I thought Ruby Lang’s Uptown series first, novella Playing House, pleasant, but slight. Nevertheless, I love Lang’s elegantly irreverent voice and looked forward to a more substantial treatment in Uptown #2, Open House, and got exactly what I was looking for: a layered, sophisticated romance, with likeable, realistic, engaging characters, and depths of feelings like a sinker going at the end of a fishing line. You never know where this light, humourous ethos will take you, but it’ll plump interesting depths along the way. Open House is the story of debt-ridden real-estate associate Magda Ferrer and accountant Tyson Yang. Magda and Tyson find themselves on opposites sides of the garden-fence when he becomes the defender of a geriatrically-occupied, spontaneous (ahem, not exactly legally-sanctioned) Harlem-set community garden as Magda is the agent set to sell it to the highest bidder, or as she puts it “She was going to have to kick a bunch of aunties out of their fucking fairy-tale meadow.”
Man, this series: each book is better than the one before. It’s rare that I’ll start a review with a ringing endorsement: I like to keep my reviewing cards up my sleeve. BUT I’m groggy from lack of sleep, thanks to an early work morning after I stayed up reading Loren’s The One You Fight For (Ones Who Got Away #3), weeping into my pillow (and I’m not a narrative cryer: I was indifferent to Bambi), and then staying up even later, thinking about how Loren pulled off the unlikely – again. And this premise is even more unlikely than the first two series books. How do you make a romance possible, believable, and engaging when it’s between the woman who lost her sister in a school shooting, where she might’ve been killed as well and the man whose brother did the killing? There are several sensitive, interesting things Loren did and they have to do with how she layered and built her characters, how she managed to infuse her novel with heartbreak, humour, and tenderness.
I cannot begin to describe how much I loved Parker’s first two books in the London Celebrities series. Act Like It edges out Pretty Face by a hair’s breath as my favourite. My love for the first two was followed by my anticipation for the third, Making Up. I built up a lot of excitement and eagerness to get to Making Up and I dug in with the reading hunger of a Crusoe presented with his first home-cooked meal. I’d encountered Parker’s leads in previous books and loved them: Pretty Face Lily’s pixie roommate, Beatrix Lane, and a giant of a make-up artist, Leo Magasiva. They were familiar, beloved, and would make my Kindle emit sparks with their charm – my reading immersion would be complete. (For now, let’s say there was mild glow emanating from the Kindle; sparkly territory, we did not reach.) Making Up opened with Parker’s snarky humour, which I’d come to love in the two previous books: sharp, witty, quick banter, self-deprecating barbs, and a backstage irreverence that only people who perform for a living can understand, face forward, wild, sweaty groping awkwardness to get there. Continue reading
I am a stubborn cuss and resisted the lure of Clayborn’s much-lauded first romance, Beginner’s Luck. As my Twitter handle says, “always late to the game”! I confess I’m here to sing praises. I won’t even do it very well because I was up till the wee hours polishing off Luck Of the Draw, despite having a full work day with several important, need-to-be-alert meetings slotted in it. But here I am and here we are and I’m tethered to the cheering bandwagon.
There’s another reason I wasn’t keen on Clayborn’s first, or second for that matter, other than the romance cheering section; more pernicious to me was the alternating first-person narration: heroine/hero, heroine/hero, like that. When one of my favourite romance writers, Ruthie Knox, went first-person-rogue on me, I was annoyed, but I followed. (I’ve only ever fully forgiven first-person narration in my favourite novel of all time, Jane Eyre.) So, between the squee and the self-conscious “I’s“, Clayborn had to work hard to thwart my side-eye. But foil it she did, by keeping the action on its toes; the characters, compelling and lovable; and by a perfect balance of humour and angst (my favourite narrative tone/mood). What I couldn’t fault her for? The premise was all kinds of tropish catnip.
I adore Michelle Smart’s category romances. The HP is my romance-ice-cream-tub of choice, so good while I’m reading it and then, disoriented and nauseous from melodramatic hangover. My forehead-slapping reaction: “Did I really just read that?” Yes, dear reader, I read them: the romance guilty pleasure, outlandish, overblown, eye-rollingly breaking every smidgen of feministic progress the genre has made. Some HPs are out there and so badly written, they’re easy to ridicule. Some are written with elegance and humour: I’m looking at YOU, Sarah Morgan. Smart’s HPs usually elicit the latter response, but A Bride At His Bidding? Well, this is one of the strangest HPs I’ve ever read … and that’s saying a whole hell of a lot if you’re one of the category’s aficionados as I am. I’m having a hard time making up my mind whether A Bride At His Bidding is a laughable mess, or brilliant. Maybe both? All I know is that its idiosyncratic narrative and character about-faces gave me reading whiplash, goggle-eyed reactions of gasping disbelief, derision, and heart-clenching delight and enjoyment.