Review of “You Belong With Me” (Restoring Heritage #1) by Tari Faris

Faris, Tari. You Belong With Me. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0800736477 | 360 pages | Contemporary Romance/Christian Fiction

4 stars

I received a free copy in exchange for a review, as pat of the Revell Reads Blog Tour Program. All opinions are my own.

As has been the case with the other books I’ve requested through Revell Reads, I was primarily drawn to You Belong With Me due to the promise of the blurb, with the idea of the book (and likely the series as well) about preserving the historic aspects of the small town of Heritage. And while I’m still fairly new to small-town contemporaries, this is one of the most interesting I have read thus far, given the restoration element. And while it’s not the only part of the book, I found it wasn’t the only part I enjoyed either.

Faris manages to include two romances running parallel with each other, giving them equal page time, so while the blurb did not indicate this, I was not bothered when it would divert from Hannah or Luke to focus on Hannah’s brother Thomas and his ex, Janie, who he still has feelings for. I loved the exploration into the complications that led to said breakup, which turn out to be somewhat heartbreaking, and the conversation where it all comes out that brought the two of them back together.

I found Hannah and Luke’s relationship building a little underwhelming by comparison, but I did like the arc that Luke went on to figure out who his biological parents were, and was incredibly excited when he found them.

This is a delightful, sweet small town contemporary, and given that it is a debut, I’m quite impressed to see where Tari Faris goes from here. I would recommend this to those who love contemporaries with a lot of heart, with just as much focus on family and community as there is on romance.

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Review of “Meet Me in Monaco” by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Gaynor, Hazel, and Heather Webb. Meet Me in Monaco. New York: William Morrow, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062885364 | 358 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

Meet Me in Monaco was one of my most anticipated books of the year, after ranking Gaynor and Webb’s previous collaboration, Last Christmas in Paris, as the best read of 2017 (and possibly one of the best of all time), and while I was unfortunately not brought to tears in any of the tense moments of uncertainty or when the inevitable moments of the characters grieving hit this time, I did find myself just as invested, devouring this one, once again, like Last Christmas, in a single afternoon.

Gaynor and Webb once again manage to recreate the historical atmosphere beautifully, transporting the reader this time to the media circus of Grace Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier. I was in awe of all the details and how public it all was, especially given that I knew only the bare-bones facts that attract the average person to her narrative, as the authors make note of in their historical note in the parallels between Grace and both Princess Diana and Meghan Markle. But, as the story is told through the eyes of fairly normal people, I love how it allows Grace’s personality to show through in a way that isn’t clouded by pretense, since both James and Sophie have such unique interactions with her, even while it is juxtaposed by the occasional headline from the self-professed Grace fangirl reporter.

Sophie and James’ relationship is compelling, and it’s beautiful to see how they went from meeting in a rather inauspicious way to falling in love. And while there are odds stacked against them, I could not help but root for them. And ultimately, while this is a romance with a happy ending, I like how it also allowed for character growth and acknowledgment of the problems keeping them apart, before Grace once again (in a way) brought them back together.

Ultimately, I finished this book satisfied, yet longing to know if Gaynor and Webb would release another collaboration, because there’s something about their work together that is just pure magic, and the best romantic historical fiction I’ve ever read. I heartily recommend this one to pretty much everyone, but especially historical fiction fans and lovers of royalty and Hollywood stories.

Review of “Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune” by Roselle Lim

Lim, Roselle. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984803252 | 299 pages | Women’s Fiction/Magical Realism

3 stars

I find myself a bit conflicted upon finishing Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. On the one hand, I really liked the exploration of the complex family dynamics in a Chinese family, and how, through three generations of women, each was fraught with discord between mother and daughter.

And I really enjoyed Natalie’s growing understanding of her mother’s mental health, especially what it means in the context of Asian traditions, where mental health care and Western medicine in general often isn’t given much consideration, with their preference toward more holistic methods like acupuncture.

And given the book’s title, there are many inclusions of recipes from Natalie’s grandmother’s recipe book, along with other lush descriptions of various dishes, leaving me salivating. While I don’t cook myself, I felt the urge to make copies of some of these for further reference, as they all sound amazing.

But the despite the lush food descriptions and the engaging family drama, complete with a climactic “I-am-your-father”-esque (but more bittersweet than dramatic) reveal, there was just something missing that kept me from fully engaging in the story. Perhaps it was the heroine…I just wasn’t fully invested in her life as a person, other than in connection with her mother and grandmother, who were far more interesting, even though they never appear in the flesh.

This one was a bit of a miss for me, but I still found it a good read to take in the elements I did enjoy. And anyone who loves multicultural family dramas with a generous helping of food porn should give this one a try as well, to see if it works better for them.

