2020

Favourite Books of 2020

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2020 was a rough year and reading was a struggle for me at times. I barely read 45 books this past year, the lowest number for me for the past couple of years. Despite the small number, there were some real gems among them and I have compiled them in a list with 10 favourite books of 2020. 

1. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. Simply the best queer romcom I have read. Funny and sweet and touching, both very real and very over the top. You can read my full review here.


2. Network Effect by Martha Wells. I binged read the Murderbot series and they basically saved may sanity during the lockdown. Never in a million years I thought I would come to care so much about a sentient murder bot and their friends. 


3. Whiteout by Adriana Anders. I really this early in 2020 and it was such a great start to what turned to be a really difficult year. The story was pure adrenaline rush with a dose of romance and I am super excited for the next book coming out in August 2021. You can read my full review here.


4. Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, mostly after reading the previous two book in the series, I approach this one as SFF with romantic elements, rather than as a proper romance. Two people falling in love amidst trying to save their world in some space adventures. You can read my full review here.


5. One Night with the Sexiest Man Alive by Ainslie Paton. This book is all the titles as - one sexy, tropey romance that pushed all my buttons. Strong Pretty Woman vibes (minus the sex work), movie worthy grovel scene in the end. You can read my full review here.


6. Headlines by Lucy Parker. I have loved all of Lucy's books and this one is no exception. Such great enemies to lovers romance. You can read my full review here.


7. Wolf in Sheep's Clothing by Charlie Adhara. This is book 4 in an ongoing series following the same couple (human and werewolf) investigating crimes together. It's high heat, intense suspense and an ever growing romantic relationship. You can read my full review here.


8. Alpha Night by Nalini Singh. Another winner in the Psy-Changeling series. These books were my introduction to paranormal romance and continue to be my favourtie till this day. What I love the most about this story how unique it is in the Psy-changeling world yet it fits perfectly in it.


9. Sweet On You by Carla de Guzman. It's a Christmas romance set in the Philippines and I loved it. steeped in local traditions and delicious food it was a balm to the soul to read. You can read my full review here.


10. To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters. It's a delightful regency romcom that made me laugh and swoon. You can read my full review here.


And bonus entry:

11. Division Bells by Iona Datt Sharma. I picked this on a twitter rec and was taken by surprise how gorgeous it is. It's a bit melancholy, a bit sad, a lot political and ultimately charming and hopeful and i loved it. You can read my full review here.



Historical Romance

Review: To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters

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Title: To Have and to Hoax 
Author:  Martha Waters
Date of publication: 7 Apr 2020
Genre / Themes: Historical Romance / Marriage in trouble / Romcom

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

In this fresh and hilarious historical rom-com, an estranged husband and wife in Regency England feign accidents and illness in an attempt to gain attention—and maybe just win each other back in the process.

Five years ago, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley met, fell in love, and got married. Four years ago, they had a fight to end all fights, and have barely spoken since.

Their once-passionate love match has been reduced to one of cold, detached politeness. But when Violet receives a letter that James has been thrown from his horse and rendered unconscious at their country estate, she races to be by his side—only to discover him alive and well at a tavern, and completely unaware of her concern. She’s outraged. He’s confused. And the distance between them has never been more apparent.

Wanting to teach her estranged husband a lesson, Violet decides to feign an illness of her own. James quickly sees through it, but he decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation, featuring actors masquerading as doctors, threats of Swiss sanitariums, faux mistresses—and a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought. Will the two be able to overcome four years of hurt or will they continue to deny the spark between them?

Review 

This is a delightful historical romcom, a solid debut by Martha Waters. It's a marriage in trouble plot and the MCs have been estranged for four! years after they had a fight. There is a also ridiculous game of pretend she starts as a way to make him show his feelings for her. It is not something that should work for me on paper but in reality, it was great fun, whimsical and light-hearted but also going deep into issues of family, marriage, intimacy. 

The writing is engaging and clever, the humour worked great for me and overall the story felt rich and very atmospheric. 

