Alexis Hall

Review: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall

02:30

Title: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake 
Author: Alexis Hall
Genre/Themes: queer m/f romance, reality TV baking competition
Release Date: 18 May 2021

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

My rating: 4 Stars



Blurb

Following the recipe is the key to a successful bake. Rosaline Palmer has always lived by those rules—well, except for when she dropped out of college to raise her daughter, Amelie. Now, with a paycheck as useful as greaseproof paper and a house crumbling faster than biscuits in tea, she’s teetering on the edge of financial disaster. But where there’s a whisk there’s a way . . . and Rosaline has just landed a spot on the nation’s most beloved baking show.

Winning the prize money would give her daughter the life she deserves—and Rosaline is determined to stick to the instructions. However, more than collapsing trifles stand between Rosaline and sweet, sweet victory. Suave, well-educated, and parent-approved Alain Pope knows all the right moves to sweep her off her feet, but it’s shy electrician Harry Dobson who makes Rosaline question her long-held beliefs—about herself, her family, and her desires.

Rosaline fears falling for Harry is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Yet as the competition—and the ovens—heat up, Rosaline starts to realize the most delicious bakes come from the heart.

Review

I love Alexis Hall's writing and this book was one of my most anticipated releases of 2021. It was not exactly what I expected it to be but after some frustration and adjustment of expectations around the middle, I ended up enjoying it a lot.

There is a sort of love triangle, rather it's three people that are mixed up in the romantic relations in the story. It's not something I intentionally look for in my romance but I felt it was fitted the characters and made sense in their character development. Rosaline is very close to my heart, I see a lot of me in her - somewhat neurotic, anxious, lacking confidence, questioning her parenting (incidentally I also have an 8yo daughter) and professional/life choices.

The story has strong women's fiction vibes, since it focuses mainly on Rosaline and her efforts to find the right direction in her life. Romantic relationships are a big part of it but we also see her professional development, the messed up relations with her family.

The nods to GBBO were fun to read. Here is where I admit that I haven't watched the full show, mostly know it from gifs and that one-time Bulgarian edition. Still, I loved seeing reality TV for what it is - fun and entertainment but also meticulously scripted and edited.

I love how real and fully developed all characters in Alexis Hall's stories read to me, and not just the MCs, but the secondary characters as well. They are all, even the evil ones, different, unique, each has a voice and presence of their own.

I hated Alain and Rosaline's parents right from the start. Alain's easy confidence, seeming perfection appeared attractive initially but it also put me on edge. I don't trust who never doubt themselves, who are always put together and in control. It makes me instantly suspicious that this a facade for something much less pretty.

That said, I understand Rosaline's attraction to him, he is everything she strives to be in her life (at least what her parents had taught her to want from life). Gradually though, we see her willfully ignoring the red flags about Alain that kept popping up. The whole setting on the set of a reality show and the extreme stress it put on her daily life led her to making some rushed decisions,

Harry, is Alain's opposite in every possible way, and while initially Rosaline only noticed him for his looks, gradually she got to know the real him and he is the absolute best. He is kind and understanding, genuinely cares about her and is always there when she needs him. At the same time he is also shy and anxious, a typical mate in many respects but also open and willing to learn to do better.

There is an attempted sexual assault and it's not graphic but the whole scene was very vivid, Rosaline's fear was palpable through the pages. The manipulation and gaslighting that went with it were rage inducing but also so, so familiar. It's a brilliant scene, though a tough one to read.

I really wanted Rosaline to to spend more time with Harry instead of Alain though ever ytime she was with Harry the connection between them was real and believable and the reverse was true of her interactions with Alain - you can see how hard she worked to convince herself this was what she wanted and it was good and right and making her happy while it was becoming clearer and clearer that this was not the case.

I like that this is not a love-at-first-sight romance. It takes Rosaline some time to see Harry, to realise there is potential for something between them, to allow herself to imagine a different future for herself.

I love how the story focuses on the the small things that make the big picture, how we change and grow, how it's ok to not know what you want, to not feel confident and assured all the time, to make mistakes and change one's mind. No one is perfect, no one has all the answers. Life is actually all about trial and error, finding and keeping the things and people that make you happy and fulfilled.

In short, this story is often hilarious while being serious at the same time, it creates a great sense of place, the storytelling is masterful and engaging as always. 

CW: teen pregnancy (in the past), discussion of abortion, casual queerphobia, attempted sexual attack, manipulation and gaslighting, neglectful and manipulative parents


Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

Martha Wells

Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

05:06

Title: Fugitive Telemetry 
(The Murderbot Dairies #6)
Author: Martha Wells 
Date of publication: 27 Apr 2021
Genre: Science Fiction 

Author's Links: Goodreads / Website / Twitter

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb 

No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)

Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!

