REVIEW: Lucy Parker’s THE AUSTEN PLAYBOOK

Austen_PlaybookLucy Parker writes one of my favourite contemporary romance series, “London Celebrities,” with heroes and heroines as denizens of London’s West End theatre scene. In the series’ fourth volume, however, the West End is in the background. Heroine-actress Freddy Carlton (for Frederica, a nod to Heyer?) joins the cast of a “digital mash-up of characters from different Jane Austen books, transplanted into a murder-mystery, house-party scenario. Outcome guided by the choice of the player,” that is, the televison and app audience. All taking take place on a estate, à la Downton Abbey. The estate, 16th-century Highbrook Wells, magnificent and crumbling, is the mortgaged-to-the-gills family home of acerbic theatre critic and Freddy nemesis, James “Griff” Ford-Griffin. Griff can’t afford to say no to the “digital mash-up” and the company of actors, Freddy too, arrives at Highbrook as if it’s Elsinore. Put Griff and Freddy together in this enforced intimacy and let sparks fly: antagonists to lovers, opposites-attract denying their attraction. Not really. This isn’t a criticism. Parker hasn’t written what at first appears to be your romance trope of antagonists-to-lovers. No matter how witty and thick the banter ( it is fabulous), Parker juggles three simultaneous narratives, of which the romance between Freddy and Griff is the gentlest, the most assured of a positive outcome.
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REVIEW: Sonali Dev’s PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND OTHER FLAVORS

Pride_Prejudice_Other_FlavorsSonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors was everything I wanted in Sharma’s The Takeover Effect. Though it’s distasteful to praise one author at the cost of another, Sharma’s ugh-failure was fresh in my mind as I read Dev’s latest and revelled in it. In all fairness, Dev herself came under my miffed-reader scrutiny as my one foray into her books wasn’t positive. I found The Bollywood Bride overblown, melodramatic, and humorless. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is none of those things. Dev bleached the Bride‘s flaws and created a novel that is rich in humor, deeply felt, tender, and moving. Moreover, I’m leery of Austen-homages, finding them derivative (I guess they’re meant to be, so schoolmarm picky of me to say so) and never as good as the original. Dev convinced me otherwise. Her Austen-love comes through as sheer delight and joy in the frothy glory that is Pride and Prejudice. But Dev has wrought something uniquely her own: twisting and turning in Austen’s wake, leaping like a joyful dolphin by taking the familiar, beloved Austen tropes and making them hers. This constitutes Dev’s “other flavors”: coming from teasing out of Austen a remarkable POC-hero-heroine, American politics and the “dream”, class struc-and-stric-tures, family dynamics, and Austen-up-ending gender stereotypes, the most brilliant stroke of which is Dev’s rendering of smarmy Wickham.   
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MINI-REVIEW: Michelle Smart’s A CINDERELLA TO SECURE HIS HEIR

Cinderella_Secure_His_HeirI’m enjoying Michelle Smart’s conceit in her latest HP series: “Cinderella” heroine and wealthy hero, especially because the Cinderella brings the “prince” to his feet. In Smart’s latest, A Cinderella To Secure His Heir, the Cinderella in question is 24-year-old Beth Hardingstone, a product of the foster system who made a career out of event planning. She has fallen on hard times, however, because she had to leave her job to care for baby Dom, entrusted to her after the death of best friend and fellow fosteree, Caroline Palvetti. Dom’s father, Domenico, also dead, in a motorcycle accident, is the hero’s, Alessio Palvetti’s, estranged older brother “RIP”.

