MixedAll About RomanceWell Played – the second in Jen De Luca’s series of renaissance faire-centered romances – is a bit of a step down from the excellent Well Met. While the story itself is charming, and the heroine is wonderful, there are several rather frankly icky plot points that keep this one from a higher grade ... The biggest problem I have with Well Played is its central conceit. Daniel is Cyrano-ing it up here, has been lying to Stacey for an entire year about who he is, and had no intention of telling her the truth – until he slips up. This is catfishing, and lasts for the first half of the book ... As always, De Luca does a beautiful job with the setting. Her take on renaissance faires and small town life is inspired and beautifully handled. All the quiet details of Daniel and Stacey’s relationship, too, are sweet and lovely to read. We get a lot of build up for Simon and Emily’s ensuing wedding, reminding us all of why we fell in love with De Luca’s work in the first place. Well Played is weaker than the first entry in the series, but it’s not unreadable, and that means it’s worth a look, though not a top priority one.
Amanda Eyre Ward
PositiveAll About RomanceThe Jetsetters is a fun black comedy with a lot of extremely dark strokes. Every single Perkins is effed up in their own unique way, and every single one of them cares about the others – in codependent, unhealthy or just plain strange ways ... If you don’t like flawed characters, you won’t like this bunch at all. They are an intense ride and sometimes quite hard to take ... there’s something about each of them that’s interesting enough to keep the reader invested ... The quality of the writing – smooth as an ocean – and the ridiculousness of the travelogues just add to the spirit of things (nude beaches! Ancient ruins! Good food! Art museums!) ... The Jetsetters will be enjoyed by anyone who likes a little acid in their sunny lemonade.
RaveAll About RomanceHighfire is odd in a good way. It’s a delightfully bizarre book, a cross between a Burt Reynolds’ deep south good-ol’-boys action comedy and a coming of age fantasy. It’s ridiculous, raunchy and funny, and its characters are amusingly winning in a way that buoys the book ...The best character in the production is, naturally, Vern, who is the most interesting dragon figure I’ve read about in some time. The others stand out as unique enough but don’t draw as much attention as he does, with his confidence and cock-eyed sense of humor ... The banter, action, dialogue and sense of humor...are all top notch and absolutely elevate Highfire to a high-recommended level grade. It’s a fun, ridiculous, rollicking trip that’s worth all of the little bumps along the way.
RaveAll About RomanceThese Ghosts are Family is a spellbinding, beautifully written story about the way generational trauma can harm, form or save a person ... a stunningly powerful experience, laced through with prose that’s gorgeous and effortless, and reminded me of Toni Morrison. A story of pain and of love, of ancestral pride and parental disgust, of joy and trauma, the magic of an ancient tale and the bone-deep reality of having to change a bedpan ... It’s easy to sink happily into this book; it’s easy to let it make you sad for the people in it, to break your heart, to make you want to live harder or let a fairytale absorb you ... Please let it enter your life and take you to somewhere incredible.
MixedAll About Romance... a blood-letter of a novel, lacerating the reader nonstop with its depressing plot twists. It’s one of those novels that’s well-written and has interesting characters, but as those characters all but go out of their way to make themselves miserable, the reader becomes annoyed with their choices ... has a great sense of history and character...But the plot – which car-crashes The Secret Garden into a general F. Scott Fitzgerald pastiche – never feels original enough to be distinct ... That’s not to say that Polly, Alice, Selina and Lawrence aren’t interesting. In fact, I honestly wished that we’d stayed in the present with Alice, because following her throughout her scavenger hunt adventure is more interesting than Selina and her cowardly aimlessness ... Sadly, the mystery of whom Selina will choose to marry is ruined about midway through the novel, leaving the reader to tap their fingers while they wait for the inevitable answer to the tangle in Selina’s portion of the book. The reason why she makes that choice feels designed by the author to make everyone miserable instead of feeling organic to the character’s needs ... puts forth an arguably good portrait of grief and mourning – but the plot twists one must endure to get there make it a struggle to enjoy.