Again!

Review

This is another great installment in the Murderbot series and I just can't get enough of these stories. I am so happy there will be more books coming out in the future.

This time Murderbot helps with a murder investigation it has to work with a whole bunch of other bots and humans. It is forced to interact with so many entities, some friendly, more of them suspicious of its nature.

I loved everything in the story - Murderbot's sarcasm and hatred for any emotion, its loyalty and care for its people (and their care for it, each of them showing it in their own way), the complex interactions with humans and other bots. Murderbot is more humane than many of the humans I have read in SFF and I love it with all my heart for it.

The writing is great as usual, tight and detailed at the same time, telling a complex and completed story in a novella length. The text sends clear messages against capitalism, slavery, colonialism but none of it is heavy handed or in your face, they are just there in every every page of the story.

The murder mystery in itself was intriguing and engaging and kept me guessing who the perpetrator was till the very end.

The story has everything I want in SFF - feelings (despite Murderbot's hatred for them), humour and suspense, good guys coming together against the bad ones, breaking down of stereotypes and defying expectations.

Every book in this series has been a delight and this one is no exception.

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

Alternate History

Review: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

14:30

Title: The Beautiful Ones
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Date of publication: 27 Apr 2021
Genre: Historical Romance, Paranormal elements, Alternate History

Author's Links: Goodreads / Website / Twitter

My rating: 4 Stars




Blurb

They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun, and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis—neighbors call her the Witch of Oldhouse—and the haphazard manifestations of her powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.

When entertainer Hector Auvray arrives to town, Nina is dazzled. A telekinetic like her, he has traveled the world performing his talents for admiring audiences. He sees Nina not as a witch, but ripe with potential to master her power under his tutelage. With Hector’s help, Nina’s talent blossoms, as does her love for him.

But great romances are for fairytales, and Hector is hiding a truth from Nina—and himself—that threatens to end their courtship before it truly begins. The Beautiful Ones is a charming tale of love and betrayal, and the struggle between conformity and passion, set in a world where scandal is a razor-sharp weapon.


Review

This was a highly enjoyable read, my first book by this author and it will definitely not be the last.

This is ahistorical romance set in an imaginary world inspired by the Belle Epoque, with a touch of magic. I found it to be richly drawn and engaging. The plot was intriguing with some twists and turns that I didn't expect. The romance itself is a slow burn, some ambiguity in the starts, a love triangle of sorts that got we worried that it will not be my kind book but I am very happy with the way this triangle unfolded and the direction the romance took.

I loved being Nina's head, a young woman, somewhat naive, somewhat shy and nerdy. We see her trying to figure out who she is and what she wants in life as most young people do. There mistakes made, wrong turns taken which to lessons learned. The process of her getting her agency, making her own choices was fascinating to observe.

Hector was an interesting hero in his own and even more so in his romantic relationships. It's a journey of figuring out himself as well. Initial he was certain who he was and what he wanted only to gradually discover things are not quite like that. I appreciate that he didn't fall head over heels in love with the heroine the first time he saw her. It was slow process, some initial irritation, dismissal even, only to grow really close to her and get to appreciate what she brings into his life.

Friendship and support, total acceptance of the other as they are, these are the foundations of their romance and I loved seeing it.

I also appreciate how the multidimensional the main villain was, she not a cardboard evil mastermind, but a real full-blooded person with their own dreams and fears and anger and hate. Yes, she is cruel and ruthless but we see her motivations, we see how she got the be the way she was and I liked that a lot.

I also loved the meta aspect of how reading romances has shaped Nina's expectations of men and love. It gave some levity to the story and created these heart-warming moments of fun and sweetness.

An important aspect of the story is the topic of forgiveness, asking for it and granting. It's a cure all, it's complex, it requires continuous efforts on both sides.

The story also gives some commentary on family relations, how different they can be - 100% supporting and caring (even if misguided sometimes) or totally destructive and suffocating.

Overall, I found this to be a charming romance, compelling and deftly written.

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

Contemporary Romance

Review: Love at First by Kate Clayborn

02:30


Title: Love at First
Author: Kate Clayborn
Date of publication: 23 Feb 2021
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's Links: Goodreads / Website / Twitter

My rating: 5 stars




Blurb 

Sixteen years ago, a teenaged Will Sterling saw—or rather, heard—the girl of his dreams. Standing beneath an apartment building balcony, he shared a perfect moment with a lovely, warm-voiced stranger. It’s a memory that’s never faded, though he’s put so much of his past behind him. Now an unexpected inheritance has brought Will back to that same address, where he plans to offload his new property and get back to his regular life as an overworked doctor. Instead, he encounters a woman, two balconies above, who’s uncannily familiar...

