What I Really Want

I’ve been reading a lot of craft books. Things that tell me books should be all about plot, and tension, and making characters miserable until the very end. But maybe, just maybe, that’s not what I want to read.

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Please let it be a kissing book!

Yeah, I know. Kind of a revelation to me, too.

But the deal is life has been pretty stressful.

There’s hurricanes like Irma and Harvey, issues with North Korea, Las Vegas shootings, NYC terrorist attacks, trade concerns, Russia investigations, debt ceilings, border walls, and whatever else is gobbling up the news. It feels like a constant stream of ugliness and negativity. Maybe it’s always been there, and I was better at not noticing.

There’s family and work and health issues and . . . Well, you get the idea. You probably suffer from all of it, too.

So maybe, just maybe, when I slip into a fictional world, I’m not looking for heart wrenching agony. I’m not looking for Game of Thrones level treachery, betrayal, and angst. Maybe, I just want a nice romance with a few obstacles to overcome and then a happily-ever-after.

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Yeah, that’s kinda ugly to admit. But it’s true.

I have a rather large stack of books to read. Most of them romance, so I should get my happily-ever-after. Yet, I don’t want to read about a lot of things in them. I never have the stomach for rape. I’m really not looking for characters that keep making bad choices as we watch the suspense build.

I don’t really want to be on the edge of my seat. I just don’t have it in me to care. Or, if I do care, I’d rather save it for something else.

I want to slip into a book and let it be a nice ride. Give me some bumps and challenges to overcome, but that lets me escape into it. I don’t find fear or horror relaxing. Or suffering.

gotd

While maybe it’s not good storytelling and doesn’t follow the rules of craft, this is what I want right now. What I’ve been reading. What entertains me. And for me, that’s all that matters at the moment.

Maybe I’m alone. And that’s okay. It won’t be the first time, and it won’t be the last.

 

How about you? Ever find yourself too wrung out for high-intensity fiction? Am I the only one that watches reruns of Bob Ross to relax some evenings?

What the Meme Really Means

While I prefer Twitter over Facebook these days as it seems less political, every once in a while some meme or another crops up that makes me say something.

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Truly, I do try to avoid politics, but this wasn’t even about politics. Someone chose to post a meme they thought was funny.

It wasn’t.

I will not repost it here as I find it repugnant. But you’ve seen the meme before. It basically shows a conventionally beautiful female with the caption: girls I want to date. Then it shows another girl, usually fat, that says: girls that want to date me. Then, the poster laments why he doesn’t have a significant other.

The only amusing part of this was when someone snagged the picture of the girl he said wanted to date him, and replied back that no, in fact, she didn’t want to date him, either.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably understand. You get that the above meme reduces women to an object, a trophy. This is not romantic or endearing, despite what some might thing.

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See, the thing is, the person posting the meme believes he deserves a conventionally pretty significant other. He is owed this.

Here’s the thing, though. The person that posted that meme has already told me a couple of things about himself.

  • He must not be conventionally attractive himself. I’ve seen the guys at Gold’s gym. They never seem to have a dearth of conventionally pretty women to date.
  • He’s shallow. I think this speaks for itself.
  • He’s probably a jerk. Why do I say this? Because he’s objectifying women. Demanding something as his right when he has no right. I instantly wonder what else he things he’s entitled to that he doesn’t think he should have to work to get.
  • He probably won’t care about my needs. If someone must meet a certain mark of physical beauty to even consider dating, I doubt he’ll be there when the chips are down.

 

To me, the kind of person that feels okay posting this meme is illustrating his blatant entitlement. This is one of the seeds of rape culture in America today. Too many people think they are owed access to another human being’s body, time, and affections. That this is their entitlement for simply living, rather than something they need to be worthy of, something they need to earn.

I posted a while back that there’s a lot you can learn by reading in romance novels even if they aren’t your favorite genre. Sure, you’ll find doctors, dukes, and billionaires in them. You’ll also find school teachers, detectives, and bar owners.

Some of the key things you’ll find regardless of the male lead’s profession is that he cares about the heroine, wants her to be happy, and sees to her pleasure as well as his. He falls in love with her for who she is, even if that means she’s got kids from another marriage, is going through a messy divorce, or is not conventionally beautiful.

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Or appearance. 

