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Book Review: Polly’s Wild Dance: A Life Serialized in Sporadic Spurts by Sydnee Elliot

Book Review: Polly's Wild Dance: A Life Serialized in Sporadic Spurts by Sydnee ElliotSummary:
Now that Polly’s daughter has left home, she finally decides to follow her long-time dream of living on the Greek islands and moves there. But she finds even moving to another country can’t help her escape the memories of her ex-lovers (or, in the case of her daughter’s father, their actual presence). As she ruminates on her life and deals with the difficulties of aging, she wonders if her life has brought her the fulfillment she was after.

Review:
I picked this up during one of Smashwords’ annual summer/winter sales because the premise vaguely reminded me of Under the Tuscan Sun, a movie I’ve always enjoyed. What I got was an older heroine with a more honest mouth and a dirtier past. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting and I wouldn’t choose to live my life the way the main character lived hers, but I certainly enjoyed it.

The author clearly has either lived in Boston or has done a lot of research. Polly grows up in New England and then lives in either Cambridge or Boston for the early parts of her life. Everything written about Cambridge/Boston is quite accurate, although definitely not always flattering. Since this is the case for the setting of Cambridge/Boston, I came to trust the narrator regarding her experiences in California, Las Vegas, and finally the Greek islands.

Polly is unapologetically crass. Given that this is a fiction book written in the style of an older person’s memoir, I can see how this may be jarring to some readers anticipating a more…grandmotherly style story.  Personally, I enjoy the brutal honesty Polly brings to everything. She paints neither herself nor her family nor her lovers in a positive light. She verges on the side of pessimism. But there’s something I like about that level of honesty.

The edge of his tallis, the prayer shawl worn by Jewish men [Polly is Jewish and raised in a religious home], was folded back over his shoulder, so it wouldn’t touch me. Women aren’t allowed to touch this sacred garment because we’re considered unclean. The folded eight inches of fabric reminded me of one of the reasons why I couldn’t believe in this religion, or any religion. I wanted to crush the tallis with my hands, rub it over my face, arms, along my naked body and against my genitals. (loc 970)

If that passage offends you, the book will most likely offend you. If you enjoy the visceral passion Polly shows in rejecting the religion of her childhood, you will most likely enjoy the book.

The plot mainly revolves around Polly adapting to life in Greece and being haunted by visions of her ex-lovers. Basically, she will think she sees one of her ex-lovers and then tell the story of her time with him. The overarching plot is she is wondering if seeing these hauntings means her life is almost over. Also scattered throughout this plot is Polly coming to terms with being older, her body failing her, the fact that she doesn’t have a constant true love, and accepting that she is nearing the end of her life. Polly has many lovers throughout her life, and it’s clear that sometimes she was seeking one out to use him. Similarly, she is the other woman at least once and not in an accidental way. In a I hope you’ll leave your wife for me way. Polly admits she was bad at love but is also unapologetic about it. She seems lost as to how she could have done better, even right up to choosing her most recent lover.

I wanted to love Andreas. I needed to love him; I needed to love someone, anyone, and he happened to be available. (loc 5985)

While I appreciated Polly’s voice and passion, I also felt extremely sad for her. She never seems to have figured out how to be both passionate about her beliefs and also willing to listen to others. She never seems to have grown beyond the first rebellion stage into self-actualization. In a way, then, while the book has amusing scenes, overall, I found it to be a sad, cautionary tale about how failing to work on yourself, simply letting yourself muddle along, can lead to a wasted life.

Overall, this is an interesting book that features a plot I haven’t seen before. Readers interested in reading something featuring an older person  who failed to actualize or even really realize their mistakes late in life should definitely pick this up. It is well-done.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Smashwords

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Series Review: The Georgina Kincaid Series by Richelle Mead

January 9, 2014 1 comment

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Red-headed woman in front of Seattle skylineSummary:
Georgina Kincaid loves her job managing a bookstore in Seattle.  She’s not so sure about her job as Seattle’s only succubus, but she doesn’t have much choice about that one since she sold her soul to Hell back when she was mortal in ancient Greece.  After hundreds of years of being a succubus, Georgina has started to feel guilty about stealing the life energy of good-souled men.  So she’s switched to stealing the less high-quality life energy of bad-souled men.  Her demon boss, Jerome, is none too happy about this.  Things take an even more interesting turn when famous author, Seth Mortensen, moves to Seattle and chooses Georgina’s bookstore as his base of operations.  Georgina quickly finds herself falling for him.  Her first time falling for a man since WWII.  Nobody seems to like the idea of Georgina dating Seth, except for Seth, but Georgina doesn’t have much time to wonder why as supernatural life carries on.  Everything from an incubus plot to attempts at overthrowing her demonic boss (by another demon of course) to an escaped ancient supernatural power who feeds on dreams come Georgina’s way.  Georgina starts to notice that Seattle seems to be facing more than the normal level of supernatural upheaval, and she starts to wonder why.