No matter how surprised Nora Clarke is by her reaction to handsome, curious Will, or the whispered pre-dawn conversations they share, she won’t let his plans ruin her quirky, close-knit building. Bound by her loyalty to her adored grandmother, she sets out to foil his efforts with a little light sabotage. But beneath the surface of their feud is an undeniable connection. A balcony, a star-crossed couple, a fateful meeting—maybe it’s the kind of story that can't work out in the end. Or maybe, it’s the perfect second chance...

Review

I have a really hard time reviewing books that I loved and this is one of my favourites of 2021 so far and likely will be an all-time favourite romance. I have read all Kate Clayborn's books and have enjoyed most of them and I think this is her best one to date. 

I am not much of a crier when reading romance but this book broke me and then fixed me in the best possible way. There is such depth of emotion and grief and tenderness that it is hard to put into words but it gets to you and makes your heart ache. 

Nora is amazing, but Will was everything for me. I loved how real they both read to me, awkward and tentative and messing up and feeling too much. We have these two people navigating the world very much on their own, dealing with grief and childhood trauma.

It's the gentlest, most tender romance between two people who are closed off, very much stuck in the past. The focus is very much on romantic love starting as enemies, going through bickering and playing tricks on each other, to end as soulmates. The other main element in the story has to do with family and community in all their complexity - their power to lift you up, the give you strength and unwavering support but also their power to destroy, to make you feel small, invisible, insignificant. 

I loved seeing unlikely friendships blossoming, seeing the struggle between loyalty and moving on with your life, trying new things despite being afraid to do it.

All in all, I just loved this book with all my heart! 

CW: child neglect, grief, loss of parents (in the past), loss of a grandparent (in the past), illness

Add on Goodreads / Buy on Amazon 

Contemporary Romance

Review: Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron

02:00

Title: Accidentally Engaged 
Author: Farah Heron
Date of publication: 2 March 2021
Genre / Themes: Contemporary Romance / Muslim MCs

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

Reena Manji doesn’t love her career, her single status, and most of all, her family inserting themselves into every detail of her life. But when caring for her precious sourdough starters, Reena can drown it all out. At least until her father moves his newest employee across the hall--with hopes that Reena will marry him.

But Nadim’s not like the other Muslim bachelors-du-jour that her parents have dug up. If the Captain America body and the British accent weren’t enough, the man appears to love eating her bread creations as much as she loves making them. She sure as hell would never marry a man who works for her father, but friendship with a neighbor is okay, right? And when Reena’s career takes a nosedive, Nadim happily agrees to fake an engagement so they can enter a couples video cooking contest to win the artisan bread course of her dreams.

As cooking at home together brings them closer, things turn physical, but Reena isn’t worried. She knows Nadim is keeping secrets, but it’s fine— secrets are always on the menu where her family is concerned. And her heart is protected… she’s not marrying the man. But even secrets kept for self preservation have a way of getting out, especially when meddling parents and gossiping families are involved.


Review

This is a very engaging contemporary romance with with a strong focus on messed up families. I liked the story a lot, it has many twists and turns and unexpected developments which is rare in romance but it worked well here.

The heroine is a modern-day Muslim 30-something woman in Canada and we see her struggling to balance her family traditional values (at least one the surface) with hectic life in the big city. We see lots, and lots of food and food making (the reality cooking show is a major plot point but the focus is very much kept on the cooking rather than on the show aspect). I liked how the food was something that brought the MCs together, something they had in common but also something they enjoyed doing together. Nadim's relationship the sourdough starter was hilarious and so, so endearing.

A found the romance really interesting, there was a strong chemistry between Reena and Nadim but also many hiccups in their getting together - inner and outer conflicts abound. Their relationship was very closely interwoven with their families, for better or worse. We see strong friendships and tense family relations and many characters. working through stuff, not always in the healthies way but making a conscious effort to be better.

I felt at some point there were too many secrets, it was distracting and overwhelming. On the negative side we get only the heroine's POV which did give us a very in-depth look into her character but in comparison Nadim felt much less developed. I still liked him a lot and felt convinced in them as a couple but would have loved to get more insight into his character/motivations.

All the relationships we see in the story are complicated, even when the people care for each other and it felt very real and relatable. It takes a lot of effort and honesty to form and sustain any relationship. And despite Reena's family being meddling and overbearing, they ultimately cared for her (and each other) unlike his father where no reconciliation seemed possible.

Ultimately this is the story of two young people finding their place in life - professionally and personally - all under the heavy shadow and too close surveillance by families.

CW: eating disorder (off page), depression (in the past), toxic family dynamics

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

Flickr Images