Romance

Review: No Ex Before Marriage

No Ex Before MarriageTitle: No Ex Before Marriage
Author: Portia Macintosh
Page Count: eBook
Publication: January 2022

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: )

Thank you to Boldwood Books and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

A charming in one sitting read, I plowed through this book in a short amount of time. This is the first book I’ve read of Macintosh’s and I have snapped up a few of her other romances which I’ll review later.

There is a lot to recommend of this book. It’s well written, there is humour galore between the Poppy, her friends both old and new, and her divorced (maybe) husband Zac, and of course there is the romance between Poppy and a few of her beaus as she tries to move on from Zac.

But she can’t move on, not really, and that is made ever so clear when she flees to Scotland with her new bestie, Kat. She has a few scant days to get Zac to sign the divorce papers, the ones she thought they had signed six years prior but surprise! The paperwork was never filed because her mom thought they would get back together so why do it?

This book intertwines a few different plots and does it well: Poppy and her “Wife Club” old friends, Poppy and her dad and her dad’s decision to start dating after her mother has passed, and Poppy and Zac. It’s hard to write well and juggle one main plot and a few sub plots and Macintosh really excels at this. She also gives a lot of depth to the characters which is something that can also be difficult to do. Macintosh has numerous books under her belt and all were well received so practice does make perfect.

tl;dr If you want a sexy romcom with laugh out moments and an in-depth look at old friends and new-old romances, this is it.

Romance

Review: If the Fates Allow

If the Fates AllowTitle: If the Fates Allow
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Page Count: eBook
Publication: November 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews:)

Rowell is one of those authors I fell in love with after my first introduction to her, and in this case it was Eleanor & Park. I thought, “Self, you should read more Rowell” and self agreed. Except, time has gone on since I read Eleanor & Park. When I had insomnia the other night, I was perusing Amazon Prime books (did you know you can download free eBooks with your Prime account?!) when this popped up as a Kindle Single holiday romance.

Works for me!

What brought this true to heart was Rowell wrote this as holiday romance taking place in Christmas 2020 including the fact that Covid is a thing. Covid is in fact is a central plot of the story and not some abstract idea of a pandemic and not completely glossed over but here we are at 6′ apart, wearing masks, and begging for people to get vaccinated story.

We know people like Reagan’s sister, Caitlin:

“I mean,” Caitlin texted, “Mom’s right. We haven’t seen each other in nine months, and none of us have had Covid. So that’s nine months we could have seen it each other.”

Regan wanted to say, “Maybe that’s why we haven’t had Covid.”

And also people like Reagan’s brother:

But she wasn’t even sure that no one in her family had had Covid. They wouldn’t ell her if they had. Half of them didn’t wear masks – half of Nebraska wouldn’t wear a mask. Her brother kept posting conspiracy theories on Facebook, and Reagan was the only one arguing with him.

A Covid love story seems a bit on the on the downer side of things but take heart! You find yourself warming up to Regan’s prickliness and Mason’s geeky warmth. They bond over green Jell-O salad, the staple of Midwest holiday meals everywhere, while standing multi-feet apart on their respective back decks. They bond over their families ridiculousness and also, their own loneliness. Covid is no joke, we know this, but the ability to find someone gets you, likes you, and would do anything for a kiss and a hug is sweet.

tl;dr: A quick read at a scant 39 pages, you’ll enjoy this very appropriate holiday romance. And even more so if you’ve Rowell’s Landline.

 

Romance

Review: Half-baked Holidays

Title: Half-baked Holidays
Author: Kat Bastion
Page Count: 300
Publication: November 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: )

Before I begin my review, I need to acknowledge that it is a lot of work to write a novel. Now, I haven’t written a fiction book, but I have written enough words that I turned into two books. Writing fiction has a lot of moving parts from writing the plot, character, and structure plus the creativity it takes.

Which means I always feel a bit guilty when I review a book and it’s terrible.

Half-baked Holidays is terrible. I would dare to go so far as to say awful. I read the first story and thought, “What the hell did I just read?”

A collection of romcom holiday themed short stories styled as being “multicultural” which piqued my interest. As I said in a previous review, I’ve been in the mood for holiday themed romcoms. Multicultural? Even better.

The first story, not so much. There is something off about the romance and the detail on the physical attributes or cultural background to denote that the book is “multicultural.”I kinda feel like the author is probably white trying to cash in on demand for multicultural books, especially romances.

