Review of “The Bookish Life of Nina Hill” by Abbi Waxman

Waxman, Abbi. The Bookish Nina Hill. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451491879 | 332 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

4 stars

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill caught my attention with its title, because as bizarrely common as they are (although perhaps a bit less so in contemporaries, I’m not sure), bookish heroines are still catnip to me. And upon reading the blurb and diving in and learning about Nina’s anxiety, and seeing how well (for the most part) it was depicted, I fell in love with her. While there are some small things I can’t relate to, or find more aspirational at this point in my life (such as working at an indie bookstore!), I loved all her little nerdy quirks, and how they extend beyond books to movies and TV shows too.

I also like that she was given a realistic arc for growth with the revelation of a father and other family she never met, and how her now-deceased father’s life choices at first make him seem a bit heartless, but over time, there’s the revelation that he shares more in common with Nina psychologically, and that he may not be the only one in the family who does so. I like that the book ends with his letter to her inspiring her to make better choices, having learned all this.

I did feel like there were some inconsistencies where the romance (or at least the sexual aspects of it) was concerned. I could understand her reluctance to commit, given the way she was raised without both her biological parents present in her life (although not without love, due to the fact that she did have a nanny), but it seemed a little odd to me that after she and Tom slept together, he was the one more eager to call themselves boyfriend/girlfriend, and while she acquiesced to him, she told someone else they weren’t really serious. It did help the overall conflict, in terms of whether her anxiety would interfere with a relationship, but, were it not for her father’s contradictory example, I would have found it completely unbelievable…and as it is, I’m still not completely sold about it.

But this is otherwise a great contemporary read, with compelling characters and lots of moments chock-full of both humor and heart. I recommend this to fans of rom-coms and bookish leads.


Why You Should Read “Last Christmas in Paris” by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Gaynor, Hazel, & Heather Webb. Last Christmas in Paris. New York: William Morrow, 2017.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062562685 | 368 pages | Historical Fiction

Recently, I found myself in another minor reading slump, where the books I thought I wanted to read weren’t holding my interest, after a string of relative winners. Thus, I did one of the things I have often heard was a good solution for getting out of a slump: rereading a favorite, in this case, Last Christmas in Paris  by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb, which I had already hoped to reread at some point due to my love for their recent release, Meet Me in Monaco. But, having done some rereading earlier this year, I found myself wondering what I would post about it, given my reactions would be very similar, given it hadn’t been that long since I first read it. Thus, I decided to shift the focus to emphasizing recommending the book to other readers, in a similar vein to YouTuber Daniel Greene’s “Why You Should Read” series dedicated to fantasy series. Thus, while I’m sure I’ll repeat many of the things I said in my original review and rave quite a bit, I will try my best to be more objective, in hopes of appealing to readers who haven’t found it yet. 

