Author Archives: Beth Schreiber

About Beth Schreiber

reader, writer, gamer, LEGO enthusiast. Avid romance reader.

Happy Place by Emily Henry

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Happy Place by Emily Henry

Henry, Emily. Happy Place. Viking, 2023. 400 pp. ISBN 9780241609460. $27.00

*****

Emily Henry excels at character-driven novels with romantic themes, and Happy Place is no exception. When Harriet and Wyn first hooked up, they kept it a secret from their college friends–some of whom they lived with–for a year before revealing their relationship. Almost a decade later, the same friends don’t know they broke up five months ago, and in the interest of keeping up appearances at their annual retreat in Maine, where the hostess Sabrina and their mutual friend Parth are planning to wed, Wyn and Harry must keep up the charade of their long-distance relationship and engagement. Happy Place swings back and forth between remembrances of summers and times past (Harry’s Happy Place) and Real Life, where ex-lovers are acting lovey-dovey and touchy-feely in front of their best friends while sharing a gorgeous master suite and behind closed doors, showering separately and one of them is sleeping on the floor.

The novel explores relationships of all types and how they change: college roommates grow up, get married, get pregnant, change majors and careers. Children become caregivers to widowed parents with Parkinsons. Friends hold onto resentments, keep secrets, betray and forgive. Harriet still isn’t clear on exactly why Wyn broke up with her–midway through her surgical residency in California, he returns home in Montana caring for his mother; they did live together briefly, but he was a shadow of himself, still fighting to hold minimum wage jobs while she was exhausted and never home.

Henry writes so evocatively. Throat-achingly full of Harriet’s and Wyn’s pain, angst and longing, she also made me feel the stickiness of the movie theatre floor at the cinema, the fuzzy edged world after a pot gummie, and the joy of a swim during the golden hour. She must have pages of details about Cleo, Sabrina, Harriet, Cleo’s wife Kimmy, Parth and Wyn that never even see the light of day. Each has a signature scent, a style, and a unique way of moving through the world that shows their individuality and similarities, the glue that holds them together, still. Having spent my life in New England, with many trips of Maine, she captures it’s appeal beautifully, and the story is masterfully, brilliantly plotted, with just enough tease to propel the reader forward to find out what really happened.

Sabrina, intent on making sure everybody has the best time ever at this last hurrah before her dad sells the vacation home, has a by-the-minute itinerary that schedules everything from grocery shopping to special surprise treats that speak to each one’s passion. Sabrina books studio time for Harry, whose newfound hobby of making pottery is a saving grace. Wyn shows up and Harry invites Wyn to take a turn at the wheel, and their conversation becomes a metaphor for their relationship. “You didn’t ruin it. We’re just changing the shape of it.” she tells him, summing up their struggle to remain friends with someone who was more than a friend from the moment they met.

I have two minor quibbles with the book, neither of which is with the author: there is sometimes repetitiveness in the way things are described (“creamy lobster rolls” pops up twice), which I chalk up to imprecise editing. I do not care for either the ebook or hardcover art, for which I lay fault with the art director–it’s too hot pink for New England, and poppy for the sadness within; Wyn is described with dark blond hair, and Harriet with dark and neither cover gets both right.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #HappyPlace from #NetGalley.

Two Christmases by Suleena Bibra

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Two Christmases by Suleena Bibra

Bibra, Suleena. Two Christmases. Carina Press & Carina Adores (Harlequin), Carina Press, 2022. pp. ISBN 9780369718792 $4.99

**

While the premise is fun and has Hallmark-movie esque bones, with a native New York auction house employee falling for a southern cowboy client, it was a push to get through. Sonia, who dreams of interior design over the art auction house business, is up for a furniture promotion she isn’t sure she wants, and Beau, looking to outfit the offices of his green business venture to appeal to clients with money, is looking for guidance when they meet and Sonia uses his need to feed her desires. The attraction is strong, they debate over where Christmas is best, the city or country, and she takes him to her favorite haunts, including a 170-stall holiday shopping bazaar, a theatre running Christmas episodes of television shows, multiple Christmas parties and more. Hot chocolate is running through their veins.

They consummate their relationship early and with fairly mechanical precision, little variation or dialogue, and zero of the awkwardness or consent conversations that punctuate real-life encounters. She defines what I’d consider pedestrian as the best sex of her life. He calls her Baby Girl with great affection, which I personally found disturbing. Relationship-phobic Sonia dreads the ease with which they come together and tries to set boundaries–she KNOWS he’s going back home–and fails. His invitation to visit on his turf shouldn’t take her by surprise. She agrees to go and experience a country Christmas.