The couple’s relationship, supposedly two old high school crushes, was severely lacking in chemistry. The premise is that the heroine is coming home to see her father and his new family (which turns out to be a menagerie of adopted kids from all over the world. I guess this multicultural?) and she is standing in front of their house at 6am when a crush from high school magically shows up and introduces her to his family who live across the street, of course, and there is hand  holding and “this is the one” by the time lunch rolls around. I’m not opposed to fast romances but this one is a bit beyond.

I found very little on Kat Bastion online other than her website, Twitter, and her author’s FB page which was notably absent of any personal interaction with her fans and the only likes on her post were hers. Various places in her social sphere note she writes with her husband Stone. I did find her personal FB page with her full name so the name isn’t made up (I guess). Yet, there is very little about who she is as a person or an author on her website so I don’t get the gist of who she is to help feel the curiosity of a reader to an author. (I cannot be the only one who stalks authors while reading their books. But it is much easier now!) I couldn’t find much engagement with her/their fans which left me a bit surprised. Don’t you want to build an audience? Don’t you want to meet and greet with the people who read you? Several close friends of mine are indie authors and they cultivate their online life a much as they do their writing and it pays off.

tl;dr: Do not pay money for a book where the author clearly needs a writing class or ten.

Paranormal · Romance

Review: Werewolves Prefer Shortbread

Werewolves Prefer Shortbread

Title: Werewolves Prefer Shortbread
Author: Dakota Isaacs
Page Count: N/A
Publication: October 2021
Series: Christmas Cookies

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: )

This book is terrible.

An ARC from Netgalley, which is how I get most of my books these days, I picked up this one because it sounded cute and I’ve been in the mood for holiday romances as of late.

I regret this decision.

Where to begin? We’re given a muddled background that Callum McAllister is from Scotland but he had to leave to his place in the US for some reason why bringing thee werewolf pups with him that he rescued from an orphanage. He has the hots for the local bakeshop owners who has done amazing things and yet is only 23! There is also the plot line of a McAllister kicking out the baker’s grandmother from the cottage on his property and that plot line was immediately forgotten.

This is all in the first few pages mind.

The book is short, thank god, but the action is so haphazard and the explanation of why things are the way they are leaves one wanting. There is no chemistry between the protagonists and no conflict.

I don’t get how people are giving this five stars. It’s totally a masterclass in how not to write.

Isaacs does not have a social media presence that I could fine. There is a Dakota Isaacs whose VP or something or another but their Twitter doesn’t mention any of the Dakota Isaacs the author books. Oh yes readers, Isaacs has gifted us all with more stories. Thank god they digital because they are not worthy of the paper they would be printed on.

Totally, absolutely, do not recommend.

Mystery

Review: The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden

The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden Title: The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden
Author: Kate Saunders
Page Count: 324
Publication: December 2021
Series: Laetitia Rood Mystery #3

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, The Times, Publisher’s Weekly)

One of the reasons I started this blog was because most review sites, nay 95% of them, tend to give you a re-written summary of the book and maybe a personal thought or two. Rarely happens and I’m surprised when it does. (Also, places that offer “reviews” such as Kirkus, Pub Weekly, and so forth do the same damn thing.)

And it’s disheartening reading those online reviews because surely I must have missed something if I don’t have the same reaction, or even close to the reaction, as other reviewers. (People on Goodreads tend to be more open and forthwith with their thoughts on such things.)

Maybe my taste is that much different? Sometimes it feels like I’m being purposely contrarian to those around me but truly, if I don’t dig into a book, then why bother writing frothy reviews of it, let alone finish it?

Now that that preamble is out of the way, I’ve been in a cozy mystery mood for some time now and this showed up in Netgalley as right up my alley and I took the chance.

Kirkus says,

The fastidious manners, which fit the 19th-century setting, are leavened with enough humor to suit modern tastes.

Are we even reading the same book?

Eh.

I found the plot and pace slow. I read Victorian lit in college and I do not recall works dragging their feet. The mood of The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden seems to be on Victorian brand, though a little heavy handed, and the character development was mostly well thought out but I kept waiting for the pace to pick and carry on with the story. It just wasn’t happening. I found myself flipping through my Kindle pages with dry expectations. I felt like I was reading in Jello and there were no marshmallows or canned fruit in it to liven it up.

Goodreads’ reviews indicate that many who are fans of the series who find it charming and droll, which I don’t see but whatever, but they do note that this book isn’t as charming as the first two so it very well could be I picked a wrong place to start. But what I read was enough to note that I probably won’t pick up the first two. Saunders is also known for her historical biographies so that may be on the pile first.

tl;dr Slow paced and not quite as funny as proclaimed, only worthy if you’re a fan of the series and want a bit more.

