Review of “Origin in Death” (In Death #21) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Origin in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005.

Hardcover | $24.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399152894 | 339 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

I very much enjoyed Origin in Death, much more than the prior book. Whether it was because I was once again engrossed in the mechanics of the world or because this was one of the cases that grabbed me more than some others, I found it oddly compelling.

On occasion, I have found with this series and its dabbling in futuristic concepts as part of the cases that it lessens my enjoyment somewhat, but it was not so in this case, likely due to the relevance of the issues surrounding cloning that already exist within our discourse because of existing popular culture. The result was a twisty plot with multiple murders and murderers, but one that felt very much in the realm of possibility for me, while also still having enough of that “futuristic” feel.

And it’s fun to see Eve and Peabody’s relationship evolving since they became partners, and I think this book has great examples of them being on equal footing in terms of their dynamic. There is no filter in their relationship, and Peabody can just say what she feels, and Eve will both be receptive of it and have a brilliant comeback of her own. One of my favorite bits was when they were talking about the idea of what would happen if it was a situation where both their own partner and the other person (e.g. for Peabody, it would be McNab and Eve) died, would they go for the other’s partner? That had me rolling, especially with Eve’s response, imagining herself and McNab and pretty much shuddering at the thought.

This was one of the more delightful entries in the series, and definitely has me interested in continuing again, with the hope of being caught up at some point. I would definitely recommend this book (and series) to fans of well-plotted romantic suspense, that also contains wonderful evolving relationships between its cast of characters.

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Review of “The Bashful Bride” (Advertisements For Love #2) by Vanessa Riley

Riley, Vanessa. The Bashful Bride. Fort Collins, CO: Entangled Publishing, 2018.

Paperback | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1718906853 | 312 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

I received a copy of The Bashful Bride in a giveaway from Vanessa Riley ages ago, and am only now getting around to reading it. And despite it being the second in the series and being given the choice between this one and book one, the premise of this one appealed to me more. And I’m glad I took the chance with this one, as not only does it stand alone perfectly enough, but it also, in typical Vanessa Riley fashion, makes perfect use of that engaging and fun premise to delve into real historical details about the lives of free blacks and the abolitionist movement in the 19th century, a topic rarely discussed in Regency romance.

Ester was a heroine I could empathize with immediately. While initially I was drawn to what I knew about her superficially, that she was a shy young woman in love with a celebrated actor and given the chance to actually be with him (a fantasy many women surely have entertained at least once in their life, myself included), I grew to love her determination to escape a marital prospect she views as not right for her, given said “gentleman’s” philandering ways, especially as she is being bullied by her father and observes his loveless union with her mother. She did show her youth and naivete at times, but I think it made her character more well-rounded and flawed in a good way, rather than making her unlikable in those moments.

And Arthur Bex…he’s one of my new favorite heroes. While he is one of those heroes with a Big Secret, and keeping it may have led to more problems in the relationship than there may have been had it come out earlier, I could understand his reasoning for doing so and how his past impacted him…while also understanding Ester being upset with him for keeping it from her.

Vanessa Riley provides a unique take on the Regency romance that is both more inclusive and is also in some ways arguably more compelling in the more complex problems her characters face, and this book is a great example of that. Having read a few of her other one-off episodic works and novellas in the past, I’ll definitely try to pick up more books by her as I can. And I would recommend this book to those who may also looking for a fresh take on the Regency.

Review of “The Way of Kings” (The Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. The Way of Kings. 2010. New York: Tor, 2011.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765365279 | 1258 pages | Fantasy

5 stars

Upon beginning to delve into Brandon Sanderson’ work, I’ve heard much about his Stormlight Archive series, and how good it is, although I wasn’t certain about it, given my reticence to pick up thousand-plus page books with multiple arcs going on simultaneously. However, having come to trust Sanderson as an author, I took a chance, and it paid off. I almost regret splitting my reading between this book with some other shorter books, as this was the one I really wanted to come back to.

Given the size of the book, it is one of those where he does take his time establishing the world (to much success). He once again establishes unique magic system, and touches on racial issues in a fun allegorical way, through the exploration the lives of lighteyes (upper class) and darkeyes (middle and lower classes). He also puts a cool spin on fairies with the spren.

But I think where this book really stands out is the characters, and I like how the longer length of the book allows the reader to become invested in each of these complex individuals. I like how, through Kaladin, he delves into someone who has been thoroughly beaten down by the things that have happened in his life, and this once again sees Sanderson delving into mental health and trauma in a way that is as poignant, if not more so than, Vin in Mistborn. I liked seeing Dalinar as a warlord with some regrets about the things he’s done in the past. Shallan has such a great internal conflict, in terms of her intent to steal from Jasnah Kholin, but also feeling respect for her, although the relationship becomes a bit more complex as Jasnah’s bad qualities are revealed.