When the novel opens, Alessio has deceived Beth into coming to Vienna, for quite a sum of money, to organize a Viennese ball for Alessio’s business partner and friend. Under the guise of working as Alessio’s assistant, Valente Cortada, aka Alessio himself, arranged for Beth’s job and transport, with baby Dom in tow. Thankfully, Valente reveals his identity pronto and moves to Phase 2 of his plan: threaten Beth with fighting her for Dom’s custody (a nebulous claim, but hey, it’s an HP and I’ll bypass laws and last wishes if I want to) unless she marry him. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s NEED ME, COWBOY

Need_Me_CowboyThere are two romance authors I read for the sake of sinking into their familiar world: Betty Neels (I’m in the process of reading ALL her books, presently on 24 of 134) and Maisey Yates, incredibly prolific both. Do their books blend together and I don’t remember hide nor hair of any particular one? Absolutely. And yet, I can’t quit them. Neels and Yates, unlike in every way, share a deep, profound, abiding theme: no matter how chaste the Neels romance or carnal the Yates, the connection between hero and heroine is mystical, inevitable, and sacred. They are meant for each other: their bodies know this before reason accepts and acknowledges. Love is a realization arriving in an epiphanic moment. In Neels, the heroine believes the hero couldn’t possibly love her undeserving self, but she loves him; the hero, older, wiser, and more knowing, knows from their introduction the heroine will be his wife. In Yates, love is an agon, a passion, a difficult birth, many layers of ego, hurt, and lack of faith and hope must be divested for a character, more often than not the hero, to admit his love and need for the heroine. Once he does, however, his devotion, love, and protection are his sole purpose. The Neels and Yates worlds? One quieter, on the surface more conservative; the other, created out of the passions of the flesh and a tender antagonism.
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REVIEW: Lorelei James’s I WANT YOU BACK

I_Want_You_BackAfter using every moment of my meagre work-week-reading-time to finish James’s I Want You Back, I turned the final page, exclaiming “I loved this book!” Because I prefer to have a measured response, I “slept on it”, woke up and thought, “Still love it.” And yet, had I not requested this ARC “blind”, had someone described it to me with detail, it would’ve been the kiss of death. Firstly, it’s written in alternating first-person POV, which I hate. Secondly, and this is not a spoiler because we know this from the get-go, the hero was a cheater. But that’s not all: when the heroine was pregnant, he didn’t support her, even though he was rich as Croesus, and he dragged her through the courts for custody for years, AND he didn’t give her sufficient financial support when he was making a mint as a star Blackhawks defenceman and was independently wealthy thanks to being a Lund. How can this be borne, much less forgiven by a romance reader? … and let’s not say anything about the heroine. I did that frustrated hair-tugging thing every reader knows when they embark on a book, knowing that the DNF-fairy is only pages away from sprinkling her special brand of lip-curling fairy dust. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Nisha Sharma’s THE TAKEOVER EFFECT

Takeover_EffectGiven a weakness for bhangra music and Indian food, also a hot cover, I was eager to read Nisha Sharma’s first adult romance, The Takeover Effect, the first of a trilogy. I wasn’t keen on its corporate setting and it turns out there’s a lot of “corporating,” but I hoped the, sadly because scarce, unique Sikh ethos would make up for what it lacked in premise. Hemdeep “Hem” Singh, estranged son of Deepak, returns to the family fold when his father’s digital empire, Bharat, Inc., is threatened by a hostile takeover; hence, the title. Hem finds his family in disarray. Deepak has suffered a heart attack and Hem’s brothers, CEO Ajay, and West coast R&D, Zail, are scrambling to deal with the crisis. Into this critical period in their company’s future walks heroine, Mina Kohli, hired by the board, as a neutral party, to oversee the takeover details. What the Singhs do not know is that Mina’s Uncle Sanjeev has told Mina she’s to rule in favour of the takeover, thus serving his nefarious interests. What does Sanjeev hold over her?
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MINI-REVIEW: Liz Fielding’s THE BILLIONAIRE’S CONVENIENT BRIDE

