Wild at Heart

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: K.A. Tucker
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. date: Feb. 2020 (read Mar. 2020)
Series: Wild #2

Okay, I have many feelings about Wild at Heart and it’s time to write them down before I forget! I was super apprehensive when I first heard that Tucker was writing a sequel to The Simple Wild. The Simple Wild was an unexpected favourite read from 2018, so I was kind of excited when I heard about Wild at Heart because I wanted to see what happened to Calla and Jonah and laugh along at all their witty banter again. But I’m also weary of books with sequels that don’t really need them because they’re often pandering to the readers or cheapen the story from the original book. Plus I really didn’t like Tucker’s new book from last year and I was afraid she was a one hit wonder.

But there’s a lot to like about Wild at Heart! I’m don’t think it has quite the same charm as The Simple Wild, but I really liked the direction Tucker decided to go with the story in her sequel. It was easy to predict the trajectory of the story, like I could pretty much guess it without even reading the synopsis, but it ended up being less predictable than I thought and explored a lot of new themes.

So let’s get into it. If you haven’t read The Simple Wild, please don’t bother with this review, just go check out my glowing review for the first book. For readers who have read The Simple Wild, but not Wild at Heart, I’ll try and keep it spoiler free or give you a warning if I’m about to get into major spoilers.

What made Wild at Heart a winner for me was that it really met the requirements of what I’m looking for in a New Adult book. There’s so few good books out there in the New Adult genre and until I read this book, I didn’t realize how much I’m actually looking for relatable fiction about adults who have started their career, but haven’t yet moved into the parenting world. So much literature is either YA or about fully developed families. That’s all totally fine and I’m sure I’ll be thrilled once I enter that next demographic, but right now it was so refreshing to read about a mature couple just trying to make it work and figure out their professional lives. Wild at Heart is free of childish relationship drama and older family drama. I mean don’t get me wrong, I love me a good family drama, but this really delivered something that I haven’t seen in many books.

At the end of The Simple Wild, Jonah shows up in Toronto to ask Calla to move to Anchorage with him. We don’t know what she decides, but it’s a safe assumption that she says yes. Wild at Heart picks up exactly where The Simple Wild left off and we see Calla pack up her life in Toronto to go all in on a life in Alaska with Jonah.

The move is scary, but also exciting, and at the beginning Calla and Jonah strike a wonderful balance of accommodating one another and making compromises to try and make each other happy. As you can imagine though, as time goes on, things become more challenging. Calla struggles to fit in in the Alaskan wild and Jonah stresses about money and doing something where he feels he’s making a meaningful contribution to the world. Neither doubts their love for the other, but they have to acknowledge that the new relationships is not without its struggles.

The first half of the book does have a bit of a meandering plot. It’s not obvious where the story is going and their relationship is still in its honeymoon phase, and so it’s somewhat lacking in tension. However I don’t fault Tucker for this because what I think she does provide is a very accurate portrayal of a relationship between two mature adults. It was wonderful to read about two people thinking about buying their first home together and making decisions about their professional careers. I just bought my first home and it wasn’t until Calla and Jonah started house hunting that I realized I’ve literally never seen this aspect of a relationship portrayed in a book before! It’s so much more common to read about how a couple falls in love, or how a married couple is struggling. There are so few stories dedicated to what happens after the big romantic gesture that brings a couple together. Arguably this is because romantic tension is what sells a story and it’s just not as exciting to read about the “happily ever after”, but it really worked in this book and I found it extremely relatable.

The other thing I liked about this book was Calla and Jonah’s maturity. Sure,they have their moments of weakness, and I kept waiting for them to fall apart, which they inevitably do, but not at all in the way I expected. They’re both afraid of resenting each other and they put a lot of effort into how they communicate with each other. Resentment has always been what has scared me the most about my own relationships. My fear is that if communication breaks down, then resentment builds, and that is what can ultimately kill a relationship. I spend so much time in my own life ensuring that resentment stays out of my relationships, and it was really nice to see that maturity reflected in these characters. I think Tucker had an easy narrative she could have followed in this book and she could have dramatized Calla and Jonah’s relationship more, but I’m glad she didn’t. I think it would have cheapened the story. Instead this was more a book about two people learning to live with each other and deciding if it’s something they can do forever.

