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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MINI-REVIEW: Roni Loren’s THE ONE FOR YOU (Ones Who Got Away #4)

One_For_YouNow that I’ve arrived at the end of Roni Loren’s conclusion to her four-book series based on the adult survivors of a Texas high school shooting, I can confidently say that, with Molly O’Keefe’s Crooked Creek Ranch series, Loren has written one of the best contemporary romance series of the past ten years. Though #4 wasn’t my favourite (my heart remains with The One You Fight For) it was a most satisfying conclusion. The One For You tells the romance of two of Long Acre High’s shooting’s survivors, prom queen beauty Kincaid Breslin and her best friend, Ashton Isaacs. Cue sixteen years. Ash returns to Long Acre from NYC (after having left soon after the tragedy, abandoning Kincaid) to stay with his deceased friend’s parents, Grace and Charlie Lowell (his ex-fiancée left him homeless). Ash is a globe-trotting successful writer and the opportunity for some down time to let the Muse have her way with him is welcome, even in the town he’d hoped to never see again … and the friend he can’t forget. Meanwhile, wrong-side-of-the-tracks Kincaid is now a successful realtor and in the midst of clinching a sweet deal on a charmingly dilapidated farm house … except, like most things, Kincaid can’t resist the call of the broken, so she buys it instead, hoping to juggle job and renos and start her own B’n’B. Like estranged friend Ash, Kincaid is still close to the Lowells; their son, one of the shooting’s victims, was her high school sweetheart. The Lowells own Long Acre’s sole bookstore, but decide it’s time to sell and retire. They ask Ash, who’s staying in the bookstore’s upstairs apartment, and Kincaid, to spruce it up and put it on the market for them.     Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Caitlin Crews’s SECRETS OF HIS FORBIDDEN CINDERELLA

Secrets_Forbidden_CinderellaHonestly, after the wring-my-heart-and-hang-it-out-to-dry of Grey’s The Glittering Hour, I needed a good quick HEA-fix and where better to find it than between the HP’s covers. A Crews too, who better than her ability to write intense drama plus banter and characters who capture you with their humanity. Alas, it was not to be. Secrets Of His Forbidden Cinderella was better in concept than execution.

I’m not terribly proud that I’m a sucker for the accidental pregnancy romance narrative, but I am. It’s not so much the pregnancy part I like, but the protagonists working things out for something more important, more precious, and way more vulnerable than their sorry selves. Inevitably, in the HP’s tropish-constraints, the heroine is seemingly the weaker of the two. Often of humble means, she tiptoes through the tulips of her new-found state with the altruistic idea to do what’s best and what’s fair. The hero, on the other hand, treats the pregnancy revelation with mistrust in regards to the heroine’s motivations, but with a medieval possessiveness for his “heir”.
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REVIEW: Iona Grey’s THE GLITTERING HOUR

Glittering_HourIona Grey’s The Glittering Hour wrenched my heart, squeezed it, and wrung it out to dry. This is a very sad book, a hopeful one, but nevertheless, sad. At the same time, despite work deadlines, it kept me in its grip and I stayed up to finish it into the early morning, something I do rarely these days. If you love Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, Karen White, and our very own Canuck, Clarissa Harwood, you’re going to love Grey’s novel, as long as you’re willing to forego their more-often-than-not HEAs.

The novel opens, as the best novels do, with a naked sleeping couple in 1926. We don’t know who they are, yet we sense love and desperation. Selina Lennox, aristocratic bright young thing, darling of the then-tabloids, lover of cocktails, jazz, and wild, nocturnal shenanigans. And Lawrence Weston, dark, handsome, talented, an artist and photographer, of humble means, lowly origins, cultured, urbane, working-class. Lovers. Tragic lovers, we sense. Fast forward to 1936 and the narrative shifts to Alice Carew, eleven-year-old daughter to Selina née Lennox and Rupert Carew, presently living with her maternal grandmama and grandpapa in the Lennox family estate, Blackwood Park, of former grandeur and still the site of much of the Lennoxes’ cool snobbery. Continue reading