The main conflict in the story, a massive row that left Violet and Audley barely speaking to each other for four! years, could have been easily resolved with an honest conversation. It felt like they have wasted four years over nothing, and all their friends agree with me but at the same time it didn't bother me as much as I expected because of them never being in denial about their feelings and then when their game of pretend began they quickly saw through it and went on pretending while admitting their feelings to themselves (and each other eventually).

Audley is the uptight, highly determined and focused, a white knight in shining armour kind of herop (my catnip basically) who is madly in love with his wife but he is really incapable to talk about his feelings, admitting he made the wrong assumption was very difficult for him. Violet is flirty and frivolous, smart and curious and energetic and absolutely loved her. 

They have a turbulent relationship, they have to work on being more open, more trusting, need to find a way to be together but I can see they both want it and ready to put in the effort, so I can see them work as a couple in the long term and that is what got me over their stubbornness and stupidity to cling to their anger for four! years.

I love their tight circles of close friends and can't wait to read more books in the series featuring them. 

I would recommend this book with the caveat that the main conflict is based on a misunderstanding that could have been easily resolved if the MCs just talked to each other. 

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Contemporary Romance

Review: The Forever Girl by Jill Shalvis

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Title: The Forever Girl (Wildstone #6)
Author: Jill Shalvis
Date of publication: 12 Jan 2021
Genre / Themes: Contemporary Romance / Small town 

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 3,5 Stars


Blurb

When Maze returns to Wildstone for the wedding of her estranged bff and the sister of her heart, it’s also a reunion of a once ragtag team of teenagers who had only each other until a tragedy tore them apart and scattered them wide.

Now as adults together again in the lake house, there are secrets and resentments mixed up in all the amazing childhood memories. Unexpectedly, they instantly fall back into their roles: Maze their reckless leader, Cat the den mother, Heather the beloved baby sister, and Walker, a man of mystery. 

Life has changed all four of them in immeasurable ways. Maze and Cat must decide if they can rebuild their friendship, and Maze discovers her long-held attraction to Walker hasn’t faded with the years but has only grown stronger. 

Review

I haven't read the previous books in the series but this works perfectly as standalone. I'd say this story fall between romance and women's fiction - there is a central love story and a HEA but also a lot of time and focus is dedicated to the other characters (found family of the MCs).

I enjoyed the world Jill Shalvis, one were friendships and family matter, where people try to do their best despite the circumstances, where they make mistakes and take wrong turn along the way but are ultimately led by kindness. We get usual dose of pets and babies, mostly for comic relief without overshadowing the romance. 

On the negative side, I felt too much of the conflict was based on misunderstanding. I realise why the Maze ad Walker couldn't discuss things openly from the start. The trauma of their childhood is a serious one that has marked them and it was not easy for them to overcome their fears and to see themselves as worthy of love. 

There were some unexpected plot twists which I liked even though the story more or less went in the direction I expected it to go from the start. It's this familiarity, knowing what is coming, that makes these books comfort reads for me. 

I found this to be a comforting, hopeful story, making me buy the romance between the MCs, leaving me convinced they are right for each other and are good for each other and can make each other happy. It's this hopefulness, the promise of a better future together, that's the reason I read romance.

CW: Child abuse, neglect (in the past), fire, lost of a loved one

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Charlie Adhara

Review: Cry Wolf by Charlie Adhara

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Title: Cry Wolf (Big Bad Wolf #5)
Author: Charlie Adhara
Genre / Themes: Shifters /Murder mystery
Release date: 18 Jan 2021 

Author's links: Website / Twitter/ Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars

Blurb

Agent Cooper Dayton never thought anything could be harder than solving murders. Until he had to plan a wedding.

After taking down an old adversary, Agent Cooper Dayton of the Bureau of Special Investigations has earned a break. Not that planning a wedding to his sexy shifter partner, Oliver Park, is necessarily stress free, but it’s better than worrying about the ominous warning, delivered months ago, that Cooper’s life is in danger.