Woman in push-up vest against red background.Review:
A tightly told, sexy, humorous series featuring an overarching plot that ties into all of the smaller plots and lends the series as a whole a greater meaning makes this urban fantasy stand out above the rest.

The series ostensibly focuses on the bad guys of the supernatural world, not something that is seen very often in urban fantasy.  Yes, Georgina is a succubus with a guilt complex, but she is still a succubus, and she still goes out and does her succubus thing.  She is not out trying to save the world.  She’s just trying to get by day by day in the role she has chosen for herself–fighting on the bad guy side of the battle.  But Mead does not let the series fall easily into clear good versus evil.  It soon becomes evident that good guys can be on the bad guy side and bad guys on the good guy side.  In most cases, one decision or the fault of birth decides where they land.  Just because someone is a vampire doesn’t mean he can’t desire to help out his friends.  Just because someone is an angel doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes.  And the rules aren’t always fair and sometimes incomprehensible.  This gray complexity lends a lot of interesting notes to the series that otherwise wouldn’t be there, not least of Woman standing in front of electrical storm.which is the fact that the characters are able to be three-dimensional in this world Mead has created.

The characters, even the minor ones, are indeed three-dimensional.  They sometimes make stupid choices, big mistakes, and are annoying.  But they also make tough good choices, ones that aren’t easy but still happen.  They fall in genuine love.  They accidentally hurt each other but also sacrifice themselves for each other.  They worry about having a bad hair day.  They cry.  They have great sex and bad sex.  And they come to life in the reader’s mind.

The sex scenes, a key element of an urban fantasy series about a succubus, are never repetitive.  They are tantalizing and sexy, except for a few which are aiming to show that sex can be bad.  They range from the intense love making of a couple madly in love to a fun night out having sex in public at a public sex bar.  And many positions and types of sex are covered as well.  The sex scenes walk the line between barely mentioned and extremely explicit quite well.  They are fully fleshed-out sex scenes without being extremely explicit.

Read-headed pale woman standing seductively against a purplish-red backdrop. The book title and author name are over her.The overarching plot, though, is what really made me fall in love with the series.  Georgina became a succubus in exchange for her husband and all those who knew her forgetting all about her.  She cheated on her husband, and she felt so much guilt at both the act and the pain it caused that she felt this was the best solution.  At first, she goes into being a succubus with enthusiasm but over time her feelings change.  Her hurt starts to heal, and she begins to see the good side of both humanity and life.  She is in the throes of this complex situation of wanting to be good but having already signed a contract for the bad side of the fight when Seth shows up and everything starts going haywire in the supernatural world in Seattle.  Eventually, she finds out that Seth is the reincarnation of her original husband, Kiriakos.  He lived his life thinking he must have a soul mate but never meeting her, so when he died he struck a bargain to get more chances at meeting her.  He has a limited number of reincarnations (10, I believe), that will occur in the same vicinity as his soul mate.  His soul mate is Georgina, and she has met him multiple times throughout her life as as a succubus.  This reincarnation as Seth is his last chance.  From here, the story takes a hard look at what makes people soul mates, that being soul mates doesn’t mean no mistakes will be made, that love Redheaded woman in a sexy leather top standing in front of fog.and a relationship aren’t an easy cakewalk and sacrifices and compromises must be made.  It delves into the idea of redemption, and that being a good person and having a good life aren’t just something innate in you.  It’s a beautiful love story, spanning many centuries, that takes a hard look at what makes relationships work.  It also ties in nicely with the questions established earlier about good versus evil and if being good or evil is a one-time choice or something that happens over time.  I never would have guessed that I could end up feeling so positively about a love story that begins with betrayal but that’s where Mead uses the supernatural with great skill.  The story works because the betrayal is treated so seriously.  Georgina’s betrayal of her husband (and soul mate) leads them both to centuries of pain.  It is not something that can be just brushed off.  It’s a mistake she made, yes, but just because it was a mistake doesn’t mean she can just say sorry and make it all right.  On that note, Kiriakos/Seth also made mistakes when they were first together that he also has to work through.  They both learn through time that you can’t just sit back and let the marriage happen.  You have to pay attention, invest, and work at growing together.

