

Kate’s Rating 4: I wasn’t expecting too much but was still disappointed.

Book Club Questions

  1. How well do this hero and heroine fit the “grump/sunshine” romance trope?
  2. What did you think about the mystery at the heart of the novel? What predictions do you have going forward?
  3. Beatrice’s history with her uncle is quite dark. How well do you think the book tackled this topic?
  4. What did you think of Beatrice and Greycourt as a couple and the various iterations of their romance that we saw throughout this book?
  5. This is clearly the first book in a set-up series. Will you continue reading? What character are you most interested in reading about next?

Reader’s Advisory

“Project Duchess” is on these Goodreads lists: Romance Heroes and Heroines Over 35! and 2019 Historical Romance.

Find “Project Duchess” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Beach Read” by Emily Henry

Kate’s Review: “The Night Shift”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Night Shift” by Alex Finlay

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, March 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where Can You Get this Book: WorldCat |Amazon | IndieBound

Book Description: It’s New Year’s Eve 1999. Y2K is expected to end in chaos: planes falling from the sky, elevators plunging to earth, world markets collapsing. A digital apocalypse. None of that happens. But at a Blockbuster Video in Linden, New Jersey, four teenage girls working the night shift are attacked. Only one survives. Police quickly identify a suspect who flees and is never seen again.

Fifteen years later, in the same town, four teenage employees working late at an ice cream store are attacked, and again only one makes it out alive. Both surviving victims recall the killer speaking only a few final words… “Goodnight, pretty girl.”

In the aftermath, three lives intersect: the survivor of the Blockbuster massacre who’s forced to relive her tragedy; the brother of the original suspect, who’s convinced the police have it wrong; and the FBI agent, who’s determined to solve both cases. On a collision course toward the truth, all three lives will forever be changed, and not everyone will make it out alive.

Twisty, poignant, and redemptive, The Night Shift is a story about the legacy of trauma and how the broken can come out on the other side, and it solidifies Alex Finlay as one of the new leading voices in the world of thrillers.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

On paper, “The Night Shift” by Alex Finlay was complete and utter catnip for me. There’s a time jumping mystery, there’s a whodunnit murder element, there are multiple characters who may or may not have secrets, and there is a healthy does of 90s nostalgia. I remember that going to Blockbuster on Friday night was an EVENT! I also saw all the hype surrounding this book, so I jumped in really hoping for a home run. And we didn’t quite get there.

There were, however, things to like, and I will start there because I do want to highlight the positives. For one, we have a pretty well thought out and well connected story, told through the perspectives of interconnected characters. The first is Ella, a therapist who was the sole survivor of a multiple murder at her high school workplace, Blockbuster, in which her coworkers were killed and she was not. The second is Chris, a public defender whose brother Vince was the main suspect in the Blockbuster murders, but disappeared off the grid after he was released from custody before he could be tried for the crime. The third is Special Agent Keller, an FBI agent who is trying to connect a new multiple murder scene at an ice cream shop to the Blockbuster murders, as there is, once again, one survivor named Jess, and the perpetrator said the same phrase to her as he said to Ella. I liked how these three characters were separate at first, and then slowly converged into the big story and overarching mystery as they are trying to handle their own baggage and mysteries, and it really kept me engaged and interested as I read. I especially liked Keller’s POV, as she is determined and gritty and had the scenes that I found myself most invested in, since she was doing a lot of the investigating that felt like it was getting somewhere (I have more to say on Ella and Chris in a bit). AND she is doing all of this while eight months pregnant with twins, which was kind of a fun tidbit and felt very Marge Gunderson from “Fargo” (especially since her husband is SUPER doting, much like Norm was in that movie).

Speaking of couples goals. (source)

But that kind of segues into the things that didn’t work for me as much in this book. Firstly, many of the other characters outside of Keller felt pretty two dimensional and not super explored. Ella is a pretty typical and standard examination of trauma, in that she has devoted her life to trying to cope by compartmentalizing, and has completely messed up her personal life because of it (when we meet her she is meeting up for a hook up in spite of the fact she has a fiancé, because wow look at what a mess she is, right?!). Her connection with Jess, the newest victim, is based of her skills as a therapist as well as the fact she’s been there before, but Jess is tragic and precocious and hiding her own issues that only serve to muddy some waters. Since we don’t really get into her head she is, once again, pretty standard fare that we’ve seen before. And then there’s Chris, whose story is tragic in its own ways as he clings to the hope that his brother Vince is innocent, and has been thinking he has perhaps found him via the Internet. This was, admittedly, an interesting plot line, but Chris himself is also pretty two dimensional. And on top of all of that, the mystery itself becomes glaringly obvious in terms of conclusion pretty quickly. There were a few ‘mini’ mysteries here and there that kept me kinda guessing and invested, hence the engaging aspect of this book, but the big one wasn’t shocking, and the journey getting there on that outcome alone wouldn’t have been as compelling. And frankly, the big mystery should be compelling.