This book may be somewhat daunting, but the payoff is worth it, and I am already prepared to agree with others that this series (projected to be ten books) will cement Brandon Sanderson’s status among the great classic fantasy authors, along with the likes of Tolkien. And I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a truly epic fantasy.

Review of “My So-Called Bollywood Life” by Nisha Sharma

Sharma, Nisha. My So-Called Bollywood Life. New York: Crown, 2018.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0553523256 | 296 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

4 stars

In the midst of all the madness and disappointment surrounding the announcement of the RITA finalists, one of the bright spots was the inclusion of My So-Called Bollywood Life among the YA finalists. While I had not read the book until now, it seemed like a perfect excuse to finally bump it to the top of my endless TBR.

And it’s a great book, educating the reader about a specific period of Bollywood films, and even if you aren’t necessarily aware of the copious references (I wasn’t), it’s still a fun read highlighting an element of Indian culture that many may know about in passing, but may not be aware of the content of the films themselves.

Winnie is a likable, if flawed heroine. I love her determination to follow her dreams no matter what. And while she does make some stupid decisions, like breaking into an ex’s house and stealing (in her mind taking back) things from him, thinking about it from the mindset of the target audience does kind of put it into perspective.

I also enjoyed how there is a good balance between the acknowledgment of the power of prophecy and fate, and one’s ability to make their own destiny. This leads to a culturally nuanced take on the “getting over an ex and navigating feelings for someone else” plotline that I really enjoyed.

My one major complaint is that, while Bollywood films and film stars play a big role in the plot, the review blog that is set up to be a part of the book in the first pages of the book is almost nonexistent except for the epigraphs reviewing select films that also relate to each chapter’s plot. I’d have liked to see the blog play a bigger role in the story, especially given that Winnie’s Bollywood dreams are otherwise so well emphasized.

On the whole, this was a cute book, and one I’m glad to see in the running for the RITA for Best YA Romance. I would definitely recommend this book to others who love multicultural romance or Bollywood films.

Review of “This Scot of Mine” (The Rogue Files #4) by Sophie Jordan

Jordan, Sophie. This Scot of Mine. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062463661 | 344 pages | Victorian Romance

3 stars

This Scot of Mine has a premise that has a lot of potential…but it was unfortunately not executed well. However, one of the good points was the characterization and the dynamic between Hunt and Clara. While it could have gone all wrong, and even predicted it going wrong, due to the fact that they each had some big secrets that they were keeping from one another, I did like that it didn’t take until the end for it to come to the fore, and that the potential ramifications of the curse was something they tried to navigate together.

However, this resolution of that conflict, and the book sometimes describing long stretches of time passing led to my interest in the book flagging. There just wasn’t much of a plot to speak of in the second half. And I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but I found the wording of the curse, and how it was meant to be broken super confusing. There is an attempt to establish some of the mechanics of how it works, with the mention of the ways his forebears met their end, but I just didnt’ really get how the curse was broken this time. This was only one of the things that was left rather vague, with her ruination not described in detail, beyond the fact that she apparently faked a pregnancy to get away from her awful fiancee.

I’m also beginning to wonder how long this series will go on for, especially as there’s a cliffhanger (in the tradition of this series) setting up the next book, which is about Clara’s uninspiring friend, Marian. I will probably read it to see what happens and if it is any better, especially that since I do hope that Clara’s sister, Enid, will still have a book in the future, and how it will be handled.

However, I feel like this book could have used some improvement in terms of pacing and further clarification in terms of plot elements, as a lot of it felt a little too rushed. I do still think it is worth checking out if you like a fun historical romance, but I’m not sure if it is one I would enthusiastically recommend.

Review of “Survivor in Death” (In Death #20) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Survivor in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005.

Hardcover | $23.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399152085 | 376 pages | Romantic Suspense

3.5 stars

After taking a longer-than-intended break from the In Death series, I finally decided it was time to start back up again with the next installment. It was nice to see old friends, like Eve, Roarke, Peabody, McNab, and the rest of the returning characters as they worked to solve a case.

One of the strongest parts for me with this one was the focus on finding the orphaned Nixie a new home following the senseless tragedy that saw her the sole survivor in a break-in and murder that saw her parents, housekeeper, and best friend lose their lives. While I was interested in seeing justice done, I was more invested in seeing Nixie have the possibility for to move on and have a family who would help her heal, especially as some of the top contenders rejected her for reasons of their own.