Woman in white and wearing a cross standing in front of a foggy sky.The fun setting, tantalizing sex scenes, three-dimensional characters, and unexpected yet beautiful overarching plot about the nature of good and evil and love and redemption makes this series a stunner in urban fantasy.  Highly recommended to urban fantasy and romance fans alike, although those who are irritated at the concept of soul mates might not enjoy it as much.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap, library, gift, Audible

Books in Series:
Succubus Blues, review, 4 stars
Succubus On Top, review, 4 stars
Succubus Dreams, review, 5 stars
Succubus Heat, review, 4 stars
Succubus Shadows, review, 5 stars
Succubus Revealed, review, 5 stars

Book Review: Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares (Series, #5)

Women running on a beach.Summary:
The Septembers are all 29 years old now and spread out all over the globe.  Bee is expending her energy biking up and down the hills of San Francisco while Eric works as a lawyer.  Carmen has a recurring role on a tv show filming in NYC and is engaged to Jones, an ABC producer.  Lena teaches art at RISD and lives a quiet life in her studio apartment, except for the one day a week she practices Greek with an elderly woman.  Tibby took off to Australia with Brian months ago, and everyone else is in limbo waiting for her to get back.  They all feel a bit disconnected until Tibby sends Bee, Carmen, and Lena tickets to come to Greece for a reunion.  What they find when they arrive is not what anyone expected.

Review:
You guys. You guys. This book shattered me. I am not a crier, and I actually had tears fall while reading this book.  I read it in one day. I could not put it down.  As someone who grew up with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, I found the sudden jump forward in age (we used to be about the same age, and now they are older than me) a bit disconcerting and unexpected, but nowhere near as unexpected as the rest of the book.

I complained to anyone who would listen at the beginning that I hated it. That I hated what Brashares was doing, and omg why would she do this.  But as the story progressed, she swept me along, and suddenly I realized that yes this is tougher by far than the earlier books.  It’s not the light girl power read the first or even the second one was.  But it shouldn’t be.  They’re 29. They’re older. Their problems should be bigger and more adult, and the lessons here hurt more to read because they’re tougher ones to learn.  It’s precisely the direction the books should have taken.  The girls change and, dare I say it, actually grow the fuck up unlike a certain other foursome that have a tv show.

I won’t tell you what made the book so powerful, because that’d spoil it.  But I will tell you, my fellow fans, to push past the first quarter of the book where you’re angry and want to throw it across the room in a Carmen-like rage.  Give Brashares the chance she earned with the first three to gradually show you what she’s doing.  It’s an emotional journey that’s well worth taken.  Fans might be frustrated at first, but those who stick it out and love the series for what it really is will love this entry. I don’t doubt it at all.  Plus, Brashares hinted that there might be still more to come.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Previous Books in Series
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
The Second Summer of the Sisterhood
Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood
Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood

Book Review: The Last of the Demon Slayers by Angie Fox (series, #4)

Female legs with sword and dog near tombstone.Summary:
Lizzie is back from Greece with her hunky griffin boyfriend, Dimitri, and the geriatric witch biker gang (not to mention her talking dog Pirate and Pirate’s pet adolescent dragon Flappy) with plans to help the witches finally set up a real home at a New Jersey biker bar after years on the run.  Of course nothing has ever gone according to Lizzie’s plans since the day she turned 30 and inherited her demon slayer powers.  Naturally, her birth father shows up in a pillar of fire begging her to help free him from a bad situation with an even badder demon in California.  Thus, Lizzie and the gang wind up following fairy trails across the country in an attempt to stop the demon, who just so happens to be out to kill demon slayers too.

Review:
Ah, this series. I have such a love/hate relationship with this series!  That’s mainly because I love everyone except Lizzie and Dimitri.  Why why is everyone else in this world so hilarious and relaxed, whereas Lizzie and Dimitri are basically THAT couple.  You know THAT couple.  They’re the ones who met each other during freshman orientation week and proceeded to have the perfect dream relationship throughout all four years of college and promptly moved in together and got engaged after.  They’re the ones where the girl whines and bitches to you about some minor fight she had with her dude during your junior year when you’ve barely slept in three days and haven’t had a date in months. THAT COUPLE.  It’s hard to root for that couple.

