Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Review: Disarm

Happy release day to Disarm by Karina Halle! This is the second book in the Dumont series (the first was Discretion, which I reviewed here back in August). Halle is one of my favourite authors as she writes such great romances that are real, raw, and pretty addicting to read. I enjoyed Discretion and the story she set up but something about this particular novel that just didn't thrill me. And I'm so upset about that.

Here's the synopsis:
Seraphine Dumont seems to have it all: she’s gorgeous, brilliant, and part of one of France’s most illustrious dynasties. But underneath the facade, Seraphine struggles to hold it all together. Besides grieving her adoptive father’s suspicious and sudden death, she also shares a tenuous role in the family business with Blaise, her in-name-only cousin. As tumultuous as their history is, he may be the only member of the deceptive Dumont family she can trust.
Seraphine is a temptation Blaise can’t resist. The torch he’s carried for years still burns. It’s his secret—a quiet obsession just out of reach. Until his brother demands that he spy on the increasingly cagey Seraphine, whom their father considers a dispensable Dumont outlier. But the more Blaise watches her and the closer he gets, the more he sees Seraphine may have every right to be suspicious. And she could be the next one in danger—from his own family.
As blood runs hot and hearts give in, Seraphine and Blaise have only each other. But can their love survive the secrets they’re about to uncover?
I never like it when I don't like a book (does anyone?) and it's especially frustrating when I can't pinpoint why and it's by an author who I normally adore. This leads me to believe it's a weirdly personal reason that it didn't mesh with me which also makes it a really hard review to write. Most of the time I know why I don't like something or why a particular element throws me off and I've been at this long enough to not let it colour my review. This time? I don't want to keep you from reading the book but I also want to give my opinion. That's why I'm here in my little corner of the internet, after all.

I can say it wasn't the "forbidden" romance aspect of the novel that bothered me (as I anticipate it bothering other people but maybe I'm wrong). Seraphine and Blaise are cousins but not by blood and Seraphine didn't come into their family until she was nine or so (all the boys - Blaise, Olivier - who is featured in Discretion, and Pascal, Blaise's older brother and the focus of the third book - are all older than her). There was an attraction in Discretion that I picked up on and it continues into the second book. Some people might be put off by it but I rolled with it. So, no, that was not the issue.

It could have been the way it was written. The novel goes back and forth in time and also between points of view. We get Seraphine's and Blaise's perspectives in both past and present. It was a lot of back and forth and I found it a bit jarring. And while the jaunts into the past shed some light on a few things - like how Seraphine came to be adopted by the Dumonts' and one particular summer when they were in their late teens - I'm not sure they really added a whole lot.

Even though I wasn't totally head-over-heels in love with Disarm I still feel the need to finish the series because I want need to know what's going to happen with the family problems that have been the thread that ties the series together. I think I might be in the minority with my weird feelings on Karina Halle's latest so if you're intrigued by the storyline, check it out!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the Canadian distributors, Thomas Allen & Son, and an e-galley by Montlake Romance, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Review: Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune was a delightful surprise for me. Roselle Lim's debut novel was a magical family story that has stuck with me - even though I read it months and months ago.

Here's the synopsis:
At the news of her mother's death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn't spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco's Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She's even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother's restaurant.
The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant's fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother's cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around--she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.
I think some people may be put off by hearing this novel described as magic realism. Not everyone is into  fantasy but I think if you love contemporary stories, you need to read this. Don't let the magic put you off because it adds so, so much to this story. Don't worry - it's not magic like Harry Potter. The magic comes from Natalie's background and I think that is what really makes this novel sing. (Er, can books sing?)

Natalie's story made my heart break. She's grieving the death of her mother - her only parent - and she has a ton of guilt on top of it. She hadn't been home to visit in far too long and she's still harbouring some frustration towards the neighbours for not helping her when she was a child and struggling with her mother's severe agoraphobia. I can't imagine what it would have been like for Natalie - both as a child trying to help her mother and when she returned after her mother's death. Lim really captures the emotions of all her characters so very well.

I really liked reading as Natalie started learning more about herself and her family history. There were so many surprises for her to discover - and a few painful moments along the way - and it was lovely to read. And the way the community came together? Heartwarming. I also liked the little romance Lim wove into the overall story because seeing Natalie find someone who really understood her was wonderful.

The book world is slowly getting better at publishing Own Voices, which makes me happy. I'm a white, straight woman and I've been able to see versions of myself in books for as long as I've been reading. I'm lucky to have had literary role models throughout my life. But that's not the case for so many others. Personally, I am slowly getting better at reading Own Voices books - but I know I still have a lot of work to do. I want to read books that make me learn and expose me to stories and cultures that are different than my own and any I would have known growing up.

And oh my word. This cover. I LOVE IT. The font is shiny and gold in person and the pink pops in the most gorgeous of ways. And the spine is also hot pink with blue lettering. Ugh. Stunning. I can't get over it.

The overall feeling I was left with after finishing Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune was one of delight. Roselle Lim's novel is not perfect but it's one to read. And to stare at because it's so damn beautiful.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Review: The Bromance Book Club

When I first saw someone at Penguin Random House Canada reading The Bromance Book Club months ago, I was immediately intrigued. I mean, aren't you just based on that title and cover? Once I read what Lyssa Kay Adams' novel was about, I knew I needed to read it. I finally did a week or so ago and it was so much fun!