My in-laws have been married fifty-one years. Neither of them look like they did when they got married, but they’re still together. Because they built the bonds talked about in a romance novel, not the ones based on looking hot in string bikini.

Looking for Fantasy Romance Recommendations

I’m looking for recommendations for good fantasy romance novels.

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Okay, yes, I have a pile of Regency novels, but these aren’t my preferred genre. They are just easy to find.

I prefer high fantasy with elves, knights, dragons, wizards and the like. Though, at this point, I’ll take recommendations for anything.

Happily-ever-after is a must or it isn’t a romance novel.

I don’t care if it had graphic steamy scenes, but I’d prefer no graphic violence.

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This is fine. I mean, it is fantasy.

I’ll even take something that fits this as a beta-reader or advanced copy reader and give an honest review in return.

I Hate Trilogies and Here’s Why

I hate trilogies. I know, many of you will disagree with me and point me to epics like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

eagles
But I digress.

Well, Tolkien actually intended that to be a single book that publishers thought was too long for the audience of the time. So, they chopped it into three. Which, explains a lot, especially for those of us that saw the movies before we read the books and were quite angry at the end of the first movie when Frodo still had the blasted ring. After how ever many hours. With no bathroom break.

But that’s a story for another time.

No, my hatred of trilogies goes back to my childhood. I’d read a book called The Dark Angel.  Yeah, this story sticks in my head so much I remember the name even many decades later.

Darkangel
Art didn’t look anything like this back in the 80s when I read it.

I was so in love with this book, that I got my mom to take me to the library and snapped up the second book in the series, A Gathering of Gargoyles. What I didn’t know or understand at the time is what a trilogy was. But I was about to find out.

After devouring the second book as well, and I was totally rooting for the heroine and the hero to finally get together. To get their happily-ever-after. Yeah, I was a romance reader from the beginning. I’d been raised on Disney, and I had certain expectations even though I read these long before the Little Mermaid made its debut.

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I had no idea why Ariel wanted to be human when I so desperately wanted to be a mermaid.

So, I got to the end of the second book, and I wanted the third book. I begged my mom to take me to the library. After a bit of wrangling, she finally agreed. But the library didn’t have the third book. I lived in a small town with a small library. So I begged, whined and wheedled to get my parents to take me to the big library in the city that allowed me to borrow from them through a library exchange program. This was long before Amazon, and my family had to be frugal. No point buying what we could borrow.

Finally, my parents agreed to take me to the big the library the next day. I wasn’t happy, but if we went early enough, I’d have the book and still be able to finish it before school on Monday.

We got to the library when thy first opened the next day, but I couldn’t find the third book. I searched and searched. I couldn’t even find it in the card catalog. Yeah, I’m old. I not only know what one of these is, but I knew how to use them.

earlygoogle
Yup, like this.

Finally, I ask the librarian. She says if they don’t have the book, they could probably get it from the even bigger library system in the city of Milwaukee. It would only take a week or so.

A week!!

To my elementary school brain, that was forever. But I really wanted the book. So, she went to look it up and see if Milwaukee had it.

She comes back, but she isn’t holding the library hold slip. My heart thumps. Then she asks if I’m sure the book exists.

With the indignation of a elementary school child, I show her the three titles on the back of the current book. She checks again, and after some time (during which my parents and little sister are getting antsier and antsier), the librarian comes back to tell me the book hasn’t been published yet. There’s no release date on it, so it’s at least a year or two off.

 

I was devastated. How could I leave these characters not know what happened to them? I loved them, I wanted them to get together and be happy.

I cried on the way home, further angering my parents.

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About like this.

While I didn’t get it then, as a parent now, I totally understand their frustration. They did something to make me happy, something that was a pain for them, and it backfired. I was the exact opposite of happy.

Eventually, my tears dried, and being the precocious child I was, I wrote the author. I told her I loved her books and was wondering when the next one in the trilogy would be out as I had to know what happened next.

Kindly enough, she wrote me back and said she was still writing it. She also sent me an autographed hardcover(!) copy of another of her books, Birth of the Firebringer.

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It was the 80s. Don’t judge.

We were very frugal, and hardcover books were not in the budget. I was beyond excited to actually have a hardcover book, all my own, signed by the author.

But I only read it once.