I did feel like the mystery element was the part that didn’t work for me, however. It could be that I’ve spent a little too long away from the series, as I recall some past books being pretty multilayered in terms of having past victims who died prior to the book’s timeline and whatnot, but I didn’t find myself that invested in many of the twists, I do feel this was still a solid entry overall, and look forward to reading the next one.

This series is a great one both for character development, both for returning characters and new ones, and for relatively well-crafted, if formulaic, romantic suspense/police procedural plots. I would recommend this one to fans of romantic suspense or police procedurals.

Review of “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Jaswal, Balli Kaur. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. 2017. New York: William Morrow, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062645111 | 298 pages | Women’s Fiction

5 stars

I picked up Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows on a whim, looking for more books about Indian immigrants, and recalling seeing this author had blurbed another recent read, The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli. And while I had almost no idea what I was getting into, given the bold title choice, I really respect what this book did, in terms of discussing uncomfortable topics like women’s sexuality, particularly in the context of a conservative community of Punjabi immigrant women.

I enjoyed the dynamic between Nikki, as the modern woman who doesn’t fully connect with Punjabi cultural traditions, and the other women in her life and who she’s working with, who are also reckoning with the cultural expectations placed on them and their taboo sexual desires. There is this large cast of characters, but each of them has these rich backstories to them, particularly the widows, that makes them stand out, especially as they start to articulate their sexual needs through the stories.

And while the message could have been distorted in Jaswal’s attempt to combine many genres, I like how she managed to combine the genres so that the heartwarming (and heartwrenching) stories involving the dramas in the women’s lives are also complemented by a good dose of suspense. But it all comes together very well to convey this lovely story about female empowerment, with such wonderful character growth, even for characters I did not expect.

This book is an unexpected gem. And while I’m sure many have read it already, it being chosen as one of Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club picks, I would recommend this to anyone who hasn’t picked it up yet, particularly if they are interested in multi-layered multicultural stories.

Review of “The Hero of Ages” (Mistborn #3) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. The Hero of Ages. New York: Tor, 2008.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765316899 | 572 pages | Fantasy

4.5 stars

The Hero of Ages is a brilliant wrap-up to the Mistborn (First Era) Trilogy, as well as a just a wonderful book in its own right. It, for the most part, presented a beautiful conclusion for the major characters’ arcs.

While Brandon Sanderson does continue to show he enjoys a familiar trope or two, I love how he continues to add something new to keep the reader guessing, especially in terms of the way he continues to use foreshadowing and misdirection in terms of the identity of the true Hero of Ages, who is revealed in the final pages of the book.

The character development was great. I really enjoyed the way we see how Vin has grown as a heroine over the course of the three books, and Elend grow more in his leadership role. I did find myself a little concerned regarding book two’s ending after having taken the time to really think about it, but I think, once I got into this book, it did help to provide more equal footing to Vin and Elend’s relationship. However, I did find myself a bit conflicted by their fate by the end of this one. I appreciate the setup leading up to it, indicating that not everyone will survive this huge potentially world-ending conflict, but the ascension to godhood seemed a bit weird to me.

In general, I did thoroughly enjoy this series, and look forward to reading more of Brandon Sanderson’s work very soon. Now having completed the trilogy, I would definitely recommend it to anyone, whether they’re new to fantasy or a veteran fantasy reader, as regardless of any flaws, it’s still a series worth savoring.

Top 10 Romances by Authors of Color (A Personal List)

Another year, and once again we have more proof how little the romance industry has progressed, first with the release of The Ripped Bodice third annual State of Racial Diversity in Romance survey, and more recently with the release of the RITA finalists, which are, once again overwhelmingly white, and while there are a couple finalists of color, Black authors in particular are once again snubbed. And, as is often the case when race comes up, while some are compassionate allies, others are…not. Claiming not to be racist, they say such things like “I don’t see color,” and I don’t care if someone  is black, red, blue, purple, etc.” (I greatly appreciate Eva Leigh’s takedown of the latter defense in particular).

Therefore, wanting to write about this whole situation, but being aware that I may not have a lot of the information, due to a lot of it being insider Romance Writers of America organizational stuff that I am only getting snippets of secondhand, I made a compromise and decided to shout out my favorite books by authors of color.