I will admit, Tucker is pretty gratuitous with the sex scenes in this book. None of them were as romantic as their first night together in the safety cabin in The Simple Wild and they did start to get a bit repetitive after a while because apparently they’re both just so damn perfect. But if you’re coming to this series as a romance reader, you’ll probably be pretty happy. The book does have a lot of side plots though, which give the story more substance and I really enjoyed meeting all the new characters. I liked both Calla’s relationship with Muriel and with Roy, though I would have loved to see her make some real girl friends earlier in the book, because I think that would have made the transition a lot easier for Calla. I was really hoping for her to strike up a close friendship with Marie because I think that would have been quite radical and progressive, but I think we ended up getting something in the middle.

To conclude, Wild at Heart was a real winner for me. It wasn’t quite a 5 star read, but I’d put it at a solid 4.5 stars. Please bring this energy and insight with you to your next book K.A. Tucker, because Say You Still Love Me was such a miss for me and I really want to love all your books!

The Two Towers

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: JRR Tolkien
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: 1954 (re-read in Jun. 2019)
Series: The Lord of the Rings #2

I’ve never been able to decide what my favourite Lord of the Rings movie is. It’s always been a two way tie for first between Fellowship of the Ring and Return of the King, with Two Towers sitting firmly in second. But I loved The Two Towers book!!! I’ll have to see what I think of Return of the King when I re-read it, but as of right now, I definitely liked the second book better than the first.

In my review for Fellowship, I talked about how I was nervous to re-read it because I was afraid of the run-on descriptions and dense text, but ended up finding it easier to read then anticipated. Granted, I still love Fellowship and gave it 4 stars, but I think it does have the fault of having too slow a start. It takes forever for Frodo to leave the shire and for the story to get going, only to have it stall again with copious amounts of storytelling about each character in Rivendell. It’s not until the Company departs for Mordor that things properly pick up.

At no point does Two Towers suffer from this flaw. I remember being really frustrated when I read this book for the first time and I discovered I was going to have to wait until half way through the book to find out what happens to Frodo and the ring. But because I knew what was coming, I was able to enjoy the first half with the rest of the company a lot more. I think on my first read-through I didn’t really understand how important the rest of the characters were to the story because until that point, the narrative had always been centered around Frodo and the ring.

This book is way more fast paced and it was interesting to remind myself of Tolkien’s version of events, which differ from the adaptation. I think Peter Jackson does a great job on the adaptation (seriously, they are a masterpiece), but I think the reason Two Towers is firmly my least favourite movie is because it drags on a lot. The single chapter battle of Helms Deep dominates the movie and a fair chunk of the events that happens at the end of books 3 and 4 were moved to the final movie. I understand why this was done, there’s not a whole lot of material about Frodo and Sam’s quest in the final book, but it made for a bit of a dragged out movie (for reference, the third book is the shortest of the trilogy, while the movie is the longest).

I also didn’t like how Jackson changed Faramir and Frodo’s characters. He introduced a lot more internal and character conflict in the movie (I’m thinking specifically of Faramir trying to take the ring to Gondor and Frodo sending Sam away). But in reality Faramir was a total stand-up guy who did not suffer the same character flaws as Boromir and Frodo and Sam have a really beautiful relationship as they climbing the stairs and never question their loyalty to one another. There’s some beautiful text about Frodo and Sam imagining themselves in the great stories, which Peter Jackson did include in the final movie, but I loved how the two of them supported each other on the stairs, never letting Gollum come between them despite their differing opinions of him.

In the movies, I do love all of the characters and really enjoy the split between the different narratives. Peter Jackson definitely does a better job with the Ent scenes and I liked that this part of the story is told in real time in the movies, versus as a flashback like it is in the book. But Frodo and Sam in book 4 really do steal the story. Their story is so compelling and I love their strength of character. I love Frodo for his willingness to forgive Gollum and to trust him and treat him with respect, understanding what he went through as a ring bearer and how that still impacts him. But I also love Sam and his unfailing loyalty. I’ve always loved Sam, though Aragorn has generally been my favourite character in the movies. But Sam really shines in the books and he was hands down my favourite. There’s all these quotes about Tolkien and Sam and how Tolkien always viewed Sam as the true hero of the story. There’s not really any definitive proof of this, just heresy, but for me Sam has always been the true hero. The final chapter, the choices of Master Samwise, was definitely my favourite of the book. I love that a small hobbit that has mostly been afraid and unsure of himself, becomes a total bad-ass and takes down Shelob, and then immediately switches to be vulnerable and empathetic, garnering his courage to move forward in the bleakest of circumstance. Sam is the most selfless character, never making choices for himself, only for the good of Frodo and the quest.