I think that I will go back and read Finlay’s previous book, as there is definitely potential in “The Night Shift” that has glimmers of a thriller I’d enjoy. But as a final product and full package it was a little ho hum.

Rating 6: Admittedly super engaging, but the big reveal isn’t very surprising, and most of the characters are pretty two dimensional.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Night Shift” is included on the Goodreads list “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2022”.

Monthly Marillier: “The Dark Mirror”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “The Dark Mirror” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor, September 2004

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Bridei is a young nobleman fostered at the home of Broichan, one of the most powerful druids in the land. His earliest memories are not of hearth and kin but of this dark stranger who while not unkind is mysterious in his ways. The tasks that he sets Bridei appear to have one goal-to make him a vessel for some distant purpose. What that purpose is Bridei cannot fathom but he trusts the man and is content to learn all he can about the ways of the world.

But something happens that will change Bridei’s world forever…and possibly wreck all of Broichan’s plans. For Bridei finds a child on their doorstep on a bitter MidWinter Eve, a child seemingly abandoned by the fairie folk. It is uncommonly bad luck to have truck with the Fair Folk and all counsel the babe’s death. But Bridei sees an old and precious magic at work here and heedless of the danger fights to save the child. Broichan relents but is wary.

The two grow up together and as Bridei comes to manhood he sees the shy girl Tuala blossom into a beautiful woman. Broichan sees the same process and feels only danger…for Tuala could be a key part in Bridei’s future…or could spell his doom.

Review: When I was planning out this review series, I can honestly say I forgot about this trilogy in my first run through of scheduling. So, take from that what you will! I can say that this is another of Marillier’s trilogies that leave me with the very hipster opinion of preferring the second book in the series to any other. As you will see, this book wasn’t my favorite, and as much as I do enjoy the second entry in the trilogy, I think it’s this lukewarm start that has me so often forgetting about these books’ existence in Marillier’s catalog of work.

Bridei’s childhood is clearly centered around some greater plan being put to work by the druid Broichan. Mysterious and reclusive, Broichan is not one to explain himself to Bridei, but Bridei does know that when they discover a baby girl at their door, this is definitely not part of the plan. Now, growing up alongside Tuala, Bridei begins to suspect why his teacher was so cautious to begin with. But Bridei himself can’t help but feel a stronger and stronger connection to the young woman, and, soon enough, the fates of an entire people may rest in her hands.

So, this another of my least favorite of Marillier’s works. Many of her strengths are equally present: the lyrical writing, the clear sense of the world and time period, and a flowing style of storytelling that lends even practical scenes a sense of wonder and magic. But some of her most common limitations are also present. That is, a stalled pace, especially in the beginning of the story, and a romance that is hard to become invested in. This latter point is the most puzzling, because her amazing romances are part of the reason I love her so much! But she is one of those authors who seems to either really nail the romance or to miss the mark altogether.

This book leans heavily on the political situation surrounding Bridei’s coming of age and the role he is meant to have in the future of the land. As such, much of the story is very much set in the human world (as opposed to some of Marillier’s more fantasy-focused stories). This isn’t a bad thing on the face things, but the story does feel slow and plodding for the first half or so. It’s a struggle to really put together the pieces that are moving and see much of an actual story arch building in the book itself.

The romance was also very cringe-y at times. It’s a hard balance to write a romance that develops from childhood friendship into romance, especially when there’s a distinct age gap. I think that “The First Girl Child” did very well, but that relied on separating the main characters until the younger of the two, the young woman, was an adult (by the time’s standards). Here, Bridei’s views of Tuala seem uncomfortable at times, given her age. I also felt like the resolution for the romance came on too suddenly in the end, with their feelings for one another going from zero to hundred over the course of one event. It wasn’t bad, but it doesn’t hold up to Marillier’s more complex and swoony romances.

This was only my second time reading this book, and I can say that my original lower opinion stands pretty true. I think I might have disliked it even more than the first time I read it, as I found the romance to be harder to read without feeling uncomfortable this go around. But I do remember liking the second book much more. In fact, I know I’ve read that one more than once, though it’s still be about a decade since I last revisited! I hope it holds up!

