Monday, December 4, 2023

Review: Three Holidays and a Wedding

I’m calling it: Three Holidays and a Wedding is my favourite holiday read of 2023. Now, I haven’t read that many yet (and I’m woefully behind, as usual, on my holiday review books) but this one, co-written by Uzma Jalaluddin and Marissa Stapley, two of my favourite authors, was an absolute delight and I enjoyed every second reading it.

Here’s the book’s description:
Three times the holiday magic. Three times the chaos.
As strangers and seatmates Maryam Aziz and Anna Gibson fly to Toronto over the holidays—Maryam to her sister’s impromptu wedding, and Anna to meet her boyfriend’s wealthy family for the first time—neither expect that severe turbulence will scare them into confessing their deepest hopes and fears to one another. At least they’ll never see each other again. And the love of Maryam’s life, Saif, wasn’t sitting two rows behind them hearing it all. Oops.
An emergency landing finds Anna, Saif, Maryam, and her sister’s entire bridal party snowbound at the quirky Snow Falls Inn in a picture-perfect town, where fate has Anna’s actor-crush filming a holiday romance. As Maryam finds the courage to open her heart to Saif, and Anna feels the magic of being snowbound with an unexpected new love—both women soon realize there’s no place they’d rather be for the holidays.
The premise of this one is perfectly bonkers which made it the best kind of holiday rom com. There are not one, not two, but three major holidays converging, a plane being rerouted and, oh, there’s a movie being filmed in town, too! Jalaluddin and Stapley work their magic, though, and make something that could be cheesy and over-the-top, completely wonderful. I was smiling constantly while reading this story and was completely invested in the characters’ lives.

The book takes place in December 2000 when Ramadan, Hanukkah, and Christmas all fell within a few days of each other. You may think that 2000 wasn’t that long ago and I mostly forgot that the book took place *gasp* 23 years ago. But there were the odd moments when I realized how much things had changed since then - which I loved! Anna only had a flip phone and her charger had been lost with her luggage so she couldn’t get in touch with her boyfriend in Toronto. That would never happen these days. Nor would someone pull out a bunch of CDs for a mehndi ceremony in 2023. I really liked the little mentions of days gone by!

I loved how the holidays came together and how Hanukkah and Ramadan took centre stage, with Christmas almost being an afterthought. It was refreshing. I celebrate Christmas but there’s no religious reason for that. I just enjoyed that a big guy in a red suit brought me and my sisters presents and we had an excuse to decorate the house and eat lots of treats. I enjoyed feeling part of both Anna and Maryam’s celebrations as they shared traditions and discovered just how important family and their holidays really were to them. (And that maybe family didn’t have to be related by blood.)

Maryam and Anna were such great characters to get to know. They were real (and therefore flawed) but such wonderful people. And their love interests probably didn’t deserve them because these ladies were so great. (But the boys were ok too - we can keep them!) The romantic relationships they embark on were secondary to the women figuring out what they wanted to be doing with their lives. Becoming snowbound in Snow Falls allowed them to really analyze their current circumstances and think about their futures. I was so proud of their growth and loved reading it.

If you buy just one holiday read this year, make it Three Holidays and a Wedding (and I highly recommend you buy yourself your very own copy). Uzma Jalauddin and Marissa Stapley have completely nailed it and I loved reading this holiday rom com. I hope these authors pair up again for another novel in the future.

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Review: Never Wager with a Wallflower

I went through quite the reading slump in September (I feel like this is an annual occurrence). It’s frustrating to get frustrated with your reading choices so after finishing a book, I looked well ahead at my reading list and found just the right book to help pull me out of my slump: Never Wager with a Wallflower. This is the final book in Virginia Heath’s Merriwell Sisters series and it was just as lovely and delightful as the previous two.

Here’s the book’s description:
Miss Venus Merriwell has been waiting for her prince to come since the tender age of fourteen. She wants a man who is selfless, academic like her, and free from all the wretched vices her gambler father enjoyed far too much before he left the Merriwell sisters practically destitute. Unfortunately, after a slew of romantic disappointments, there is still no sign of that prince at twenty-three and the only one true love of her life is the bursting-at-the-seams orphanage in Covent Garden that she works tirelessly for. An orphanage that desperately needs to expand into the empty building next door.
For Galahad Sinclair, gambling isn’t just his life, it’s in his blood. He grew up and learned the trade at his grandfather’s knee in a tavern on the far away banks of the Hudson in New York. But when fate took all that away and dragged him across the sea to London, it made sense to set up shop here. He’s spent five years making a success out of his gaming hell in the sleazy docks of the East End. Enough that he can finally afford to buy the pleasure palace of his dreams—and where better than in the capital’s sinful heart, Covent Garden? The only fly in his ointment is the perfect building he’s just bought to put it in also happens to be right next door to the orphanage run by his cousin’s wife’s youngest sister. A pious, disapproving and unsettling siren he has avoided like the plague since she flattened him five years ago…
While Venus and Galahad lock horns over practically everything, and while her malevolent orphans do their darndest to sabotage his lifelong dream, can either of them take the ultimate gamble—and learn to love thy neighbor?

