Romance

Review: A Certain Appeal

Title: A Certain Appeal
Author: Vanessa King
Page Count: 352
Publication: November 2021

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly (starred review))

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice  retellings are a crapshoot. They can either be really good or really terrible (hello Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and you really don’t know until you get into the story.

Read more at Excessively Diverting.

Romance

Review: Meet Me in the Margins

Title: Meet Me in the Margins
Author: Melissa Ferguson
Page Count: 320
Publication: February 2022

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

(Other reviews: Publisher’s Weekly)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I picked this book up the other night as I wanted something to read that didn’t require a lot of thought process. Meet Me in the Margins fits the bill.

(Dear TK, I hope you were able to get the editing requests done before final publication.)

The book was fun and a delight to read. A fast book, one that I’m always fond of, I started it before bed the other night and finished it the following day. Some odd bits were the stress on Savannah’s shortness and her propensity to wear tall heels when that didn’t get picked up again later in the story so the mentioning of her shortness, at barely five feet, seemed a bit odd, however, it helped propel her meet cute with Will.

I wish there was more development between Will and Sav which seems to have started out as a slow burn and not enough fire to keep it going. The ending just kind of happened. Sav’s relationship with her ex-boyfriend now potential brother in law was too close for comfort. I know the family motto was loyalty for family and to buck up and keep your chin up but there should have been more angst and pain rather than “Oh, he brought me flowers. How kind.” situation going on. Her sister, Olivia, is a nightmare and I’m glad she got taken down a peg or two.

The mix-up with Sam and his lady friend was sweet. While I was not so crazy about how Ferguson treated Sav with her family, I did love the loyalty she had for her friend Layla the soon to be country music queen and the lengths she would go to support her. Also, Layla sounds like good fun. More of her please.

tl;dr I feel like this is not an original story but I can’t quite place why. I feel like the setup is not new but I do like Ferguson’s version of the story quite a bit. The book was well written and except for a few nit picks, the execution was good. There is enough here to investigate reading more of Ferguson’s works. Would recommend.

 

Romance

Review: No Ex Before Marriage

Title: 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.

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.

 

General Fiction

Review: The Last Chance Library

Title: The Last Chance Library
Author: Freya Sampson
Page Count: 336
Publication: August 2021

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find at your local library]

I’m going to admit right off the bat that when I started reading this book, I had a reaction. You could argue it was not a nice reaction but dammit, I’m tired of stereotypes when it comes to librarians! (I’m looking at you Tomes Scones and Crones.)

But there is also a thing I’m not shy or an introvert. Well, sometimes I can get shy but people read that as being standoffish. But introvert? Not to the point of June.

But perhaps is that because I’m not like June that initially I had a hard time sympathizing with her. “SPEAK UP, WOMAN!” I wanted to yell at her. “GET YOURSELF TOGETHER!” “GROW A PAIR!”

As I got more and more frustrated, I came to the conclusion that I cannot dismiss someone in so much pain and someone whose lost their way.

And that is the genius of Sampson’s work to get you to fall in love with June and want her to become herself and grow while at the same time not seeing overly sappy and sweet. It’s a tight balance to become a real, living, and breathing character as opposed to becoming a caricature.

June grew on me and I went from being grumpy about her to cheering her on. I’m not going to lie but the ending made me cry and June makes choices that you didn’t think she would make, namely how she chooses to liver her life but that’s the good about the book: it is sweetly surprising. Also, the slight romance really does help June grow and become more confident.

If you’re looking for a book that’s sweet and a bit warm to the heart and not complicated, it’s this book. The story is not going to excite you or make you want to change your life but that’s totally okay. Sometimes all we need in our is that sweetness and heart when the world seems so bleak and tired.

 

LGTBQI+ · Paranormal · Romance

Review: Payback’s a Witch

Title: Payback’s a Witch
Author: Lana Harper
Page Count: 352
Publication: October 2021
Series: Thistle Grover Witches #1

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

(Other reviews: Library Journal, BookPage, and Kirkus)

I continue on with my witchy books! It’s the spoopy season so shoot me.

