Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: He’s So Fine

If you’re in any way family with my reading habits you’ll have seen a lot of familiar names on yesterday’s Week in Books post.  This made picking a BotW tricky, because I liked a lot of books – but not a lot of the ones by people who I haven’t reviewed before. Or at least not enough to be able to pick the without feeling like I was bigging them up more than I actually liked them.  The Alyssa Cole that I finished on Monday was already last week’s pick – so I couldn’t chose A Hope Divided (even though I liked it a lot) because even though I do repeat authors, three of her books in less than a month would be too much even for me! The Beverly Jenkins was good too – but she was my BotW pick two weeks ago.  I have finished the Lucy Parker now – but in the early hours of Tuesday so it would be cheating and that’s not out until next week anyway. I loved the Mary McCartney photographs of Twelfth Night – but that’s because that production was the best thing that I’ve ever seen on stage and it brought back wonderful memories and anyway there aren’t enough words in that for it to count as a Book of the Week.  And so that leads us to Jill Shalvis.  Who of course has featured before – but not this calendar year so that’s something.  And I did love this latest trio of Lucky Harbor books that I’ve read (one afer the other practically in less than seven days) so it’s hardly a hardship.  So which to pick?

Paperback copy of Its In His Kiss

He’s So Fine’s heroine is prickly Olivia, who owns a vintage shop and lives next door to the heroine of the previous book, and who was an intriguing and enigmatic presence in that.  And when we get to know her, we discover that she’s got a big secret that she’s protecting – who she really really is.  In keeping with my spoiler free policy, I’m not going to tell you the details of Olivia’s backstory – but believe me, it’s good.  This trilogy has the owners of a charter boat company for the heroes – this is Cole the boat captain, the first one was Sam the boat builder, and the next one (One In A Million) is Tanner, the deep sea diver.And Cole is a great character – he’s dashing and handsome and caring, but he also sees life in very black and white terms.  On top of that, his last relationship ended badly a couple of years ago and he hasn’t really recovered or moved on – except to decide that love isn’t really worth it.  Olivia doesn’t exactly have a great track record with relationships, so their mutually beneficial relationship seems ideal, to start with at least.

I liked this a lot but I had two quibbles. The first was that I wanted Olivia to come clean to Cole earlier, but that’s fairly usual with me and romances – I want people to sort out misunderstandings as soon as possible and not lie to each other.  But that’s because I don’t like conflict and secrets in real life – I know that without the conflict there’d be no book a lot of the time!  The other was that I wanted a bit more resolution.  And I know I say that a lot too – but this one is more than just me wanting to see a bit more of their happily ever after, because the book comes to a big screeching, grinding halt and there are still somethings that I thought needed resolving or at least talking through.  And having read the next book now too, I know that you don’t get any more of Cole and Olivia in that either.  But this is minor stuff.  The romance is swoonworthy, the characters well matched and Lucky Harbor is a great place to spend time.  And when read as part of the trilogy, its all very satisfying indeed. And after a run of secret baby/child stories, this is refreshingly pregnancy aggro free – if that’s a thing you look for in romance (I do).

My copy of He’s So Fine came from The Works – where they had all three and all in their 3 for £5 offer.  It was a little while ago now, but they still had a few Shalvises (Shalvii?) last time I was in there the other week.  It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo (£3.99 atow) or in an omnibus edition on  Kindle and Kobo with the other two in the set for £6.99.  And if you haven’t read any Lucky Harbor before, the first three book omnibus is £3.99 at the moment on Kindle and Kobo – which is definitely worth a look.

Happy Reading!

Uncategorized

Book of the Week: An Extraordinary Union

So. Here’s the thing. I try not to repeat myself too much with these BotW reviews. In another week, The Confessions of Frannie Langton would have been my pick. But I already wrote about that. And yes, I finished An Extraordinary Union on the commute on Monday. And yes it’s only a couple of weeks since I recommended Alyssa Cole, but I loved this and I’m still annoyed about the racism in RWA and so there, I’m chosing it, it’s my blog, try and stop me.

Cover of An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Elle Burns is fighting the Confederacy by returning to the south to spy for the Union as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator. As everyone in the house thinks she is mute, she’s perfectly placed to hear conversations filled with valuable information that she can then pass on to pass to the Loyal League. Malcolm McCall is a Pinkerton’s detective, undercover and trying to infiltrate a Rebel enclave. The two of them find themselves working together and fighting an undeniable attraction. But as the net of intrigue tightens around them, it seems impossible for anything good to come out of a relationship – of any kind – between a black woman and a white man in Virginia. Or can it?

