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
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.
Rogerson, Margaret. Sorcery of Thorns. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2019.
Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481497619 | 456 pages | YA Fantasy
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.
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
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.
Kelly, Julia. The Light Over London. New York: Gallery Books, 2019.
Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501196416 | 293 pages | Historical Fiction
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.
Shalvis, Jill. Lost and Found Sisters. New York: William Morrow, 2017.
Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062448118 | 371 pages | Women’s Fiction
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.
Hauck, Rachel. The Memory House. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.
Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0310250965 | 374 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Fiction
The Memory House is another poignant dual timeline novel from Rachel Hauck, and I loved the exploration of grief and the differing reactions to the tragic loss of a loved one explored through the interwoven narratives, whether it be memory loss or holding onto memories, both of which prevent the person from moving forward and growing.
And this is one of the rare times where I found the contemporary arc as compelling as the past one, if not more so. While I have not faced loss in the same way Beck has, I could empathize with her struggles and how her mind essentially shut out memories of that time due to her grief, and I found it poignant how this grief manifested in her present life, with her choosing a career as a police officer in the NYPD. I also loved how there were some parallels and contradictions with her childhood friend and love interest Bruno’s life, as he faces some discoveries about the fate of his own father.
It juxtaposes very well with Everleigh and Don’s story, and how she is holding onto the memory of her late husband, even as she’s developing feelings for someone else, and I also love the reveal of the blood ties between the two women, which is at the center of why Everleigh left the house to her, along with the deeper spiritual connection.
This a deeply emotional book, one that deals with the struggle to move on after a monumental loss. I would recommend it to readers of deep, introspective multi-generational novels.
Highsmith, Patricia. The Price of Salt. 1952. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2015.
I picked up The Price of Salt following reading Robin Talley’s Pulp, and seeing it as one of the lesbian pulp books that are currently still in print that she recommended, and as it turns out, one of the most well known, given the fact that it got a film adaptation in 2015.
And I very much enjoyed this book, and can understand why it has stood the test of time. I like that it stands out as a book written in a time when LGBTQ+ media was censored (a theme Talley discussed) and they did not even have the option to really be “out” as a book that ends happily, as well as discussing the societal opposition for both women.
These two characters aren’t always the most likable, especially Carol, and while I didn’t finish the book feeling massively attached to either of them, I do appreciate it as a remarkably progressive work for its time, and it is one of the works of romance history that I wish was talked about more, especially given that f/f is (finally!) seeing a small mainstream resurgence.
In short, this is a book that I enjoyed not so much for its own sake, but for its legacy. I think anyone looking to dig into the history of popular fiction should pick this up to get a snapshot of how the politics of the period informed the fiction, and how authors like Highsmith fought against that.
Marcelo, Tif. The Key to Happily Ever After. New York: Gallery Books, 2019.
Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501197581 | 314 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit
I really wanted to love The Key to Happily Ever After, since not only did it offer great rep for a population that is not often seen in romantic fiction, it also was a story about the relationship between sisters, which is something that really intrigued me.
And, in principle, the setup is great, The one flaw with it is not giving the middle sister, Jane, the spotlight, feeding into the “overlooked middle child” stereotype, but I did feel like there was an effort made to establish the bonds these sisters had with one another in this unique situation of running a wedding shop.
However, I wasn’t truly invested in the story or the characters where it mattered. It felt more like meandering through a sequence of events that I didn’t care about with characters that did not overly engage me. I didn’t care about these apparent romantic entanglements the sisters got involved in, or care when things went south, or feel like there was some kind of payoff to there being any kind of “happily ever after” (romantic or otherwise). I’m aware this could be more of a “me” thing than anything else, but I just didn’t feel like there was a ton going for it, aside from the brilliant cultural elements.
This is a book that I don’t think I would personally recommend to anyone, but that is just my opinion, and take it with a grain of salt. I do feel like the things it does well, as I said before, are the Filipino representation, and the basic setup for the family element, so if you are interested in those things, you may enjoy it more than I did.
Kamal, Soniah. Unmarriageable. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019.
Hardcover | $27.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524799717 | 342 pages | Contemporary/Multicultural/Austen Retelling
Unmarriageable captures the perfect balance when it comes to an Austen retelling of conveying the underlying themes in a way that remains recognizable, but also providing something new that means it’s not only worth reading, but it also feels like the author truly got to play with it and make it their own. And the result is not only entertaining, but also incredibly educational and eye-opening.
Kamal goes into the parallels she saw between 19th century English society and modern Pakistani society in her author’s note, thus serving as the inspiration for this book. And it was fascinating to look at some of the double standards and contradictions of Pakistani society, especially concerning women’s education and the way marriage for women by a certain age was stressed much more than for men, and even more hauntingly, with recent news closer to home, the issues concerning sexual freedom and reproductive rights, and even how wealth and privilege gives people more options in that regard.
And even more so than these underlying themes, I love how Kamal translated the characters and their vibrant personalities into this retelling, and even further developed some of the character arcs. I loved the further development as Alys as a feminist in particular, challenging the idea that marriage, particularly marriage without love, is the only option for women, as opposed to having a career. But on the flip side, I was also moved by Sherry and how she managed to get a happy ending in her own way, despite pursuing an arranged marriage.
This is definitely a must-read for Austen fans, especially those who are looking for a new perspective on Pride and Prejudice.
Polk, C.L. Witchmark. New York: Tor.com/Tom Doherty and Associates, 2018.
Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250162687 | 318 pages | Historical Fantasy
Witchmark came highly recommended by a book club friend or two as a romance-adjacent fantasy with an m/m romance, and some recent conversation on Twitter in response to some hostile reviews for the forthcoming sequel regarding the shift in protagonist (despite said book not even finished and available to reviewers yet) inspired me to pick up the book even sooner than I originally planned.
This book had such an engaging plot, and was so fast-paced. I also liked that, while it’s not the most complicated fantasy in terms of worldbuilding and magic, it feels both easy to comprehend due to the historical influences and also well-drawn enough to be distinct at the same time.
Miles and Tristan are both fabulous characters, and especially Miles, given that he’s the protagonist and narrator. I loved the exploration of his conflicts as far as his family is concerned. And their romance…there are some pretty cute moments between them, and it balances out the darker atmosphere of the mystery plot and the world war.
This book was utterly enjoyable, and I will definitely be reading the sequel. I would recommend this to fans of great historically-inspired fantasy.