I admit that it took some time to get over the time jump between book two and three and that Venus and Galahad had initially met when she was barely a teenager. *shudders* Once I (mostly) set that aside, I could focus on the story that was right in front of me and I was able to enjoy it.

One of the things I like about this series is the relationship between the sisters and how important they all are to each other. We don’t get a ton of scenes with the rest of the family but the scenes that were there were incredibly impactful. They also served to remind me how much I loved the found family aspect of the story. Blood family can be important but so can the people you choose to surround yourself with and I think this story illustrates that well.

This is not a series that takes itself too seriously and it was a lot of fun to read, even when it was addressing less-than-fun topics, such as the state of orphanages in London in the Regency era (yes, I’m being vague - I cannot remember exactly what year this series, and this story in particular, took place!). I always find there’s a nice balance between the frothy romance and the look at what the world was like in a different time.

One of the things I like about this series is the relationship between the sisters and how important they all are to each other. We don’t get a ton of scenes with the rest of the family but the scenes that were there were incredibly impactful. They also served to remind me how much I loved the found family aspect of the story. Blood family can be important but so can the people you choose to surround yourself with and I think this story illustrates that well.

I’m quite sad Never Wager with a Wallflower was the last in the Merriwell Sisters series. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the time I’ve spent with the three sisters and their suitors and am glad Virginia Heath introduced them to the world.

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, St. Martin's Press, via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.* 

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Review: Asking for a Friend

I’ve read all of Kerry Clare’s novels and I’m always blown away by how great her writing is and how she tells a story. What’s tough is when I don’t particularly like the story. Then I’m left wondering: is it me? Is the book? Is it the way the book was marketed? These were questions I asked myself when I was reading Asking for a Friend, Clare’s latest which was published in September.

Here’s the book’s description:
The bottom of Jess’s world is falling out. Cocooned in her dorm in the winter of 1998, she’s reeling, and wants to be left alone. But a chance encounter with the older, otherworldly, elusive Clara has Jess awestruck. Clara, newly returned from a two-year trek drifting around the world, is taking a stab at normalcy for once, and the place she starts is university, where she struggles to fit in. Upon meeting Jess, though, Clara feels an instant connection, and everything seems brighter. Soon, the two are inseparable, undeniable necessities in each other’s lives. But when tragedy strikes, they are unceremoniously torn apart, sent tumbling down different paths. And with each passing day, their unbreakable bond is tested more and more.
As they endure love and heartbreak, marriage, anxiety and isolation, and the complicated existence of motherhood, Jess and Clara must learn how to love each other through it all—and whether growing up inevitably means growing apart.
Spanning two decades, Asking for a Friend follows the tempestuous journey of female friendship, exploring whether its fundamentals—history, familiarity, loyalty—are enough to make the relationship everlasting.
It took me a realllllly long time to finish this book. September was a hard month for me and nothing held my interest. That could be part of why this book didn’t thrill me. Another part may have been friends of mine who read it were not fans and weren’t quiet about it. But maybe I just straight up didn’t enjoy the book because it wasn’t the right fit for me.

I do believe the marketing department of the publishing house can shoulder some of the blame for how this book has been received. Because I’m not the only one who expected this book to be…different. We were told we’d get a novel about friendship. And we did but…it was an incredibly toxic friendship. Was it sometimes accurate when it addressed how friendships evolve over twenty years? Absolutely. But if Jess and Clara’s relationship was a romantic one, you can bet everyone would have been saying they needed to break up because their relationship was not at all healthy. Plus, the cover seems so celebratory and I didn’t find a whole lot of celebrating going on in the story.

I think this wasn’t a book for me, personally, because of how much of the story seemed to focus on the journey towards motherhood and raising children. I am not a mother. I do not want to be a mother. I know there needs to be procreation to have a civilization but I honestly sometimes wonder why anyone would give up their freedom to have kids. So, I just wasn’t expecting how much of the story would revolve around pregnancies, miscarriages, infertility, more pregnancies, more miscarriages, births, raising children, and yet more pregnancies. Important topics for some but not what I, personally, want to be reading in my novels.