  1. The historical detail is impeccable : I love how, through its inclusion of main characters both serving in the war and observing from back home in England, it offers a very nuanced and multi-faceted look at World War I. As the authors explain in their historical notes, trench warfare and its effects on the psyche in the form of shell shock and “war neurosis”  are things about, but I love how it also delves into the darker aspects, and how propaganda at home was used to sugarcoat the wartime experience. 
  2. It truly is a love letter to letters: From the structure itself, and how it manages to be engrossing in spite of the fact that the characters never interact face-to-face on the page, to the way Gaynor and Webb managed to replicate the form to an extent in their writing process (albeit through emails), it presents a sense of nostalgia for a time when snail mail letters were a valued form of communication rather than just a nuisance. It makes you appreciate how much people could convey through letters, particularly when they were separated for long periods of time. And in a situation like World War I, the letters truly were a beacon in a dark time. 
  3. It’s a fabulous wartime romance (with an HFN!): I think I’ve said that it bothers me to no end that, in spite of the Romance Writers of America classification of a historical romance as just generally “set prior to 1950”  and that we are now far enough away time-wise for 9/11 to be historical in some contexts, that World War I and II fiction, both with and without a happy ending, gets classified as historical fiction, and mainstream historical romance is mostly Regency and Victorian ,with the occasional medieval. But in spite of its classification, it is a book I would recommend to romance readers. While it doesn’t have the “conventional” HEA (and I can see myself getting flamed for saying this), it has an unexpected and beautiful bittersweet happy ending, and its power is why, even upon a second reading, I was once again I was brought to tears. 
  4. The structure of the reveals is well-done: While most letters are conveyed in chronological order, a few are withheld for one reason for another, even if in at least one case, there is a reference to it, as would be natural in normal correspondence between real people. But the circumstances for why each letter was withheld is believable, and each of those in particular is a gut-punch, especially as some add further clarity amid the natural misunderstandings of correspondence, in which you the writer may choose to withhold information, leading to the best execution of the Big Misunderstanding, and one of the few that did not have me screaming that they needed to just talk to each other. 
  5.  It’s the epitome of the best of romantic historical fiction: Encompassing all the above points to an extent, I do feel like the most important reason is its crossover appeal and how it perfectly manages to balance the romance and the historical. I’ve read historical romances and felt it was bereft of any real sense of place, even if wasn’t outright inaccurate (only to be told that’s why it’s called historical ROMANCE…apparently the history isn’t that important?), and then there are historical novels (both historical fiction and historical romance) that include subpar romantic plots, with the historical elements being the highlight, and even then those not being enough to deal with the other lackluster bits. But Gaynor and Webb come together and write a book that’s in some ways familiar and in some ways very unexpected, and left me feeling excited about every aspect, something I hope that everyone who loves a good romantic historical will feel too. 

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 “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 “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 “Of Blood and Bone” (Chronicles of the One #2) by Nora Robertsp

Roberts, Nora. Of Blood and Bone. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $28.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250122995 | 453 pages | Science Fiction/Paranormal

4 stars

After really enjoying the initial setup of Year One, I really liked seeing the further development of the characters and the world in Of Blood and Bone, especially focusing on the One of the series title, Fallon.

I enjoyed seeing Fallon coming into her own and mastering her gifts, and that for me was the best part of the book, as it allowed me to really get to know her, especially since the last book and the first part of this one got me invested in her unique family situation in the midst of the Doom.

The one weak spot, which seems to be the case for me with much of Roberts’ work, is the poor, somewhat sudden development of the romance between Fallon and Duncan. I can understand it in theory, given they do have some common ground, but it just felt out of place after spending so much time with Fallon during her training with Mallick, and I wished it focused just on her development. I also felt that the familial and romantic bonds in Fallon’s family were much more interesting, whether it be the magickal scenes between Fallon and her birth father, Max, the sweet moments at the beginning between her and Simon, the father who raised her, or the descriptions in both books of Lana’s love for both Max and Simon.

I really liked this one overall, even if it does suffer a bit from being a middle book, expanding on the story, but still feeling a little open-ended. I still feel it’s worth picking up if you enjoyed the first one.

Review of “Sorcery of Thorns” by Margaret Rogerson

Rogerson, Margaret. Sorcery of Thorns. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481497619 | 456 pages | YA Fantasy

4.5 stars

I was excited about about the buzz around Sorcery of Thorns, especially since it is one of those rare fantasy stand-alones, which I found refreshing, since I was getting a little annoyed with the structure of especially YA fantasy series, and getting invested then having to wait a year. And while I heard mixed things about Rogerson’s first book, An Enchantment of Ravens, I felt like I would click with the concept of this immediately, especially given it focuses on a magical library.

And I found myself blown away, especially by the quirky concept of the books themselves, with them actually being alive in a sense, comparable, as author Katherine Arden said in her blurb for the book, to the Hogwarts Library. And there is a dark, sometimes Gothic atmosphere to the setting which had me intrigued fairly early on.

As for Elisabeth herself, I felt like she’s a pretty great character to follow. She is a bit naive and trusting, but this is a case where it works with her background and, while it often led to some predictable moments, I still found her more or less relatable and likable in her motivations and desires.

While there are some familiar elements, I like that Rogerson does enough of her own thing that it doesn’t feel like too predictable, and I finished it feeling both satisfied and also longing for more in this fun world, even if not necessarily following the same characters. I would recommend this to other YA fantasy fans who are looking for another author to read.