RaveAll About Romance... the only biography besides Joplin’s sister’s that has risen to my personal high watermark. It’s definitive, handsome and fascinating ... George-Warren’s research is intense and impeccable ... George-Warren expands the known record with a phalanx of fresh interviews, digging up close high school friends and bullies, old music industry associates, lovers, and family members, who all have their say, but the central voice belongs to Janis herself, whose bald-faced neediness, sharp sarcasm, wistful dreams of stardom and push for artistic relevance all resonate with the reader.
PositiveAll About RomanceSome novels are five-course meals – some are boxes of petit fours. Royal Holiday is a petit four incarnate – sweet, light on disagreeable ingredients, simple, quick, fluffy and uncomplicated. But while Royal Holiday is a fun treat of a book, it’s not quite up to the high watermark of the rest of the Wedding Date series ... Royal Holiday’s heroine provides its biggest and best draw. Vivian has a wonderfully sweet and lively sparkle to her personality that’s super appealing and makes her an entertaining heroine ... It’s lovely to have a book about an older hero and heroine who’ve both raised their families and lived their lives, but aren’t dead yet and have a lot of room left to play with, to fall into heedless and giddy love like a teenagers ... warm and fluffy will likely overcome the sense of ‘been there, done that’ that sometimes colors the prose.
MixedAll About RomanceThe Starless Sea continues in the vein of the atmosphere begun by The Night Circus, though I must report it is—tragically—a step down from that book’s lofty heights ... eventually all of that sweetness, all of that magic-making, all of that worldbuilding—it leads to no culmination, no point, and all the characters come across as underdeveloped. The Starless Sea is all frosting and a bit of cake, which, for some readers, will feel like paradise ... In spite of the shallow characterization and the gradual-unto-glacier pace, the all-frosting-no-cake atmosphere, the quality of the writing is undeniable, the sense of magic real, and altogether it ekes out a low-level recommendation.
RaveAll About Romance... romantic, funny, sweet and easy to relate to, it’s a breezy read that will be like catnip for anyone who likes a good enemies-to-lovers story ... charming in a perfectly relentless way, an incredibly human one. Maddie and Theo are flawed people who act like real human beings – stubborn, loving, soft, giving and tough and stubborn as two cats dueling over a piece of tuna ... I liked the way they eventually came to friendship, then love – with lust, naturally, being the first emotion coupled with hate that faced them ... How much you love Theo and Maddie’s relationship will depend on how much you like love/hate tropery; the book has this in spades, and while normally these kinds of relationships don’t work for me, Guillory’s work sold it completely ... It’s not my favorite Guillory, but it’s a very, very close third, and still a fizzy champagne toast of a cocktail that never flattens out.
J. A. Jance
MixedAll About RomanceThe author does a great job making one’s skin crawl imagining someone so evil and so weak-souled handling materials so precious to a person’s existence, and Ali makes a fun, strong and compelling heroine ... But The A-List has one pretty big flaw and it’s nearly fatal – we know from the start who’s trying to kill Ali, and who has killed her friends. The only real thrills and suspense we get out of the situation coagulate around the question: how will Ali trap this pervert and his accomplices? ... What really does work is how the book’s best passages take us into Hannah’s sociopathic mind, her self-centered thoughts and motivations; she ultimately becomes a compelling, complicated monstre sacré who steals the spotlight from everyone else ... But even with its compelling villain and heroine, it’s ultimately the very, very slow pace and lack of tension that fails to keep The A-List alive.
Taylor Jenkins Reid
RaveAll About Romance...the oral tradition/interview style storytelling really grabbed my attention ... Jenkins Reid is masterful in balancing every single point of view and giving them time to grow ... a solid A- ... a great novel, absorbing,with interesting, flawed and complicated characters.
MixedAll About RomanceNot easy and not fun – but Verble makes the reading of her characters’ life stories extremely compelling ... If you have a hard time telling your narrators apart then this isn’t the novel for you; and even if you don’t, you will refer and keep referring to the character listing in the front of the novel for at least the first half of it as more and more characters are thrown into play ... Culture, customs, and how they mutate and shape-shift due to social or cultural changes, provide an interesting backbone for the novel ... One of Cherokee America’s problems is that it has so many characters; dozens are introduced within the first hundred pages and it’s impossible to ascertain who’s the most important to the plot until the rhythm of the story sets in, so it’s a lot of information for the reader to carry around and retain until that happens. Also, the book absolutely suffers from taking a while to give Puny and Lizzie voices that are non-stereotypical during the first quarter of the story ... a powerful, sometimes heartbreaking journey through the American West. Sometimes it suffers from the scope of its ambition, but in the end it’s a beautiful and worthwhile story to dig into.
