Anita Kelly

Review: Love and Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

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Title: Love & Other Disasters
Author: Anita Kelly
Date of publication: 18 Jan 2022
Genre: Contemporary romance, f/non-binary, cooking show

Author's links:

My rating: 3.5 stars


Blurb

Recently divorced and on the verge of bankruptcy, Dahlia Woodson is ready to reinvent herself on the popular reality competition show Chef’s Special. Too bad the first memorable move she makes is falling flat on her face, sending fish tacos flying—not quite the fresh start she was hoping for. Still, she's focused on winning, until she meets someone she might want a future with more than she needs the prize money.

After announcing their pronouns on national television, London Parker has enough on their mind without worrying about the klutzy competitor stationed in front of them. They’re there to prove the trolls—including a fellow contestant and their dad—wrong, and falling in love was never part of the plan.

As London and Dahlia get closer, reality starts to fall away. Goodbye, guilt about divorce, anxiety about uncertain futures, and stress from transphobia. Hello, hilarious shenanigans on set, wedding crashing, and spontaneous dips into the Pacific. But as the finale draws near, Dahlia and London’s steamy relationship starts to feel the heat both in and outside the kitchen—and they must figure out if they have the right ingredients for a happily ever after.

Review
This a debut novel for Anita Kelly (they have some novellas previously released) and my first one of hers I read. Overall, it is a lovely romcom where a lot of things worked great for me, but I still had some issues here and there. 

This is a f/nb romance and it is not my place to comment on the non-binary rep, I can comment on what I liked/disliked about them as a romance character. I did like lot about London - their insecurities, their grumpiness. They came off as aloof and somewhat cold but we also see them being passionate about the things they cared about. They loved their family and this cause some major conflict regarding their acceptance for who they are. They were also passionate about cooking, their dream to make music. And Dahlia!

Dalhia was messed, recently divorced, almost broke, pinning all her dreams and hope on winning the cooking show. I appreciate that she wanted to follow her dreams  and she left her marriage when she realised her husband and her have different dreams. At the same time she also read immature to me, whiny, her constant I-don't-know-what-I-want mood was annoying. I wanted her to go for the things that made her happy and not complain so much about the difficulties in her life.

I really liked the romance, there is great chemistry between the MCs, lot of open discussion of body image, desire, sexuality, explicit consent. At the same time I had some issues. On the one hand the way London sexualised Dahlia all the time made me uncomfortable, it was on the verge of creepy, especially in the beginning when the two of them were not a couple yet. London acted like a macho alpha romance hero when it came to Dahlia and I was not a fan of that.  There are explicit sex scenes in this book which I mostly liked but the one involving the use of fruits in the bedroom was weird and didn't work for me at all. 

There was not a lot of conflict regarding the romance, the focus was more of families, personal goals in life and that was OK. There was a third-act break up which could have been handled better but I just went it. 

The cooking show was fun, presented in its complexity, lot of diverse participants, we get to see some of the behind-the-scene actions that is not very glamorous. 

All in all, this is an interesting debut with a good balance of funny and serious, still it is far from perfect.

CW: transphobia, misgendering, social anxiety, family rejection

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Emily Sullivan

Review: The Rebel and the Rake by Emily Sullivan

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Title: The Rebel and the Rake (League of Scoundrels #2)
Author: Emily Sullivan
Date of publication: 28 Dec 2021
Genre: Historical romance

Author's links:

My rating: 4 stars

Blurb

He holds her fate in his hands—she holds his heart in hers.

Rafe Davies might seem like just another charismatic rake, but in reality, he is one of the crown’s most valuable agents. As relentless as he is reckless, Rafe has never come upon a mission he couldn’t complete. But when he encounters the intriguing-yet-prickly lady’s companion Miss Sylvia Sparrow while on assignment at a Scottish house party, he finds himself thoroughly distracted by the secretive beauty.

Though most women would be thrilled to catch the eye of a tall, dark, and dangerously handsome man, Sylvia is through with that sort of adventure. She trusted the wrong man once and paid for it dearly. The fiery bluestocking is resolved to avoid Rafe, until a chance encounter between them reveals the normally irreverent man’s unexpected depths—and an attraction that’s impossible to ignore. But when Sylvia begins to suspect she isn’t the only one harboring a few secrets, she realizes that Rafe may pose a risk to far more than her heart . . .

