MINI-REVIEW: Ruby Lang’s HOUSE RULES

House_RulesI’ve enjoyed Ruby Lang’s Uptown series and this, the last and third, may be my favourite. The hero and heroine, in keeping with Lang’s urban setting (another kudo for the series), have been around the block. They’re in their forties, were married over fifteen years ago; it ended badly. Now, reunited after a chance meeting, they’re cohabiting thanks to the New Yorker’s ever-present search for a great apartment and reasonable rent. They’re roommates in the Harlem-set building featured in the first two series novellas. Lang has cleverly made setting constant and introduced a new couple into each narrative. By novella three, you’re loving the place, feeling cozy and comfortable with its familiarity, and intrigued by the new couple who becomes its denizen. At 44, Simon Mizrahi has settled into life as a music teacher and choral conductor. He’s achieved professional success. At 42, after travelling the world to learn a unique craft, Lana Kuo returns to NYC as noodle-maker at a Pan-Asian restaurant, hoping, finally, to have a job with health insurance and benefits. She’s content with where she’s brought herself, having learned to ask for what she needs and made her peace with her past: leaving Simon, quitting school.      Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Mia Sosa’s THE WORST BEST MAN

Worst_Best_ManBecause I’m not a great fan of rom-coms, I couldn’t believe how much I liked Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man. Though I’m not a fan of first-person romance-narration, especially when it alternates H/H POV, there was so much to like about Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man. The humour. The ethos. The secondary characters. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the romance. I can’t say I loved the premise either, but Sosa made it work for me. Carolina “Lina” Santos is left at the altar by Andrew Hartley, thanks to a heart-to-heart the night before the wedding with his younger brother, Max. Cue three years later. Lina is up for a wedding planner job with the luxury-hotel-chain CEO Rebecca Cartright. Whose firm is assigned to work with her on her pitch? Double-nemeses Max and Andrew. To sweeten the competition, Rebecca assigns Max to work with Lina and Andrew with her competition. In a Top-Wedding-Planner showdown, Max and Lina have five weeks to prep their presentation and score the account. There is much at stake for both, financially, also professional pride and family approval.
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REVIEW: Adriana Anders’s WHITEOUT

WhiteoutIt’s been a hot week, temp-wise, and I highly recommend reading Adriana Anders’s first Survival Instincts, romantic suspense novel, Whiteout, to help you think cool thoughts and see you groggy-eyed from staying up too late to finish reading it. 

Set in the Antarctic, focussed on Dr. Ford Cooper, glaciologist and emotional “Ice Man,” and warm, curvaceous, smiling research station cook, Angel Smith, Whiteout is everything romantic suspense should be. That means romance never gives way to suspense. Oh, there’s heart-in-your-throat scenes, but grumpy-monosyllabic-hero to sunshiny-motor-mouth heroine is everything you’d look for in a we’re-gonna-die-we’re-falling-in-love-let’s-make-love romance narrative. Anders sets her hero and heroine up nicely. Angel has cooked for the “Poley”, the research station team for months and is set to fly back to the States the next day. The night before, she joins the last-night celebrations and shimmies a dance before Mr. Stone-Face himself, Ford. Ford’s attraction has been clinging like a pesky burr-ish ice pellet, but he’s a no-emotions-no-connections-happy-with-my-ice-samples, thank you, ma’am, dude. Except for the part where he can’t get delicious-food, delicious-bod, warm person Angel out of this mind. When the station is attacked and he and Angel are the sole survivors, they set off, grump to her sunshine, on a 300-mile trek to another research station, only a few ski poles ahead of their bad-guy pursuers.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Jenny Holiday’s MERMAID INN

Mermaid_InnWhen I first started this blog, I was reading romance exclusively. Now, I balance romance with crime and nonfiction, and the occasional classic, or litfic. I like the variety and I tend to have three books going at the same time. I’ve been thinking about what I get from each genre, but mainly been focussing on romance and what it offers a reader, especially because I think it is still maligned in many quarters. There is no one better to show the romance genre’s virtues than Jenny Holiday, one of the masters of contemporary romance. The blend of humour, character growth, and the delightful journey to commitment for her two protagonists are perfectly executed. Though they’re unique, I find similar joy in reading Lucy Parker. The present Holiday volume I consumed, Mermaid Inn, first in the Matchmaker Bay series, adds a magical Canadian small-town setting to the Holiday trail-mix of goodness. In a pandemic panic, I’ll often wake up in the wee hours and reach for a romance to keep the ghosties away. Mermaid Inn kept me company the past three nights and I brought it to a final-page flip this AM with a satisfied sigh.
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REVIEW: Adam Higginbotham’s MIDNIGHT IN CHERNOBYL: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster

Midnight_In_ChernobylIn the summer of 1986, I landed at Athens airport. When I glanced at my wrist watch to make sure I caught my connecting flight, it had stopped. That watch never worked again. A few years later, over lunch with a colleague, reminiscing about spending summers in Europe, we got to chatting about the summer of the Chernobyl disaster. Miles away that very summer of 1986, this woman I wasn’t to meet until years later, landed at Zagreb airport where she noticed, rushing to catch a connecting flight, her watch had stopped, never to tell time again. A peculiar coincidence. To this day, I still think Chernobyl had something to do with it. At the time, in my early twenties, looking forward to a summer of beach-reading and flirtation, had Chernobyl registered? Yes, yes, it had: it was a seminal moment, like reading the first article about AIDS in the Common Room of my liberal arts college (in the NYT Magazine), a moment, like today’s pandemic that will mark and define every young person’s life. Of the two, AIDS changed us, as the pandemic will do. Did Chernobyl? I can’t really say it did. It loomed; a frightening spectre, but it didn’t change me, the way that AIDS article did (what sad losses it brought). Chernobyl and the fear and threat of radiation, so insidious, so invisible, like the fog, coming on “little cat’s feet,” I noted my strange watch-loss and forgot about it in the Aegean’s sparkling surface. Reading Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight In Chernobyl brought it back, not only reminding me of that stopped-wrist-watch, but informing me about a disaster that loitered, continued to wreak death and destruction years after it was out of sight, out of mind for many of us who followed the event in the news at the time. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Lucy Parker’s HEADLINERS (London Celebrities #5)

HeadlinersLucy Parker’s Headliners flows out of the events of London Celebrities #4, The Austen Playbook, and the goodness of the former flows like honey out of the latter’s wonderfulness. (Did I maybe love it because it cleansed the reading palate with joy after my dour Jean Brodie read? I don’t think so.)

Parker cleverly situates the great betrayal, in this case committed by the hero, in Playbook‘s events. Journalist Nick Davenport exposed Sabrina Carlton’s father and grandmother’s deception in a news “scoop”, showing the artistic London world that Sabrina’s grandmother was the plagiarist of a famous play, The Velvet Room, a fact her father kept secret and benefitted from. It’s hard to fault someone for doing their job well, but the innocent hurt parties, journalist Sabrina and her actor-sister, Freddy, were the media circus’s reputation-destroying skills’ sacrifices. Nick isn’t proud and he is apologetic. He too lost something: his best friend, theatre critic “Griff” Ford-Griffin, in love with Freddy and now her fiancé. When Headliners opens, however, it isn’t only Sabrina’s career that has nose-dived; Nick’s night-time serious news program is gone. Sabrina and Nick are given an opportunity for career redemption when they’re asked to co-host a flagging morning show. If they can keep their tempers in check, not hiss and snap at each other, they can revive their careers and return to prime-time fame out of the morass of media notoriety. Two long-time rivals have to cooperate for the sake of their formerly successful careers. Can they do it, can they keep volatility in check?  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White’s ALL THE WAYS WE SAID GOODBYE

All_Ways_We_Said_GoodbyeI love these three authors and looked forward to reading their joint effort, All the Ways We Said Goodbye. While I enjoyed the multi-narrative-threaded novel, I prefer the Co. of Williams, Willig, & White seule over ensemble. There was so much here and not quite enough; the novel’s last quarter was stronger than its first half. Overall, a mixed-bag with a mixed response from me: bits I loved, characters I adored, and, in the best lingo from The Great British Bake-Off, a soggy middle (okay, “bottom” for them, but you get my drift).