PositiveAll About RomanceAn interesting combination of comedy styles ... the end result is pretty original and interesting – sometimes a black comedy that leans heavily on squirmy discomfort, sometimes a touching comedic pastiche, sometimes simply a story of a New York transplant learning how to live like an adult ... The plot is twisty but the last fifty pages (mostly) peter out of plot with the major conflict resolved, leaving sub plots to be tied up with neat strokes and plot twists that don’t really fit with the resolution of the main plotline. This is a feature more than a flaw, but it’s noticeable ... Yet Daphne’s long journey back to her mother – and to forgiveness – is a delightful little trip that’s for the most part quite a funny ride. Sophisticated and bawdy, silly and touching, Good Riddance is an enjoyable read.
RaveAll About Romance...a wonderful, magical little fantasy romance ... This book was a total, complete delight. Crazy Cupid Love is so easy to get lost in and so much fun to read that you’ll find yourself smiling along and nodding in public ... Their romance is a lot of fun, and is built on old memories and a fresh foundation of purpose ... The minor relationships in the book are great, too ... The worldbuilding here is fantastic and fun ... It’s the most unique, refreshing myth modernization I’ve read in ages.
MixedAll About Romance...a bit heavy on history, a bit light on the juicy melodrama, with some very old-fashioned storytelling tropes—in short, a solid novel although not a perfect one ... The Haunted Queen does several things well, including managing to combine a sense of drama with a sense of deep history, telling us new things about Jane that grow her beyond the innocent naïf the history books have cast her as. Yet while the historian in Weir often enlightens the author’s fiction, it sometimes sinks the book in overly-ornate detail ... The book is plenty romantic—well, if you like Henry the VIII’s ornate pleading and begging, followed by his hot-headed childishness and threatening rages. Jane is a good heroine to follow, and is interesting and not too sweet and soppy in this telling.
RaveAll About RomanceBrings romance into a decidedly unromantic story ... unlikely to be a romance for everyone, and definitely won’t be a comfortable subject for every reader – but for me it was a well done combination of love story and everyday storytelling that was wonderful to read ... heavy, and I mean that in the absolute best way possible. This is a midnight-dark subject to write a romance about, and there are occasional bobbles along the way, but Roni Loren gets the entire trauma of the grieving process – from panic to grief to acceptance and growth – perfectly right. Add on a swoonworthy romance and you start out the year with one excellent contemporary ... For some readers this may be an extremely upsetting and traumatic subject for a romance, and I can understand why they might never read it. But I found it to be a beautiful and spellbinding to experience ... in the early running for romance of the year.
MixedAll About Romance\"Soniah Kamal knows how to write sympathetic, beautifully thought-out romances. Unmarriageable, her modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, is a lovely read, but it clings so closely to its Austenian roots, that there is no room for the author to fully put her own stamp on the novel, or to make any narrative deviations from the source material to surprise or intrigue the reader. If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, you’ve pretty much read this book already ... Unmarriageable is charming in places, has great, memorable female characters, does a beautiful job in grounding itself in the culture and society of modern-day Islamic small-town Pakistan and has some great dialogue – but it also has a number of problems that keep me from rating it more highly ... Unmarriageable frustrated me and delighted me in handfuls of ways.\
MixedAll About RomanceUneasy Lies the Crown is the thirteenth book in Tasha Alexander’s series of historical mysteries featuring Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband, the dashing Lord Colin, agent of the crown ... Uneasy Lies the Crown is a fairly decent mystery with a great heroine, but it is dragged down by its subplot and can’t, ultimately, even be described as an average quality read.