See, I’d already suffered the pain of not being able to complete a trilogy. So, the very first thing I did was check and see if there were more books in this series. There were. Not all of them were out.

So, I put it in the cupboard above my bed. And there is sat for years. Every once in a while I’d check to see if all of the books in the series were out. See if it was time to read them. I continued to look for the third book in the Dark Angel series.

Eventually, all of the Firebringer books were out. So was the Dark Angel book. But I was five years older. Five years for a kid is a really long time. I was now in junior high. Reading Terry Brooks, Shakespeare, and Victoria Holt. I’d outgrown these books.

I did finally read the last Dark Angel book and hated it. This is a spoiler, but it came out almost three decades ago, so I’m going to let slip that the trilogy didn’t have a happy ending. Victoria Holt had already spoiled me. I expected more.

I did read Firebringer, but I never bothered to even look for the other two books in the trilogy. I had already moved on.

But these lessons stuck with me. To this day, I will not read a series until it’s complete. I want to know I’m going to get an ending.

 

How about you? Do you love trilogies? Hate them? What was your first experience with one?

 

Beach Reading Without Getting “The Look”

I want to be reading more, but it’s been a hectic summer with all the activities for the kids, DH having a much heavier than normal work schedule, and events for family and friends. Our vacation was less than spectacular, and we failed to potty train DD2 during it.

Now that summer is in its last throws and we’re gearing up for school to start, we’re taking one last long weekend. I haven’t gotten in much reading this last month with everything else going on, so I want to pack some beach reading.

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What I plan to be doing. Wishful thinking with a toddler, I know.

This means no iPad. While I do really like my iPad, it doesn’t like sand or water. And, it’s pretty tough to read in direct sunlight.

So, I have to find some actual, real paper books. I have mixed feelings on this. See, I love holding a real paper book in my hands. There’s just something about it I enjoy.

What I don’t enjoy is the traditional half-naked romance cover. On the beach. With the kids. And all the other snickers from family that come with it. Invariably, someone comments on it.

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So, even dressed, still obvious.

I don’t *hide* that I love reading romances, though most people don’t think I’m your typical romance reader. They’d be wrong, as demographically, I fit the profile perfectly.

The iPad hides this cover beautifully, and no one ever need know I’m reading either a bit of Regency, a retelling of a fairy-tale, or if I’m really lucky, a love story with dragons instead of the Economist.

I wish Amazon sold romance books with an optional hide-what-I’m-reading cover. Make it a plain and boring cover without eve a title. Or a title like Complete History of the Napoleonic War. So us Regency readers know exactly what that means, but the rest of the beach can be blissfully unaware.

I don’t know why DH can bring a book with space ships and laser battles on the front, and no one looks twice. But a half-dressed hot guy and suddenly it’s nothing but snickers.

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A book by DH’s favorite author. Less clothes than the romance novel, still gets fewer comments.

Oh well. Maybe I’ll have to borrow one of his space ship books. He’s been trying to get me to read more than the one book I did by Charles Stross anyway.

 

How about you? How do you read at the beach? Or on vacation? Do you prefer to read on an electronic device or a book? If you read romance, do you have any tricks to disguising your reading fare? Or maybe you just don’t care? Or maybe your family is less prone to teasing you?

Book Review: Nothing Like a Duke

BookNothing Like a Duke

Author: Jane Ashford

Status: Don’t bother.

This book was one in a series. It may have been better if I’d read the rest of the series, but I doubt it.

NothingLikeADuke

Premise: I’m sure there is a premise… Woman goes to a house party and the man she loves happens to be there, but she didn’t know he’d be there, and he didn’t know she’d be there. Yeah, I’m still not sure what the story was supposed to be about, and I read the book.

Plot: I couldn’t find one. The hero goes to a house party to forget the heroine for reasons. Didn’t read the other books, so I don’t know why. Heroine goes to the same house party for reasons. I never really figured out why she went. It’s not clear other than she wanted to see the ton, but why she does must’ve been in another book.

While nothing in this book was deep, the part that was very disturbing to me was the way the author treated PTSD. I don’t think she did any research on it, or if she did, it was very superficial.

