Contemporary Romance

Review: Undercover by Rebecca Crowley

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Title: Undercover (London Phoenix #2)
Author: Rebecca Crowley
Genre /Tropes: Contemporary romance, journalist investigation
Release Date: 17 September 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars

Blurb 

The assignment has a deadline, but does their relationship?

After almost ten years dodging bullets as a foreign correspondent, Asher Brody is struggling to find his place back in the U.K. – and in his family-run newspaper, the London Phoenix. He’s intent on proving he’s as committed as his brothers, even if it means putting on a suit and posh accent to investigate a high-ranking executive at an upscale retreat.

Ada Hunter wasted years trailing her ex-boyfriend, only for him to turn his back when her documentary career finally took off. Now she’s beating her own path, and it’s taking her all over the world. To secure funding for her next project, she takes a risky job with the Phoenix posing as broody-sexy Asher’s fake girlfriend – too good to be true.

They plan to spend a few days pretending to be a couple at a country estate before going their separate ways. But when bad weather strands them in the countryside, temptation develops into something more and the line between fantasy and reality becomes dangerously blurred. 

Review 

This is the second book in the London Phoenix series and I enjoyed it much more than the first book. I found the conflict more believable and really liked both MCs.

It starts pretty similarly to book 1 but this time the accidental hook-up was interrupted before it actually happened and led to some fake dating and surprise, surprise, love. 

There is an element of forced proximity in the romance and it worked really well for me. I liked how the MCs worked to get their goals and in the process helped each other.

Ada was pretty certain who she was, she had reasons not to want a relationship and to focus on her career at that time. Asher seemed to be at a different stage in his life, he wanted stability and permanence after years being a reporter in the field and after a painful break up with his ex. 

There was a reversal of the traditional roles here - the woman was confident and self-assured and didn't want a relationship; the man was having his doubts about who he was and what he wanted (a serious committed relationship, being settled in one place). He had to repeatedly remind himself that it was a fake relationship and they had a specific goal in mind, there was no room for feelings. 

The story reached a point where I knew one of them had to make a compromise and I wasn't sure who it would be and honestly, I didn't know whom I was rooting for to do it. I'm very happy with the ending where they found the right balance for things between them to work out in the long term. 

I liked the relationship between the three brothers, how they worked together in the newspaper and all the glimpses we got of them trying to be closer to each other, sticking together after the death of their mother, continuing some family traditions and establishing new ones of their own. 

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Alexis Hall

Review: Arden St. Ives series by Alexis Hall

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Review 

I got an ARC of the final book in the series, so I binge read all three books in a week. What an emotional journey this has been. As usual I find myself lost for words when it comes to reviewing Alexis Hall’s books, so this won't be a very eloquent or coherent review, I'm afraid. I tend to have a very emotional reaction to his stories which makes my reviews more personal than usual.

On the surface and judging by the titles ans covers this is a billionaire m/m romance but the more I read the more I saw it as a story about two people with troubled pasts find their ways to each other. A bildungsromans of sorts for Ardy in particular, but very much for Caspian too.

The story is told exclusively from Ardy's POV and I loved the easy flow and multitude of things going on that made me eager to keep reading in order to find out how it will end.

Something, Alexis Hall does really, really well in my opinion is the creation of characters who feel real, human, with flaws and strengths. And this was very much the case here. It's not just Ardy and Caspian but almost every minor character was interesting and I got engaged in their stories. 

I found Ardy so easy to relate to - we see him navigating University, graduation, first serious job, making new friendships and keeping close the old ones, first attempt at a serious relationship. And the pressure there was not because Caspian was a billionaire, it was because of who Caspian is- a trauma survivour riddled with guilt and shame, refusing to accept his past, desperately trying to be someone different than who he is. 

It's a very emotional story both for Ardy and Caspian. Lots of mistakes get made and it's one of the things I particularly liked int he story. The way none of the characters are perfect and they don't always know the right thing to do/say but Ardy is very keen to listen and to learn, Caspian is more reluctant but still ready to make sincere apologies and amends for his mistakes. Even Nathaniel whom I got hate at some point despite understanding the terrible position he found himself to be, so even he is not malicious and only had the best intentions and is ready to admit he has been wrong/misguided in his approach to everything. 

I want to say a few words how trauma is handled in this series. It's not there for shock value or for tragedy p0rn, it's presented a complex issue that needs professional handling, one that affects the deepest corners of one's soul. There is no easy way to deal with it and no magic peen can cure it.

On that note, I am very happy to say that despite the heavy emoptional content of the books none of it due to queerphobia. The issues the characters deal with have nothing to do with them being gay. And the books are so effortlessly queer, it's a joy to read. No token marginalisation, no fetishising, lots of queer characters interacting in multitude of ways - as friends, lovers, in professional capacity. 

I also want to mention how much I loved Ardy's family and how important I found the episode with his biological father. It was disturbing but also very much needed to show a different aspect of Ardy's personality. We get a first-hand look at how powerful manipulation can be, how dangerous people like Ardy's father can be and how Ardy is noting like that.

