The Monday Check-In ~ 7/4/2022

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My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

Happy 4th! Enjoy the fireworks, picnics, and cookouts!

As for me… I’m traveling again! This time, it’s a family visit so I can spend time with my dad. I flew out yesterday, will be in the area for most of the week, and then next weekend will be attending a birthday celebration for one of my college roommates before flying home next Monday. I think I’ll do some remote work — just a bit –while I’m here, but otherwise hope to relax, hang out with friends and family, and enjoy the warm weather!

What did I read during the last week?

I’m being a bad reader! I added a subscription to New York Times games, and now I spend way too much time every day on them, when I should be reading. In any case, here’s what I did manage to read this past week:

Book Lovers by Emily Henry: I actually finished this right at the end of last week, but finally got around to writing a review a few days ago. A perfect summer read!

In the Quick by Kate Hope Day: Astronauts and Jane Eyre? Yup, this slim sci-fi book has both! My review is here.

The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune: I read (and adored) this book when it came out in 2020. This time around, prepping for the release of the 3rd book in the series, I listened to the audiobook — and it was amazing! The narrator is fantastic, and this story is as hug-worthy as ever. If you want to know more, check out my original review.

Pop culture & TV:

I decided to go back to Stranger Things! I stopped (for whatever reason) after season 2, but motivated at least 90% by hearing about Kate Bush being featured in season 4, I started watching again! I’m most of the way through season 3 at this point, but I’m not sure how much viewing time I’ll have this week. You know what? It’s good! I’m glad I decided to give it another try.

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Drunk on All Your Strange New Words by Eddie Robson: As of when I write this post (Sunday night after a long day of travel ), I’ve read all but the epilogue of this book, and it’s awesome! I’ll write up some thoughts over the next few days.

As soon as I finish, I’ll be starting:

Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain: This book hadn’t really been on my radar, but I’ve been deluged with promos for the novie all over my social media feeds… so why not start with the book and see if I’m interested?

Now playing via audiobook:

Flash Fire by TJ Klune: This is a total no-brainer — how could I NOT continue with these audiobooks? I love these characters so much.

Ongoing reads:

These books will be on my plate for months to come:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’ve started our group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. If anyone wants to join us, just ask me how! All are welcome.
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare: My book group’s current classic read. We’re reading one scene per week — almost done with Act IV.
  • Tales From Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb: I bought this paperback before seeing a production of The Tempest last month, and thought it might be fun to read through all the story summaries. I’m fairly familiar with Shakespeare’s tragedies, a little familiar with the comedies, and not at all familiar with the histories. My plan for now is to read a couple of chapters per week, on and off. We’ll see how it goes!

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: In the Quick by Kate Hope Day

Title: In the Quick
Author: Kate Hope Day
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: March 2, 2021
Print length: 251 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June is a brilliant but difficult girl with a gift for mechanical invention who leaves home to begin grueling astronaut training at the National Space Program. Younger by two years than her classmates at Peter Reed, the school on campus named for her uncle, she flourishes in her classes but struggles to make friends and find true intellectual peers. Six years later, she has gained a coveted post as an engineer on a space station—and a hard-won sense of belonging—but is haunted by the mystery of Inquiry, a revolutionary spacecraft powered by her beloved late uncle’s fuel cells. The spacecraft went missing when June was twelve years old, and while the rest of the world seems to have forgotten the crew, June alone has evidence that makes her believe they are still alive.

She seeks out James, her uncle’s former protégé, also brilliant, also difficult, who has been trying to discover why Inquiry’s fuel cells failed. James and June forge an intense intellectual bond that becomes an electric attraction. But the relationship that develops between them as they work to solve the fuel cell’s fatal flaw threatens to destroy everything they’ve worked so hard to create—and any chance of bringing the Inquiry crew home alive.

A propulsive narrative of one woman’s persistence and journey to self-discovery, In the Quick is an exploration of the strengths and limits of human ability in the face of hardship, and the costs of human ingenuity.

