Tag: HEA-Seal-Of-Approval

Audiobook-Mini-Review: Helena Hunting’s MAKE A WISH (Spark House #3)

Make_A_WishOnce again I’m enjoying romance more via ears than eyes. Impatience is my middle-name when it comes to romance-reading and while I am sometimes impatient at the  length of a romance audiobook, it doesn’t compare to how finger-drummingly ho-hum I feel when I’m eyeballing it.

I certainly both enjoyed and grew impatient with Helena Hunting’s contemporary romance, Make A Wish. It has a cutesy cartoon cover (not a fan) moments of rom-com-ish humour (weak ones), a touch of women’s fic psychologizing (better than I thought it would be), and a fairly standard romance, not too passionate, or compelling, but in the context of its two other qualities, solid. There’s a handsome single dad, aspiring child-care expert, soupçon of May-to-December, and saccharine plot poppet; the publisher’s blurb offers further details:

Ever have a defining life moment you wish you could do over? Harley Spark has one. The time she almost kissed the widowed father of the toddler she nannied for. It was so bad they moved across the state and she never saw them again.

Fast forward seven years and she’s totally over it. At least she thinks she is. Until Gavin Rhodes and his adorable now nine-year-old daughter, Peyton, reappear at a princess-themed birthday party hosted by Spark House, Harley’s family’s event hotel. Despite trying to avoid the awkwardness of the situation, she can’t help but notice how unbearably sexy he looks in a tutu. Add to that a spontaneous hives breakout, and it’s clear she’s not even remotely over the mortification of her egregious error all those years ago.

Except Gavin seems oblivious to her inner turmoil. So much so that he suggests they get together for lunch. For Peyton’s sake, of course. It’s the perfect opportunity to heal old wounds. Or it could just reopen them. This is one of those times Harley wishes she could see the future…

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Mini-Audio-Book Review: Kate Bateman’s A WICKED GAME (Ruthless Rivals #3)

Wicked_GameMay I say how much I enjoy listening to romance over reading it? Or at least that’s what I’ve preferred lately. If a romance doesn’t tax me intellectually, or emotionally, then listening to an engaging narrator read to me about a funny, lovable hero and heroine, while I cook, bake, or walk, is a great way to fill my head while engaging hands and feet! Bateman’s Wicked Game did exactly this: it amused and gave me the romance fuzzies. To start, the publisher’s description: 

Shipwrecked and imprisoned thanks to an inaccurate map, Captain Morgan Davies has returned to London to exact sweet revenge on the cartographer responsible for his suffering. He’s also vowed to claim the winner’s prize—three kisses—in the bet he made with his long-time nemesis, the prickly, smart-mouthed Harriet Montgomery. His time in prison has made him realize his feelings for her, but convincing the infuriating woman he wants to marry her is going to be his greatest challenge yet. When Harriet’s revealed to be the very mapmaker he seeks, Morgan decides revenge and seduction can be combined into one delightful package…

Harriet’s always wanted witty scoundrel Morgan, and now he’s back; as sinfully handsome as ever, and apparently determined to make her life a living hell. She has enough on her plate dealing with her father’s failing eyesight and a rival mapmaker copying her work to play wicked games with a Davies—however tempting he might be.

But when a threat from Morgan’s past puts them both in danger, Harry discovers that she and Morgan might not be enemies at all…

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Mini-Review: Andrea Penrose’s MURDER AT THE SERPENTINE BRIDGE (Wrexford and Sloane Mystery #6)

Murder_Serpentine_BridgeWrexford and Sloane #6 sees Lord Wrexford and his now Lady Charlotte once again chasing villainy. Though married contentment permeates Penrose’s latest, the honeymoon is definitely over when Wrexford and the Weasels pull a body from the Serpentine. The publisher’s description lays out the mystery’s stakes for Charlotte, Wrexford (what the heck is his first name?), the Weasels, their friends, and a lovely new addition to their found family: 

Charlotte, now the Countess of Wrexford, would like nothing more than a summer of peace and quiet with her new husband and their unconventional family and friends. Still, some social obligations must be honored, especially with the grand Peace Celebrations unfolding throughout London to honor victory over Napoleon.

