Mini-Reviews: Girl, Prince, Single, Throne

Who's That Girl?Prince in Disguise

Mhairi McFarlane, Who’s That Girl? — This novel follows Edie, a young professional whose personal and professional lives are simultaneously ruined when she attends her coworkers’ wedding and the groom spontaneously kisses her. Of course, everyone blames Edie for the catastrophe, so her sympathetic boss sends her on a remote assignment to ghostwrite the autobiography of a hot young actor. The book is primarily a romance, but it also spends a lot of time on Edie’s dysfunctional family and on her growth as an individual. For me, this is another winner by Mhairi McFarlane, and I eagerly await her next book.

Stephanie Kate Strohm, Prince in Disguise — Sixteen-year-old Dylan has always felt invisible beside her beautiful older sister, Dusty. And when Dusty — a Miss America competitor — falls in love with a genuine Scottish lord, she becomes the subject of a reality TV show that documents their courtship. Dylan is less than thrilled about being constantly followed by cameras, even if it does mean she gets to spend Christmas in Scotland. But when she meets an adorably geeky British boy, things start to look up…until the drama (both real and manufactured) surrounding the TV show threatens to ruin everything. If you like your contemporary romance with British accents, secret passageways, and kissing in barns, this is definitely the book for you! In a word, it’s adorable, and I’d definitely recommend it to fans of YA contemporaries!

Note: this book is one of the ARCs I picked up at Book Expo America, and the projected publication date is December 19.

It's Not You- 27 (Wrong) Reasons You're SingleBehind the Throne

Sara Eckel, It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single — If you’re a single woman over a certain age, chances are you’ve received a lot of well-meaning advice about how to find a mate: “You’re too picky.” “You’re too independent.” “You have low self-esteem.” The problem with this advice, according to Eckel, is that it assumes there is something wrong with you, when in reality, meeting the right person is largely a matter of luck. You can increase your odds by, say, participating in group activities that you enjoy, putting more effort into your appearance, or joining an online dating site. But none of this can guarantee that you’ll meet your match. Ultimately, Eckel’s point is that there is nothing wrong with you; you just haven’t met the right person yet. It’s a consoling message, and the writing is often witty and relatable, so I’d recommend the book for its target demographic.

K.B. Wagers, Behind the Throne — Hail Bristol has spent the past several years making a name for herself as one of the toughest, most dangerous gunrunners in the galaxy. But she’s actually a runaway princess of the Indranan Empire, and when her sisters are assassinated by unknown perpetrators, Hail becomes the reluctant heir to the throne. To do her duty, she must return to her home planet and familiarize herself with Indrana’s political situation and the intrigues of the court. She soon realizes that this job may be her toughest one yet. I found this to be an entertaining sci-fi novel, but I didn’t become invested enough in the characters to really love it. I do think the world building is very creative, and the political intrigue is compelling. Overall, this was a good but not great book for me.

Mini-Reviews: Station, Artistic, You, Book

Station ElevenArtistic License

Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven — This novel centers around an apocalyptic event, a virus that wipes out 99.9 percent of the world’s population. There are two major narratives: one involves a famous actor who dies just as the virus begins to spread, and the other is set several years after the virus, focusing on a traveling theater troupe and orchestra whose motto is the Star Trek: Voyager quote “Survival is insufficient.” I was much more interested in the latter story than the former, and I also found the postapocalyptic landscape somewhat implausible (there’s not a single person left alive who can figure out how to keep a power plant running, yet there are multiple cellists?). So my feelings about the book are mixed, but overall I liked more things than I disliked.

Elle Pierson, Artistic License — When I discovered that Elle Pierson was a pseudonym for Lucy Parker, I downloaded this book immediately! The heroine is a painfully shy art student; the hero is a tough-looking security guard who is extremely insecure about his “ugly” looks. Their budding romance is threatened by the baggage they each bring to the relationship. This book really worked for me because I loved the main characters and how they both cherished the most “unlovable” parts of each other. It’s not quite as polished as Act Like It or Pretty Face, but it’s still a very enjoyable contemporary romance.