Rating 6: A slow, plodding pace isn’t helped by a romance that falls more on the cringe side of the cringe/swoon scale.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Dark Mirror” is on these Goodreads lists: Wise Women, Witches, Midwives, Healers, and Strong Girls! and Medieval Fantasy Books.

Kate’s Review: “The Witch Haven”

Book: “The Witch Haven” by Sasha Peyton Smith

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, August 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The Last Magician meets The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy in this thrilling and atmospheric historical fantasy following a young woman who discovers she has magical powers and is thrust into a battle between witches and wizards.

In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet—her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.

Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?

Review: I am now at that age where if someone asks me what I want for my birthday or the holidays, more often than not I think ‘ah crap’. Given that one of my biggest hobbies is reading, one might think that books are always an option, but more often than not I just use the library, especially since I work for one. But I keep a few in mind, especially for my husband, so this past November when he asked for birthday ideas I told him “The Witch Haven” by Sasha Peyton Smith. I’d seen it bumping around my social media feeds on and off, and on top of that it is not only a mysterious boarding school story, it also has witches! And you know me, I’m always down for some teenage coven shenanigans!

(source)

I should definitely say right away that “The Witch Haven” is more of a YA Urban Historical Fantasy, a genre that isn’t usually my wheelhouse, especially on the blog. But I figured that witches, being one of my faves, was fair-ish game, and while the genre tropes constrained it a bit (for me at least), overall I enjoyed this book. Firstly, I really enjoyed the time and place. We find ourselves in 1911, and in New York City, so the time period is one that I’m not as familiar with books wise. This post Gilded Age, solidly Progressive Era timeframe makes for interesting themes and historical footnotes, and I felt that Smith used these to her advantage. We both address the constraints of women during this time, be it the factory work that many had to endure (and yes, there are references to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire), the Suffrage Movement, and the way that men, even in magical settings, are constantly trying to hold them back and take their power. Sometimes literally. Frances, our protagonist, is whisked away to Haxahaven School because her powers manifested after she was attacked by her boss at the shop she works at as a seamstress, and the mythology of Haxahaven and the way witches are seen and function in historical New York City is unique and entertaining.

I also appreciated that Smith doesn’t look back at every element of this time period as rosy when it comes to progressive ideas, nor does she paint Haxahaven School as a super positive and supportive ‘yasss queen’ institution (though the friendships that Frances makes there are VERY positive and show a supportive and feminist group of women). This is most revealing when it comes to Frances’s roommate and close friend Lena. The girls who attend Haxahaven are plucked from their lives and taken to the school to learn how to control their magic and to become witches who can harness their powers, even if that means sometimes stifling them. For Lena, however, it is not an empowering place, as she is Indigenous, and longs to return to her family and her community. I liked that Smith had Lena in this story for a couple of reasons. The first is that it shows that the feminism of this time period was reserved for white women only, and that women like Lena were ignored or abused because of their race. It also was a way to address the Boarding Schools for Indigenous children in this country during this time period (as Lena was taken from a boarding school to attend Haxahaven), and how it was a tenant of genocide that our government was committing against Natives. I can’t speak to whether Smith did her due diligence when it comes to telling Lena’s story, but I liked that the broader themes of this story were told.

But there were some stumbles along the way in “The Witch Haven”. For one, the pacing feels a little off. It has a lot of fast paced plotting at the beginning, but we get a little bogged down as Frances and her friends make connections with Finn, a young man who is a magic student at a male institution. It ramps up again once we get to the last third of the book, but it slogs a bit as Frances interacts with Finn in hopes of learning some of his magic to find out what happened to her murdered brother William. I think that part of the problem is that I didn’t really care for Frances as a character, so therefore her story and her journey didn’t keep me as interested when we needed that exposition. I think my biggest issue with her is that she is purely defined by her brother’s death and wanting to solve what happened, with little other interesting character traits. I also found her decisions to be unclear, like why she is so suspicious of the people she is living with and learning with, but more than happy to trust Finn and the people he is allied with without any questions. It just felt like her character development was less for her and more to progress the plot.

All that said, the ending is a bit open ended, and my interest was piqued enough by it that should Smith write a sequel I would probably pick it up, just to see what happens next. “The Witch Haven” didn’t quite live up to my hopes, but it was fine for what it was.

Rating 6: Though the pacing is a little off at times and the main character a bit grating, overall “The Witch Haven” has a fun setting that lets witches shine, albeit with complexities of the time period.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Witch Haven” is included on the Goodreads lists “ATY 2022: Academia or Teacher Impacted”, and “Popsugar 2022 #16: A Book About Witches”.