  • The heroine was apparently captured, tied up, and helpless at one point in an earlier book.
  • We’re told this is a big deal toward the end of the book. We’re never shown her nightmares, her fear of men, her fear of being in tight places (which happens). Even her being caught in a brier bush is told to us from the hero rather than a very deep and dramatic scene for the heroine.
  • The “cure” for this was for her to be attempted to be raped by another man and for the heroine to escape on her own.

I know very little about PTSD. Maybe this would work, or maybe it would deepen her fears. I don’t know. But the way it was handled was not believable to me.

Romance: The hero, Robert, already loves the heroine, Flora, from another book. Flora also loves Robert and has no real reason not to want the romance to happen. I’m not sure why this book wasn’t over in less than 50 pages rather than the 352 it took.

Steamy Scenes: There were none. Not one. So this isn’t where the filler came from to get to the 352 pages.

Imagery: Nothing was ever really brought alive for me. Nothing felt sumptuous or beautiful. So, this isn’t what filled the 352 pages, either.

Characters: There is no character development. Robert starts out as Robert and ends as Robert. We’re told he’s celebrated by the ton, what all gentleman aspire to be. Perhaps we were *shown* that in previous books, but not this one.

Flora learns all people in the ton are people rather than caricatures, but that’s really not a lot of growth, either. We’re told Flora is smart so freaking many times I was ready to scream. And she’s beautiful. And she’s smart. And she’s charitable. And she’s smart.

One of the things I hated most about this book is that so much of it focused on a rivalry between the heroine and another female character over the hero. It started to boarder on the absurd, and frankly, I am tired of the trope. I prefer to see female friendships rather than competition over a man. It was such a blatant competition, the one woman literally called the other her competitor. Yuck.

 

All in, I’d rather do the dishes or vacuum than read this novel a second time.

Happily-Ever-After According to Science

Why do some marriages work and others don’t? Why do some people stay in a bad marriage, while others will leave a relatively good marriage?

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I hated Romeo and Juliet anyway.

Some will say love. Romance. Soul mates. On the more mundane and practical side, people will say shared interests, beliefs and goals.

As a romance writer and reader, you often see the story end at the point where the characters are married and are now expected to live happily-ever-after. Or, maybe this particular trope is one where they’re forced to marry because of plot reasons, but by the end of the story, they confess their love for each other and then live happily-ever-after.

Either way, we end with the characters in love and ready for their happily-ever-after ending.

In the real world, more marriage will end in divorce than be successful. At least in America they will.

Yeah, not very romance-writer of me to mention that, I know. But, if I want to give my characters a believable happily-ever-after, I need to understand what leads to that happily-ever-after. What makes some marriages work?

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No, no, no, no, no!

 

Well, science has an explanation on why some marriages work and some don’t. It’s called Interdependence Theory.

Interdependence Theory states the following.

Rewards – there are rewards from marriage (or any social interaction). These can range from companionship to physical intimacy. Interdependence theory has defined them as the following:

  • Emotional – Positive and negative feelings in a relationship. These are especially important in a close relationship. Ah, here we’re getting to where love comes into play. See, you knew I was a romance writer!
  • Social – Or how you appear to others. Does being seen with a super model make you feel better about yourself? What about with a stripper? What other social repercussions are there from the relationship? Perhaps you have to attend a lot of operas, and you love opera. But what if you hate opera?
  • Instrumental – These rewards are achieved when a partner is proficient at handling tasks. Like mowing the lawn, building the kids a tree fort, or doing the laundry without anyone getting stuck with pink socks (true story).

Costs – there are costs to a relationship as well. Basically, for all of the different types of rewards (emotional, social or instrumental), there is a corresponding cost. So, just like there are emotional, social and instrumental rewards, there are emotional, social, and instrumental costs. Makes sense.

So, DH putting up with my annoying habit of leaving my shoes by the sofa where I kick them off every night would be an example of an instrumental cost my husband has to pay regardless of how many times I’ve promised I’d be better about it. Or going to the annual corporate party for my employer would be a social cost. Sorry honey!

Rewards Minus Costs  Should Be Positive – Yeah, not very romantic, is it? Sounds more like I’m building a profit and loss statement than writing a romance novel.

Yes, I’m sure I’m a romance writer. But science is seldom romantic.