I’m dying to pick up Return of the King right away, although I’m not looking forward to having to wait another 200 pages to read about Frodo and Sam again. Tolkien leaves us on a brutal cliffhanger at the end of Two Towers. But I have to read my book club book first, so I’ll have to wait another week or so to start the final book. I loved this second book and I’m thrilled and relieved to find that I still love these books after so many years!

Saving Francesca

Rating:
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genres: Young Adult
Pub. date: Mar. 2003 (re-read May 2019)

This was super enjoyable to read for the second time and I actually enjoyed it more on my re-read than I did the first time I read it. I’ve been dying to read her newest book, The Place on Dalhousie, but it’s not available at any bookstores in Canada or on the kindle store, so I finally broke down and ordered a copy from Book Depository. After ordering it, I discovered that it actually includes some of the same characters from Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son.

Saving Francesca was Marchetta’s second book, published in 2003, and The Piper’s Son was published several years after that. I believe all 3 books involve some of the same characters, but could all be read as stand-alones. The Piper’s Son is the only remaining Marchetta book that I haven’t read, so I decided to take the opportunity to re-read Francesca and Piper before I read the newest book.

I liked Saving Francesca on my first re-through, but it didn’t stand out to me. I think this is because I read it right after the first time I read On the Jellicoe Road. Jellicoe Road is one of my favourite books of all time, so after reading it I was enthusiastic to try out some of Marchetta’s other books, but Francesca couldn’t really compete with Jellicoe, so I didn’t rate it as highly. I’ve probably read Jellicoe 4-5 times since the first time I read it, but this was my first time re-reading Francesca and I really liked it a lot more. Now that I’ve had the time to separate it from Jellicoe Road and view it on its own merits (rather than just comparing it to Jellicoe), it’s actually a really good book.

Saving Francesca is about 16 year old Francesca Spinelli and her family. Francesca has always had a really close relationship with her mother and then one day, her mother basically shuts down and fails to get out of bed. She suffers from depression, which is something Francesca has never really been exposed to and struggles to understand. At the same time, Francesca has just started a new school and she misses her old friends and doesn’t feel like she belongs at her new school.

Even though none of her other books have been as great as Jellicoe Road, I have always loved Marchetta’s writing style and characterization. I would absolutely classify her as one of my favourite authors and even though I’ve outgrown a lot of YA, I don’t feel like I’ll ever outgrow Marchetta’s work. I love the way she writes teenagers and friendships. I don’t know how to describe it, but when I read her books, I feel like I’m walking into a world already fully realized. She is great at Show, Don’t Tell, and I never feel like I’m being introduced to a story, so much as just becoming immersed in it.

Her characters are so vibrant and I love the way they relate to one another. Melina is the master of the “from-hate-to-love” relationships and I love how she develops friendships in her books. Saving Francesca is a coming of age story as well as a book about mental illness. I mostly liked her approach to mental illness, with the exception of the aversion to taking medication for it. There shouldn’t be any stigma associated with taking medication for mental illness and wish it would be normalized more in books. Many people suffer from many different mental illnesses and medication really helps them. Francesca’s family was pretty adverse to it in this book, which was too bad because I think drugs could have helped Mia get back on her feet a lot faster.

But I did like her other themes about being there for one another and that having good days doesn’t mean that you’re better, but that having bad days also doesn’t mean that you’re not okay. The characters gave each other space to work through their issues and I liked that Francesca understood that while there maybe wasn’t a lot that she could do for her mother, simply being there might be enough.