I really, really wanted to love Asking for a Friend. I think Kerry Clare is so talented but this novel fell so short for me and I’m really sad about that. I know we can’t love every book we read but not loving this book really hurts.

*A finished copy of this novel was provided by Penguin Canada as part of their Penguin Reads program in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Review: Four Weddings and a Puppy

Lizzie Shane has become a go-to author for me when I need a sweet, entertaining, gosh-darn-lovely romance. I fell in love with the town and characters she created back in 2020 with The Twelve Dogs of Christmas and I’ve enjoyed every subsequent novel since. I read Four Weddings and a Puppy at the perfect time and had a great time reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones in this latest Pine Hollow novel.

Here’s the book’s description:
When two childhood friends return home after their sports careers don't go as planned, a puppy just may give them a second chance at happiness together. She’s always been the girl with the plan . . . until the plan crashed big time
Kendall Walsh has exactly one second to save a fancy, five-tiered wedding cake and any possibility of being a wedding planner—not to mention her family’s struggling ski resort. All because of one very cute, very furry, golden menace of a retriever who has a serious thing for butter chiffon icing. Which is exactly when Olympic skier Brody James shows up and saves the day . . . and the cake.
Brody makes Kendall feel about a million indecipherable things. He’s her brother’s bestie. Her first crush. And a ridiculously popular Olympic hero, which only reminds her of her own failed Olympic dreams. What Brody isn’t telling her is that he’s walked away from it all. The fame. The sponsorships. The celebrity girlfriend. Now he and Kendall are both lost somewhere between their past and a future they can’t yet see. But four weddings, one mischievous puppy, and a few steamy kisses later, these two might just realize that they are both exactly where they need to be…with each other.
I’ll be honest (as usual), if you’re looking for a super well-crafted, thought-provoking romance novel and/or want some steam, this series is not for you. But I firmly believe there are different types of books (and romance books in particular) for a reason and sometimes you want the cupcake version of a book and there is NO shame in choosing the cupcake over the carrot.

I loved Brody and Kendall as a couple. They created a partnership first, flirting a little, but they were both so inside their heads and trying to figure out What’s Next that romance didn’t quite have the space it needed to start. Not until they worked through some of their own personal demons. But the beauty of the story was they each helped the other work through those demons, too. It felt like such a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to have someone solidly on your side when you’re figuring out some of the hard choices. Knowing they had built a foundation meant rooting for them romantically was really easy!

As I said, Kendall and Brody both had some hard stuff to figure out. Kendall needed to work out if she could, in fact, walk away from the family business and deal with the trauma from her skiing accident once and for all. Brody had walked away from competitive skiing with no real plan and couldn’t figure out how to balance his life. I respected their problems but I think this is where Shane lost me, just a little bit. I can’t put my finger on why, either, which is frustrating. Maybe it’s just that it seemed like they were both hiding from the truth and seemed stuck for too much of the story. I get that happens in life but being “stuck” isn’t really something you want in a novel.

One thing I see as a pro in this series is you really don’t have to read every previous book to enjoy the latest. Each one features a different couple and they’re all somewhat connected, either by friendship or by blood relation, but it’s the town that holds it all together. And the puppies that always show up! So, what I’m saying is, if you want a brand new romance to read right now but haven’t read the rest of the Pine Hollow series, rest assured, you can pick this one up with no problem or confusion.

I had such a great time reading Lizzie Shane’s latest romance, Four Weddings and a Puppy. I highly recommend picking this one (and the others in the series) up if you want a sweet romance that will leave you with a smile and a full heart (and perhaps a longing for a puppy of your own!).

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, Forever, via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Friday, November 17, 2023

Review: Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord

I was so very intrigued by Celeste Connally’s novel Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord. This new mystery series is set during the Regency-era and I’ve been enjoying these fun, historical mystery series featuring female amateur sleuths. This one, though? Meh. I finished it but I was only mildly invested and if it had been a library book? I probably would have DNF-ed it.

Here’s the book’s description:
When Lady Petra Forsyth’s fiancé and soulmate dies just weeks ahead of their wedding, she makes the shocking proclamation—in front of London’s loosest lips—that she will never remarry. A woman of independent means, Petra sees no reason to cede her wealth and freedom to any man now that the love of her life has passed, nor does she intend to become confined to her country home. Instead, she uses her title to gain access to elite spaces and enjoy the best of society without expectations.
But when ballroom gossip suggests that a longtime friend has died of “melancholia” while in the care of a questionable physician, Petra vows to use her status to dig deeper—uncovering a private asylum where men pay to have their wives and daughters locked away, or worse. Just as Lady Petra has reason to believe her friend is not dead, but a prisoner, her own headstrong actions and thirst for independence are used to put her own freedom in jeopardy.
This was the first book in the new Lady Petra Inquires series and also Connally’s first novel. Knowing it was the first in the series made it a little confusing when Petra referenced a number of past escapades on a number of occasions. As it was, I actually had to check a few times to make sure I was right and it WAS the first in a series. It was just so strange that she was mentioning these things that there was no way the reader would have experienced and it was weirdly difficult to let go of the annoyance.