But when Wrexford and their two young wards, Raven and Hawk, discover a body floating in Hyde Park’s famous lake, that newfound peace looks to be at risk. The late Jeremiah Willis was the engineering genius behind a new design for a top-secret weapon, and the prototype is missing from the Royal Armory’s laboratory. Wrexford is tasked with retrieving it before it falls into the wrong hands. But there are unsettling complications to the case—including a family connection.

Soon, old secrets are tangling with new betrayals, and as Charlotte and Wrexford spin through a web of international intrigue and sumptuous parties, they must race against time to save their loved ones from harm—and keep the weapon from igniting a new war . . .  (more…)

TBR Challenge Theme “Animals” and Marion Lennox’s MISTY AND THE SINGLE DAD

Misty_Single_DadMeh, I wish I could have loved this. Lennox writes good banter, employs light, wry humour, usually has a wonderfully atmospheric setting and characters who are fundamentally good, but not flat. Certainly Misty has those elements, but there was a problem in the execution that, sadly, coming in the second half, left yours truly with reader-disappointment. First, to the back-cover blurb:

Teacher Misty Lawrence has lived her whole life in Banksia Bay, cherishing a secret list of faraway dreams. Just as she’s finally about to take flight, Nicholas Holt; tall, dark and deliciously bronzed turns up in her classroom with his little son Bailey and an injured stray spaniel in tow.

Misty soon falls head over heels for all three but her scrapbook of wishes keeps calling. Misty must decide: follow her dreams, or her heart? Because a girl can’t have it all or can she?

I do confess I chose Misty and the Single Dad out of the TBR because the cover screamed Wendy’s “animals” theme and it’s true “Ketchup”, the dog pictured, brings these two together and offers cute gamboling-dog scenes. He’s joined by another pooch, “Took,” and the two provide even more of those. So: animals, favourite category romance author, school-marm heroine, handsome single dad, and adorable plot moppet. What could go wrong? (more…)

Review: Andrea Penrose’s MURDER AT THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS (Wrexford & Sloane Mystery #5)

Murder_Royal_Botanic_GardensContinuing my journey to reader-recovery (see my previous two posts), I read the latest in another favourite historical mystery series, Penrose’s Regency-set Wrexford and Sloane, Murder At the Royal Botanic Gardens. I read it steadily over the past two days (yet one more way to stave off the reality of returning to work after a gloriously idle summer; with major de-cluttering, but still). I love this series for the same reason I read others: the characters, the characters, the characters…and their relationships.

Set in a time of rigid class divisions, Penrose’s series is a wonderful fantasy of cross-class found family. At its heart are the Earl of Wrexford, dark, brooding, powerful, volatile at the series start and Lady Charlotte Sloane (aka skewering cartoonist A. J. Quill), disinherited, disgraced, and thus free of social convention; this, she and Lord Wrexford have in common, which is why their growing love is as much built on a shared upholding of justice, defending the underdog, and prizing people’s worth on merit, not birth as attraction, compatibility, shared purpose, and companionship. Along the way, they have picked up and created their found family, as Charlotte notes in the present volume “love was the true bond that tied all of her odd little family together”: valet and co-sleuth Gideon Tyler; formidable “housekeeper” McClellan; two adopted “guttersnipes”, “Weasels” Raven and Hawk; brilliant mathematician Lady Cordelia Mansfield; “coroner” Basil Henning; Bow Street Runner Griffin; Wrexford’s friend and Cordelia’s business partner, Christopher “Kit” Sheffield; and my favourite, Charlotte’s Aunt Alison, the dowager Countess of Peake. Together they band to expose baddies, putting themselves in mortal danger and always coming through for each other.