The writing is disappointingly amatuer. Descriptions are detailed, but not sensory, mostly just visual observations. Indian culture is nicely integrated with names, family dynamics and specific Hindi definitions, references to chai and cookies and Indian soap operas. Adverbs are over(ly) used and the writing it repetitive. Sonia smacks Beau on the ass on their way into the LEGO store, and he –her client–doesn’t react. She insults him throughout the first quarter of the book, calling him variations of “Old MacDonald.” These behaviors are unattractive and rude, and the character is not developed enough and the writing is not good enough to pass it off as flirtation or banter. I pushed through the predictable ending.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TwoChristmases from #NetGalley

Pride and Puppies by Lizzie Shane

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Pride and Puppies by Lizzie Shane

Shane, Lizzie. Pride and Puppies (Pine Hollow #4). Forever, 2022. pp. ISBN 978-1538710319 $15.99

***

This Jane Austen-themed romance centers on orthopedist Charlotte and her search for a Darcy. After a breakup, she declares she will stay single for 6 months and lavish her attention on a dog instead, and gets a golden retriever that she names Bingley. George, a physical therapist at the complex where she works, assists with many things dog-related as he has a dog, himself, and proves to be a steadfast and loyal friend, respecting her dating moratorium even though he’s had a crush on her for ages. Once they realize they have feelings, they act on them very quickly, with all juicy details left behind closed doors. When Charlotte overhears George, who is a transplant from Colorado, discussing a job offer, she panics and old demons about being simultaneously too much and not enough surface, which George, aware that he isn’t lightning for most women, begins to doubt he’s a choice and not just someone Charlotte is settling for.

Austen quotes precede each chapter, and the backstories and subplots are rich; both characters are real and honest about their flaws. Charlotte’s mother loved Austen, and she and her sisters treat Austen’s words as gospel. George also grew up with sisters and has been struggling to be away from his family and find his fit in Pine Hollow, a charming small town in Vermont. He makes friends and forms a band with seniors, who share relationship advice. The dogs steal the scenes with their antics, and puppy parenting is real and realistic (you mustn’t love dogs to read). I haven’t read the other titles in the series, but didn’t feel like I was missing any key plot points.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #Pride&Puppies from #NetGalley.

Speechless by Lindsey Lanza

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Speechless by Lindsey Lanza

Lanza, Lindsey. Speechless. self-published. 340 pp. ISBN 979-8218076191 $16.99

**

Lucy, a writer of fairy tale spinoffs for teens, is flying across the country to move in with her college roommate. She is literally at the airport and getting ready to board her delayed flight when her bestie CANCELS on her. Henry, a tall and handsome Brit, lands in the seat next to her after a stranger is mean to her service dog. Henry just happens to be her favorite composer! He promptly invites Lucy and Rowan to come and stay with him and his motley crew of musicians in Malibu. It becomes a seven dwarves-like tale, with Lucy cooking up a storm for Surfer (Graham), Flirty (Jayce), Quiet (Preston) and Surly (Craig). At one point there is an authorial intrusion of writer Lucy commenting her life is like the plot of a romance novel…

Chapters are told in alternating points of view from Henry and Lucy’s points of view. Lucy is suffering from some undisclosed condition that warrants the service dog, and Henry seems to be not only obsessive or ADHD, but may also have some crippling social anxieties. Lanza does utilize the music motif well, staging the plot in terms of a classical arrangement with movements, finale and encore.

I nearly gave up early in this novel when Henry was described as a cross between two actors I’ve never heard of. At the least, this is bad writing because it runs the risk of becoming dated AND limits the audience, but at worst, it’s just lazy. I gave up in chapter 17 when Graham defines Lucy as “normal” and Henry as “not normal” based on their behavior and neuroses. There has been so much work done to destigmatize mental illness and to reframe disability that these words have no place in contemporary narrative, and a competent editor would have noted this and redirected their author. At this point I recognized that Speechless was self-published and put it down for good.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #Speechless from #NetGalley.

