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.

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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

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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

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Historical Romance

Review: To Love and to Loathe by Martha Waters

02:04

Title: To Love and to Loathe
Author: Martha Waters
Date of publication: 6 Apr 2021
Genre / Themes: Historical Romance / Romcom

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

My rating: 4.5 Stars




Blurb

The widowed Diana, Lady Templeton and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham are infamous among English high society as much for their sharp-tongued bickering as their flirtation. One evening, an argument at a ball turns into a serious wager: Jeremy will marry within the year or Diana will forfeit one hundred pounds. So shortly after, just before a fortnight-long house party at Elderwild, Jeremy’s country estate, Diana is shocked when Jeremy appears at her home with a very different kind of proposition.

After his latest mistress unfavorably criticized his skills in the bedroom, Jeremy is looking for reassurance, so he has gone to the only woman he trusts to be totally truthful. He suggests that they embark on a brief affair while at the house party—Jeremy can receive an honest critique of his bedroom skills and widowed Diana can use the gossip to signal to other gentlemen that she is interested in taking a lover.

Diana thinks taking him up on his counter-proposal can only help her win her wager. With her in the bedroom and Jeremy’s marriage-minded grandmother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Willingham, helping to find suitable matches among the eligible ladies at Elderwild, Diana is confident her victory is assured. But while they’re focused on winning wagers, they stand to lose their own hearts.

Review

I loved the first book in the series, To Love and to Hoax, and this was just as good - light-hearted and funny m/f historical romance with a serious core.

This romance features a house party and a marriage, frenemies-to-lovers and it all worked great for me. There is also lovely minor f/f subplot. I appreciate how queer relationships were discussed in the text, no homophobia but easy acceptance instead. Initially I was worried about the representation of the marriage obsessed over-eager noble lady and how misogynistic it came across but I am happy to say that the truth about her turned out to be rather different and I loved it.

I really liked a lot of the story elements, besides the romance - the exploration of roles of men and women in Victorian society, how they play them and can use them to subvert the norms, how power and freedom intersect. I liked seeing both the men and women carving a place for their happiness in a very strictly regulated world. The story says a lot about the masks people wear in society and how the real person behind the mask can be much more interesting and real.

Both MCs were wonderful in their own way. Diana and Jeremy are both currently in a situation of privilege but also aware of it and trying to use it to care for themselves and for others.

Very much like the first book in the series, there is a strong element of playfulness here, Diana and Jeremy expressing their feelings for each other through pushing each other's button, lots of witty banter and play pretend.

I loved the element in their intimacy where she teaches him how to give her pleasure. There was fun and joking in the bedroom but also deeply honest and somewhat awkward conversations around pleasure and desire.

The ending felt a bit rushed and his proposal was too public for my taste though I have to admit it was a good fit for them.

I loved the glimpses of Emily and Belfry and can't wait for their (I hope) story.

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Nalini Singh

Review: Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh

02:10

Title: Quiet in Her Bones
Author: Nalini Singh
Date of publication: 23 Feb 2021
Genre: Thriller

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars 


Blurb 

My mother vanished ten years ago.
So did a quarter of a million dollars in cash.
Thief. Bitch. Criminal.
Now, she's back.
Her bones clothed in scarlet silk.

When socialite Nina Rai disappeared without a trace, everyone wrote it off as another trophy wife tired of her wealthy husband. But now her bones have turned up in the shadowed green of the forest that surrounds her elite neighborhood, a haven of privilege and secrets that's housed the same influential families for decades.

The rich live here, along with those whose job it is to make their lives easier. And somebody knows what happened to Nina one rainy night ten years ago. Her son Aarav heard a chilling scream that night, and he's determined to uncover the ugly truth that lives beneath the moneyed elegance...but no one is ready for the murderous secrets about to crawl out of the dark.

Even the dead aren't allowed to break the rules in this cul-de-sac.


Review

Nalini Singh is my favourite PNR author, her Psy-Changling series set the bar that I use to measure any other PNR against. She also writes contemporaries which are a hit or miss for me but still, I mostly enjoy them. This is only her second thriller. I loved the first one despite the issues I had with the resolution and who the murder turned out to be.

This book is thrilling and scary and amazing but once again I have some issues with the ending.

Aarav is one of the most unreliable narrator I have ever read and going on the journey to discover the killer with him was a wild ride by all means. I admit I didn't guess the killer till the very end and very much like Aarav and suspected everyone at some point.

Like Nalini Singh's previous thriller, this one is very atmospheric with a strong sense of place which I really liked. The murder mystery in a cul-de-saq neighbourhood of the rich was very engrossing and kept me on the edge till the last page.

I found the story scarier that some horror I have read, not so much because of the murder and some of violence that happens but because of witnessing Aarav's mind breaking, and seeing him not trusting himself, not knowing and not remembering, it was brutal and so powerfully presented.

I was on board with everything going on, though some aspects of the mother-son relationship made me uncomfortable, till the very end. It was easy to hate his father, it was more difficult to pinpoint my feelings for Aarav and Nina - there is sympathy and desire to help and protect. But also they lied and cheated and manipulated the others. They were not good people but complex ones - hurt and hurting but also caring and loyal.

I felt uncomfortable with the violence we see with regard to some queer side characters. It was not only them that get hurt in the story, straight characters also suffer abuse and violence, but I feel at least some of the violence towards the queer characters could have been spared (it was not queerphobia or gender-based violence, I need to clarify).

Now, the ending, on the one hand I had suspicions that didn't turn out to be true and I am happy and relieved about it. At the same time I felt the resolution of the murder mystery took the focus away from Nina. She was very much in the center of the story and her life and disappearance basically shaped Aarav the way he was. Going in the direction it went, the ending did a disservice to Nina in my opinion.

All in all, I had minor complaints with the story and feel this is a solid thriller with a compelling mystery plot, engaging written with a more or less satisfying resolution.

CWs: domestic violence, abuse, car crash, hospital stay, cheating, suicide, drugs, alcohol addiction (in the past), mental health issues, migraines, memory loss


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