Review

This was my first book by Emily Sullivan and it's been such a delight. It is the second in the series but stands completely on its own.

I loved so many things in it - the writing worked great for me and I found the story engaging. I care fore both MCs right from the start and appreciate seeing life in the Victorian era in Europe was more than ballroom dancing and gossip.

This story has so many secrets at its heart, it made for a wild ride indeed. The heroine is a rebel, a suffragette in hiding, pretending to be something else. The hero is very much in hiding as well, he is a spy, spending his time playing a part. Their connection is based initially on seeing the true self of the other person behind the mask they wear in front of others.

Both Sylvia and Rafe are in a way so deeply undercover that they have lost their sense of who they really are. We see them question and coming to the conclusion that it is not worth to lose yourself, to give up on being your authentic self for anything.

Rafe has these big plans for himself and his career only to realise they don't make him happy. As a wealthy gentleman he was in a much better position than her to shape his own life.

It was much more difficult for Sylvia. It was fascinating for me to see how Sylvia reclaimed her place in the world, a world which had forced her to make herself as small and invisible as possible.

The story had everything - drama and suspense, solid romance, sexy times, messed up families and corrupt politicians. Ultimately, it was hopeful, the bad guys getting their dues, some family reconciliations, second chances and lovely marriage proposals.

Now, I am excited to read more in the series.

CW (as listed on author's site): Grief, Parental death (in the past), on page sex, murder/violence, suicide (off page), blackmail, slut-shaming, caretaking (in the past)

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2021

My Favourite Books of 2021

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Here is the list of the top 10 romances I loved reading in 2021. They are arranged by order of reading, none more deserving than the rest. 

1. Love at First by Kate Clayborn. I love Ms Clayborn's writing so much and this is my favourite book of hers to date. It's a grief romance (by some chance I read quite a few of those this year) that made me ugly cry through parts of it and gave a most satisfying it-was-all-worth-it end. Highly recommended but check the CWs first. 
Read my review 

2. Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall. Mr Hall is my all-time favourite author and I would read anything he writes. This was just as good as any of his other books. This is a contemporary m/f romance with a bi heroine, it has some WF vibes and a love triangle of sorts which I found very moving and satisfying. 
3. Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells. This is the latest installment in the Murderbot series of Sci-fi novels and all I can say is that I love Murderbot with all my heart, this rogue Sec Unit is sarcastic and loyal and more humane than many humans I meet in real life and in fiction. 

4. For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten. A debut fantasy romance, dark retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. There is a bit too much gore for my taste but I liked the world building, the story was very engaging and the romance was very, very good. 

5. Subtle Blood by KJ Charles. This is the final book in the Will Darling Adventures of m/m historical romance set in the 1920s London. The whole series has been great and this was the perfect ending. The love confessions are some of the most romantic ones I have read. 

6. Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron, contemporary arranged marriage/fake relationship romance with Indian Muslim MCs. Messy families for the win, amazing independent heroine, great hero. 

7. The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri. This is my favourite non-romance book of 2021. It's a most amazing fantasy inspired by Indian history and myths. Budding f/f romance. Gorgeous writing. I just loved everything about it.

8. Last Guard by Nalini Singh. Another winner in the Psy-changeling series. After 15+ books and shorts in the series, this one is probably in my top 3. First time a hero with disability in the series, amazing heroine, great suspense plot, nothing I can say about the book and whole series could be enough. 

9. Battle Royal by Lucy Parker. All of Lucy Parker's books I have read so far have been amazing and this one was no different. It's another grief romance despite some cute romcom moments. It's moving and angsty with the ultimately the perfect ending. 

10. The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller. I was late discovering Ms Biller, I only read The Widow of Rosa House this year. This is book 2 in the series and it's a historical romance unlike any other I have read. Set in Paris in 1870/80s, a historical period I don't know much about. There is a lot of trauma and grief and darkness and not one but three friendly ghosts. It's brilliant. 


Bonus recommendations:
Greek myths retellings became a thing for me this year and I didn't know I could enjoy them as much as I did.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I think everyone has already read this book which came out 10 years ago but I only got to it now and it's utterly gorgeous.

Lore Olympus, a comic by Rachel Smythe. It's my first adult comic/graphic novel which I read following a recommendation by a friend. I never knew a comic could bring forth so many feelings in me. It's everything I love in romance - moving, funny and smart.