Caspian and Ardy spent most of book 3 apart, they are both involved with other people, they cheat on them. It was a wild ride, I cried and laughed and wanted to hug them and make it all better for everyone. But I also see how they needed that time apart, how it was important for them to work through their issues on their own before trying to be together. Because we know they can be good together, we saw that already in the previous book.

All in all, I love how Alexis Hall takes apart the conventions of the romance genre and re-arranges them to come up with an unforgettable romance. It's nothing like I have read before, yet it's very much a tropey, swoon-worthy romance.

Just a couple of words on the supporting characters, Ellery, Bellerose, Nik, Nathaniel, George - they are all colourful and unique and give this richness and depth to the world of the books. The romance between Caspian and Ardy doesn't happen in isolation, like real people they are busy doing other things while falling in love.

One of the most loving episodes in the series for me involves Ardy taking care of Bellerose. It encapsulates everything good in this world (together with so much of the bad in it). It's about love and care in its purest form.

The trilogy ends with the sweetest epilogue, full of tenderness and promise. It's the beginning of a long process for Ardy and Caspian of learning how to be together and be happy. And it's why I read romance, for this ultimate moment of hope - love is possible, happiness is possible, the darkness can be defeated.

CW: Assault, sexual abuse (in the past). attempted rape, death of a parent (in the past), stalking and manipulation, drug use, car accident (secondary character), cheating, panic attacks, unprocessed trauma 

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Alix E. Harrow

First Paragraph Monday

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This is not a regular feature but I just started a book with an awesome first paragraph that I just need to share. Here is the start of Ten Thousand Doors of January, debut fantasy with a dash of romance from what I hear, by Alix E. Harrow. And that cover, it's stunning, isn't it? 

When I was seven, I fond a door. I suspect I should capitalize that word, so you understand I'm not talking about garden-or common-variety door that leads reliably to a white-tiles kitchen or a bedroom closet. 



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Architects

Review: Playing House by Ruby Lang

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Author: Ruby Lang
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, architects/city planners
Release Date: 12 Aug 2019

Author links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb 

Romance blossoms between two city planners posing as newlyweds in this first in a bright new series by acclaimed author Ruby Lang

The last thing Oliver Huang expects to see on the historic Mount Morris home tour is longtime acquaintance Fay Liu bustling up and kissing him hello. He’s happy to playact being a couple to save her from a pushy admirer. Fay’s beautiful, successful and smart, and if he’s being honest, Oliver has always had a bit of a thing for her.

Maybe more than a bit.

Geeking out over architectural details is Oliver and Fay’s shared love language, and soon they’re touring pricey real estate across Upper Manhattan as the terribly faux but terribly charming couple Darling and Olly.

For the first time since being laid off from the job he loved, Oliver has something to look forward to. And for the first time since her divorce, Fay’s having fun.

Somewhere between the light-filled living rooms and spacious closets they’ve explored, this faux relationship just may have sparked some very real feelings. For Oliver and Fay, home truly is where their hearts are.


Review 

This s a delightful novella about two city planners re-building their lives and falling in love in the meantime. I have read the previous series by this author, Practice Perfect, and I really enjoy her voice and writing style - direct, somewhat abrupt but really fitting to the characters and the stories she tells. 

I liked both MCs here quite a lot. Fay had all the professional success but her personal life was in shambles as she was trying to navigate her it as a new divorcee. Oliver was in more fraught situation than her since he had neither personal, nor professional success (in his own eyes, at least). 

I liked how they got together, the pretense which gave them the freedom to be themselves and to do the things they wanted but under normal circumstances would be hesitant to try. I also love the personal growth they undergo, on their own and while being together. The conflict felt real and it forced them to re-evaluate a lot of things about themselves and what they want their lives to be in the future. 

The story had great secondary characters, Oliver's brother really stood out and I'd love to read his story some day. hey both have complicated relationships with their families.

As a minor drawback, the story was too short and last quarter felt rushed, I would have loved to see more of Fay and Oliver together, adjusting their lives to the new direction they chose for themselves. It feels especially relevant for him because he did make profound changes to his life/future plans.

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jewellery

Things I Liked This Week

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It's been a long, albeit slow week at work but we are experiencing a prolonged summer heat wave, that feels never-ending, so I have been all sweaty and irritable and it doesn't look like things will improve any time soon. 

Amidst the scorching heat that kills my ability to enjoy anything, I have found two videos I want to share with you in my semi-regular Things I Liked This Week post. 

First is this video of making mirrors, it' pretty mundane but for someone like me with not very good understanding of physics and chemistry, it looks fascinating, like a magic trick almost. I found it on pace Explorer make account on Twitter which is dedicate to space exploration and science. I don't don't know that much about either but find them interesting and a nice diversion from the pressure of everyday life, so I immediately followed that account, as one does :)

How Mirrors are Made

This video reminded me about another one which I saw last month, before I started this, and I wanted to share it here because it absolutely deserves it. It's a video of the Italian jewellery artist Pablo Cimadevilla making a gold ring. For those of my readers, my husband is a jeweller, and I have always loved jewellery but because of him I have become more interested in the hows and whys of making jewellery. It turns out that it's much more complicated than it appears on the surface. 

Making a gold butterfly ring: 

You can follow the artist on Facebook or Instagram for more of his work. 




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