It's Not Me, It's YouBook Jumper, The

Mhairi McFarlane, It’s Not Me, It’s You — This is a chick lit novel about Delia, a girl whose life is turned upside-down when she proposes to her longtime boyfriend, only to discover that he’s been cheating on her. She promptly moves out of their shared home and relocates to a new town, where she gets a new job with a shady boss. Ultimately, Delia has to uncover the boss’s shenanigans with the help of several friends, including an abrasive-yet-handsome young journalist—all while her ex-boyfriend desperately tries to win her back. On the surface, the book is about a woman choosing between two men, but really, it’s about the choice between two lives—the familiar vs. the unknown, the safe vs. the brave. I liked this book a lot, and Mhairi McFarlane will definitely be one of my go-to authors for this type of read!

Mechthild Gläser, The Book Jumper (trans. Romy Fursland) — When Amy and her mother move from Germany to their ancestral home in Scotland, Amy discovers that her family has a special legacy: they can “jump” into books and spend time in their favorite fictional worlds. As Amy practices her book jumping skills, she learns that someone is stealing important plot elements from her favorite works of literature (the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, the cyclone from The Wizard of Oz). While solving this mystery, Amy also uncovers secrets from her family’s past and embarks on a romance with unforeseen complications. I really liked the premise of this book, and I was impressed by the ending, which is a little darker and more complex than I’d expected. But overall, this was just an okay read for me. A more interesting take on the book jumping premise is Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.

Review: On Second Thought

on-second-thoughtKristan Higgins, On Second Thought

After years of being single, Kate has finally found happiness with her new husband, Nathan. Their only marital problem so far is that Kate hasn’t yet gotten pregnant. Meanwhile, Kate’s half-sister Ainsley has been with her boyfriend Eric ever since college, and he’s dragging his feet about proposing to her, but she remains convinced that he’s “the one.” But the lives of both women change forever when Nathan dies in a tragic accident. Now a devastated Kate must deal with her grief — a horrible situation made even harder by her discovery that Nathan may have been hiding something from her. Meanwhile, the shock of Nathan’s death leads Eric to break up with Ainsley, who is blindsided by the loss of the future she’d been imagining for years. As both Kate and Ainsley try to move forward, they turn to each other for support and begin to forge a closer relationship.

I always enjoy Kristan Higgins’ contemporary romance novels, and even though this one isn’t quite as focused on romance, I still really liked it! I saw a few reviews that complained it’s depressing because it focuses so much on grief, and I can certainly understand that point of view. But to me, the story felt very hopeful and uplifting, because it’s about how both sisters are able to cope with the great pain and loss in their lives. I loved the relationship between Kate and Ainsley, who aren’t particularly close in the beginning of the book but eventually come to understand and appreciate one another. They both become more confident in their own lives, too, both professionally and in other family relationships. Of course, there is some romance in the novel as well, which I thoroughly (and predictably) enjoyed. I’d recommend this book to fans of romance or women’s fiction who don’t mind a slightly weightier premise.

Review: Can I See You Again?

can-i-see-you-againAllison Morgan, Can I See You Again?

Bree Caxton owns a successful matchmaking business in California, and her first book is about to be published. So when her boyfriend of four years breaks up with her out of the blue, she panics: not only is she heartbroken on a personal level, but who wants to buy a book about love from someone whose own love life is a mess? Bree needs her book to sell big, both for her own career and for her grandmother, who is about to be evicted from her longtime home. Desperate, Bree asks one of her clients, Nixon Voss, to pose as her boyfriend in public interviews. Surprisingly, Nixon agrees, and the more time they spend together, the more Bree wonders whether they have a real connection. But will Bree’s determination to launch a bestseller — and the sudden reappearance of her ex — end their relationship before it begins?