MixedAll About RomanceMaggie Terry is a compelling read, something that captures something essential of life in New York in this modern era, but it’s got a few flaws that keep me from giving it a full recommendation. There are bobbles in the writing, such as when someone is described as \'As smooth as lube for ladies,\' that pulled me up short, and there are some tropetastic moments that just weigh it down. Yet it is so engaging, so interesting in several very vital ways that the reader might find it worthwhile to seek out anyway ... While the novel tries to properly shed some light on Maggie’s white privilege while trying to explore the mindset of police officers, it puts far, far too much sympathy on [police officer] Eddie’s side of the case [of police violence], and while an ex-cop like Maggie might feel that way about it since she’s personally involved, this portion of the book isn’t illuminating and often comes off as simplistic and relying on white savior tropes ... ultimately, I have too many reservations about certain aspects of the storyline to be able to recommend it.
MixedAll About RomanceSarah Bird misses the mark by a wide mile as she relates the real-life tale of Miss Cathay Williams (the author persists in misspelling her name as ‘Cathy’ throughout) ... Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen had so much potential. The book does do several things right, including the excellent points made about the way black men and women had to live through horrors and debasement, to eke out survival, and of the lies they were forced to tell to the white people they loathed to make it to some semblance of survival. The novel’s battle scenes are properly rousing, and the observations of army life feel realistic and work well, as do the well-detailed difficulties of posing as someone of the opposing sex. But the author falls into several traps when it comes to portraying her black characters as well-rounded people (and is far, far worse at portraying the native American characters who appear later in the text), and sadly, stereotypes permeate the novel. While Cathay almost springs to life as a full-blooded woman, in several ways she comes off as a breathing chunk of cardboard ... worst of all is the love story between Cathay and Swayne, which is instantaneously built and completely ahisoric ... The author seems to want to do nothing more than mill some pulp from their forbidden romance, when Cathay’s story was about so much more.
PositiveAll About Romance\"Heartbreaker is a fever dream of a novel, a hallucination, grounded and bitter and a little bit morbid, fantastic and unearthly and confusing and yet enthralling. Think of it as Winter’s Bone meets Blossom meets Timothy Leary meets the better parts of M. Night Shyamalan ... Heartbreaker’s biggest flaw is that it’s sometimes hard to follow the thrust of the narrative, which zips and zooms hallucinogenically between anecdotes. Sometimes this can be disorientating, and it will take reading an entire paragraph to fully replace yourself back into the story as it zooms off onto another tangent ... Heartbreaker is a difficult to define reading experience; it’s one of the most unique books I’ve ever read, and while it was sometimes a struggle to get to the end, the experience was richly rewarding. It’s one of the best and strangest reading experiences I’ve had all year.\
MixedAll About RomanceWired is, for the most part, a big, chewy, sweet chunk of wish fulfillment. If you aren’t into realism and you want some good old fashioned escapism then you’re likely to take to this book like a duck to water. Unfortunately, it’s got several major flaws ... Allison and Liam are the most pure of canon Sues; good-looking and ultra-intelligent, they come off more as sentient dolls than human beings. Allison suffers from Superhuman Heroine syndrome. Not only is she a puzzle-solving genius with model looks, she’s smart enough to beat FBI code-breakers at their own game ... Liam is her Stu-twin in every way. It’s not enough for him to be the best FBI agent in Boston; he’s also a top notch lawyer and the best around at being a cool, confident man ... The romance is...well, stilted and sometimes creepy, as the author seems content to focus on the problems of Allison’s hacking and her family relationships, with the occasional paragraph featuring her and Liam lusting after each other or Liam behaving like a possessive alpha ... sadly this one misses the mark and turns out to be a bit of a formulaic jaunt.
PositiveAll About RomanceThe writing is smooth and engaging; very rich, lyrical and even ornate. it’s perfumed with longing and romance, with the pain of feeling the absence of one’s partner. It is about true love, in all of its forms, about secrets, about children lost and found, infidelity and change. It’s very human and very beautiful; heedlessly romantic and deeply tragic, sometimes quite soapy and sometimes quite kitchen-sink real ... Only one thing didn’t work for me—the events at the very end of the book felt a little too fairytale, a little too wave-the-magic-wand-and-all-is-well. But some readers will adore this, and in the end it doesn’t detract from the novel’s enchanting whole ... an appealing jewel of a novel with some very surprising and captivating twists.
Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
RaveAll About RomanceStephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie weave such an enchanting spell with their take on the life of Eliza Hamilton ... beautifully etched ... Dray and Kamoie are as at home describing a ball as they are the effects of yellow fever upon the wretched; their dazzling talents glimmer throughout the novel.