Review of “Marriage Vacation” by Pauline Turner Brooks

Brooks, Pauline Turner. Marriage Vacation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1982100209 | 240 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

3.5 stars

I recently binged Seasons 1-5 of Younger on Hulu, and given the amount of intrigue around the separation of the character Charles Brooks from his wife, Pauline, and the book telling her perspective, I was excited to find out that the book was published in real life as a tie-in with the show. However, given how her character and their relationship was painted from Charles’ side on the show, I was also a bit skeptical.

But for what it is, it’s not bad. Though obviously the words is done by a ghostwriter, the words and storyline feel authentic to what I think Pauline’s perspective was from the brief glimpses of her we were given on the show. And as a book in its own right, it endeavors to talk about the issue of self-discovery and the idea that we might actually be the ones holding ourselves back, and not any external forces, as it appears at the outset.

However, in keeping with Pauline’s worldview for much of her arc on the show, the book culminates idealistically, which is inconsistent with the difficult marital problems addressed earlier on, exacerbated by her leaving. And as a fan of the show, knowing where Charles’ feelings actually lie at the present time, it was awkward to read such a rosy, happy ending.

This presents an interesting catch-22: the book probably won’t mean much to you if you haven’t watched Younger, but it’s much easier to be disillusioned by it if you have. That’s not to say this couldn’t work as a work independent of the show, but I feel like either way, the flaws are there in different degrees.

Review of “The Widow of Rose House” by Diana Biller

Biller, Diana. The Widow of Rose House. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250297853 | 252 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

5 stars

I received an ARC in a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

The Widow of Rose House is a pleasant surprise to me in a number of wayss. It’s a engaging debut novel set in a period that is shamefully not explored enough for my liking, and hopefully finally puts an end to the string of subpar reads and DNFs I’ve had more or less in a row. While the focus is much more on developing the romantic relationship and the mystery plot over any period detail beyond what is needed to set the scene, it’s nonetheless an incredibly delightful book that intrigued me almost immediately and did not let me go.

The setup with the widow who was in an abusive marriage is a familiar one, but I loved it was handled here, especially with his family determined to cast blame on Alva in the aftermath, and the scars that leaves on her. There are moments where she is jarred by her brother-in-law’s appearance both for his threatening nature in his own right and for his resemblance to his brother, and I think that helped to amp up the suspense factor.

However, she meets the perfect counterpart in Sam, an inventor, who is as intelligent as she is and compassionate where her former husband was not. It was beautiful seeing the walls come down between them, first giving into passion, and then lasting love.

I was a little nervous at how the “ghosts” element would play out, but it’s done in an incredibly plausible way, and one where I couldn’t help but feel sorry for that particular character. I also appreciate the statement it made about poor nineteenth century mental health care, and that it led to Alva resolving to do her part to make things better for people still living with mental illnesses.

This is a delightful historical, and one I recommend picking up when it comes out especially if you like your historicals with a bit of suspense and a touch of the paranormal.

Review of “The Only Woman in the Room” by Marie Benedict

Benedict, Marie. The Only Woman in the Room. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2019.

Hardcover | $25.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492666868 | 254 pages | Historical Fiction

3 stars

Having liked Marie Benedict’s prior book, Carnegie’s Maid, and also being intrigued by Hedy Lamarr as a person who defied expectations of women at the time and invented the technology that would eventually make cell phones possible, I was excited about The Only Woman in the Room. With such an exciting life, showcasing two such distinct talents, I was sure I would love this book and getting to know Hedy a bit better.

And I found Hedy a decent heroine, who made the most of her circumstances at first, then had the bravery to escape and form a new life for herself in America in increasingly turbulent times as Hitler rose to power and World War II began.

But while Benedict convincingly evokes Hedy’s voice, I found myself losing interest at various points, because the story is a lot of day-by-day stuff, especially early on. While it does pick up eventually, only some parts of the book really engaged me, while others felt rather dull by comparison. This is yet another book I found myself reading recently that I found felt much too long due to the pace being so slow, yet the book was less than 300 pages.

However, I think Benedict did the best she could to convey a cohesive narrative, and while it’s not her best book, I still enjoyed it for introducing me to Hedy in greater detail. I recommend fans of historical fiction give it a try.

Review of “Dread Nation” (Dread Nation #1) by Justina Ireland

Ireland, Justina. Dread Nation. 2018. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2019.

Paperback | $9.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062570611 | 451 pages | Historical Fiction/Horror

5 stars

Dread Nation saved me from falling deep into a massive slump, when I found that some of the other books I tried weren’t keeping my attention. However, despite my general dislike of zombie stories, this story captured me due to the way it took that and combined it with such dark historical events with such skill, that it kept me enthralled the whole way through. While there are some stylistic things that I often dislike, I felt they worked well in terms of engaging me in the narrative.

Jane is a great narrator and protagonist, and while she can be a little unlikable at times, I found her compelling, and her growth throughout the story only makes her more so. I think it’s great to see her genuine reactions to the issues going on, whether it be the racial tensions or the heightened threat to their lives.