I would say this is more historical romantic suspense than a a straight-up historical romance – there is very real peril here at every turn for both Elle and Malcolm. But don’t panic, this is a romance, so don’t worry too much, there is Happily Ever After for these two, but it takes a lot of twists and turns and danger to get there. Elle is a fantastic character – smart and resourceful and determined to do her bit to try to defeat slavery. She knows exactly what is at stake and the risks that she faces on all fronts .  There’s the reality of being an enslaved woman, then there’s being a spy and finally as a woman contemplating any kind of relationship with a white man – not just inside the Confederacy but in the north if they both manage make it out alive. I was a little uncertain about how the relationship in this would work out given that Malcolm has so much more power than Elle, any way you look at their relative situations. But Alyssa Cole has written this so cleverly. Malcolm saw the Highland Clearances as a child and knows about power imbalances and persecution and this informs how he interacts with Elle and his determination to do his bit to overthrow slavery and oppression.

I’ve already said a lot about how many different types of romances there should be, and how everyone should see themselves reflected in romance. And yet a lot of people seem sceptical that black characters can have Happily Ever Afters in Historical Romance. Well take a seat and let Alyssa Cole show you how wrong that idea is. She’s not sugar coating it, and yes it’s harder for Elle than it is for a wilting wallflower in Almacks. But that hard won happy ending is deeply, deeply satisfying.

I’ve already borrowed the second Loyal League book to read the story of Malcolm’s brother Ewan and I’m on the waiting list for the third book. That’s how much I liked it. My copy came from the library, but you can get hold of it on ebook on Kindle (a bargainous £2.37 at time of writing!) and Kobo. It’s slightly harder to get the paperback in this country – Amazon is showing me the French version in paperback and a large print hardback on the same page as the kindle edition – so I think it’s a special order job again. Or you can look and see if your library has it.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Bring on the Blessings

I really enjoyed my reading last week – writing the Diverse Romance post sent me off down a rabbit hole of library loans and kindle bargains and mailing list freebies and they all really lifted my mood.  So it’s fitting that one of the authors I mentioned in that is my pick this week for BotW.

Cover of Bring on the Blessings

Bring on the Blessings is the first in Beverly Jenkins’ Blessings series.  It tells the story of Bernadine Brown who, when she  catches her husband cheating on her on her fifty-second birthday, takes him for half of his (vast) fortune and uses it to buy a struggling town on ebay with a view to turning it to give foster kids a second chance at life.  This story introduces you to Bernadine, the historic black township of Henry Adams, Kansas, and its residents.  Bernadine is trying to pay back her blessing from God (the cash from her divorce settlement) by doing some good and paying it forward and giving back is the main theme of a lot of the storylines.    As well as Bernadine, there are five foster children from across the country and the families that are going to look after them, as well as various other town residents.

First thing to say: This is not a romance.  It has romantic elements, but there is no Happily Ever After for anyone at the end of Bring on the Blessings. What it does have is the set up and first phase of an overarching plot for the series and some incremental progress into resolutions for each of the story threads. I’ve struggled a little bit to figure out exactly which genre it fits in to to be honest, but Goodreads lists its as Romance, Fiction and Christian Fiction and Amazon lists it as Small Town and Rural Fiction, African American Fiction and African American Romance, all of which gives you a bit of a flavour of what is going on.

I absolutely raced through this. The characters are engaging, the plot has enough peril to keep you reading but without being stressful. And I think possibly the cleverest thing about this is the way it weaves all its messages together in a way that doesn’t become overpoweringly About The Message.  It may be more overtly religious than most of my reading, but it’s not saccharine or too preachy.  It’s also got a wry sense of humour tucked in there as well. I mentioned in my post last week that Miss Bev is a giant of the romance genre and this totally shows why. Addictive reading that suits the romance reader in me, but which isn’t wholly romance.  It’s sort of like a whole load of the subplots from a romance novel bundled themselves together into a book.  And that’s a good thing. I went straight on from book one to book two (thank you library) which says a lot about how much I was enjoying life in Henry Adams – and how keen I was to find out what would happen next – and I would have gone on to book three, but then I got distracted…

I borrowed my copy of Bring on the Blessings from the library, but it is available on Kindle, Kobo and in paperback in the UK – although I suspect the latter may be a special order job.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: Can’t Escape Love

A big list of books last week in the end – thank you holiday, extra days off and weekend away from home for work.  But in the end it was an easy choice for Book of the Week – because the new Alyssa Cole novella came out and it is wonderful.  Really wonderful.