 

LGTBQI+ · YA and Teen

Review: The Big Reveal

The Big RevealTitle: The Big Reveal
Author: Jen Larsen
Page Count: 304
Publication: December 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, Popsugar)

A friend of mine, Jen, proudly announce that a friend of hers, Jen Larsen, had a new book coming out in December. That book, The Big Reveal, was about a teen ager who while fat showed that being fat was not who she is: Addie is more than fat. She’s a talented dancer. She’s a feminist. She’s the loyalist of friends. She is beautiful. She’s inspirational. She is everything I want to be and I’m old enough to be her mother.

Larsen, whose name sounded familiar but I could quite place, until I realised she’s also the author of Stranger Here, a memoir of her weight loss surgery (WLS). Larsen went on to lose 180lbs, a whole person!, as told in her funny and all too painfully true story. Now, I’m regurgitating what I read on Good Reads about the book, which I have not read, yet, but another friend, Sara, recommended the book to me as a primer to help make my decision about my own WLS journey. I can confidently say two things about Stranger Here: It’s been bumped up my queue and if Stranger Here is anything like The Big Reveal in terms of writing, I’m going to love it.

Some may say that being fat is a choice and if we’re being brutally honest, it isn’t. Not really. People can have disordered eating at any size but being fat can also be the result of medicines, health conditions, and genetics. In an ideal world, we could all be Addie: confident in our own skin and assertive enough to put ourselves into the front of line and not let the commentary about our bodies slow us down. I know this is something I’ve been struggling with and if you keep up with my newsletter (of course), detailing my journeys on struggling with who I am, I could use a boost of Addie right now. I’ve had more friends decide to do the WLS route recently and it is scary to think they are willing to rearrange organs to achieve an acceptable size.

Can’t we just be enough? Sometimes we think not, and that breaks my heart for my own self and my struggle with my own perception of me.

But Addie, Addie, Addie. She has the best of friends, a well intentioned but misses the mark mother, and a wonderful support sytem. But believing in yourself isn’t just about the support system you have but it’s also truly, deep down inside, believing who you are and that you are good enough. Addie believes she is good enough, more than good enough, and that’s what sets this charm of a book to its core.

I don’t know if I’m going to do WLS just yet, and I’ve been mulling about it for months, but I do know I’m going to pull a bit of Addie in my life and start to believe not only am I good enough, but that I’m worthy of taking up space.

tl;dr Insightful, beautifully written, full of warmth and charm, The Big Reveal will be, dare I say and I hate this word, an unputdownable book that will make you want to believe in everything around you. Five stars.

No Idea How to Classify

Review: Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village

Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English VillageTitle: Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village
Author: Maureen Johnson (author) and Jay Cooper (illustrator)
Page Count: 128
Publication: September 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

Maureen Johnson is a celebrated YA author and Jay Cooper is a celebrated illustrator. Together, they have created a gem of a book that is hard to describe. Well, it is easy to describe not not quite so easy to classify.

You have a well thought out travelogue of what and what not to do if you happen to be traveling in England and find yourself in a quaint village. You’ve seen or read enough cozy mysteries to know something always happen. You’ve at least seen Hot Fuzz, right? There is always murder and mayhem in quaint little villages. Who knew the pie at the village fete would be poisoned or that the butcher had it in for the grocer. There is always something sinister and evil hanging out around the local pub.

But fret no more! Johnson and Cooper have you covered on what to do if you happen to visit the local manor, slink around the vicarage, or head down to the local pub. And be very careful especially at the local manor where the old person and the weird son are ready to throw knives at you at any chance.

The illustrations are a delight and Johnson’s dead pan delivery in her writing. She’s notable for her comedic timing and her witty commentary on Twitter and it’s so evident in the book which makes it even more amusing.

But be forewarned, this slim book is a fast read and you’ll find yourself a bit disappointed that the fun is done but remember, if you ever travel to an quaint English village, you’ll know exactly what to do.