When he’s dragged to an event by his family, Cooper braces for an awkward evening, but instead finds himself in the middle of an ugly feud between Park’s ex and a rebel pack leader. What was supposed to be a quick outing turns into a full-blown murder investigation after the pack leader ends up dead, Park’s ex goes missing, and Cooper and Park are sent a series of disturbing wedding gifts that are somehow connected to it all.

The list of potential suspects is long, and with the bodies piling up, Cooper must turn to the one person he trusts the least: the villain he’s already put behind bars once and who has nothing to lose by lying and everything to gain if Cooper is out of the picture—for good. 

Review 

This is another great installment in the series and I loved everything about it - the romantic relationship, the suspense, the new insights we got into the wolf world. 

The book covers Cooper and Park getting for their wedding which any married person will tell is stressful in itself but add a murder investigation and things really hectic. I loved how much they cared for each other and wanted to be their best and to do their best to make their partner happy. It's really relationship goals for me. At the same time both of them continue to work through the traumas of their past and this is not easy for either of them. 

The mystery plot was intricate and engaging. I liked how it brought the past, present and future together. The mystery felt overwhelming at times, like a puzzle with too many pieces but in the the end I found its resolution fitting and satisfying.

We see more of Cooper's family and it was great, both his father and his brother are shown in a new light and it all reflects on Cooper, making him re-evaluate a lot of things about himself. We also meet more werewolves and the world around Park and Cooper just grows richer and fuller. 

Overall this is well written story, great romance and suspense plot, great side characters, great HEA. That said, I am curious how the series will continue. This doesn't read like the final book but more like a set for more stories in this world inhabited by humans and werewolves, at the same time the romantic relationship feels complete to me. I am wondering if another couple might take center stage in next installments (if there will be any).

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Second Chance on Cypress Lane by Reese Ryan

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Title: Second Chance on Cypress Lane 
(Holy Grove Island #1)
Author: Reese Ryan
Genre/Themes: Contemporary small town romance
Release Date: 1 Dec 2020

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb

When a romance gone wrong lands reporter Dakota Jones in the pages of the tabloids, her rising star crashes and burns. Instead of getting the weekend anchor job she'd been promised, she's promptly shown the door. Which leaves her one option: return home to lick her wounds, eat lemon meringue pie, and plot her comeback while actively avoiding the man who once broke her heart.

Dexter Roberts made a huge mistake when he walked away from Dakota, and he's regretted it ever since. So when Dakota returns to Holly Grove Island to regroup and decide what's next, Dex can't pass up the opportunity to win back the love of his life. Now he just needs to convince Dakota to give him a second chance. 

Review 

This is a second chance small town romance, book 1 in a series. It's my first read by this author and although it was nice, I didn't end up loving. There is nothing majorly wrong or problematic with this story. It's just slow, with a lot of going back and forth of the MCs in their decisions about the relationship.
I kept coming across minor stuff that annoyed me and it all added up and made frustrated.

The MCs were wildly in love as teenagers but split up when they went to college (it was dramatic and people and she never quite got over it). Now 15 years later she is back in her small hometown and they inevitable meet again and rekindle their relationship, first as friends, gradually back to lovers and long-term partners. 

I felt they acted too immature for people in their 30s, kept secrets and never talked openly and honestly until forced by outside circumstances to do it. Here is comes my issue with the main conflict and its reveal (she learned from someone else and confronted him). I hated how this played out, how quick she was to forgive him and the other party involved. It all could have been avoided if they had acted as adults from the start and talked things through. 

As a side note, the hero describes the heroine as "having curves at all the right places" is not quite the compliment he thinks he is. There was also the moment with sharing someone else's medical information which didn't feel right to me. I understand the good intentions behind it but it's still a matter of respecting people's privacy and it was violated in my opinion. 

As I said in the beginning it is all small things coming up here and there in the story but they added up making stealing some of the enjoyment I got from this story. 

On top of it all the ending was just too neat and too perfect for my liking. Yes, I want the HFN/HEA romance promises but the ending where everyone forgives everyone else and they all love and respect and care for each other and have no more issues to fix is not working that great for me. I guess it fits with the overall dreamy, escapist tone of the story which could be great for other readers but was not right for me. 

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