Cover of Can't Escape Love

Regina is a geek girl who has just left her “proper” job to take her website – Girls with Glasses – to the next level.   Trouble is the stress is giving her insomnia and the only thing that works for getting her to sleep when this happens is the voice of a live streamer called Gus.  But his archive has been deleted and so she’s going to have to track him down (virtually, shes not a stalker) and ask him if he can help her by recording talking to send her to sleep.  Gus is a puzzle fanatic tasked with creating an escape room based on a popular romance animé for a convention, but trouble is, he’s not quite the superfan that the job requires, but Regina is.  Can Gus and Reggie help each other solve their problems?

Doesn’t that just sound ridiculously cute?  If it doesn’t, I’m telling it wrong, because this is so much fun.  This is a fill-in novella between titles in Cole’s Reluctant Royals series (you may remember I went mad for A Princess in Theory this time last year) and timeline-wise runs parallel to the second book in the series, A Duke By Default, where Reggie’s twin sister Portia is the heroine.  My only disappointment was that this was a novella and not a full length book – but given that neither Reggie nor Gus is a royal, I guess it wouldn’t fit the theme of the series!

I mentioned in my post about Princess in Theory that there is great representation in Alyssa Cole’s books – and this is no exception.  Reggie is black, Gus is Vietnamese American, both are neurodiverse and Reggie uses a wheelchair.  But none of those things are the main plot points about their characters – which is obviously exactly as is should be, but is sadly not always the case.  It’s been quite a week in Romancelandia (of which more tomorrow), full of people saying that they “don’t see colour” or “don’t like to read about gangs and violence” as reasons why they don’t read books by black authors.  They all need to sit down, shut up and read Alyssa Cole or one of the other wonderful non-white writers who are creating brilliant romance stories at the moment that show a full range of happily ever afters – and not just the ones for white people.  I could rant, but this is not the place (come back tomorrow for that).

Anyway, Can’t Escape Love is the nerdy romance that I needed last week and I can’t wait for the third book in the series – A Prince on Paper – to come out at the end of April. I pre-ordered that in November (Kindle/amazon paperback/Kobo).  And if that isn’t enough of a recommendation for you, I don’t know what is.  Can’t Escape Love is 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment as is the previous novella in the series, Once Ghosted, Twice Shy (Kindle/Kobo)which is a second-chance queer love story about the super efficient assistant to the prince in A Princess in Theory and the dating app hook-up who broke her heart.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, historical, literary fiction, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Swan Song

A tricky choice for my book of the week this week – partly because of a reduced list this week because of exciting things like holidays with friends, but partly because I had little quibbles with everything I read.  In the end it came down to Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s Swan Song and The Vacationers (apt because I was on vacation!) but as I’ve recommended Emma Straub before, I thought I’d go with Swan Song instead.  And to be fair, writing this post turned out to be really quite easy in the end!

Copy of Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of my love of novels based on real events, and this one takes a look at the downfall of Truman Capote, who after years of friendship (and patronage) with a group of elite high society women, committed social suicide by using their lives as material.  He called them his Swans, and they tell the story as a sort of Greek chorus, switching between their lives, his life and the stories he told them.  Hopping backwards and forwards through time, the Swans recount the various versions of Capote’s childhood that they’ve been told, full of inconsistencies and embroideries, they tell the stories of their friendship with him and its implosion and the aftermath.

This is really good. While it is most definitely a bit of a Rich People Problems type of situation, there is proper scandal, betrayal and heartbreak on all sides here. There are a lot of novels that talk about the unhappiness of rich and privileged people, and although they can sometimes be my favourite books to read, when it doesn’t work it’s hard to muster any sympathy.  But that’s not the case here at all – the women who Truman exposes have all their unhappiness exposed to the world – all the things that they have managed to ignore or put up with to keep their status are suddenly out there in print and although Joe Public might not know who the stories are about at first, the veil disguising their identities is very thin and people work it out – fast. I still can’t make up my mind if Truman knew that what he was about to do was going to explode his life but did it because he was terrified about failing to deliver a follow up to In Cold Blood, or if he thought that the women wouldn’t mind and couldn’t believe that they would be prepared to turn their backs on him.  My main quibble was around the last quarter – which I didn’t think worked quite as well as the earlier part had done, mostly because after the swans have broken with him, using them as a narrative device didn’t work quite as well for me.