I know historical fiction, romances especially, have a tendency to put our modern sensibilities onto characters who are living in the past. I can normally look past it and enjoy the story for the entertaining romp that it’s supposed to be. But with this one, I wasn’t really sure how I was supposed to be feeling about how progressive Petra was. Was I supposed to be impressed that Petra hated that women were treated like property? Shocked that she had no problem with her best friend’s husband being gay (don’t worry - both her friend and her husband took lovers and their marriage was an amiable, if not a sexual, one)? I was neither impressed nor shocked and maybe that was just because of how the story was written. Maybe it was I found Connally was trying to beat the reader over the head with how open-minded Petra was and I really don’t think that was necessary.

I really only kept reading to find out what had happened to Petra’s friend, Lady Milford, and to see if they could stop whoever it was from harming the women of the ton. And honestly? I think I was disappointed. The mystery had a lot of potential that I just don’t think it lived up to. That could potentially be because I was so deeply uncomfortable with the ultimate villain and the extreme gaslighting (and physical and other emotional abuse) happening. I just wanted it to be over and couldn’t relish Petra solving the case.

Finally, the relationship between Petra and Duncan was so…weird. I’m a big fan of friends to lovers so obviously I wanted them to get over whatever had pushed them apart three years prior and get together romantically. But...I couldn’t really figure out what on earth that incident was. And why they were both so stubborn about it and wanted to stay mad at each other instead of getting over it. The hostility of Petra especially was so confusing. Another thing I couldn't quite let go.

So, all in all, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord was not a winner for me. I don’t think I’ll read the next Lady Petra Inquires book but I think I’d still be interested in reading another of Celeste Connally’s novels in the future.

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, Minotaur, via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Review: Night Shift

My love of romance books and basketball collided in the steamiest, most enjoyable way in Night Shift by Annie Crown. Our heroine is a voracious reader who works at her college library. Our hero is the star of the basketball team. And sparks FLY between them. I loved this book!

Here's the book's description:
The bookworm and the basketball player are about to meet their match.
Kendall Holiday spends her Friday nights exactly where she wants to with her head buried in a spicy romance novel while she works the graveyard shift at her university's library. She knows she could join her friends for a weekend of drunken debauchery and college parties, but she likes her alone time, so she tells herself she isn't hiding when she gets lost in the pages of fictional love stories.
But that all changes when Vincent Knight, captain of the basketball team, turns up with an injured wrist, a sour mood, and a pressing need for poetry recommendations for a class he hates. Vincent is tall, smart-mouthed, and challenges Kendall like no one has before. Suddenly, she's falling headfirst into her very own romance novel—but it takes a lot more truth than tropes to get to a happy ever after in real life.
My November TBR list was out of control with books I had requested to review. I stumbled upon Crown's and said, no, Kaley. You don't need another book. But I couldn't stop thinking about it. I am SO glad I caved and Wattpad gifted me with an egalley. I would have been so sad if I had missed out on this book!

It's been awhile since I've read a really good, solid New Adult book. I define a New Adult novel as one that takes place during college/university or in the year after graduation. You know, when you're trying to figure out who you are and what kind of adult you might be. (Which, honestly, we all know takes a lot longer than four years!) I started university (gulp) eighteen years ago so it's been a hot minute since I've been on campus. But Crown hit all the emotions I remember feeling when I was a student and I felt it was so so well done. The house Kendall and her friends shared may not have looked like the place I stayed with my own friends but that's the house I was picturing as they studied and had fun. The campus, library, and street where the basketball house was? All based on my own memories and the university I was at. I don’t know if others would have that same kind of reaction but I personally loved the little walk down memory lane as I read Crown’s novel.

Kendall was a huge romance reader, which is always fun to see. Obviously a romance author is going to be pro romance novels but it's nice to see authors take a stand in their books. Romance isn’t something to be looked down upon and it’s about damn time us romance readers embraced that and stopped being or pretend to be embarrassed by our reading choices. Though, I must say, I’m with Kendall on some of the covers. I may not be embarrassed by my reading choices but I’m not a fan of some of the cover designs. They can be better. I also appreciated how Kendall talked about the difference between a hero in real life versus in novels. Just because you enjoy reading about Alpha Males taking charge doesn't mean you actually want to date one. It was a refreshing take!