However unpleasant it may sound, research has shown that humans keep a record, whether consciously or not, of the net value of a relationship to us. So, you’re in a “profitable” relationship if the rewards outweigh the costs. But, this still isn’t enough to keep people in a relationship. They have to be making “enough” profit. Kind of like when you invest in your 401(k) account. You only have so much money, so you want to select the investments that will net you the most profit for the time you have them invested.

Comparison / Opportunity Cost – Once someone has tallied up their total relationship rewards and costs, they will either consciously or subconsciously review their other options. Even if they are net positive, in their account isn’t earning as much as they think it should, they are more likely to end the relationship and look for another. This may explain all of the Hollywood break-ups.

 

Okay, so now that we know this, how can we apply the science to making a romance novel earn its happily-ever-after?

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Not the response I’m looking for, though I may have said it about a romance novel or three.

 

I want my happily-ever-afters to be believable. So, here are a couple of ways I can use the Interdependence Theory to make it believable:

1.No Alpha-Holes – A strong male lead could provide a lot of rewards on the instrumental level. He gets stuff done. But even if a heroine loves him, the emotional and social costs of dealing with him are going to be extremely high. Toning him back so he’s still an alpha without being a jerk would help a lot.

2. No Porcelain Dolls – Both characters in the romance have to be active. If either can basically be put on the shelf while the other does all the heavy lifting, you’re going to have a relationship with very high instrumental costs. No matter how much you love someone, if they can’t figure out how to open the refrigerator and get themselves a soda, you’re going to get pretty ticked at them after a while.

3. Opposites Might Not Attract – The whole wallflower with a super outgoing character trope might not end well. If the wallflower really doesn’t like much social interaction, but the extrovert loves it, there is going to be a high social cost to the relationship. Unless, of course, one or the other is the way they are to mask their true personality. The extrovert who actually hates all the parties etc.

 

What do you think? Does interdependence theory hold water in your book? Think it’s bunk? If so why or why not? Any other way that it could be used in writing to give believable happily-ever-afters?

Book Review: Mine Till Midnight

Title: Mine Till Midnight

Author: Lisa Kleypas

Status: Worth a Read

Mine

 

I listened to this as an audiobook rather than read it. I am still pretty new to listening to books, but I am starting to really like it. The experience is different, and while I still prefer to read rather than listen to books, this is a great way to get some “reading” in while doing boring tasks like cleaning the kitchen or weeding.

 

Summary: After the death of their parents, four sisters are dependent on their older brother who has a promising future as an architect. When the brother loses the woman he loves to scarlet fever, he becomes a self-destructive boar. This is compounded when the deaths of three distant family members drop a “cursed” title and admission to the peerage on this brother.  The story centers around the oldest sister, Amelia. She’s forgone marriage herself to see to her family, keep them together, and keep them safe. She encounters Rohan, the hero of the story, while rescuing her brother from a gaming club.

Plot: Plot is pretty sparse. It’s basically getting Amelia and Rohan together as she deals with the trials of her family. With a suicidal brother, a sister with weak lungs from her bought with scarlet fever, to a kleptomaniac sister, Amelia has her hands full. The fact that the estates that came with the title are falling apart, literally, doesn’t help. There’s enough going to keep the story moving forward and keep Amelia and Rohan together without feeling contrived. I don’t expect more, so this was fine with me.

Romance: It’s pretty standard that he falls in love with her, then must convince her that she wants to give up her independence to be his bride. He has a few issues along the way coming to terms with his feelings, giving up his own freedom as he feels tied down by her world, but he comes to terms with them. No real spoiler here as this is a romance novel, but he gets her to agree to marry him by the end of the book. Some of her objections in the last quarter of the book become annoying, and this was one of the only part that had me rolling my eyes.

Characters: Rohan is half gypsy, so this is a unique spin on any romance novel I’ve ever read. I can tell the author did research on the gypsy people of the time. Or if she didn’t, she faked it exceedingly well. Possibly helped by the fact that none of my history classes even touched on them. War of the Roses? Oh yes. Roma people? Not at all.

Rohan is your typical physically powerful very rich male lead. But the fact that he’s an outcast for his mixed heritage adds a different flavor.

Amelia is your standard pretty spinster heroine who has put independence and siblings first. If you’ve ever dealt with difficult or unruly children, you’ll feel for her. She has personality, but not nearly as interesting as Rohan.