Review of “Year One” (Chronicles of the One #1) by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Year One. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250122957 |419 pages | Science Fiction–Post Apocalyptic

4 stars

Despite my my varied past experience with Nora Roberts’ work, her paranormal series in particular, I was drawn to trying Year One due to hearing it was slightly different from her other series, and given that what I liked was her skill as a world builder (or in this case, on occasion, world destroyer) when it comes to developing her paranormals, but found the romances rather shallow and unbearable to read, with only one exception so far, this one seemed promising, and I’m glad that with this series and Shelter in Place, she’s begun to dive into grittier territory, which I knew she had the potential for.

And while it is by no means perfect, I still found it engaging, and I enjoyed observing how characters survived a terrible tragedy like the Doom then went through trying to figure out how you rebuild in the aftermath. While there are several characters that we are introduced to, it was easy to become invested in their respective narratives.

And I like that she also brings her roots in the paranormal to this new series, so it stands out from the pack of post apocalyptic and dystopian novels, which lean more toward the science oriented, even if there are some parallels, particularly one that other readers have noted with The Stand by Stephen King (which I have not read, so I cannot pass judgment either way).

I really liked this one, in spite of its somewhat polarizing reception among readers, if the Goodreads reviews are anything to go on. And I think anyone who is interested in a post apocalyptic story should give this one a try, whether they’ve read Nora Roberts in the past or not.

Review of “The Light Over London” by Julia Kelly

Kelly, Julia. The Light Over London. New York: Gallery Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501196416 | 293 pages | Historical Fiction

2 stars

The Light Over London was recommended by Theresa Romain in her readers’ group around the time of publication, and my interest was piqued, because I’m always looking for more World War I and II books. But once I got into the book, I found myself disappointed, as, were it not for the ending, I would call it another casulty of romance readers’ rejection of the World Wars as a time period, consigning them to historical fiction.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I obviously love historical romance, and there are plenty of historically rich historical romance books out there, even if historical accuracy and sense of place are not universally demanded within historical romance. But it is an expectation in historical fiction, as well as adding some substance and something new to help readers feel like they’re learning, and perhaps leave some resources for them to get more accurate information at the end. While Kelly does endeavor to provide some context for the experience of a gunner girl during the war, I felt it was largely overshadowed by the ill-fated romance.

I think this would make a good book for someone who is just starting to learn about the World War II period, because, bizarre twist ending notwithstanding, it does decently depict the stakes of love during World War II. However, it lacks any real originality to make it worth reading for anyone who is more well-read in the period.

Review of “Lost and Found Sisters” (Wildstone #1) by Jill Shalvis

Shalvis, Jill. Lost and Found Sisters. New York: William Morrow, 2017.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062448118 | 371 pages | Women’s Fiction

4 stars

I had never read Jill Shalvis before, but had heard good things about her as an author from many of my romance reader friends. Being a bit at a loss as to where to start and wanting to start with a slightly less daunting series, I picked up Lost and Found Sisters, the first in a series that represents her foray into Women’s Fiction territory. As such, I did not expect to get a full sense of how she crafts a romance, and I did not, given that it is the weakest part of this book, in my opinion. However, she did draw me in with a compelling story with relatable characters and a fun small-town setting.

As the title suggests, the relationship between newly discovered sisters is at the heart of the novel, and I felt their building relationship was conveyed beautifully. I love the way Quinn, who has recently faced the loss of the sister she grew up with, tries to reach out to Tilly, who is initially closed off. And while Tilly is troubled by her mother’s death, I loved seeing her walls come down and come to rely on Quinn and worry about her leaving.

And while I wasn’t the biggest fan of the romance, I didn’t mind Mick as a character, especially the greater sense of the community perspective he brought to Wildstone, the way he really loves his mom, and (of course!) his dog, Cooper, who definitely needed more page time.

This is a nice funny book that’s perfect for the idyllic, hot summer days, and one I would recommend to fans of small-town contemporaries, be they in contemporary romance or women’s fiction.