This is an incredibly unique book, bringing a fun twist to two very distinct genres and delivers messages that are incredibly relevant and timely. I recommend this to historical fiction fans and zombie lovers alike.

Review of “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston (+ Rant on the Fetishism of All Things British)

McQuiston, Casey. Red, White and Royal Blue. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250316776 | 421 pages | Contemporary Romance

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Americans love all things British, to the point of fetishization, as YouTuber Dominic Noble observed on Twitter recently. And the existence of Red, White and Royal Blue confirms this is true the romance reading community, if the thousands of romances, mostly historical with a few contemporary sprinkled in, didn’t already cement it. However, while American authors do try for the most part to be accurate to at least the basic nuances of British culture (with a few notable exceptions).this book does not. This book demonstrates that the author has no awareness about the distinction between the terms of “England” and Britain. If I were a drinker who had alcohol on hand, I could have had a drinking game as to the amount of times Henry is referred to as a “Prince of England.” Not to mention the election of the “Prime Minster of England.” But then, every so often, something is described as British.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s an AU. I’m fine with fictional royals, even if I feel this story would have been better served by going the Alyssa Cole route and making up a fictional country, as the fact that Prince Henry is from Britain has little bearing on the plot, as some of the elements with Alex revealing to his mother who he’s dating lead to discussions of the ramifications don’t necessarily depend on where the prince is from. But given that it is described as “political fantasy,” but the royals within the story are stil within the House Windsor, not to mention the name-drop of a surname seeming a bit too similar to the real life Mountbatten-Windsor that many of the real life British Royals use, I wanted more explanation for how all this worked in the context of British history.

There are a few minor saving graces to this book. The relationship between Alex and Henry is great and got a lot of laughs from me, especially the flirty emails. And I think, had it been handled a little bit better, it could have made a statement about how difficult navigating one’s sexuality when you’re in such an important political family is. I know Prince William recently said he’d be accepting if his children came out as gay, but there’s no denying it would still be difficult for them if they were, as depicted here.

I also think it’s also great that McQuiston wasn’t afraid to confront American politics, especially when it’s such a polarizing topic, providing an alternative ending to the 2016 election and looking forward to what I anticipate to be an equally contentious 2020 presidential race. All art is political, and I think it’s great to see a romance author who not only recognizes that but channels that in her characters with not only a female president, but a son who is also interested in politics, even while still getting his education.

For the most part, I just feel like this book was on the whole not for me, due to the inaccuracies and inconsistencies. If the things I described are a problem for you, I would skip this book. However, given it is much beloved by other romance readers, if you are looking for an idealistic political fantasy romance and aren’t massively bothered by all the errors I mentioned, then by all means, pick it up.

Review of “Daisies and Devotion” (Mayfield Family #2) by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi. Daisies and Devotion. Salt Lake City, Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629725529 | 285 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

Daisies and Devotion is a great second installment in the Mayfield Family series. While the overall plot elements do more or less stand on their own, there is a lot of setup for the overall arc of the series in the first book, so I definitely recommend reading both, even if you don’t necessarily read in order.

And like the first book, it does take a little bit to warm up to the young couple to see their potential. There’s nothing initially off-putting about Timothy, but it’s hard having experienced unrequited affection, to see him act like dense, and even tactless, toward Maryann for a decent part of the book.

But they do have a strong basis of friendship, with Maryann tempering Timothy’s heightened expectations of a marriage partner from the beginning and Timothy somewhat returning the favor by helping out by working to improve her own dismal marriage prospects. And as I read on, I became more invested in their respective growth, with Maryann beginning to contemplate life as an independently wealthy woman within a few years if she does not marry, and Timothy slowly awakening to the idea that perhaps his perfect woman isn’t so much about the superficial things, but something a lot deeper.

This is a wonderfully deep friends-to-lovers story, with great character growth and relationship development, and the series shows a lot of potential to go in a lot of interesting directions, especially since, unlike the members who received their happy endings so far, there are some legitimate hell-raisers in the bunch. I would recommend this to fans of sweet historical romance.

Review of “Tribute” by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Tribute. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008.

Hardcover | $26.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399154911 | 451 pages | Romantic Suspense

3.5 stars

I found myself picking up Tribute after finding myself in one of those rare situations where I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what I wanted to read next, and only knew that it should have a contemporary setting. I also wanted to give Roberts’ stand-alone romantic suspense another shot, since I’m feeling some withdrawal from the In Death series, and I haven’t found a suitable series to read while I await the next book’s release and subsequent processing at the library.

In retrospect, this may have been a poor choice to start with, but it was one of a bunch I had on hand, and I think it is conceptually interesting and gets a few things right. I liked the idea of a granddaughter exploring what happened to her movie-star grandmother, especially since there’s something so fascinating about the tragic personal lives of classic Hollywood stars. And while the execution of some of the elements feels a little rough, and the reveal a little underwhelming, I enjoyed the dream-sequence moments where Cilla and Janet interact, transporting Cilla to various points in Janet’s life.