Full of sass, sexy, and humour, Payback’s a Witch tickled me from both ends and I mean that in a very good way. The writing was slow at first and after the rush of The Ex Hex, that could be understandable. The Ex Hex throws you headlong into the story and there are no actions spared

Not so much with Payback’s a Witch and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We meet Emmy Harlow as she comes back to town for once in a generation tournament between the four witch families in Thistle Grove after a self-imposed exile in Chicago. In Chicago, she has not only become what she believes is herself but also her magic has waned and doesn’t fuck with her life like it does in Thistle Grove. But once she finds out that the man-boy who broke her heart has also broken the heart of two other witchy friends, hell is about to get loose.

But I must discuss what most reviews seem to want to not discuss: the hot sex, slow, and steamy build of a sexy relationship between Emmy and Talia. Harper builds this delicious slow and sexy world between Emmy and Talia that you can feel the spark from the page. You want to be either Emmy or Talia (it doesn’t matter much who) and be a part of that coupling. You do, you really do.

I’m not sure why the queer romance between Emmy and Talia is rarely mentioned in reviews as the book has gotten starred reviews around the publishing world. It’s not gratuitous. Emmy doesn’t come back to Thistle Grove “OH HOO I IZ A LESBIAN” and Talia isn’t stereotyped either. They are just hot (and fall in love) with each other and that’s what most important. I’m so, so thrilled that while we’re not given much of Emmy’s past relationships and that falling for a girl was just as natural as drinking coffee. Representation is important.

I also really liked how the world felt real. The witchy behaviour and the paranormal lives didn’t feel artificial or over the top. That’s always a concern for me when I read paranormal books that the world isn’t believable. Does magic exist? Sure, why not. There is no real reason why it can’t exist. There is so much about our world we have yet to understand or seems magical so that if people can cast spells and make inanimate things talk, why not?

From Bad to Cursed, book #2 in the Thistle Grove Witches series, comes out in May 2022 and I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty impatient. I read the first chapter and I was like, “Goddammit!” when the sample ended. I hope to god the ARC shows up on Netgalley or there will be hell to pay.

The tl;dr: Read it. Read it for the fun. Read it for the HEA (which Harper dangles at first in front of us). Read it for the romance. Just read it.

Mystery · Paranormal

Review: Tomes Scones and Crones

Title: Tomes Scones and Crones
Author: Colleen Gleason
Page Count: 298
Publication: October 2021
Series: Three Tomes Bookshop #1

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

As it is the spooky season, my foray into reading witchy books continues.

I read Gleason’s The Clockwork Scarab (the series where Sherlock Holmes’ niece and Bram Stoker’s sister solve crimes), and I recall really liking it but I never went forth to read the sequels. I think most of you reading this get it: too many books and not enough time. By happenstance, an author friend who happens to be friends with Gleason promoted Tomes Scones and Crones on Facebook and once I recognised the name AND that Gleason is a Michigan girl, I got my hands on an arc.

Which brings us to Tomes Scones and Crones which throws in some Macbeth witchy delight coupled with a magical bookshop in an adorable village with adorable villagers along with the hunky police detective located in N. Michigan with an over the hill (48!) librarian as the protagonist. At first thought:The Scottish play is great! I’m an over 40 librarian! I spend half a year living in a small village in N. Michigan. Is Gleason in my brain!?

Maybe.

Tomes Scones and Crones has a lot going on: it’s got a group of punky crone witches, fictional characters that come to life, an adorable village, a beyond dream of a bookshop, a villain that isn’t really scary, and new friends. The premise is great but the execution of some of it not so much.

First, there is the main character who is the over the hill librarian. Gleason was either writing tongue in cheek, which could be a possibility, or she really believed this archetype of a librarian was the real deal. Not gonna lie, sometimes I wanted to shake her because her attitude towards being a librarian was not what 21st century library science is about and it is TOTALLY OKAY TO EAT AND DRINK WHILE READING IN A LIBRARY! Most libraries allow snack and closed drinks to be near books. Second, the reason how Jaqueline lost her job is also a bit sketch and wouldn’t fly in 2021s sensibilities even though the book was written in the 2020s and not the 1950s. Sometimes it was hard to tell. Third, the mystery wasn’t really satisfying. And the throw in of another character acting a part of the plot felt a bit gratuitous and half-haphazard as if Gleason came up to a point and needed some filler for the story.

You may be thinking, is there anything to like about this book? Of course! The punky crone witches are a lot of fun, the bookstore premise sounded amazing, and the new burgeoning relationship between Jacqueline and her new friends seemed real. I loved how Gleason stylized the yoga instructor and the baker as real people and not characters. The flirt flirt romance with the Thor like police detective wasn’t so bad either.

Taken as a whole, the book IS a fun frothy and quick read and while Gleason has many books under her belt, I’m giving her some leeway on this series because it is a new series and she’s still ironing the kinks out. I do recall that with The Clockwork Scarab, I remember feeling a bit “quois?” about some of the scenes but I loved the idea so much I stopped overthinking and let it just go.

I’ll do the same for the Three Tomes Bookshop series as book two is coming out in the spring. There is a wonderful world to play in, like I said, Gleason has set up some great building blocks now it is only time before she truly shines.

General Fiction

Review: Beautiful World, Where Are You

Title: Beautiful World, Where Are You
Author: Sally Rooney
Page Count: 368
Publication: September 2021

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find it at your local library]

Note: If you are looking for a traditional review, let me point you to The New York Times,  Washington Post, and NPR as you will not find that here.

You’d be hard pressed in the beginning of September to not find either a glowing review or an ad for Beautiful World, Where Are You, the Irish wunderkind Sally Rooney’s third book. You may remember her from Normal People (now a series on Hulu which made me ugly cry) and Conversations with Friends. I’ve read both and enjoyed them. Rooney’s first two books were both widely acclaimed hence the “wunderkind” moniker since she’s barely broken 30 with three successful books under her belt and while I’m nearing 50 and find it difficult to maintain a chapter of my own fiction. Some days, I hate the bitch.

One thing that hung in the air between me and the book is how prescient Beautiful World, Where Are You must encapsulate echoes of Rooney’s own life. One of the main characters is Alice, a tortured novelist whose first two books were beyond successful and she hops from literary festivals winning literary prizes, where she feels exhausted and overwhelmed after each event. The weight of her fame and her inability to access her own self, or accessing it too much, lead to her nervous breakdown where she now recovers on Ireland’s western coast where she knocks around in a big and drafty rental house.

I wondered as I continued on with BWWAY if this was not Rooney’s way of communicating that yes, she writes wonderfully nuanced, Hemingway like prose that suffers from lots of acclaim and as one person put it about BWWAY, “Twilight for literary lovers.” How must, or can, one person take that level of scrutiny success and noise because they happened to write beautiful and nuanced stories that capture the heart of the current climate both politically, emotionally, and mentally?

What is that like, I wondered as I read to be Rooney: did she think she would become this successful or was she merely filling a gaping void she saw that needed some kind of plug? Was BWWAY a way to communicate to her critics that look, you’re putting me under a lot of stress and I’m on the verge here so fuck off – which seems entirely possible. Was Eileen, Alice’s best friend, a stand in for someone or something? Rooney is notoriously private and is not on social media which seems difficult to comprehend in this day and age. Granted my partner is also not on social media and I often have to explain what and how to him networks work but he’s a 42 year old body with a 105 year old mind. What is also odd is that social media,  hell the internet as a whole, is the way that authors work and communicate. The notorious aesthete Salman Rushdie is on Twitter. Paulo Coelho has over 2 million followers on Instagram. These are two men over 60 who are cultivating a following while producing literary prize work. And it’s not just Rushdie and Coelho but award winning authors such as Margaret Atwood interacts with her 2M fans on Twitter and the estate of Ursula K. Le Guin keeps her alive on Twitter and Instagram.

Where is Rooney? Does it really matter if she’s on the internet or not?

Let’s cut to the chase: Should you read BWWAY? Yes. Her prose is clear and accessible. The lives of Alice and Eileen and Felix and Simon are recognizable. The questions Rooney asks, outside of telling her critics to fuck off, are relatable. But keep in mind that the frailty of her characters could be a symptom of the world as they struggle to figure it out themselves. The older generations have left us younger ones with a mess and finding the beauty in the world is a small and grand feat at once. Take slow deep breaths, do not get sucked into how BWWAY pacing has you turning pages with haste, and relish that the beautiful world is out there and we need to just look and appreciate it.

General Non-Fiction

Review: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear


Title: A Libertarian Walks into a Bear
Author: Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
Page Count: 288
Publication: September 2020

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find it at your local library]

I hate libertarians.

When I say “hate,” I mean I want to throat punch their selfish asses. 90% of libertarians I have met or come across tend to cling onto the Ayn Rand (a hack), The Federalist Papers (if they are “academic” libertarians who like writing by dead white guys whose concerns rejected the notion of equality for anyone not white or male), and the 1st and 2nd Amendments. The premise of libertarianism seems a bit, not much but a bit, sane enough: limited interference by the government with self-rule at the helm, images of Orwell’s salient 1984 dancing like sugar plums in their heads to keep them on the straight and narrow. Socialism, democracy, republicanism, and every other ism is a pox upon humanity. Man, as Rand was known to wank, is only so much free as the property they own and living by their own moral aptitude or as we know it, capitalism.

So we find ourselves in Grafton, NH, a free hold for libertarians of all kinds who come to live in the near wild state of New Hampshire with the promise of limited government. Townies, I think at first a bit amused and then horrified, find their town and its services gutted after motion after motion by the now majority libertarian council and town folk reject proposal after proposal. Potholes are not filled, water sanitation becomes sketchy, schools are severely underfunded, and let us talk about the fire department. Oh, yes, they even gutted the fire department BECAUSE TAXES with the ideology that someone, anyone, will step up and buy the truck, train or hire the fighters, because that is what life is like in Grafton: Being selfless is for wussies, bring on the selfish!

I’ve spent nearly 300 words raging against the movement and not so much the book itself, which I would decry, is very good. A Libertarian Walks into a Bear was recommended to me by Brendan who sent me to read The Town That Went Feral, a review of the book over at The New Republic (which, tbh, reads more as a long form article then a review but who am I to judge?). Intrigued, I libraried the book and here we are.

Hongoltz-Hetling takes you through the foundation of Grafton as a freehold, it’s more colorful characters, and then there are the bears! We’re introduced into a brief history of bear activity in New England, specifically into NH, and how with management by the DNR, black bears have started to grow and flourish once more and they love Grafton. Especially the Doughnut Lady who started out leaving donuts for the bears and then it turned into feeding frenzy of bears waiting, docile even, for her daily feedings, but with grains now and doughnuts on top. Bears, at the most, were known to stay away from human life but with people in the area actively feeding the bears, the bears have grown bolder to stealing farm and domestic animals, even while the humans are still standing there.

There was even a bear attack on a human, which is thought to have been rare, but now is no longer.

The freeholders in Grafton dove tails nicely with the story of the overrunning bears as each runs on a parallel path towards the same goal: destruction of a once quirky town where there hellbent on living free, doing what they like, and who gives a fuck at the outcome?

Well, we should give a fuck even if the freeholders do not.

A Libertarian Walks into a Bear is a wonderfully constructed tale of a two utopias gone absurdly wrong and a larger parable of what happens when we stop caring.