Review of “Underestimating Miss Cecilia” (Regency Brides: Daughters of Aynsley #2) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn. Underestimating Miss Cecilia. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0825445903 | 340 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

I found myself rather underwhelmed by Underestimating Miss Cecilia, in comparison to Carolyn Miller’s previous books, which were all solid. There are still some of the recognizable hallmarks of Miller’s previous books that made me enjoy them, in particular her interweaving of historical events to provide greater context for the era. In this case, I loved reading about a hero and heroine who are interested in being more active politically and pushing for social change, whether it be to help the poor throughout England or to stop the prejudice against marginalized groups like the gypsies.

And the setup for the characters wasn’t bad, especially Edward’s. I love when an author can convince me that the hero truly wants to turn over a new leaf and leave his wild ways behind, and that is what she did with Edward. And I loved seeing Cecilia come to harness her inner strength, where she used to be more passive and pining.

But despite it essentially being one of my favorite tropes, friends-to-lovers, I felt like the execution didn’t really work. It could be because I read another book that did the trope of unrequited love between friends so much better recently, so I’m a bit jaded, but I just didn’t believe the love between the two, especially when Edward, after taking her for granted for so long, notices her once something bad happens to her.

I still enjoyed this book for what it is, especially for Miller’s constant focus on building an authentic feeling Regency world. I recommend this book to fans of sweet, spiritually driven (but not overly preachy) Regency romances.

Review of “Life and Other Inconveniences” by Kristan Higgins

Higgins, Kristan. Life and Other Inconveniences. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451489425 | 428 pages | Women’s Fiction

5 stars

Kristan Higgins has quickly become an author I anticipate new releases from, even if I have yet to truly delve into her backlist. And despite not knowing much about Life and Other Inconveniences beforehand, I was quickly intrigued by the layers of family drama, and upon finishing, struck by how she managed to piece it all together.

The relationship between Emma and Genevieve is the central source of conflict, and I loved how both their respective losses and how they failed to connect with each other, leading to their estrangement, was delved into.

I also appreciate that Emma is trying to provide a more stable environment for Riley, in a similar way to how Genevieve did for her, to the point of even confronting the baby’s father, Jason, and his family in the best way (shame his heartless mother is called Courtney!) And while, in the style of Higgins’ newer books, the romance is not the focus, I liked that Miller, Jason’s cousin, provides a foil for the life of privilege his cousin leads, still spoiled by his parents, and also proves to be a great partner for the more mature Emma as they are both in different stages of the hard road of single parenthood.

There are a complex set of supporting characters, a few of which also get chapters from their perspective. And I found myself surprised by some of the turns the story took when it shifted to these secondary characters, Clive (Emma’s father and Genevieve’s son) in particular. At first, he seems like the standard deadbeat dad and wastrel son who can’t compare to his perfect (presumed dead) brother, so when I found out the secret of Clive’s role in it, I found myself feeling sympathy for him, even if I did not fully forgive him.

This is a beautifully emotional book with such wonderful, well-rounded characters. I recommend this to those who like heart-wrenching contemporaries.

Review of “The Wallflower Wager” (Girl Meets Duke #3) by Tessa Dare

Dare, Tessa. The Wallflower Wager. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062672162 | 353 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

The Wallflower Wager may just be Tessa Dare’s best book in years, and I can’t believe I’m saying that now, given how much anxiety I had about this one. But after the failure I had in meshing with The Duchess Deal, I still found myself unsure how to feel about a hero promoted as the “Duke of Ruin,” even though I’d already experienced how poorly some of the cliche taglines sum up the substance of the book in The Governess Game, with its so-called “bad, bad rake (Please, publishers, stop doing this…I’m sure I’m not the only reader tired of every hero being described as a rake, rogue or scoundrel, when there’s so much more to them).

But I found myself actually really liking Gabe. I’m a sucker for a self-made hero, and while he was ruthless in his path to gain wealth, I like that he’s at least honest about it, even noting the hypocrisy of how many of the aristocratic people he ruined made their wealth off people like him, as well as through colonialism and slavery, and yet that’s acceptable. It’s refreshing to finally see a Regency romance aside from those by Vanessa Riley which confronts the fact that aristocrats profited off slave labor.

And his growth into a person worthy of Penny also felt wonderful and authentic as well. While he does have a moment of succumbing back to his old ways, he doesn’t and admits he wanted to ruin her family out of his own insecurity. But I like how that sets up Penny’s journey as well, as she also deals with private pain from childhood abuse.

The supporting cast is also wonderful, both returning characters and new ones. The bromance is the best part of the book, with former rivals Ash and Chase now tag-teaming to protect Penny, then later teaming up with Gabe in some of the most hilarious hi-jinks of the book, like delivering a baby goat and arguing over the positions of second and third in a duel. Also, while Ash’s Shakespearean swears do make an appearance, he’s now outranked as the most crude character in this series by the crass parrot rescued from a brothel who imitates sex noises and propositions people for a good portion of the book.

This truly is the most delightful book, and I deeply regret letting the memory of one misfire (which she’d already made up for with book two) and marketing which she may not have had much to do with lower my expectations. I recommend this for anyone looking for a witty historical romance that also deals with tough topics in a beautiful and compassionate way.

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.