Monthly Archives: January 2022

A House Full of Windsors by Kristin Contino

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A House Full of Windsors by Kristin Contino

Contino, Kristin. A House Full of Windsors. Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, 2021. ISBN 9781948018999 292 pp. $15.95

***

A House Full of Windsors follows the story of Debbie Windsor (no relation), a hoarder coming to terms with her desire to collect British memorabilia as a throwback to her time abroad, where she met, married and had three children, and finding closure around her failed marriage (which was, in part, due to the hoarding). The story is told in alternating points of view and backtracks, but the consistency of the narrative’s layout makes it easy to follow when we are and who is speaking.

Debbie’s eldest daughter Sarah has a successful television spot and social media presence as Sarah Says, offering etiquette tips and life hacks to a following that would be shocked to learn her desire for control, order and propriety comes from growing up with a her mother’s hoarding. When Sarah’s younger brother Will, also in the TV industry, lands a job on STUFF, a reality television program on, what else, hoarding! he becomes the instigator behind getting his own mother featured on the show. Debbie needs some convincing, as does Sarah and Will’s twin, but the handsome host turns on his Southern charm, Debbie slowly comes to disassociate things with memories, seeks out her ex-husband, and Sarah may just be embarking on a love of her own.

Well-plotted, House Full of Windsors is clever, but I found a bit a slow and couldn’t figure out if it wanted to be a romance novel, or not, and whose story it really was (Sarah, or Debbie’s). It’s okay that is was both, but I’m a romance lover and prefer straight romance to novels with strong romantic elements.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #AHouseFullOfWindsor via #NetGalley

Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley

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Bromley, Kate. Talk Bookish to Me. Graydon House, 2021. ISBN 978-1525806438 292 pp. $15.99

***

Generally I am not a fan of the enemies to lovers subgenre, especially when it goes beyond we don’t care for each other, or, there was one small hurt, to actively being mean, pranking, lying and subverting. The characters are not always nice to one another in this romance.

Romance novelist Kara is subjected to spending time with her college boyfriend and first lover Ryan when she discovers at a pre-engagement bash he is the best man to her maid of honor at their mutual friend’s wedding. Thrown together first in a number of wedding-related events, then at Kara’s invitation when Ryan’s hotel situation becomes less than desirable, the old flames fight, kiss and wonder what the heck they are doing, and would they have stayed together, had their circumstances (a long-distance relationship and suspected cheating) been different?

The will they/won’t they narrative is driven by Kara’s writer’s block dissipating as her and Ryan’s progression follows that of her characters. Ryan is honest about his resurging feelings about Kate–but not completely honest about himself. Is their love OTP, just unfinished business, or wedding-fanned sparks?

There is a lot to like here: I had never heard of a bookstagrammar and loved the details of how Kara sets a scene to highlight a book on her social media feed. Better editing might have removed the fatphobia and slut shaming type slurs, and while Ryan at first degrades romance as literary porn, he does later show support for Kara and her career. I like the cover art, which features a bicycling Kara solo on a teal silhouette of a city, with vibrant yellow sky and lettering. The book within a book formatting, and it worked well to advance the plot. A solid debut.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #TalkBookishToMe via #NetGalley.

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren

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The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren

Lauren, Christina. The Soulmate Equation. Dial Press, 2022. ISBN 400 pp. 978-0593379165 $17.99

****

I spent 2 years on Plenty of Fish, Bumble, Tinder and OKCupid just looking at profiles until I met my the love of my life. I was holding out for a 90% or better compatibility on OKCupid (and striking out) when I accidentally swiped UP (superlike!) on a not-yet-divorced man on Tinder (a site I barely used, because I was looking for long term, not a quick hookup). Tinder was a stopover for him while he was perfecting a J-Date profile. I’d like to think if we had completed all those tests on OKCupid, we’d be a solid 90% match.

In The Soulmate Equation, single mom statistician Jess has just sworn off dating. She and her best friend work from a local coffee shop, a place where you could set your watch by the attractive man who comes in at 8:24 every morning, face buried in his phone. When it turns out he runs a dating company that finds matches based on genetic compatibility across 200 genomes, Jess and her friend romance novelist Fizzy end up getting a tour, the pitch and send in a spit sample for a possible match; Jess ends up 98% compatible with the grumpy but hot owner, River.

The company, poised to go public, offers to pay Jess $30,000 to date River for three months; the match is too good not to share, and a real relationship for the two of them would solidify the data. Jess agrees, so long as her adorable 7-year-old Juno is kept out of the PR spotlight. River comes up with the clause they are under no obligation to get physical. Jess and River find themselves ordering the same meals, making similar gestures on their dates, and their chemistry is palpable. River shows up for Jess in all kinds of ways–picking up Juno at school, standing vigil at the hospital after the grandmother that raised her has an accident–but when Jess comes upon some information that could compromise the data, and the company, she can’t remain silent, even though she risks losing everything she ever wanted.