One thing that really makes a book a winner for me is when an author writes well developed secondary characters. I loved all the secondary characters in this book, especially the teenagers. Every single one of them was flawed, yet they all had traits that made them special and likable. I loved Tara’s spirit and Siobhan’s unapologetic approach to life and Justine’s goodness and Thomas Mackee’s nonchalance and Jimmy’s soft understanding and support. I even kind of liked Will this time around, who I definitely didn’t on my first read through. He’s a bit of a shitty character, but I was willing to forgive him for his mistakes this time around and appreciated that he was able to grow and make choices outside of the rigid plans he set for himself.

This is a short book and subtle. I liked the honest depiction of mental illness, but as usual with Marchetta’s books, what really made it stand out was the characters. I love a good character driven book and she never lets me down. Can’t wait to read The Piper’s Son and The Place on Dalhousie!

The Stories You Tell

Rating:
Author: Kristen Lepionka
Genres: Mystery
Pub. date: Jul. 9, 2019 (read Mar. 2019)
Series: Roxane Weary #3

Thanks for Minotaur Books for providing me with a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This series is fantastic! I really liked the first book, but honestly, they just keep getting better and better. Roxane is such a great character and I love the balance Lepionka has found between the mystery element and the development of her recurring characters. The secondary characters change up a bit from book to book, but I love Roxane’s relationship with her family and her growing friendships with Tom and Shelby. No comment on Catherine.

Lepionka is a really great writer. I’ve said this in other reviews, but I know she’s great at connecting her readers with her characters because of the level of frustration you feel for them. The characters are extremely compelling and her plots of so relevant to today’s society. They are always, predominantly, mystery novels, but she weaves a lot of relevant social commentary into her stories that makes them so much more meaningful and relatable to her readers. She didn’t have to do anything special with these books and I think they still could have been successful, but I love that she takes the effort to make her stories diverse.

I love that Roxane is bi-sexual and I love how she incorporated some thoughtful commentary on racial justice and equality in this book. Her previous books have focused on the inequity that women face in the justice system and I like how she spent a little bit of time in this book looking at how black people are disenfranchised in the system and drawing attention to the ways in which white people don’t realize what kind of privilege they actually have.

I’m not going to get into the plot too much. At this point, the plot of the mystery doesn’t really matter to me, I’m here for Roxane. I would definitely recommend reading the series in order though because otherwise you’ll miss out on all the great character development! The only thing that wasn’t great about the book was that the transitions between scenes were very abrupt, with no break in structure to let us know the scene had changed. I think this is just a quirk of the ebook arc I had though and I’m expecting this will be changed in the finished copy.

So in conclusion, I highly recommend this series. I totally flew through this installment and read the whole thing in a single day!

The Crimson Crown

Rating:
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genres: Fantasy
Pub date: Oct. 2012 (read Mar. 2019)
Series: Seven Realms #4

I need to write my review for The Crimson Crown before I start forgetting things!

As I said in my review for The Gray Wolf Throne, I absolutely flew through the last 2 books! I got a little bit hung up on the first half of the series, but the second half totally blew my mind. And if I liked The Gray Wolf Throne, then I LOVED The Crimson Crown.

Cinda Williams Chima knows how to write a finale! The final book is non-stop drama, action, and romance. What I loved so much about this series is that is was the perfect blend of action, political scheming, world-building, and romance. Han and Raisa very much carry the story, but there is a vibrant cast of secondary characters supporting them.

Chima really ups the ante in this book and weaves so many different plot threads through the story. This book has really high stakes and I literally could not put it down! I felt like all of the other books could maybe have cut down the length a little bit, but even at 600 pages, I wouldn’t have cut anything from this book. I’ll try and keep this review spoiler free for the last book, but my review will contain spoilers from the first 3 books.

After Raisa’s coronation at the end of the previous book, she is suddenly tasked with trying to unite the peoples of the Fells, while simultaneously continuing to avoid her many would-be assassins and hope that the war in the south remains in the south. She immediately takes steps to clean up the river and integrate homegrown soldiers into their army, which until this point has been comprised mostly of southerners. Because of her Briar Rose ministry, she is beloved by the townsfolk, but struggles to fight against the wealthy and privileged wizards on her council.