All the Ways We Said Goodbye is ambitious, I’ll give it that. Three women, three stories, intertwined by war, betrayal, passion, love, and honour, the male protagonists following likewise in their wake. One narrative follows WWI-set Aurélie de Courcelles, the Demoiselle, whose family heirloom/talisman is a cloth seeped in the blood of Ste. Jeanne d’Arc. Aurélie leaves her mother ensconced at the Paris Ritz and makes her way to the ancestral home, now behind enemy lines. She carries the talisman with her, legendary because as long the Demoiselle holds it, France cannot fall. Given that most of the Great War was fought on French soil, a symbol of French hope and pride. Aurélie finds her home occupied by some nasty German officers. She machinates to protect her people and finds herself embroiled with one kind, handsome German officer …
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REVIEW: Elly Griffiths’s THE WOMAN IN BLUE

Woman_In_BlueI wasn’t enamoured of the last Ruth Galloway mystery I read, The Ghost Fields, though the previous one, The Outcast Dead, was one of my favourites. My moue of disappointment with The Ghost Fields didn’t deter me from plunging into another Ruth Galloway, The Woman In Blue. Griffiths’s Norfolk-set mystery series is one of my great comfort reads and I’ll never miss a one. I read many series (my favourite being, as you may well know by now, C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyrs), but the Ruth Galloways, though not cozies by far, offer a true comfort escape. Maybe it’s because Ruth reminds me of yours truly: living on her own for years, with a gourmandesque penchant for overeating, content with her books, work, and cat, Flint. Now somewhere along the way, Ruth manages (be warned, spoilers ahead, if you’re not up-to-date on the series) to have a tender, not-icky, one-night-stand with my second favourite series character, DCI Harry Nelson, fall in love but retain her proud independence (Nelson is married to the ethereally beautiful Michelle) and the result: the know-her-own-mind, mulish Kate, Ruth’s daughter, five in The Woman In Blue. Ruth teaches at North Norfolk University, has a vain peacock of a dislikeable boss, and is, in each book, embroiled, in her capacity as a forensic archaeologist, in a police murder investigation and once more, is close to her unrequited love, DCI Harry Nelson. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Tessa Bailey’s LOVE HER OR LOSE HER

Love_Her_or_Lose_HerI have an innate distrust of any romance with an excess of “baby” endearment and there’s A LOT of “babying” in Love Her or Lose Her, second in Tessa Bailey’s Hot and Hammered series. There were a few things to recommend it: the working-class ethos, that stays working-class, and the marriage-in-trouble trope, which is a rarity and yet should appear more often in contemporary romance. It’s topical and true, after all, and way more believable than ye olde fake relationship. So, my launching into Love Her or Lose Her was with the enthusiasm of the ignorant but tropically engaged. It didn’t take long for my keenness to deflate like a geriatric balloon.

But first, other than the premise, who are the protags and what are their narrative stakes? Rosie Vega works as a perfume-counter girl, then goes home to her taciturn husband, Dominic. He’s a good guy: works hard, doesn’t drink, gamble, or cheat. They share a powerful attraction, which they indulge once a week, on Tuesdays. We don’t really know why they’ve stopped their amorous pursuits beyond Tuesdays, given how hot and bothered they get around each other, but suffice to say, it’s a “symptom” of what’s wrong with their marriage.
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REVIEW: Kate Clayborn’s LOVE LETTERING

Love_LetteringI never start a first-person-narrated romance with any confidence that I will enjoy it. I’m old-ish and old-fashioned and with the exception of Jane Eyre want my romances to be thirdly-centred. While I didn’t love Clayborn’s mannered “Chance of a Lifetime” series, I did enjoy it and thought her a thoughtful romance writer, trying too-hard to bring a self-conscious emotional complexity to the romance novel (while not sacrificing the HEA). Like the third-person, I prefer a more definitive HEA, but I wasn’t dissatisfied with Love Lettering‘s ending, thanks to its nod to Austen’s Persuasion.

As a non-fan of planners and pens and gel-vs-ink aficionados, I wasn’t keen on Love Lettering‘s premise: calligraphic heroine Meg Mackworth, with some kind of vague woo-woo sense, weaves the word M-I-S-T-A-K-E into hero Reid Sutherland’s wedding program. One year and a broken engagement later, Reid appears at Meg’s sometimes-paperie-employer, Cecelia’s, with an accusatory tone and the said wedding program. As a genius-IQ, Wall Street quantitative analyst, Reid sure can read a pattern where others might not and he wants to know how Meg knew his engagement would end. 
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