I’m not going to lie — I book this book on a whim based solely and completely on the fact that the pink astronaut cover grabbed my attention in a bookstore and wouldn’t let me walk away!

Much to my surprise, while In the Quick is a science fiction book about a young engineering prodigy whose obsessive need to understand the why of things leads her into a fiercely competitive astronaut program and ultimately, into interplanetary exploration… it’s also a retelling of Jane Eyre. How wild is that?

In In the Quick, June’s beloved uncle, a renowned pioneer in spaceship engineering, dies when June is twelve. He raised her to think, to question, to seek answers, and she delighted in hovering in the background while his students worked with him on challenging prototypes and design projects. But after his death, June is lost in her aunt’s house, unloved and misunderstood — and when the spaceship Inquiry goes dark after a fuel cell failure, June’s worldview is thrown into chaos.

The fuel cells were her uncle’s greatest achievement. What could have gone wrong, and why? Even past the point when the world seems to have concluded that the Inquiry and its crew are lost, June is compelled to seek answers. She soon enrolls at the National Space Program school, determined to forge a path for herself that takes her into space and gives her the knowledge to understand and unravel the mysteries of the failed fuel cells.

June’s journey ultimately takes her to a moon called the Pink Planet, where swirling silt creates a permanently pink atmosphere, and where exposure to the silt results in a hallucinogenic, numbed state. The Pink Planet is an outpost developed as a jumping off point for the vast voyages intended for the Inquiry and its sister ship, but once the Inquiry mission failed, the Pink Planet stations were left in a state of minimal use and shocking disrepair. Once on the Pink Planet, June reconnects with her uncle’s former student James, who is similarly obsessed with June’s uncle’s work. Together, they begin an intense creative phase to finally solve the puzzle of the fuel cells… and to figure out if there truly is any hope still of finding the Inquiry after all this time.

In the Quick is a fairly short book, and it’s a quick read. It’s oddly compelling — the forays into engineering and design are kept to lightly descriptive passages, so the science is never overwhelming for those of us without advanced degrees. The story of June’s growth and education is interesting, although she’s a somewhat hard character to love. We don’t get very deep into her inner life, apart from her never-satisfied quest for knowledge. We know she experiences loss and loneliness, but the friendships she forms along her journey always feel secondary to her scientific obsession.

It’s entertaining to see the Jane Eyre storylines woven into In the Quick. We’re not beaten over the head with them — if someone reading In the Quick hasn’t read Jane Eyre, they’re not going to feel lost or confused in any way. Instead, there are some basic patterns and motifs built into the story (I had to giggle over the opening scene of June reading a book while hidden away in a window seat), and it’s surprising to see how well it all works in a novel of space exploration and interplanetary travel!

I did find the overall plot to have a somewhat flat effect by the end. There are pieces that are never fully explained — in fact, given how central the Pink Planet is to the story, I don’t believe we’re ever told where it is. We know that it’s a moon, despite being named the Pink Planet, but a moon of what?

The book ends, in my opinion, on a very abrupt note, and left me feeling frustrated. Without saying exactly what the ending is, I’ll just say that I wanted more explained about what had transpired over the years since the Inquiry was lost. June’s obsession with the Inquiry leads to her conviction that the crew was still out there somewhere, alive but unable to power their ship or communicate — but if that’s true, how did they survive all these years? The lack of an explanation felt very unsatifsying to me.

If I had to categorize this book, I’d describe it as “literary science fiction”. It’s an interesting, ambitious novel, with themes of classic literature woven into a space story. Overall, I enjoyed reading In the Quick, but for me, I prefer my sci-fi with a lot clearer grounding in the science of it all. I want to understand the details and marvel at how a work of fiction can make it all seem possible. In the Quick is more about the moods and passions and human drives involved, and while it was a good read, it wasn’t 100% my style of science fiction.

Still, I’m glad I gave in to the impulse to grab a copy! In a year where much of my reading is planned well in advance, it was a treat to read on a whim and experience something unexpected. Jane Eyre in space? Well, that was definitely a new, unexpected twist for me, and I’m happy that I gave it a chance.