There is a big cast of characters here but I was fine, knowing a bit about the story and having read another novel based around this very same issue before.  But my other quibble was whether you’d get lost if you didn’t know anything about this set before – as I was slightly when I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue – which didn’t tell you what it was that he’d done! Swan Song does give you the details on that – which is good, and I think if you keep reading beyond any initial confusion, it will all start to slot in to place. It’s just that the first part is a little bit like Truman’s brain after he’s had a few Orange Drinks and some pills. And obviously there is Wikipedia to help too if you’re really stuck – to be honest I think you can get all you need to know from Truman’s entry and then disappear off down any rabbit holes that strike your fancy!

Last week I recommended a book of fiction so cleverly done that you can’t believe the band isn’t real and actually these two make quite a good pair and overlap in time in some patches – although you may find that hard to believe.  You’ve got Truman and his swans living in the high society world of the East Coast which still feels like a relic of an earlier era, while over on the West Coast, Daisy and the Six are living it up in the new world of rock and drugs and feel much more contemporary.  And both would make great books to read on the beach if you’re about to head off on Spring/Easter break.  And writing post this has reminded me again that I really need to finish writing that Rich People Problems books post – it’s sitting half done, waiting for an opportune time to finish it (and for me to finish reading a couple more books).  Maybe this will be the push that I need!

I’ve had this on the pile for a while – twice in fact as I managed to get a NetGalley ebook copy when I already had a paper copy via the joys of my proper job – but although it came out last summer, I’m sort of timely – as earlier this month it was named on the longlist for the Women’s Fiction prize at the moment. The paperback isn’t out until the end of June so you could preorder it (and Amazon do have that pre-order price guarantee) but the hardback isn’t a bad price on Amazon at the moment if you just can’t wait, and would expect (or hope at least!) there might be a copy in any reasonably sized bookshop – especially now it’s been longlisted for a prize, even more so if it makes the shortlist. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo too.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Fence

A long list of books read in yesterday’s Week in Books post.  You’ll have noticed that I’m still on a big old Susan Mallery reading jag, but in the interests of not being repetitive, this week’s BotW features what I fear may become my next graphic novel obsession: Fence.

Cover of Fence Vol 1Fence is the story of Nicholas Cox who is determined to make it in the world of fencing.  He’s managed to win a fencing scholarship into a top boarding school and needs to get a spot on the school team to stay.  But in his way is enigmatic Seiji Katayama – who beat him at the last big competition and who also happens to be his new roommate.  Why is he putting himself through this?  Well he’s the illegitimate son of a fencing great and he wants the chance to be a fencing legend like the dad that he never knew.  And if it means beating his half-brother – his father’s acknowledged son and protege – on the way, then so be it.

This exists at the convergence of the Venn diagram of some of my top catnip: boarding schools, underdogs, Olympic sports and – dare I hope – enemies to lovers.  It ticked so many of my boxes, you would not believe.   Or may be you would if you’ve been here a while!  Aside from Nicholas and Seiji, the fencers at Kings Row are a really interesting gang of people and – like Boom! box stablemate Lumberjanes – they are a super diverse bunch but that’s not made into a Thing, it’s just how life is.  Because of course that is how real life is.  I love the art from Johanna the Mad – and the simple but striking colour pallette that’s used.  I know very little about fencing – except that it’s in a fair few historical romances and that these days it’s *very* fast-moving when it pops up on TV at the Olympics – but this totally hooked me in and had just enough detail about the ins and outs of the sport to keep you interested without overloading you – which is a skill in itself, especially in a graphic novel.

I saw an issue of this while I was in the US in the autumn, but waited and bought the trade version from my local comic book shop.  I’ve now got Volume two on order, but volume three isn’t out until May and I can’t just glom on it now.  Hey ho, I can’t have it all my own way.  You should be able to get hold of Fence Vol 1 from any good comic retailer – and please do support your local comic store – but if you want a taste, the first issue (one fourth of this trade) is £1.79 on Kindle at time of writing.

Happy Reading!