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Sneaks Back Into Wendy’s TBR Challenge with Betty Neels’ BRITANNIA ALL AT SEA (Betty #41)

Britannia_All_At_SeaAfter enduring heavy, not-so-enjoyable books (see previous post), I needed a comfort read. Who better than Betty to give me the feels, the laughs, the elaborate menus, the endless cuppas, and send me down the rabbit-hole of gazing at Jean Allen frocks and Gucci headscarves!?

This month’s Wendy’s TBR challenge “theme” is blue collar. Let’s face it, there isn’t anything “blue collar” about Betty Neels. And yet, dear friends, Betty is about class and the ultimate fantasy of cross-class fulfillment. I twisted Wendy’s theme to fit my reading mood and devoured Britannia in two sittings. Ahem, Britannia is now one of my favourite Betties!

I found a Betty with a definite class theme because the eponymous Britannia (with a last name like Smith, she tells the hero, her parents had to “compensate her”) refuses to marry Dr. Jake Luitingh van Thien because she can’t see herself fitting into his wealthy, privileged, read “aristocratic” life…which makes Britannia sound pathetic. She’s anything but. Britannia is the definition of feisty heroine, at least until her determination to marry Jake becomes reality in the last quarter and the obstacles of what she perceives as cross-class impediments to a “marriage of true minds” make a nasty appearance.  (more…)

Audiobook Review: Jen Devon’s BEND TOWARD THE SUN

Bend_Toward_SunWell, it looks like the only way I can now “read” romance is via audiobook. Roni Loren’s For You and No One Else worked this way for me and so did Jen Devon’s Bend Toward the Sun. While Loren is one of my tried-and-true authors, I would not have considered reading, or listening to Devon’s début without Tree at Words About Words’s review (check it out). I’m glad I did: it was thoroughly enjoyable and a dose of romance that I didn’t think I’d be able to enjoy again. Before getting into the details, here’s the Netgalley blurb:

Rowan McKinnon doesn’t believe in love. With a botany PhD, two best friends who embrace her social quirkiness, and some occasional no-strings sex, she has everything she needs. But she hides deep wounds from the past—from a negligent mother, and a fiancé who treated her like a pawn in a game. When an academic setback leads Rowan to take on the restoration of an abandoned vineyard, she relishes the opportunity to restore the grapes to their former glory.

She does not expect to meet a man like Harrison Brady.

An obstetrician profoundly struggling after losing a patient, Harry no longer believes he is capable of keeping people safe. Reeling, Harry leaves Los Angeles to emotionally recover at his parents’ new vineyard in Pennsylvania.

He does not expect to meet a woman like Rowan McKinnon.

As their combative banter gives way to a simmering tension, sunlight begins to crack through the darkness smothering Harry’s soul. He’s compelled to explore the undeniable pull between them. And after a lifetime of protecting herself from feeling anything, for anyone, Rowan tries to keep things casual.

But even she can’t ignore their explosive connection. (more…)

Audiobook Review: Roni Loren’s FOR YOU AND NO ONE ELSE (Say Everything #3)

For_You_No_One_ElseI knew I was taking a gamble listening to Roni Loren’s For You and No One Else for two reasons: one, I’ve struggled getting through a romance at all these days; and, two, I did not enjoy the first in the series, Yes and I Love You. I can’t say anything about #2 because, having been burned by #1, I didn’t read, or listen to it. And that’s the main reason why I settled on this one: I could listen to it, maybe that would help get some of my romance mojo back. It did and it didn’t. I enjoyed it, think it’s likely the best of the series, can safely assume contemporary romance fans will enjoy it, but I still grew impatient with the genre’s flaws and won’t be rushing out to read as much romance as I used to. But maybe, just maybe, I can take the genre in small doses, preferably aurally. 