When Franny Stands Up by Eden Robbins

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When Franny Stands Up by Eden Robbins

Robbins, Eden. When Franny Stands Up. Sourcebooks Landmark, 2022. 400 pp. ISBN 978-1728256009 $16.99

****
I am a huge fan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. HUGE. By 20 pages in, this felt at first like a disappointing rip-off in a magical realism/urban fantasy setting. Like Midge, Franny is Jewish, uncensored, has a posturing lesbian mentor, and her idol, the infamous Boopsie Baxter, is a takeoff on Moms Mobley. Unlike Midge, Franny doesn’t have a husband or ex, but she does rails against some of the same 1950s era women’s rights issues in terms of labor and cultural expectations. This speculative fiction novel, grounded in a post WWII Jewish setting, quickly hits its stride.

Franny, in her late teens, escapes downtown in 1940s Manhattan to catch Boopsie’s act. Intrigued by an interview in which the comedianne talked about the IT quality that kills in the business that the paper doesn’t name, Franny sets out to discover just what a “Showstopper” is.

Fast forward a few years, and after an unsavory incident with her best friend’s brother in a back of car, Franny is so traumatized at being made to dance with him at wedding that she runs out, lands at a comedy club, and heckles until she’s tossed out (very similar to Midge’s showing up in her negligee after her husband asks for a divorce). One thing leads to another and soon she has been taken under the wing of a group of (possibly lesbian) stand up comics, trying to break into a career.

The food, slang, fashions and hairstyles of the WWII era add so much to the setting, and the writing is dreamy. The process of joke writing as emotional and physical catharsis for trauma is compelling and I cheered when Franny found her voice, took risks, defied convention and her parents, and spoke her truth. The novel addresses redlining, anti-Semitism, feminism, and family alongside the War.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #FrannyStandsUp from #NetGalley.

Owner of a Lonely Heart by Eva Carter

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Owner of a Lonely Heart by Eva Carter

Carter, Eva. Owner of a Lonely Heart. Dell, 2023. 416 pp ISBN 978-0593158913. $16.99

****

This interconnected story centers around a hospital, where widowed Gemma and her big Bear provide therapy for cancer patients in between her freelance art career; where Casey is getting a month’s worth of proton treatment to reduce her brain tumor, Bob; where Gemma meets a handsome kind man named Dan who is parenting his 12-year old for the first time as she goes through a second round of cancer treatment.

Told in multiple points of view, we hear Gemma and Dan’s voices more than Casey. We also hear from Gemma’s husband Alexander who has left behind a book he wrote and illustrated for their as yet unborn child. Alex, a puzzle fan, claims to have a final puzzle for Gemma to unravel, and that still weighs on her mind as she goes through a third round of IVF with their frozen embroyos. Dan angsts about his past and the pains he’s taken to make something respectable of himself, but isn’t willling yet to make himself vulnerable to the women he is coming to care about, or to his ex, Angelica, who has mental health issues and thinks the worst of him after twelve years of single parenting.

More of a novel with romantic elements than a romance novel, themes of family, parenting, and nature/nurture emerge through the three stories. Cancer, mental health and infertility are treated with sensitivity, but I would have liked to see more help for Casey’s mom, whose over the top dramatic responses to the simplest things verge on paranoia and neurotic. I

Spoiler alert (highlight to read): I was also left confused by the concept that hot air balloon would not be a risky choice to consider for a newly and possibly precariously pregnant person.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #OwnerOfALonelyHeart from #NetGalley.

The Suite Spot by Trish Doller

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The Suite Spot by Trish Doller

Doller, Trish. The Suite Spot (Beck Sisters #2). Griffin, 2022. 288 pp. ISBN 978-1250809476. $16.99.

***

As in The Float Plan, change is what happens when it’s more painful to stay than leave. When single mom Rachel is unfairly fired for rebuffing the inappropriate advances of a powerful guest, she leaves behind not just her crappy job, but her mom and her ex, who barely parents, and signs on to manage a boutique hotel with an brewery–agrotourism, if you will. Unfortunately, when she arrives on an island in Lake Erie in Ohio, she doesn’t find a brewery hotel to manage, but rather an incomplete vision of one. Owner Mason is grouchy and guarded and intends to rely on the experience, expertise and taste of his new employee to bring the vision to life. She’s hooked! Details of the scenic setting and antiques shopping rounded out the romance nicely.

A few things didn’t ring quite true. Custody being what it is, you can’t just walk away with your kid, dads have rights. And technically, Mason is Rachel’s boss, irregardless of chemistry, it’s a big gamble, with a kid, to put financial security and physical safety and home at risk. Hence, things move at a slow pace. While Anna and Keane make an appearance, this is stand-alone romance. I’m an unabashed fan of heroines with curves and books with food or design details, so this was a 4 star rating for me.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheSuiteSpot from #NetGalley back in March, but it expired and I checked it out as an ebook from my local library system.