As I frequently mention on this blog, “fake relationship becomes real” is one of my favorite romance tropes, so I was intrigued by the premise of this book. Sadly, I wasn’t particularly wowed by the execution. The central conflict — Bree needs her book to make the NYT bestseller list so that her grandma won’t lose her house — just seemed too farfetched. In what universe would that plan actually work? I also wasn’t particularly invested in Bree’s relationship with Nixon, for some reason. Maybe they don’t spend enough time together in the book? Or maybe neither character is developed well enough for me to see why they’re so right for each other. I did like that Nixon has some semblance of a personality, but as I said, he’s really not in the book that much; the primary focus is on Bree’s professional life and her relationship wth her grandma. Overall, while this book isn’t terrible, I don’t think it’s particularly interesting or memorable.

Mini-Reviews #7: Home stretch

You guys, I did it–I finally caught up with my review backlog! 🙂 I’m hoping to do a better job of keeping up with reviews in the future, and hopefully I can be better about visiting other people’s blogs, too! In the meantime, here’s my last batch of mini-reviews, at least for now:

This Savage SongBoy Is Back, The

Victoria Schwab, This Savage Song — Set in a future where the United States has disintegrated into tiny, isolated city-states, humans and monsters live under an uneasy truce that could snap at any moment. Kate Harker is a human teenager whose father ensures the safety of humans who are willing to pay for his protection. August Flynn is a monster capable of stealing a person’s soul through song, but he’s trying desperately not to give in to his frightening hunger. When August and Kate meet and become friends, they search for a way to keep the peace between monsters and humans. I liked this book a lot; the world-building is excellent, and both Kate and August are intriguing characters. Much of the novel is a setup for the planned sequels, so there’s not a lot of closure in the end (although there’s no cliffhanger per se). But I definitely liked this one enough to continue with the series–looking forward to book #2!

Meg Cabot, The Boy Is Back — I’m pretty sure it was Meg Cabot’s The Boy Next Door that originally got me into chick lit, so I jumped at the chance to read this latest installment in the series. Becky Flowers has made it big in her small town, but she’s never forgotten her high school sweetheart, the one who got away. Reed Stewart is said sweetheart, a professional golfer who left town after graduation and never came back. When he returns to help care for his ailing parents, he and Becky reconnect…and of course, we all know where this is going. I didn’t actually care too much about the central romance–“old flame” isn’t one of my favorite tropes–but I loved the humor and the colorful characters that surrounded Becky and Reed’s story. I also enjoyed the fact that it’s a modern epistolary novel, told entirely through texts, emails, and even online reviews. Definitely recommended for fans of light, fluffy chick lit.

Arabella of MarsEdenbrookeEveryone Brave Is Forgiven

David D. Levine, Arabella of Mars — Three words, y’all: Regency space opera! I loved the idea of combining 19th-century British society with space travel (they use sailing ships!). Ultimately, this is a really fun adventure story wherein Arabella, dressed as a boy, joins the crew of a ship bound for Mars. There’s a handsome captain, a possibly sentient automaton, a mutiny, and a Martian uprising, and it’s all good fun. If you like the premise, you’ll really enjoy this one!

Julianne Donaldson, Edenbrooke — As with Donaldson’s other novel, Blackmoore, I enjoyed this “proper” Regency romance. Marianne Daventry is invited to Edenbrooke along with her sister Cecily, who hopes to marry the heir to the estate. When Cecily is detained in London, Marianne goes to Edenbrooke alone, and she soon finds herself attracted to the handsome and charming Philip–not realizing that he is the very heir her sister is pursuing. This was an entertaining read, but I couldn’t help being impatient with Marianne; it takes her forever to realize that Philip is the heir, and even longer to accept the fact that she’s in love with him. The book is still a pleasant read, but Donaldson isn’t destined to become a favorite author.

Chris Cleave, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven — This novel is a tale of love and loss set during  the early years of World War II. Mary North is an idealistic, privileged young woman who thinks the war is a great adventure, until the Blitz forces her to confront its ugly realities firsthand. Tom Shaw is an educator who isn’t seduced by the glamor of war; he just wants to keep doing his job. And Alistair Heath is Tom’s best friend, who enlists right away but soon realizes that the war might take more than he is willing to give. I wasn’t sure I would like this book at first–the prose definitely has A Style, and I was worried it might get in the way–but I ultimately found it very compelling. There are a lot of heartbreaking moments, but there’s also some great banter and great friendships. Overall, I’d definitely recommend this one to fans of World War II novels.

Mini-Reviews #6: Dog days

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for these mini-reviews! I’ll do this post and one more, and then I should finally be caught up! *sobs with relief*

Murder on the LusitaniaSingle Girl's To-Do List, The

Conrad Allen, Murder on the Lusitania — This is a fairly pedestrian mystery novel set during the Lusitania’s maiden voyage, where ship’s detective George Porter Dillman thinks he’ll have to deal with nothing more exciting than a few thefts. Of course, when an unpopular journalist is murdered on board, Dillman has to investigate–and choose between two women, the beautiful but aloof Genevieve and the happy-go-lucky Ellen. I didn’t particularly like this book, mostly because the characters annoyed me. Dillman is too smug and superior, and Genevieve seems more like a male fantasy than an actual person. The solution to the mystery was fine but seemed to come out of nowhere–or perhaps I just stopped paying attention too soon. Overall, a very “meh” read, and I feel no desire to continue with the series.

Lindsey Kelk, The Single Girl’s To-Do List — After enjoying Always the Bridesmaid, I had to track down another Lindsey Kelk novel, and this one did not disappoint! Rachel has just been dumped by her long-term boyfriend and has basically forgotten how to be single, so her two best friends create “the single girl’s to-do list” to force her out of her comfort zone. I really liked that Rachel’s friendships were so central in the novel, remaining constant throughout her tumultuous love life. Of course, the ultimate romance comes as no surprise, and I would have liked the hero to be a little more fleshed out. Nonetheless, I liked this book a lot and will continue to read more by Kelk.

CotillionBetween Shades of Gray Blackmoore

Georgette Heyer, Cotillion — One of my very favorite Heyer novels, mainly thanks to its delightful hero, Freddy! He is a wonderfully unconventional leading man: not particularly handsome, not a ladies’ man, not overly burdened with brains. In fact, he reminds me of a slightly more functional Bertie Wooster. But of course, his “street smarts” and kind heart ultimately win the day!

Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray — This World War II novel centers around an aspect of the war that is sadly often forgotten. The narrator, Lina, is a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl who is abducted one night, along with her mother and brother, by the NKVD. Lina describes the horrible tortures and indignities she and her fellow prisoners suffer, as well as the desperate hope that somehow her father will find her. My favorite thing about this book is that many of the characters are portrayed with some complexity. For example, one of Lina’s fellow prisoners is a cranky old man who constantly complains, yet in the end he manages to do something heroic. Similarly, one of the Soviet guards is deeply conflicted about his cruel actions. But some of the other characters–particularly Lina’s saintly mother–remain annoyingly simplistic. I also wasn’t a fan of the flashbacks to Lina’s carefree earlier life; they were too jarring for me. Still, I liked the book overall, and I think it tells a story that needs to be told.

Julianne Donaldson, Blackmoore — Kate Worthington wants nothing more than to escape her horrible family and go to live in India with her aunt. But her mother refuses to let her go, finally delivering an ultimatum: if Kate wants to go to India, she must first receive–and reject–three marriage proposals. Since Kate is not beautiful and flirtatious like her sister, she despairs at first. But when she is invited to the estate of her old friends, Sylvia and Henry Delafield, she reasons that she can at least try. Of course, she doesn’t expect to fall in love along the way. While this book is extremely predictable, I have to say that I enjoyed it anyway! My biggest complaint is that it takes Kate far too long to realize that her ideal mate is right in front of her, head over heels in love. The Big Misunderstanding could easily have been solved with a little rational communication! I should also note that the book is subtitled “A Proper Romance,” which essentially just means it’s rated PG; there’s nothing explicitly religious or preachy about it. All in all, this was a pleasant read that satisfied my craving for a Regency romance.

Mini-Reviews #1: Readathon leftovers

It’s pretty obvious that I haven’t spent much time on this blog lately. *blush* What can I say — life has been busy for the past couple of months, and when I’ve had free time, I’ve preferred to spend it doing other things (like reading!). As a result, I have a pretty huge backlog of books that I haven’t written about yet, and the thought of sitting down to compose a full review for each one is incredibly daunting. So, rather than continuing to avoid the task, I’ve decided to do three batches of mini-reviews — just titles and authors of the books I’ve been reading, along with a couple of sentences expressing my opinions. Once I catch up, I plan to go back to my regular style of reviewing. But for now, here are mini-reviews for the books I read during April’s 24-hour readathon:

Love, Lies and SpiesAs If!

Cindy Anstey, Love, Lies and Spies — A fun, lighthearted bit of Regency fluff for those who enjoy YA historical romance. I found the spy storyline weak, and the romance wasn’t quite compelling for me — Georgette Heyer, this is not! But it’s a pleasant enough read for fans of the genre.

Jen Chaney, As If! The Oral History of Clueless as Told by Amy Heckerling, the Cast, and the Crew — This book will only appeal to people who really love the movie “Clueless” and who are fascinated by behind-the-scenes movie knowledge. Fortunately, I fall within this demographic, so I really enjoyed the book!

Hermit of Eyton Forest, TheAlways the BridesmaidWhy Not Me?

Ellis Peters, The Hermit of Eyton Forest — Full disclosure: this installment of the Brother Cadfael series features a male character called Hyacinth. But I still love this series about a 12th-century Benedictine monk who solves crimes! (Who wouldn’t?)

Lindsey Kelk, Always the Bridesmaid — Entertaining British chick lit about a young woman named Maddie whose two best friends are at opposite ends of the romantic spectrum: one just got engaged, while the other is getting divorced. My friend pointed out that Maddie is a huge pushover, which she (my friend) found irritating. While I think that’s a fair criticism, I ultimately enjoyed the book for  its humor and romance, so I’d definitely read more by this author.

Mindy Kaling, Why Not Me? — I think Mindy Kaling is very talented and hilarious, and this book had me giggling pretty much nonstop. I like that she isn’t preachy, she’s very self-aware, and she doesn’t apologize for her confidence (some might say arrogance). As she says in the book, there’s nothing wrong with being confident — as long as you’ve put in the hard work to back it up. Bottom line: if you like Mindy Kaling, you’ll like this book.

Review: Things I Can’t Explain

Things I Can't ExplainMitchell Kriegman, Things I Can’t Explain

Those who grew up in the ‘90s will likely remember Clarissa Darling, the witty, offbeat heroine of the Nickelodeon sitcom “Clarissa Explains It All.” This novel, written by the creator of the show, follows a grown-up Clarissa trying to navigate life in her late 20s. Although she achieved her childhood goal of becoming a journalist, she’s now unemployed because the newspaper she worked for has gone under. Her family is also in a state of upheaval, as her overachieving mother and impractical father are separating. And most confusing of all is her love life, as she wavers between an old romance and a chance at something new. Clarissa may have been a know-it-all as a teen, but now she’ll have to confront, and maybe even embrace, the fact that she still has a lot to learn.

When I was a kid, “Clarissa Explains It All” was one of my favorite shows, but I definitely overestimated my level of nostalgia for it! First of all, I actually remembered much less about the show than I thought I did. I had no memory of Clarissa’s lists and wacky superstitions, and I didn’t remember her female friends at all. In fact, I think all I really wanted to know was what happened between Clarissa and her best friend Sam. The show kept them platonic throughout, but honestly, my sappy romantic soul wanted them to end up together! And — spoiler alert — they don’t. In fact, Sam is never actually “on page”; Clarissa reminisces about him quite frequently, but we never get his side of the story. That bugged me so much that maybe I’m not being fair about the rest of the book. But overall, I thought it was pretty mediocre chick lit, not really worth reading unless you’re a diehard Clarissa fan.

Review: Here’s Looking at You

Here's Looking at YouMhairi McFarlane, Here’s Looking at You

Aureliana Alessi was never the most popular girl in school. On the contrary, her bushy hair, dumpy figure, and acne-filled complexion ensured that she was frequently teased and bullied. Her worst torment of all came at the hands of James Fraser, the popular boy she had a crush on, who brutally humiliated her at the end-of-year talent show. Now, 10 years later, Aureliana has shed her old persona and her old name: she goes by Anna, and she loves her job as a history professor. But when her department agrees to assist a local museum with an upcoming exhibit, Anna is shocked to run into James Fraser again; he’s part of the publicity firm handling the exhibit. James is as handsome as ever, but he still seems to be the same shallow, self-absorbed person he was in high school. Worst of all, he doesn’t even recognize Anna, much less remember what he did to her. Nevertheless, as Anna and James start to spend more time together, they gradually become friends. She even finds herself harboring romantic feelings for him again. But will their fragile relationship survive when James discovers who Anna really is?

When I first heard about this book, the plot summary intrigued me right away. It seemed like the kind of thing that could be done either very well or VERY badly, depending on how the author handled the situation. I also felt a personal connection to the plot, since I was frequently picked on in school, and those experiences definitely still affect me today. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by this book! I found Anna a very relatable character, and her various emotions toward James — everything from anger to desire to embarrassment — made sense to me. I also think James is portrayed very well. He’s not an admirable character, especially in the beginning of the book; he’s selfish and lost, and the company he keeps isn’t helping. But his backstory is just sympathetic enough that I was rooting for him to change, and I could understand why Anna wanted to be around him. Toward the last third of the book, I realized that this book borrows its basic outline from [Pride and Prejudice], which was a nice bonus for me! But the novel stands very well on its own merits, and I’d recommend it to people who like their chick lit with a little depth.

Review: Honeymoon Hotel

Honeymoon HotelHester Browne, Honeymoon Hotel

Rosie has loved London’s Bonneville Hotel ever since she was a child. In former years it was a destination spot for Hollywood stars who wanted to conduct their affairs discreetly, but now it’s a bit run-down and has lost some of its sparkle and glamor. As the Bonneville’s events manager, Rosie hopes to restore the hotel to its former glory, specifically by turning it into London’s most desirable wedding venue. She pursues this goal with single-minded practicality and a rigid attention to detail, despite the fact that she herself was once left at the altar. But Rosie’s plans encounter a snag when the owner of the Bonneville brings his son Joe onto the hotel staff. Joe has spent the last several months in America, and his laid-back attitude and ignorance of the wedding industry drive Rosie crazy — especially when his thoughtless comments cause one bride to call off her wedding. But when a well-known model expresses interest in booking her wedding at the Bonneville, Rosie and Joe must find a way to work together despite their differences.

I enjoy a good chick lit novel from time to time, and I’ve liked some of Hester Browne’s previous novels, so I was eager to read her latest offering. Unfortunately, I found this to be a very forgettable read. There’s nothing particularly bad about it, that I recall; it just didn’t do anything special for me. The plot is a bit of a cliché — girl is too uptight, boy is too relaxed, how will they ever get along? — and nothing about the details or characters really elevated it above that level, for me. I especially had trouble seeing the appeal of Joe, whose character really isn’t developed beyond being laid-back and carefree. So I didn’t care very much about the romance. Also, the book focuses a LOT on Rosie’s job and the minutiae of wedding planning, which even I found dull, and I’m interested in that kind of thing! It’s certainly a readable book, and I do recommend the author for fans of British chick lit, but I definitely wouldn’t read it again.