San Francisco is a strong presence in the book, and Jess’s grandfather’s love of crossword puzzles is one of the things that adds depth to the characterizations. Jess’s addict mother Jamie keeps everything a little too real. I completely geeked out over all the data science. My only complaint is I would have liked some remaining questions answered.

If my love and I were able to get a genome sequencing, like the characters in the book, would we come out with a strong match? I think so. Would we want to know the results? Again, I think so-it would just prove what I already know to be true.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #TheSoulmateEquation from #NetGalley

Plot Twist by Bethany Turner

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Plot Twist by Bethany Turner

Turner, Bethany. Plot Twist. Thomas Nelson, 2002. ISBN 978-0785244486 321 pp. $16.99

**

Clever, but not as surprising a plot twist as I was hoping for. A writer meets a potential actor in a busy coffeeshop, and he helps to deflect unwanted advances from another man by faking a relationship. They joke about meeting in ten years times, that he will star in her winning screenplay and they will both go on to have success. Through a series of coincidences, documented annually, their lives cross until the fateful day.

Plot Twist features solid writing and a creative plot. I just didn’t find it compelling or particularly believable for some reason.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #PlotTwist from #NetGalley

One Last Stop by Casey McQuintock

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McQuintock, Casey. One Last Stop. St. Martin’s / Griffin, 2021. ISBN 978-1250244499 418 pp. $16.99

*****

I was chuckling within the first few pages, and shed a few tears near the end. In this magical novel, jaded August has moved to NYC in part to escape her missing-persons obsessed mother. Everything about NYC is a little weird–her psychic roommate, her job at a pancake diner, and the cute girl on the Q train.

The writing is almost as lyrical and delicious as Francesca Lia Block’s classic Weetzie Bat, the characters unique and real, and the themes of coming to terms with your past, your sexuality, and the world at large resonates.

Hot sex, heart of gold friends, a campaign to save a restaurant and rescue a relic from the past made this unputdownable. It will find a different audience, maybe, than McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue but the carefully drawn, passionate characters and dialogue will appeal.

I received a digital review copy of #OneLastStop from #NetGalley.

Seoulmates by Jen Frederick

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Seoulmates by Jen Frederick

Frederick, Jen. Seoulmates. Berkley, 2022. ISBN  978-0593100165. 304 pp. $16

****

I was so in love with and frustrated with the first book in this series, Heart and Seoul, that I really hoped there might be more resolution with Hara’s relationship both with her mother and her not-stepbrother. Seoulmates featured many details of Korean culture, and a subplot of Hara not meshing well with the corporate culture at her mother’s company, that ultimately leads to a decision to put time and energy into a food truck she frequents as a patron. Logistics, relationship building, and amazing food round out the novel.

This novel is armchair travel at it’s best. Is it a romance? I still can’t answer that question, except to say Hara and Yujun’s steamy, sweet, and heartstring tugging relationship is prominent and aspirational with another cliffhanger.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #Seoulmates from #NetGalley.

Heart and Seoul by Jen Frederick

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Heart and Seoul by Jen Frederick

Frederick, Jen. Heart and Seoul. Berkley, 2021. ISBN 978-0593100141 352 pp. $16.00

****

I love the title and the cover of this book so much, but I do not think it qualifies as a romance novel. Rather, it is about identity and finding one’s true course, and is better categorized as fiction with strong romantic elements. Hara, a Korean woman adopted as a child by white parents, doesn’t know much about the story of her birth and heritage, just that she was abandoned. She didn’t fit into white culture growing up and avoided many things Korean to fit in. When she learns that her birth father has recently passed away, she decides to go to her homeland to pay her respects… and maybe to try to track down her mother with the help of a good friend who seems to desperately want to help Hara avoid being taken advantage of. A meet-cute at the airport comes with a whiff of romance, but It’s Complicated.

Hara is a strong character who takes risks and experiences real growth, as well as betrayal that she has to come to terms with. The writing is strong and details vivid, I really enjoyed the cultural elements of the novel and details of Seoul, and the attraction between Hara and Boyoung. I haven’t read anything else by the author so I had no expectations for content except the cover illustration, and without a HEA or HFN ending, it’s just not a romance… unless there will be a sequel?

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #Heart&Seoul via #NetGalley.

Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick

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Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick

Rudnick, Paul. Playing the Palace. Berkeley, 2021. ISBN 9780593099414 272 pp. $16

****

This laugh-out-loud funny, boy-meets-prince romance between an urban (assistant) events planner–excuse me, event ARCHITECT–and the heir to the throne is a fast-paced romp littered with pop culture nods, product placement and name-dropping, angst, superhero references, social gaffs and outright disasters, and a dash of social justice.