To start, for some background and context, the novel’s blurb:

“Eliza Catalano has the perfect life. So what if it actually looks nothing like the story she tells online? As a therapist, it’s part of her job to look like she has all the answers, right? But when she ends up as a viral “”Worst Date Ever”” meme, everything in her Instagram-filtered world begins to crumble.

Enter the most obnoxiously attractive man she’s ever met—and a bet she can’t resist: if she swears off social media for six months, Beck Carter will teach her the wonders of surviving the “”real world.”” No technology, no dating apps, no pretty filters, no BS.

It seems like the perfect deal—she can lay low until her sudden infamy passes, meet some interesting new people, and maybe even curate this experience into a how-I-quit-the-online-dating-racket book along the way. But something about Beck’s raw honesty speaks to Eliza in ways she never expected. She knows he’s supposed to be completely hands-off…but as complex feelings grow and walls come tumbling down, rough-around-the-edges Beck may be exactly what Eliza needs to finally, truly face herself—and decide who she really wants to be.” (more…)

I Read Jo Baker’s LONGBOURN

LongbournI’m almost scared to write another gushing review: what is happening that I can’t discern anything negative in my last five reads, stellar all?!

Jo Baker’s Longbourn, the story of Pride and Prejudice‘s barely-glimpsed servants, manages to stay true to Austen’s romance and create a world, characters, and stories running parallel to the original and yet wholly unique. It is quite the achievement, both homage and uniquely itself, beautifully written and with only, at most, one forgiveably faltering section.

One of Longbourn‘s greatest strengths is its rich characterization of servitude’s silent shadows: Mrs. and Mr. Hill, the two housemaids, Sarah and Polly, and footman, James Smith, how their lives intertwine in profound and interesting ways, how fully-formed their stories are, for example, the as lovely-if-quieter romance between Sarah and James as the ones occurring “upstairs”. I also loved how Baker made Wickham more villainous than he appears in P&P, but in keeping with what we learn about him via Austen. Ultimately, however, it is in the richness, the tragedy and joy, of the servants’ inner lives and relationships that the novel’s strengths lie.     (more…)

Having Read Amor Towles’s A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Gentleman_In_MoscowI read Towles’s Gentleman In Moscow on the recommendation of two friends whose reading opinions I value. They did not steer me wrong: Gentleman is a wonderful book about a wonderful man, a “gentleman” by birth and a “gentle man” by temperament. It was an opportune time to read Towles’s novel: with Russia playing strongman and all of us emerging from endless lock-downs…what better book to read than one about a Russian character, Count Alexander Rostov, sentenced to a life-time’s house arrest in the Metropol Hotel overlooking Red Square? Yet there isn’t much of the topical in Towles’s Gentleman: to start, the timelessness of the Count’s setting, a storied old hotel which keeps its character through history’s vagaries, offering elegance, steadfast grace and service, comfort and civility to its guests as its denizens. History happens “out there,” in Red Square and beyond: revolution, war, famine, oppression, genocide, injustice, while the hotel carries on. Nevertheless, the snake is never far from the tree: cruelty and evil worm their way in, but in the inimitable characters of the Count and his friends, the Metropol’s loyal staff or devotees, we read about the circumvention of malevolence via cunning goodness, the heart of the novel’s theme. As such, Towles’s Gentleman is a comedy in the Fryian sense, moving toward possibility, towards, as the Count would agree, faith, hope, and love (with his charmingly, parenthetically exclamatory and the “greatest of these is love!”).

From the back-cover-blurb, some of the plot’s detail: “When, in 1922, thirty-year-old Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, he is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel near the Kremlin. An indomitable man of erudition and wit, Rostov must now live in an attic room as some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history unfold. Unexpectedly, the Count’s reduced circumstances provide him entry into a world of emotional discovery as he forges friendships with the hotel’s denizens. But when fate puts the life of a young girl in his hands, he must draw on all his ingenuity to protect the future she deserves,” bringing us from that 1922 tribunal to 1954 and the Count’s 65th year as we turn the final page.   (more…)