Billionaire_Convenient_BrideAfter Kingston’s intense, lengthy Desire Lines, I needed a romance palate cleanser and Liz Fielding’s signature gently-created world was the perfect choice. Though I fulfilled my wish for bluebell gardens, charmingly crumbling castles, and cute dogs, Fielding’s The Billionaire’s Convenient Bride also delivered an emotional punch. An ominous note rang from scene one. Kam Faulkner arrives at Priddy Castle with humiliating memories and a desire for revenge against heroine Agnès Prideaux. Agnès and Kam had grown up together, running wild and free on castle grounds and surrounding land and water. Later, as teens, their childhood bond was complicated by physical attraction. But the cook’s son and castle “princess” was a love that could not be; when Agnès’s grandfather caught wind of it, he fired Kam’s mother, winning Kam’s resentment and hatred. Kam and his mother had to leave their sole home and income source. In the intervening years, Kam worked hard and achieved huge financial success. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Dani Collins’s INNOCENT’S NINE-MONTH SCANDAL

Innocent's_9-Month_ScandalMy dear friend “Shallow Reader,” loves Dani Collins and that’s rec enough for me. After the intensity of Griffiths’s Stranger Diaries and especially its Victorian-gothic length, I was happy to read a snappy category romance. Snap it did, Ms Collins’s Innocent’s Nine-Month Scandal, with my favourite kind of HP heroine, kind, generous, plain-Jane, funny, and a deliciously broody hero, not too annoyingly domineering, but definitely in the strong, caretaker arena. 

Collins’s plot was HP-fare ludicrous. Rozalia Toth is in Budapest looking to find the mate to her grandmother’s earring, given to grammy, in troth, by her true-love during what may be (Collins doesn’t make this explicit) the uprising of ’56? Sadly, gram’s true-love succumbed in the riots and she travelled to America, pregnant and destitute, where she made a marriage-of-convenience with one Benedick Barsi. As grammy is now getting on, Rozalia wants to give her the chance to see the earrings as a pair. Many convoluted family connections are discussed between hero and heroine, but I admit I didn’t give them much attention. Plot isn’t why one reads an HP. Continue reading

REVIEW: Kara Isaac’s ONE THING I KNOW

One_Thing_I_KnowWhen a romance author is recced by Ros Clarke, I seek her out. That’s how I came to new-to-me-inspirational-romance-author Kara Isaac’s One Thing I Know. It was like no inspirational romance I’d read. Hero and heroine, Lucas Grant and Rachel Somers, come with heavy baggage; how their paths cross and they fall in love is a fraught journey. Looking back, they’ve got things to work out, looking forward sometimes seems impossible. That’s the genre’s beauty: all things are possible even when they seem highly improbable.

Rachel has a most unusual profession. She ghostwrites her aunt’s, Dr. Donna Summerville’s, advice-to-the-lovelorn books. Together, they make a lot of money, money that was once most necessary to Donna (when her husband left her to bring up their sons) and now is necessary to Rachel because she pays for her father’s care in a chronic-care facility. Though to all appearances Rachel and Donna are deceiving their vulnerable audience, their actions are understandable, even sympathetic, to the reader. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Jenny Holiday’s THREE LITTLE WORDS

Three_Little_WordsHonestly, folks, I’m scared to take a reading-breath, I’ve had SUCH a run of great books since New Year’s and Holiday’s Three Little Words gets on that list too. Not that I’m complaining, but as an introvert and pessimist, I do wonder: when will the reading ball drop?

So, Holiday’s #3 of Bridesmaids Behaving Badly: I wasn’t super-keen going in because, while I enjoyed #2, it didn’t rock my world. I liked it well enough and I especially liked Holiday’s smooth, easy-as-pie prose. There were also intriguing little moments with Gia Gallo, one of the quarto of girlfriends that make up Holiday’s series and this is Gia’s story and the intriguing Cajun chef in whose restaurant heroine Wendy and hero Noah dine in It Takes Two. Gia is gorgeous, a model, and a mess when it comes to food. She’s got a problem with it. In Three Little Words, we learn that, at days-away from 30, her body isn’t doing the skinny-model thing it used to and Gia’s having trouble coming to terms. Groomed from girlhood to compete in the pageant circuit, Gia doesn’t know what else she can be, what else she can do. She puts her existential crisis on hiatus at the novel’s start, however, because she‘s on her way to deliver her friend’s, Wendy’s, wedding dress to her Pink Palace Florida wedding. With a fitting scheduled, Gia has to get there ASAP. Continue reading