Kendall and Vincent fall prey to the miscommunication trope, a widely hated trope, but what made it bearable, and dare I say enjoyable, was that Kendall’s roommate called her on it. Like, duh, girl, stop spiralling and just go TALK to the guy! Talking is scary, absolutely, but I liked reading as Kendall put on her Big Girl Pants and worked on the budding relationship before anything completely disastrous could occur.

There aren’t sexy time scenes on every page, by any means, and the ones that are there were ridiculously well done. They were steamy and respectful, which is hot as hell, especially when the characters are on the younger side and one of them is a virgin. Plus, how many bookworms out there have imagined having a makeout session in the library? Kendall got to have that and I was HERE for it!

Romance readers will want to read Night Shift. I devoured Annie Crown’s novel in a weekend and was still thinking about it days later. It was smart, funny, sweet, and spicy and I enjoyed it so much. I’ll definitely be looking into what Crown writes next!

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, Wattpad Books, via NetGalley. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, November 6, 2023

Review: What Wild Women Do

I’ve been reading Karma Brown’s novels for a long time. I’ve met her on numerous occasions and have four of her novels on my signed books bookshelf. (With another that was supposed to be signed at an event in spring 2020 - ha!) What Wild Women Do is her latest and it was phenomenal. I was completely riveted in the novel and devoured it because I just had to know the answers. It’s a must read!

Here’s the book’s description:
A 1970s feminist facing the costs of loss and autonomy strives to create a better future for women at her Adirondack camp; meanwhile, an aspiring screenwriter makes a shocking discovery in the present that sets her on a course of rewriting her own story.
Rowan is stuck. Her dreams of becoming a screenwriter are stalled, along with her bank account, as she and her fiancé Seth try to make sense of what’s next for them after leaving LA. But when the couple takes a trip to a cabin in the Adirondacks, hoping the change will provide inspiration for Seth’s novel-in-progress, Rowan finds herself drawn into a story greater than her own—that of socialite-turned-feminist-crusader Eddie Calloway, who vanished one day in 1975 and was never found or heard from again. In a handbook left behind in the abandoned ruins of a once great camp, Rowan starts to discover clues to what happened to Eddie.
As Rowan delves deeper into the mystery, we meet Eddie herself, a fierce and loving woman whose greatest wish was to host women at her camp and unlock their “wildness.” However, Eddie’s wild ways aren’t welcomed by everyone, and rifts between camp owners threaten her mission. When Rowan gets closer to the truth of Eddie’s disappearance, she realizes that it may hold the key to unlocking her own ambition and future.
Because I’m such a fan of Brown’s books, I didn’t really read too much about this book before starting it. That meant I wasn’t really aware of how much of a mystery this story was going to be. Which I liked! The tension was high without being overwhelming or too “thrillery”, which is not my jam. Clues were dropped but nothing was obvious and it only really made sense at the end - when it was extremely satisfying to know why and how everything happened so many years prior.

Speaking of years prior, this is a dual timeline novel. We follow Rowan in present day (2021, technically) as she and her fiancé escape to the Adirondacks and stumble upon Eddie Calloway’s former camp which, in turn, leads them to learn more about the woman and her disappearance. But we also get chapters from Eddie in the 70s. The alternating was done well and I never felt like either story was being overshadowed. I liked getting to know Eddie and her friends and colleagues in the past and each time we hopped back in time, we learned a little more about her and what could have happened. Rowan and her story is the star but she’s able to shine so brightly thanks to the support provided by Eddie’s storyline.

Rowan’s hunt for answers had a strong journalistic approach to it, which makes sense as Brown used to be a journalist herself. Rowan was intrigued by the story of Eddie and how she disappeared, who wouldn’t be, but she was also deeply concerned with finding out what actually happened and trying to seek justice for Eddie, a woman she never met.

While the mystery in this story is what makes it such a compelling novel, it wouldn’t be as amazing if it weren’t for Brown’s impressive skills in writing emotional stories. I felt everything deeply, right alongside the characters. I was invested and concerned and hoped for the best for everyone, even when I knew that might be difficult. And I had those feelings because Brown is such a damn good author.

What Wild Women Do is another fantastic novel from the incredibly talented Karma Brown. If you haven’t yet read books from this (Canadian!) author, you must change that and I highly recommend starting with her latest. I think you’ll love it too!

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