On the other hand, though, there’s everyone else.  The geriatric biker witches are amazeballs.  I would pay good money to have a bunch of older women like that in my life.  They’re strong, empowered, and bound and determined to live their life to the fullest no matter what society says they should be doing.  Interestingly, grandma gets a boyfriend this entry, and Lizzie is none too happy about it.  Grandma tells her unequivocally that old people have sex. Yes! What?  Lizzie is the only one who should be making everyone eye-roll with her sexy antics?  I think not.

Then of course there’s Pirate and Flappy.  Hilarious animal characters hit my heart *right here*.  I would put up with almost anything just to see Pirate trying to train Flappy to sit.  Seriously.  Fox has a real talent for writing animal dialogue that is believable without being too sophisticated.  It’s clear she has some critters in her life.  For instance, Pirate runs up to Lizzie excited to see her yelling “Lizzie! Lizzie! Lizzie!” and then proceeds to beg for food.  Typical doggy.

The plot definitely thickens in this entry.  I’m not sure I’m totally happy with how it has.  Essentially, it turns out there are actually more demon slayers, and as a Buffy fan, this just irritated me.  I don’t like being told there’s only one only to have more show up.  Either there are a lot of slayers or there aren’t.  Plus, did we really have to make the new slayer so feminine?  Lizzie is already a pretty extraordinarily feminine slayer.  It’d be nice to have some variety.  On the other hand, the rest of the plot of the supernatural world is interesting.  There’s Lizzie’s father plus a visit to purgatory.  I’m betting that the next entry will start to confront the presence of “good” supernatural creatures, since we’ve now visited hell and purgatory.  If Dante taught me anything, it’s that that leaves only one place to go.

It’s interesting how I can’t stop reading this series even though I can’t seem to make up my mind how much I like it.  I’ve rated entries everywhere from 3.5 to 5 stars.  I think in general the experience of the hilarious side-kicks and minor characters off-sets the annoying main couple enough that I can kinda sorta mostly ignore them.  There’s also always the hope that they’ll break up, which I root for in every book.

Overall, if you’ve stuck with the series this far, you’ll enjoy this entry.  It takes the focus off the griffins and puts it back on Lizzie and her biological family.  The ever-expanding cast of characters all fit together smoothly and hilariously.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

Previous Books in Series:
The Accidental Demon Slayer, review
The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, review
A Tale of Two Demon Slayers, review

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Book Review: A Tale of Two Demon Slayers by Angie Fox (Series, #3)

December 6, 2010 4 comments

Summary:
Lizzie is ready for a vacation what with having spent the last month first saving her grandmother from the second level of hell and then saving Las Vegas from a hoard of succubi.  Plus lying around on the beach in Greece with her hunky Griffin boyfriend, Dimitri, sounds like quite the treat.  Of course, nothing in Lizzie’s new life ever goes as smoothly as planned. Their arrival in Greece leads to the discovery that someone has stolen something from Dimitri.  Something intertwined with Lizzie and that has put the whole Helios Griffin clan in danger.

Review:
Due to the title and the various repercussions so far to Lizzie sharing her demon slayer nature with Dimitri, I expected this book to deal with that.  Actually, the story it told was far more engaging and interesting.  Can Dimitri with his classical European family of tradition work in a relationship with Lizzie and her globe-trotting work and crazy motorcycle gang witch family?

Although the situations surrounding this romance are highly paranormal, the relationship itself is very normal.  Lizzie struggles to trust in Dimitri’s love for her, let alone allow him to love her.  Dimitri struggles to find balance between his life and family and Lizzie.  It gives a heart to the overall action and story that was missing in the other volumes.

The paranormal aspects are stronger this time around too.  The paranormal world seems to mesh together in a better way.  The addition of more animals besides Pirate make for a more entertaining menagerie.  Dimitri in particular is more fleshed out now that we see his family and where he comes from.  New characters too are well-drawn, particularly Lizzie’s new teacher.

Fox manages to avoid common paranormal romance cliches this time around, although at first the reader thinks she is falling into them.  This combined with drastically improved sex scenes, the better characterization, and the addition of a real world heart to the story makes for a far better tale overall.  I’m glad the humor in the previous two books kept me around for this one.

Overall, this is an excellent example of everything paranormal romance should be–colorful characters, believable paranormal circumstances, the heart of the story relatable to real world circumstances, good sex scenes, and plot twists that manage to avoid cliches.  It is thoroughly entertaining, and I highly recommend it to all paranormal romance lovers.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
The Accidental Demon Slayer, review
The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, review