Hanukkah

Review: Shine a Light by Rebecca Crowley

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Title: Shine a Light (Orchard Hill #1)
Author: Rebecca Crowley
Date of publication: 30 Nov 2021
Genre: Hanukkah romance, holiday romance

Author's links:

My rating: 4 stars

Blurb

When Ellie Bloom’s life literally goes up in flames after an apartment fire, she slinks back to her sister’s house in the St. Louis suburb she’s avoided since her mom died. Ellie quickly caves to her nephews’ pleas to direct the temple Hanukkah play—her mom’s pride and joy—and by the time she’s lighting the first candle in her menorah, she doubts she’ll ever escape her hometown. And then she spots the cute fireman who rescued her lighting his own menorah in the window next door.

Firefighter Jonah Spellman may have dropped out of seminary, but he still has deep roots in his Jewish faith. Hoping to mend fences with his Rabbi father who can’t forgive his career change, Jonah agrees to direct the Hanukkah play, never expecting to clash with his beautiful, fire-starting new next-door neighbor.

By day they spar—Ellie’s desperate to live up to her mom’s legacy while Jonah’s driven to impress his dad. But by night they return to their secret candle-lighting ritual. Will their love burn as brightly as the Hanukkah flames?

Review 

This is a lovely and tender Hanukkah romance and I greatly enjoyed it. I usually go for high drama, high angst romance and this is very much the opposite and it still worked great for me.

I have enjoyed some of this author's previous football romance and was excited to read her take on holiday romance. I was curious to read something that was not about Christmas but about Hanukkah and they way it is celebrate.

I liked both MCs, two young Jewish people dealing with their own issues. There was a lot of focus on loss and grief which I didn't expect but also think it was beautifully handled. It did bring tears to my eyes, so visceral was the sense of loss.

In a lot of way this is a small town romance, rather focused on traditional values of family and community with no hint of queer people even existing, something I am not too happy about.

I did like the exploration of what having a community around you means - the support but also the meddling and memories and pressure. We see supportive families but also the burden of their expectations. There were no major conflicts, romantic or otherwise, the tension was brought about by some unfortunate circumstances and miscommunication.

It is a festive, heart-warming, deeply hopeful and happy making romance. A perfect holiday read to dissipate the cold and darkness of the winter outside.

CW: loss of a parent to cancer, fire, road traffic accident,

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Alexis Hall

Review: Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall

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Title: Murder Most Actual 
Author: Alexis Hall
Genre/Themes: cozy mystery, f/f romance, marriage in trouble 
Release Date: 9 Nov 2021

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

My rating: 5 Stars




Blurb

When up-and-coming true crime podcaster Liza and her corporate financier wife Hanna head to a luxurious hotel in the Scottish Highlands, they're hoping for a chance to rekindle their marriage - not to find themselves trapped in the middle of an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery with no way home. But who better to take on the case than someone whose entire profession relies on an obsession with all things mysterious and macabre? Though some of her fellow guests may consider her an interfering new media hack, Liza knows a thing or two about crime and – despite Hanna’s preference for waiting out the chaos behind a locked door – might be the only one capable of discovering the killer. As the bodies rack up and the stakes rise, can they save their marriage -- and their lives?

Review 

This is a charming cozy mystery a la Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes but with a f/f marriage in trouble romance subplot and I greatly enjoyed it.

The writing is brilliant as usual and had me engaged throughout the whole story. The murder mystery investigation is so over-the-top and charming and hilarious and I loved it. The marriage in trouble was my favourite part though. I found it to be very touching and real and I loved seeing two people who in a long-term relationship dealing some serious issues that have come up in their relationship. They love each but it does not automatically fix things between them. There are a lot of honest talks and confessions and apologies to be made but the support and the care are there and I am hopeful that Liza and Hanna will find their way back to each other.

The story is full of clever nods to staples in the detective novel genre - a group of strangers are snowed in (at Easter, mind you!) with no wifi/telephone connection, a slew of murders, a criminal mastermind, a femme fatale, a meddlesome amateur detective. It's ridiculous but also a lot of fun to read.

I highly recommend it if you like gorgeous writing telling a story that explores a romantic relationship in trouble while solving a classic murder mystery in the mean time.

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