One thing I loved about this book was that woman are shown as friends. The Countess of Westcliff is kind and understanding. As is Lady St. Augustine. So many authors, far too many, in my opinion, show other women as rivals. They discard all notions of female friendship and focus on a very unhealthy rivalry. Always over a man. This author did NOT do that, and I very much appreciated it.

The sisters were kind and snarky to each other, as sisters will be.

Steamy Scenes: These are quite good. Very good. Some worth rereading. This is one of the author’s big strengths.

Use of Imagery: This is amazing. Her descriptive prowess is excellent, and she does it succinctly using terrific metaphors and similes I don’t usually here. She makes things feel sumptuous and sensual. This is a huge strength for this author.

 

All in, this is a good read from an author I had written off after not being able to get through more than a chapter or two of another one of her books. Makes a case for giving an author a second chance. And I never would have if I hadn’t been able to get her audiobooks from the library.

Book Review: To Charm a Naughty Countess

Book: To Charm a Naughty Countess

Author: Theresa Romain

Recommendation: Skip It

NaughtyCountess

Premise: A duke who is deep in debt due to his father’s indulgences needs a wealthy bride to save his lands when creditors come calling. He offers one of the most exalted titles in the land in return for a rich dowry. A rich widowed countess offers to help him. It just so happens that these two are still in love with each other even after the happenings of eleven years ago.

Plot:  Wait, there is one? Oh yes, they love each other. She’s rich. He’s titled. And…it takes a whole book for them to admit to each other their feelings. Yeah, there’s some filler as to why they can’t. Frankly, I started skimming sections looking for the plot. There was none. No murder that needed solving, no werewolves skulking around, not even a previous jilted love interest. Literally, just the two of them getting around to admitting their feelings. For the whole book.

Characters: I didn’t really see any character development on either the hero or heroine’s part. They do eventually get around to admitting to themselves and each other their feelings, but there’s no real driving factor to this.

Romance: The characters were in love with each other at the beginning of the story, though they didn’t yet know it. Or they knew it and wouldn’t admit it. This was fine, but as this was the entire story with no other plot to back it up, it felt thinner than it otherwise would have.

Steamy Scenes: There were two in the whole book. One about half way through, the other at the end. They were good, not enough to save the book, but good.

 

Overall, not a terrible read, but not one I’d recommend either. With all of the romance novels out there, you can find one with more of a plot, or more steamy bits to keep you engaged.

Book Review: Her Highness and the Highlander

Book: Her Highness and the Highlander

Author: Tracy Anne Warren

Status: Worth a Look

This book was isn’t going to knock your socks off, but it’s a nice afternoon read.

Premise: A princess (from a fictional country) and her entourage are attacked on her way from her finishing school to London. She is the only survivor, and in her bedraggled state, no one will believe she’s royalty. She’s far from friends and family, and completely out of her element. A Scotsman on his way home from the Napoleonic Wars takes pity on her, helps her out, and eventually agrees to take her to London. Along the way, they fall on in love.
Plot: It’s pretty thin. We need a reason for the hero and heroine to be together. So, despite the massive battle that killed her entourage, captain of her guard, her uncle etc. no one finds any evidence of it. I guess they must’ve really been on back roads, and the bad guys must’ve had a veritable army to clean up the mess. Oh, no wait, it was one guy that cleaned it up. *shakes head*

I didn’t find it believable. But I suspended disbelief as we couldn’t have good guys finding her if she was going to need the hero to get her to London. Alone, of course.

Romance: They fall in love along the way to London. They’re so in lust with each other, that they need to quickly marry so they can have sex. Par for the romance genre, if a bit unbelievable. The author did try to make the princess seem like she’d be okay giving up her extremely privileged life to live with a commoner.

Steamy Scenes: This is really where the author shone. The steamy scenes were steamy, the prose pretty without getting in the way of what was going on between them. She used none of my automatic close the books words, so we’re good there.

Characters: There is no character development. Not really sure how they would develop as both seem pretty perfect from the beginning. This is your typical romance fare, so neither character is going to grow or develop in the story.

 

All in, a decent read. I finished it on a blustery afternoon, and it wasn’t gripping enough I couldn’t put it aside with ease to make snacks for the kids. At the same time, it entertained and didn’t disappoint with the ending.