The wizards, particularly Gavan Bayar, are desperate for more power, as are the clans. The Bayars seek to elevate their positions by either removing the Gray Wolf line or marrying into it. The clans also seek a marriage into the line, but they are driven more by the desire to bring more clan blood into the Gray Wolf line. And poor Raisa is stuck in the middle of their warring interests. Raisa has always known that she would likely have to seek a political marriage. Queens don’t have the privilege of marrying for love, they must marry for the good of the realm. She’s always been prepared for this, but her prospects for marriage both within and outside of the kingdom are disappointing, especially when faced with the reality of actually losing the person she really loves.

Raisa was my favourite character in the first two books, but I thought Han really started to come into his own in the last book and I adored him in this book! For someone who grew up in the slums, he is incredibly smart and self assured. He continuously seeks to better his position, partly in a desire to prove his worth, but also as a way to take down his enemies. Suddenly he is more powerful than he’s ever been. Han has always held his cards very close to his chest, reluctant to trust anyone. But he is really forced to grow in this book and learns that while trusting others can make you vulnerable, it is also rewarding.

Han never really struck me as a romantic or as a person who feels entitled to anything. But I loved his principals in this book. He’s both unwilling to give Raisa up, but also unwilling to settle for only a piece of her heart. At some point he realizes that he can’t fault Rebecca for lying to him because he’s never really been totally honest himself. It would have been so easy for him to hold on to his anger against Raisa, but I loved that he knew his heart well enough to decide to stay. After having lost everyone he’s ever cared about, I thought he was incredibly brave to be willing to love again.

I loved how some of the secondary characters grew in this book too. I am in love with Dancer, Night Bird, and Cat. Dancer is so willing to see the best in people and to be the bridge that the wizards and the clans so desperately need. I love that Night Bird is able to see past her prejudice and see people for who they really are, good or bad. And I love Cat’s unfailing loyalty and trust, both to Han and Raisa. I also loved how Chima grew Crow’s character in this book and reconciled the story between Hanalea and the Demon King. I wasn’t super into the historical aspect of the book and found it kind of confusing in earlier books, but I liked how it was integrated into and impacted the main plot in this book. History is very much written by the victors and just because something has been the same way for 1000 years, does not make it right. As people and communities, we need to learn to forgive and accept one another.

Overall this story just had so much depth. The characters go through such a huge transformation between the beginning and the end and I liked how Chima plays with the conceptions of good and evil and how perception sometimes is everything. The clans and the wizards have been at odds for 1000 years, with both sides trying to consolidate more power. The task of uniting the wizards and the clans is seemingly insurmountable, but Raisa, Han, and Dancer, individuals who were born of both factions, are brave enough to try.

We get a lot of new drama with the Wizard Council in this book, as well as with clan politics and Raisa’s tense relationship with her sister. Some characters from Oden’s Ford return in this book and help Han in shaking things up. Though I loved all the politics and the drama, I’m still a little unsure how to feel about the Bayars. I think that Gavan, Micah, and Fiona make for incredibly dynamic villains because they are united, but at the same time each working towards their own goals. They often work at odds against each other, posing multiple problems for both Han and Raisa.

Gavan has always been classically evil, while Micah and Fiona have been more nuanced. I’ve never really been sure how to feel about either one. Micah kept giving me whiplash in this series because he is at times evil and selfish, but he also clearly cares about Raisa. I definitely condemn his actions and thought he didn’t deserve the time of day from Raisa, but he is also a victim of his father’s ambitions and was in his own way, just trying to do the best thing for Raisa. I’ll admit though, I didn’t really love how things were resolved with each of the Bayars, particularly Fiona. I feel like I never really figured out who Fiona actually was and I don’t like how things ended with her story.

I also didn’t love how things ended with the clans. I always admired the clans and I was a bit disappointed with how things ended up with Elena, Averill, and Nightwalker. But throughout the course of the novel, the wizards were consistently the bad guys, so I do think it’s an important reminder that people on both sides have made mistakes and escalated the conflict between wizards and clan. The Bayars are definitely the villains, but to an extent, everyone is at fault in failing to acknowledge their prejudice against one another.

But, with the exceptions of these few minor criticisms, I absolutely loved this! I was really impressed with both the world building and character development. There is a follow up series to the Seven Realms series called the Shattered Realms series, so I’m definitely planning to read that series, but for now I’m planning to go on a little fantasy break for a while to work through some of the historical and literary fiction on my shelf!