It also allowed for great development for Cilla in her relationships with other characters, particularly her relationship with her mother, given that the relationship is somewhat strained because of their differing desires where Janet’s house is concerned. But it was great that this digging into the past ultimately provided closure, as that was the root for a lot of familial issues.

I also felt like the romance was quite enjoyable for what it was. Ford is an example, along with Carter from Vision in White, of a well-written Roberts hero. I love that he’s a graphic novelist, which is a profession I don’t recall ever seeing in a romance novel before. He’s also incredibly funny and intelligent, and just all-around a great person. It also doesn’t hurt that he has an equally quirky dog, Spock, who I would argue, almost steals the show.

This is definitely not the best Roberts I’ve read, especially in terms of its advertised subgenre, but there are plenty of things it does well that will appeal to new-ish readers exploring Roberts’ backlist for the first time.

Review of “Lady Notorious” (Royal Rewards #4) by Theresa Romain

Romain, Theresa. Lady Notorious. New York: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing Corp., 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420145458 | 281 pages | Regency Romance

2.5 stars

Theresa Romain is one of the authors that I have…complex…feelings about when it comes to their work. There are some where I feel like I don’t gel with their characters, and thus am less inclined to read more of them. But Romain is one of those that I consistently want to love, and have enjoyed a few of her books in the past, but find myself a bit at a loss with not only Lady Notorious itself, but almost the entire Royal Rewards series.

The main thing that maintains my interest is her characters, particularly the heroes, and how they tend to be more beta than alpha. That is the case here, with George, Lord Northbrook. He is a charming and intelligent hero, and while he has some demons, they are handled in a way that I really enjoyed, not allowing these things from his past to fully dominate him in the present. I also love that he has a unique hobby concerning camera obscurae. And while Cassandra is a somewhat anachronistic historical heroine, I also found her reasonably likable as well, and I felt like they had pretty good chemistry with one another.

However, while there is a claim to a mystery plot here, I found myself at a loss to figure out what the point of it all was, except that it somehow involved a threat to the life of Nortbrook’s father, the Duke of Ardmore. The pacing of this dragged (an amazing feat, given that it’s less than 300 pages), and I didn’t feel any trace of the suspense that I was led to expect from the blurb. I almost wish she had tightened the plot a bit of this one (and perhaps even the others in the series as well) to novella length, as I found her recent novellas far superior in quality than this series, and there didn’t seem to be enough of interest going on to stretch out to four full novels.

I am massively disappointed in Romain after concluding this series, but I hope this is just a minor misfire, as I know she is still capable of writing great stories (not to mention I still have her other recent series, Romance of the Turf, in my TBR, and it sounds very different tone-wise). If anything, I would not suggest a newbie to Romain start here, but with one of her earlier works.

Review of “Vision in White” (Bride Quartet #1) by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Vision in White. New York: Berkley Books, 2009.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425227510 | 343 pages | Contemporary Romance

4.5 stars

Vision in White is arguably one of the best books I’ve read by Nora Roberts so far. Whether it is her best book ever is debatable, given how I haven’t read much from her due to a few negative experiences, but she is at the top of her game here, creating a story that not only has engaging leads with a compelling romance, but also the friendships that she also does incredibly well.

I mostly picked this one up because of what I heard about the hero, Carter. The book club friend who not only recommended this to me several times, but gifted me a copy among other Nora titles, noted that he’s exactly the type of hero I’d like, and she wasn’t wrong. I love that he’s more on the geeky side, and a bit awkward. While I’ve heard his type is a Roberts staple, I still felt there was something unique and likable about him, although this may be my inexperience with her work coming into play here.

I also really liked the emotional depth given to Mac, and like that Roberts tends to go against the norm (or at least what’s considered more popular) by having her heroines dealing with trauma. I really enjoyed the central focus of the series being that she comes together with her best friends to develop a wedding planning business, with the irony being that, even though she had participated in pretend weddings as a kid, her dysfunctional family has soured her to the idea of marriage. I loved seeing how her trust issues were explored, and while she isn’t always the most likable character, I could understand where she was coming from, and her development felt natural.

My one minor quibble is that this book makes extensive use of acronyms, and while they are explained in the book, some are so uncommon, it was a chore to remember them. MOH for “Maid of Honor” or MOB for “Mother of the Bride” makes some sense, particularly after being told what it means once, but there was also this weird mini-plot point that led to the best man in one of the wedding parties they’re planning for being called the CBBM, or “cheating bastard best man” (at least I think that’s what it was?), and there were a couple more that sound clever on paper, but just don’t stick out in my mind. I hope the rest of the series isn’t so bogged down with shorthand like this.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this one, and will be continuing the series and seeking out more of Roberts’ contemporaries that catch my interest, since that seems to be genre she writes in that works the best for me. I would recommend anyone new (or new-ish) to Roberts’ work pick this one up, since it really is a gem, and not to be missed.