Find “The Witch Haven” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “The Amber Crown”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Amber Crown” by Jacey Bedford

Publishing Info: Daw Books, January 2022

Where Did I get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: The king is dead, his queen is missing. On the amber coast, the usurper king is driving Zavonia to the brink of war. A dangerous magical power is rising up in Biela Miasto, and the only people who can set things right are a failed bodyguard, a Landstrider witch, and the assassin who set off the whole sorry chain of events.

Valdas, Captain of the High Guard, has not only failed in his duty to protect the king, but he’s been accused of the murder, and he’s on the run. He’s sworn to seek justice, but his king sets him another task from beyond the grave. Valdas doesn’t believe in magic, which is unfortunate as it turns out.

Mirza is the healer-witch of a Landstrider band, valued and feared in equal measure for her witchmark, her scolding tongue, and her ability to walk the spirit world. When she’s given a task by Valdas’ dead king, she believes that the journey she must take is one she can never return from.

Lind is the clever assassin. Yes, someone paid him to kill the king, but who is to blame, the weapon or the power behind it? Lind must face his traumatic past if he’s to have a future.

Can these three discover the real villain, find the queen, and set the rightful king on the throne before the country is overcome?

Review:: Yet another fantasy book with the title “The ‘something’ Crown.” I have another book with a type of crown in the title coming up in a week or so! I don’t know what it is about crowns that seems to be seen as the go-to in fantasy, but I do miss the days of more creative titles. Please, no more “crowns,” “queens,” or “the BLANK of BLANK and BLANK” for a solid five years please. Anyways, that mini rant aside, let’s dive in!

Valdas is in disgrace. As Captain of the guard, his one duty is to protect the monarch, and when the king is killed under his watch, there cannot be a failure more profound. But his duty does not end there, and when he’s tasked with finding the missing queen and heir, he finds himself in mixed company: a healer with powerful magical abilities (something that Valdas didn’t even believe in until it was forced upon him recently) as well as the assassin who seems responsible for the king’s death itself. But who was the power behind the order? And can they save the queen and heir before they, too, are harmed?

One of the reasons I found myself initially intrigued by the premise of this book was how much it sounded like a fairly traditional fantasy story. The world-building and magical system didn’t seem overly complex, and the plot itself followed a fairly standard “group goes on a quest” storyline. Most of these things have a long history behind their “trope-y-ness” because they can be implemented easily to tell fantastic stories (“Lord of the Rings,” anyone?). Sadly, here, there too many other things working against the story for me to really revel in these sorts of classic fantasy features.

To start with what I liked, however. All three main characters were fairly interesting. Each had a decent amount of time given to establish their unique personalities and, more importantly, their motivations going through this journey. All three of them were nuanced characters, none falling neatly inside a black or white box. However, even here, I do wish we had seen just a bit more. It’s hard to really describe what I mean, but, in their own way, each character felt like it fell just short of really coalescing into a complex, compelling character.

On to some of my struggles, first my general problems. For some reason, the writing fell flat for me. The plot itself never truly sucked me in, and I was very aware of the experience of reading the book as I turned the pages (clicked on the Kindle). I just couldn’t fall into the story, and the pacing was a let down at times. Moments that should have landed with more “oomf” rather landed with a “thud,” and the ending was surprising anticlimactic considering the work that had been put into building up the entire situation.

From there, the specifics. While I just got done saying that I generally struggled to connect to the writing, there were also a few specific writing choices that didn’t land right. The author makes an effort to include a diverse cast of characters, and yet it seems to be done in a very clunky way. Instead of simply initially identifying her diverse characters, she routinely described people as “the black fighter” or something like that. The sheer amount of repetition here is maybe partly what did it. There was just something off. I was also turned off by the number of times women’s breasts were described and in ways that are of the more egregious sort. Like, a woman would enter the room and would be described as having her breasts almost popping our of her shirt….Why? How is this detail adding to the scene, characterization, or story? There were also far too many rapes/near rapes/threats of rape in this story. Everyone knows my thoughts on this sort of thing so I’m just not going to go into it again. Suffice to say, rape can be included in a thoughtful, meaningful way. In this case, it was not and just adds up alongside the overuse of sexualized descriptions of women and strange fixation on skin color.

I was very disappointed by this book. I had hopes of diving back into my roots and finding a new “classic” fantasy story. And in some ways I did: sadly it was “classic” in the sense that it felt like it was committing very dated mistakes that, happily, are seen less and less often. Fans of fairly straight forward classic fantasy may like this, but I think there are better options out there in general.

Rating 6: Interesting characters are let down by a strange set of tired “classic” fantasy missteps.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Amber Crown” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on: “Books with Crowns.”

%d bloggers like this: