Romance

Review: Meet Me in the Margins

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.

 

Mystery

Review: Pride, Prejudice, and Peril

Title: Pride, Prejudice, and Peril
Author: Katie Oliver
Page Count: 320
Publication: December 2021
Series: Jane Austen Tea Shop Mystery #1

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

(Other reviews: )

tl;dr Overall the book was a fast read and was sturdy in its compensation. Nothing too obvious seemed to be off and the ends of mystery tied up a bit nicely. The writing was competent. Austen fans who happen to be cozy mystery fans will love this and the series is worth exploring.

Read the complete review over at Excessively Diverting.

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: 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.

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.

 

Folklore · Mythology · Thriller

Review: Comfort Me With Apples

Title: Comfort Me With Apples
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Page Count: 112
Publication: November 2021

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

(Other reviews: Publisher’s Weekly)

Valente is a prolific author with a variety of genres under her belt. She tends to write of the fantastic as well as the unreal. Her work is hard to categorize which puts her in a league all of her own.

Comfort Me With Apples, billed a thriller, isn’t. Not really. It’s a retelling of a creation myth with a twist. A big turn of a twist but the reader is too lulled by Valente’s deft words in this slim volume. It reminded me quite a bit of Speak Easy, another slim volume by Valente that came out in 2015.

(INTERESTINGLY, Speak Easy  is not listed on her site nor is it often listed when her bibliography is reproduced in magazine articles.)

Two different topics, yes, but the writing is very similar: it breathes as you read, a pulse that is sometimes hard to put your finger on but you know it’s there. Much like the two hearts of The Doctor. But unlike Speak Easy, review hereComfort Me With Apples is much more cohesive. Valente has grown as a writer, which seems impossible because she’s always been fantastically good at her job, but her work is stronger here in words and plot.

This could read that I’m being superfluous, but I’m not, not really. That’s how Valente reviews work: you praise her writing, marvel at her imagination, and ponder how many muses she must kill to write this well. I’m kidding. Sort of.

Let’s cut to the chase: Why should you read Comfort Me With Apples? Because it will be an underrated book that is both thoughtful and thought provoking. It will present a topic we rarely think about with a new perspective. It will have you thinking long into the night to not open up locked vanity drawers if you’re not ready for the truth. It’s clever and a quick read. A perfect cleanser no matter what you just read. A baby thriller that shows that one day Valente is going to let loose; really loose, and it will be a joy to behold.