Here's the synopsis:
The first rule of this book club:
You don't talk about book club.

Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott's marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him.
Welcome to the Bromance Book Club.
Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville's top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it'll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife.
This novel had everything I look for in a good romance - a heavy dose of comedy, a lot of feels, and moments that were witty and moments that were deep. We meet Gavin and Thea when the shit has hit the fan and their relationship seems so broken you have to wonder if there's any chance they could come back from it. The great thing for this story - because it makes it more interesting and much less cliched - is that neither of them are perfect and their relationship isn't going to be fixed by some quick solution. They're flawed and have allowed their relationship to become secondary to, well, everything (so maybe "second" isn't quite the right number). It was sweet and sometimes hard to read as they worked to get back to each other when so many forces seem to be trying to keep them apart.

Thinking back on the story, I can totally see this as a rom com on screen (big or small. Netflix, work your magic). I can't always see books as movies but there was something about this story that would work so well as a movie.

If you know me you'll know that I got an extra little thrill that Gavin was a baseball player. I find it's not a sport that gets featured often in novels (though I think that's starting to change which is awesome). It's kind of a sport that, in general, doesn't get a lot of love. Or maybe that's just because I'm in Canada where as soon as the NHL starts, MLB news gets shoved to the side - even during playoffs. Anyway. Gavin was a ball player and a second baseman at that, not even a pitcher (which is the norm). It doesn't factor into the story a whole lot, to be honest, because it takes place during the off-season but there are enough little things that, as a fan, I totally fell in love with.

The Bromance Book Club is a bit of a reaction to the #MeToo movement and all the BS that has led to it. As she says in this The Nerd Daily article I stumbled upon, Kay Adams' wondered what a story would look like when so-called manly men - sports loving or playing, powerful dudes - said enough was enough to themselves and were open about their feelings and their relationships. These men will stand up for and stand behind their wives/girlfriends/partners and see their partnerships as an equal one. It was so refreshing to read this kind of story - even if it did feel like I was getting hit over the head with how in tune with their emotions these guys were.

The whole premise behind The Bromance Book Club seems so outlandish and ridiculous but Lyssa Kay Adams makes it work. This is a novel you're going to fly through because you're enjoying the ride so much. And, if you loved it, good news. It's part of a series! Undercover Bromance is coming our way in March 2020. Have you read this one yet? If so, what did you think? I'd love to hear!

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Review: Who Needs Mistletoe?

Surprise! Laura Chapman has a new book! And it's her second of the year! AND it's a Christmas story! In case you couldn't tell by all the exclamation points, I'm pretty excited about this. You should be too because Who Needs Mistletoe? is a perfect holiday treat.

Here's the synopsis:
Charlie London has finally made it. She’s the lead singer of a rising-the-charts band. She’s casually dating Hollywood’s golden boy. And she has a publicist who works very hard to make sure everyone knows all of this. But when her band is bumped from a televised holiday concert—and her boyfriend is photographed canoodling with a co-star—just days before Christmas, Charlie’s perfectly crafted world is crumbling apart. She impulsively hops a flight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, so she can bring her boyfriend in line and get her career back on track. Her plan seems to be working until a winter storm leaves her stranded en route.
Guitarist Flint Randal has been crazy about Charlie from the moment she walked in to audition for their band three years ago. Knowing her strict policy against dating a bandmate, he’s kept his feelings in check. Until now. When grounded planes send them on a cross-country road trip—alone—Flint sees his chance to finally prove that her one-and-only has been there all along.
As detours and disasters plague their journey, Charlie and Flint grow closer. Will the magic of the holiday season—and the promise of true love—bring them together at last? Or will the siren call of fame get in the way? 
If you're a lover of romance novels, particularly Christmas ones, chances are you've read some iteration of "boy and girl are heading somewhere for Christmas. boy and girl get stranded at airport. boy and girl decide to drive to destination. boy and girl encounter many obstacles along the way. boy and girl fall in love and live happily ever after." I sure have. The joy of Chapman and her writing is that even though the trope is common, the story is totally fresh. I liked that Charlie and Flint knew each other well and just needed that time together to get to know each other more without touring and the band getting in the way.

And, oh, as they get to know each other even more. The feels! Their relationship is almost picture perfect. The small snag being Charlie is technically dating someone else and has no idea Flint is in love with her. Being a romance, you know they'll figure out those snags and get together by the end. The journey getting there though? Oh, so great. Both literally and figuratively. They had so much fun on their road trip - I loved their undercover busking - and you could see their feelings growing. Deeper on Flint's account, and closer to the surface for Charlie.

Chapman manages to insert just enough Christmas magic in this story without it going overboard - or leaving the reader wishing for more. She also focuses on what's most important about the holiday. It's not the gifts and the shopping and the parties. It's the time you spend with the ones you love, whether that's friends, family, or bandmates you're secretly head over heels for. Family in particular plays a large part in this Christmas story and it warmed my heart.

I highly recommend snuggling in with Who Needs Mistletoe? this holiday season. Laura Chapman has written a novella that will pair perfectly with your fluffy blankets, fuzzy socks, hot tea (or spiked hot chocolate), and, if you're lucky like me, a fireplace. Chapman has written yet another winner (which is not at all surprising to me because I love everything she writes) and I hope you love it just as much as I did.

*An e-copy of this novella was provided by the author in exchange for a review as part of a release blitz. All opinions are honest and my own.*