So, without further ado, and not (entirely) in any particular order, here are my favorite reads by authors of color:

  1. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018): Obviously, this one would be on the list. And Helen Hoang said on Twitter that she didn’t enter, due to her awareness of the  broken RITAs judging system, and how it favored some POC over others. But regardless, it is still my (and many others’, I’m sure) personal favorite of last year. Despite having a premise that could have easily put me off, it captured the perfect balance of steamy and sweet for me, and Michael and Stella have one of the healthiest, most nurturing relationships in romance I’ve ever read.
  2. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (2019): I’ve been dying to read more f/f, and despite it being only a novella, this satisfied my craving completely. While the main Reluctant Royals books have fallen a little short of expectations for me, this one was beautiful, and hit all the right notes as a second chance love story.
  3. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (2018): I had some issues with the element of miscommunication in her prior book, but The Proposal hit it out of the park for me. I loved the emotional journey that Nik goes on toward letting herself be loved, especially after being with a partner who was emotionally abusive,  and Carlos for being such a great, supportive hero from the beginning.
  4. Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras (2018): I was psyched when Priscilla’s first book double finaled last year, and that was part of why I ended up checking out her work. But I personally feel like this one is better than the first, although I may be biased due to the librarian heroine and the adorable hero. It has a situation that I did not expect to love, but
  5. Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (2016): My first Beverly Jenkins book and my personal favorite of her Old West/“Rhine Trilogy,” I loved Forbidden for its captivating romance while dealing with difficult topics like race relations and Passing.
  6. Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann (2018): Asexual representation is lacking, particularly in traditional publishing, and I was glad to see this one get some love last year, especially since I first heard about it through author Mackenzi Lee’s Pride Month recommendations video. I love how it deals  with navigating how to have a relationship as a asexual person, as well as touching on the pressures that Black people in America face, having to work twice as hard to prove themselves academically and professionally.
  7. I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (2017): This is  an adorable book that put a fun spin on a premise that’s been done before: using tips from Korean dramas to impress the guy you like. And while the romance was cute, “flailures” and all, the best part about this (and a Maurene Goo book, in general) is seeing the parent-child relationships she crafts. The heroine and her father becoming closer through their shared love of K-Dramas is so sweet.  
  8. Pride by Ibi Zoboi (2018): While I’ve seen mixed reviews of this YA Pride and Prejudice retelling, I enjoyed this one. My criteria for an Austen retelling is a mix of capturing the spirit of the book, while adding something new, and Ibi Zoboi does so in transplanting the story to present-day Brooklyn, and discussing the issue of gentrification.
  9. The Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai (2017-18): This series was life changing in the best way. I’m not normally a fan of super-steamy books, but I loved the way the romance in these books was just as much about the characters’ emotional bond with one another as it was about their sexual desire. And the series also beautifully develops family relationships that I could get invested in just as much as the love relationships, and while I can sometimes find that some authors focus too much on one and leave something wanting with the author, I felt Alisha Rai captured the perfect balance of the two here.
  10. The Loyal League series by Alyssa Cole (2016-19): I admit, I’m cheating on this one, as I haven’t read book 3 yet, and I don’t know for sure when I’ll get to it. But the first two books are amazing, and I love the beautiful relationships that arise between the two couples from working together in high-pressure situations.

Review of “Miss Wilton’s Waltz” by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi S. Miss Wilton’s Waltz. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629724133 | 342 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

I was so excited upon finishing The Vicar’s Daughter to find out that Lenora was getting her own book, but of course, me being me, I didn’t make time to read Miss Wilton’s Waltz when it first came out. But I feel like this is one of those books that I’m glad I waited for the right time for me to soak in and read, as I adored it.

I admittedly loved Lenora a lot more than Cassie in the first book, because I could relate to her social anxiety and some of the choices she made. And I was glad to see her get her story, and how her past experience with Cassie and Evan colored her current experience with Aiden and his fiancee.

I enjoy when a character has a strong moral compass, but their sense of honor and wanting to do the right thing still gets them into trouble, and Aiden did not disappoint in that regard. I like how he is not perfect, in that he is trying to figure out the best thing to do in terms of being a guardian for his troubled niece, and he faces the dilemma of his feelings for Lenora and a fiancee who is both insistent on keeping the engagement intact and taking control of aspects of his life in a manner he is increasingly uncomfortable with, and it had me uncertain as to how he would manage to make it all work out.

And Catherine herself was a surprise. While the child starved of love is a common trope when one of the romantic leads is their guardian, I enjoyed the twist Kilpack put on the trope this time, including discussing dyslexia in both a period appropriate and sensitive way.

I absolutely loved this book, and can’t wait to pick up more of Josi S. Kilpack’s books (I have her other 2018 title, Promises and Primroses, in my TBR, and I hope to get to it before book two releases). I would recommend this to all fans of sweet, Traditional Regency romance in the vein of Austen or Heyer.