Contemporary Romance

Review: Totally Engaged by Mina V. Esguerra

02:02

Title: Totally Engaged (Six 32 Central #4)
Author: Mina V. Esguerra
Genre: Contemporary m/f romance, older MCs
Release Date: 14 May 2021

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars



Blurb

Rose Alban, 41, has been happily living alone and single in Manila. When her entire family moved to the US she became responsible for their house and since then she's transformed it into her home, her sanctuary, and base for a new and more fulfilling career. She was even able to convert the garage into a studio apartment, that she's now renting out to her friend's brother Pascal Cortes, 39, former MBA professor who's now heading operations at an exciting education startup at a nearby business district.

That's not enough for her mother and well-meaning relatives, who want nothing more than to see her join them in the US by any means necessary. When they surprise her with a visit, Rose knows the only way they'll finally stop plotting to get her a green card is if they see her settled down—so of course she asks the hot prof next door to pretend to be her fiancĂ©.

Review 

I love Mina V. Esguerra's writing and this series have been a hit for me in all aspects and this book was no different.

The story features two older MCs who slowly fall in love while they are faking an engagement. In the end they build a relationships that suits them both - no plans or marriage or desire for children.

The story also explores the unique immigration situation of the heroine, specific to the the Philippines, something that seriously affected her life and the choices she made. I loved the hopefulness, the way she made the best out of a difficult situation. We meet Rose when she is already settled in her life and happy with the things she has and we only get glimpses of her struggles before and I liked how confident and self-sufficient she was.

Things are very much the opposite for Pascal. He is 39 yo and at a crossroads in his life, just made a big career change and in the process of establishing himself anew both personally and professionally.

The romance was tender and sexy and full of kindness and care and mutual respect and support. Slowly their fake romance became real, they realise they have something good together that can work for them for now or for longer.

It's a high conflict story, there is some pressure from Rose's family but it is nothing major or dramatic, just normal, ordinary stuff of well-meaning parents who don't fully understand their kids.

We see the big juxtaposition of new modern romantic relations as opposed to the traditions and expectations of the older generations.

Like many of the author's other stories this one also explores the meaning of home, the sense of place and belonging, all this entangled with big, complicated families.

This is a warm hug of a book, tender and gentle, simply delightful.

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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


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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.

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