Carter Odgen, pushing 30 and still trying to figure out his purpose, is six months past a bad breakup when the event he’s coordinating puts him face-to-face with his royal Highness Prince Edgar. Carter’s unsolicited hints to help “the blore” (bland + boring) loosen up before his clean water speech leads to a heated moment, but the two are separated by the Prince’s entourage and security team. But! lack of glass slipper notwithstanding, Edgar feels it too and — swoon! –tracks Carter down as soon as his schedule allows. The couple attends Carter’s sister Abby’s wedding as dates, and shortly thereafter, a shirtless post-coital selfie of the two gents posing in Burger King crowns accidentally goes viral, the Queen demands the shenanigans cease, and instead Edgar whisks Carter off to London for a visit, when he nearly turns the live taping of a Great British Baking Jubilee into an international incident. Things are going swimmingly when Callum, Carter’s opportunistic ex, resurfaces for the boy-loses-boy bit, but as with traditional romances, there is a HFN, if not a HEA.

Told entirely from Carter’s point of view, his snarky tone balances perfectly between self-deprecating and self-doubt/self-loathing, and Carter and Edgar grow throughout the novel Supporting characters — the verbose and scathing Queen, his roommates and hangers on, boss Cassandra, Carter’s great(est) aunt Miriam, his loving friends, and especially James, who is introduced to Carter as the prince’s “chief of staff, factorum, and devoted manservant,” (until James reminds Edgar, “For the last time: you are not Batman.”) are wonderfully multifaceted.

In between the jetsetting, public appearances, and kissing, the novel also manages to challenge societal norms, pay tribute to gay rights, champions the environment and childhood illness, without losing its charm. I love this spin on the Cinderella trope (though, not as much as Red, White and Royal Blue, truth be told) and Playing the Palace does not disappoint.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of PlayingthePalace via #NetGalley.

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

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The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

Meltzer, Jean. The Matzah Ball. Mira, 2021. ISBN 978-0778312130 400 pp. $28.99

In the Bible, it takes Jacob fourteen years of labor to win his Rachel… in the Matzah Ball, it takes over twenty. A prank-filled summer at Camp Ahava made Rachel and Jacob frenemies then sweethearts, but the fledgling relationship disintegrated into nothing when a publically staged first kiss led to Rachel’s humiliation. A good Jewish girl–daughter of a well-known Rebbe, even–she now moonlights writing very successful Christmas themed holiday romances. She still holds a grudge, years later, against Jacob, who is now a successful event planner and fundraiser, and is back in NYC to pull off a seasonal party for the Jewish population that coincides with a demand from Rachel’s editor for an authentic Hanukkah romance. The Matzah Ball is the hottest–sold out–party in town. Rachel, who lives with chronic fatigue syndrome, agrees to volunteer her time in preparing for the event to score a ticket so she can write her next novel.

The banter throughout (not just between Rachel and Jacob, but between Rachel and Jacob’s grandmother, Jacob and his right hand man Shmuel) and the humor of gentle poking fun at stereotypes strive to balance out the disdain for All Things Jewish Rachel spouts to her (gay) best friend Michael–I found it a little cringe-worthy. I didn’t want Rachel to come off as a self-hating Jew, and at the beginning, for me, she did.

The romance is well-paced, if predictable – but again, I’m not sure I loved how they talked to one another, all the time. All these years later, and they are still keeping secrets and misunderstanding intentions?! I wanted to yell at them to grow up!

I appreciated Shmuel’s definition of beshert–not soulmates, but destiny: a person who exists to complete something you lack. Like you’ve found your missing piece that makes you better than you are, that calls you on your shit. I do think it can be done more respectfully than he conveys happens with his wife, and than we experience with Rachel and Jacob: in one scene, she tells him repeatedly to stop talking. It’s a bit old-fashioned and discomforting.

Still, Melzter’s story has a heart of gold. Her author’s note at the end speaks to finding a balance in her story to appeal to Jews who love Christmas, Christmas celebrators who know nothing about Jewish practices, a sprinkling of Yiddish and halakhah, and appeal for day school kids and Hebrew school b’nei mitzvot alike. In this, she is successful.

I wanted The Matzah Ball to read like The Intimacy Experiment and Get a Life, Chloe Brown had a baby, but it didn’t achieve that level for me. Stronger editing and intimacy more on the page, than off, would have made this a 4 or 5 star book for me.

I received a free copy of #TheMatzahBall from #NetGalley.

Anne of Manhattan by Brina Starler

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Anne of Manhattan by Brina Starler

Starler, Brina. Anne of Manhattan. William Morrow, 2021. ISBN 978-0063020740 336 pp. $15.99

***

In this updated and modern twist on the romance of Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe of the Anne of Green Gables series fame, Anne and Gilbert had a moment in high school that went nowhere, followed by a simmering awareness, and are now forced into proximity, assigned to work together at Redmond College on a project to complete their theses and degrees. The two find they do work well together, but as in the original novels, misunderstandings and assumptions thwart their friendship until, as in Anne of the Island, Gilbert falls ill and Anne is forced to face her feelings in the wake of pending loss.

Familiar characters appear; the old farm is now a winery; the characterizations feel spot on from my recollections. A subplot of inappropriate advances from their shared professor adds to the drama. Strong appeal for fans of the original series.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #AnneOfManhattan via #NetGalley