An Improbable Season by Rosalyn Eves

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An Improbable Season by Rosalyn Eves

Eves, Rosalyn. An Improbable Season. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023. 352 pp. ISBN 978-0374390181. $19.99

***

Marketed as a Bridgerton read-alike because it’s set in the Regency era, An Improbable Season focuses on the London debut of two sisters and their cousin, only one of whom actually seems interested in settling down and marrying. Admirably, one is looking for the intellectual heart of the city, and I had trouble from the beginning keeping the characters–defined as the scientist, the poet and the one who wants a family–or their beaus–straight and had to keep flipping back (even though details were conveyed through diary entries, field notes, and actions) to remind myself who was who. While chapters alternate in focus, the narrative voice and point of view is the same throughout. I would have much rather read a stand-alone novel about the romances of each protagonist in a three-part series, which would have left more time and space for nuanced character development, and more complete world-building.

For the record, Thalia Aubrey is an aspiring poet and has ignored the affections of family friend Mr. Hetherbridge for years, falling for the rakiest rake, Mr. Darby; Kalliope, the sweet one who loves parties second only to family is accidentally caught with Hetherbridge in the gardens with a ripped dress and the two are forced into a betrothal as Kalli navigates and attraction to and attention from a Mr. Salisbury, who seems to love her awkwardness; cousin Charist Elphinstone, a scientist and naturalist who has a fondness for insects and feminism, plans only to observe the Season and then engages in a battle of wits and wills with the Indian-born style maker Mr. Leveson, who becomes her love interest.

As the three young ladies arrive in London, details of the journey or preparations for the Season are omitted, launching right into visiting other women and girls, with nary an eligible bachelor in sight, quickly remedied once the parade of calling cards begins. There is drama, and gossip, etiquette to be learned, and dancing late into the night, but also hurt feelings, soul searching, sneaking around, and finally, solidarity.

Much knowledge is simply assumed, with period details, London locations, and terms are mostly undefined (bluestocking, Gretna Green, Almacks, modiste, nabobs, milliner); careful readers will be able to figure out some references with context, and while I had fun looking up the various punches served, a few more sensory details would have been gracious. The excellent author’s note at the end fills in some of the blanks and addresses British colonization and women of science of the time period. The inclusion of a person of colonized India ancestry educated in Britain and struggling to find his place in the world was a welcome addition.

I will say the courtship scenes are tame but full of sensual details, and the endings/beau that each young lady ended up with was … well, improbable. Which makes me think either I really didn’t read carefully, that some details were just red herrings, or there was a goal by the author, a long time reader of Regency romances, to meet the expectation set by the title.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheImprobableSeason from #NetGalley.

The Last Encore by Elodie Colliard

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The Last Encore by Elodie Colliard

Colliard, Elodie. The Last Encore. self-published, 2022. 336 pp. ISBN 9781778137907.

**

Avery, a photographer, is recovering from multiple traumas: sexual assault in high school and the abrupt disappearance of her best friend shortly thereafter, and more recently, her mother’s mental health decline and her father’s dissolution of their marriage. She has mixed feelings when her best friend from high school, a talented pianist, reappears in her life after ten years of silence. Hired to play at a benefit where Avery is accompanying her father as his date (even though she’s furious at him for the affair he had), Josh is the musical equivalent of the keynote speaker and plays a song to tug at her heartstrings before he even knows she is in the audience. They reconnect, but the balance of indignation and let’s just forget about our conflict and our chemistry for not to try to restore the friendship, is not quite believable. The anxiety rings true and so does the trauma, but the processing isn’t on the page to see.

Minor details like Avery’s dad working for a hospital and not connecting with family if they are brought there in an emergency, and feeding her pet cat raw fish (a strict no-no!) make the whole novel a little less believable. Typos, poor grammar, and more telling than showing are the hallmarks of lack of professional editing.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheLastEncore from #NetGalley.

A Dash of Salt and Pepper by Kosoko Jackson

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A Dash of Salt and Pepper by Kosoko Jackson

Kosoko Jackson. A Dash of Salt and Pepper. Berkley, 2023. 384 pp. ISBN 978-0593334461. $15.99

***

I am a sucker for culinary romances and New England settings. Solid writing, but the contemporary setting and fast and furious pop culture allusions felt frenetic to me, and I put it down at 40% read–I just could not get vested in the character.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #ADashofSaltandPepper from #NetGalley