Romance

Review: The Countess Conspiracy

The Countess ConspiracyTitle: The Countess Conspiracy
Author: Courtney Milan
Page Count: 309
Publication: December 2013
Series: The Brothers Sinister #3

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other Reviews: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books)

Reviewed by Natalie

Though this is the third book in the Brothers Sinister series, you don’t need to read the other two to enjoy it. I did not, though I do want to after reading this.
Sebastian and Violet have a wonderful romance. Violet is a scientific genius, but because she’s a woman, she cannot present her ideas. Over the last few years, Sebastian has been doing it for her until he gets tired of lying. To say Violet doesn’t like this turn of events is putting it mildly. Science is the only thing she’s truly passionate about; with good reason. Her backstory unfurls slowly throughout the book.
It was agony getting the bits and pieces of why Violet is the way she is, but when you find out, it’s a doozy. She’s utterly oblivious as to how Sebastian truly feels about her. He has to tell her to her face. Winning her over is by no means an easy task, but Sebastian is the perfect hero for the job.
I love romances; I mean who doesn’t love a happily ever after? Sebastian and Violet’s is a different level of romance for me. It was a beautiful and at times heartbreaking story. I loved every page of it.
Mystery

Review: The Midnight Hour

Title: The Midnight Hour
Author: Elly Griffiths
Page Count: 352
Publication: December 2021
Series: Brighton Mysteries #6

 

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Publisher’s Weekly)

It’s simply OK.

When you review a digital ARC, it is hoped that the formatting of the file doesn’t take away from the story and that the reviewer is conscious of this and doesn’t use it against the book content.

That’s the idea anyway.

But I cannot help but mentioned the formatting for this book was not that great. Paragraphs were broken up, words were overlapped, book info was sometimes deposited in between the sentences. I’ve published a book on Amazon before and it’s not really that hard to get the formatting set up if you’re willing to put in the time and energy to do it. That a professional publishing house didn’t see fit to do that, yes yes, it’s an ARC, is a bit lazy.

Back to the story.

The Midnight Hour is the sixth installment in the Brighton Mysteries. At this point, the characters are well established and a history has been formed. I give Griffiths points that she was able to fill in the missing pieces and the book can be read as a standalone. That’s often a difficult job to do, why do authors go on forever?, and Griffiths pulls it out quite nicely.

I also felt the twists and turns of the story were strong, but it was the damned formatting that got me flustered and frustrated. I’m trying to enjoy a novel only to be besieged by a mess.

I didn’t see the murderer coming and it wasn’t obvious whodunnit which is also refreshing. The writing was okay, some places Griffiths was strong and other places a bit lackluster. Griffiths mentions in the afterword that she wrote the book during lock down and we all know that we’re not in the best shape of mind so some parts felt a bit desperate. I did enjoy the characters did travel around England which I bet Griffiths was longing to do herself and let her fictional characters do it for her.

I like historical mysteries (especially cozies but this one is close to but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is) and I this this series has a lot of promise. The timing of the publication and writing period may have not been that great. Like I said, the book is OK. Serviceable and gets the job done. Griffiths won an Edgar for previous work so maybe this is a one off?

Griffiths is prolific. One of my libraries has 20 of her books alone so I’m totally up for reading her other work to see if she is all that and a bag of chips.

tl;dr: Serviceable. Worth if if you’re a fan of the series or of Griffiths herself. Printed and formalized Kindle editions won’t have the formatting issues so take that into consideration and my review affected by this as a grain of salt.

Mystery

Review: Murder at Mallowan Hall

Title: Murder at Mallowan Hall
Author: Colleen Cambridge
Page Count: 272
Publication: October 2021
Series: Phyllida Bright Mystery #1

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

I knew it!

When I reviewed Tomes Scones and Crones, I knew Colleen Cambridge (Colleen Gleason), based on her The Clockwork Scarab, was a good and decent writer. I enjoyed The Clockwork Scarab muchly and was slightly disappointed by Tomes Scones and Crones. It felt half-assed and rushed. Plus the goddamned librarian stereotype even down to the cardigan.

So we’re 1-1 and while I knew I would pick up Stoker & Holmes series again, I wasn’t quite sure with Tomes Scones and Crones. Nevertheless, based upon description alone, I knew I was going to read Murder at Mallowan Hall.

Enjoyed it muchly, I did!

But to be honest, I’m a sucker for pastiches and anything that happens in English country homes. A vague closed room mystery, I had no idea who the killer was until the very end when Phyllida breaks it on down in the vein of Poirot (someone much admired by our detective heroine). A non-traditional cozy mystery, Cambridge (Gleason) lays down a breadcrumb of a story that at times twists unnaturally but not unnecessarily. This book forces you to pay attention to follow along. But at the same time, it’s a very quick engrossing read. While I don’t think you’ll come back to this book, you will be eager to read the follow-ups.