Book Review: Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Title: Book Lovers
Author: Emily Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: May 3, 2022
Print length: 377 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

Rating: 4 out of 5.

One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming….

Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small-town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.

I’ll keep this brief — at this point, when I see a cute contemporary romance cover and discover the book is by Emily Henry, it’s going to be a must-read for me. Book Lovers caught my eye immediately (I mean, the title alone! who can resist?), and it was a perfect pick for reading during a vacation week.

In Book Lovers, main character Nora is a hard-edged, polished, driven literary agent who is unrelenting when it comes to making deals for her clients. Her nickname is the Shark — but don’t call her that to her face. While she represents highly successful authors, including those who write heart-warming love stories about small-town romances, she knows absolutely where she fits in the trope: She’s the one left behind.

You know how it goes: A big city character heads to a small town for some vague business purpose, falls unexpectedly in love with the local farmer/baker/craftsperson, and gives up city life for a life full of purpose, love, and baked goods in the country — breaking up with their former city boyfriend/girlfriend along the way. And that city boyfriend/girlfriend who gets dumped is Nora. It’s happened to her again and again, and she’s over it.

But Nora also has a soft spot for her younger (and very pregnant) sister, so she reluctantly agrees to a three-week sisters’ trip to a small town in North Carolina, where her sister Libby is determined to milk the experience for every romance-worthy trope possible. What they do not expect is for (a) Nora’s New York business nemesis Charlie to also show up in the same town and (b) for all the sparks that fly between Nora and Charlie.

The plot has much more depth than you might expect. Emily Henry excels at creating funny, quirky, unusual characters, then giving them rich backstories that humanize them and expose the pains and sorrows behind their facades. The same is true here, and it makes Nora much more likable than she initially comes across, so much so that I became very invested in her happiness and well-being.

I liked Nora and Charlie together as a couple — their banter is adorable! And while it takes them a while to get past the outer animosity to their inner deep connection, it’s totally worth the journey. The sisters’ relationship is just as important as the romantic relationship, and I really appreciated how lovingly their connection is portrayed.

The writing is light and fast-paced, but there’s plenty of emotion to unpack too. I truly enjoyed Book Lovers — although I’m a little mad that the author managed to burst the bubble of all my small town romance fantasies! The book trope talk is so much fun, there are plenty of references to real books (which made me really happy), and I love that the author includes “Nora and Libby’s Ultimate Reading List” at the back of the book!

Book Lovers is a perfect choice for a summer beach book! Don’t miss it.

Shelf Control #324: Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Don’t You Forget About Me
Author: Mhairi McFarlane
Published: 2019
Length: 433 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

If there’s one thing worse than being fired from the grottiest restaurant in town, it’s coming home early to find your boyfriend in bed with someone else.

Reeling from the indignity of a double dumping on the same day, Georgina snatches at the next job that she’s offered—barmaid in a newly opened pub, which just so happens to run by the boy she fell in love with at school: Lucas McCarthy. And whereas Georgina (voted Most Likely to Succeed in her school yearbook) has done nothing but dead-end jobs in the last twelve years, Lucas has not only grown into a broodingly handsome man, but also has turned into an actual grown-up along the way, with a business and a dog.

Meeting Lucas again not only throws Georgina’s rackety present into sharp relief, but also brings a dark secret from her past bubbling to the surface. Only she knows the truth about what happened on the last day of school, and why she’s allowed it to chase her all these years… 

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition in early 2020.

Why I want to read it:

Summer is the perfect time for reading light romances, and this one seems ideal to pick up while lounging on a patio chair or with my feet in the sand…

I don’t specifically remember buying it, but it’s in my Kindle library, so I suppose I grabbed it on a day when there was a price break. I’ve been seeing recommendations for this author for a while now, and have been wanting to try her books. The synopsis sounds like fun, even though the title is giving me an irritating ear worm.

This sounds like the kind of book I’d want to read on vacation or on a plane — not that there’s anything wrong with that! I just tend to go for upbeat, enjoyable books during the summer months — nothing demanding or heavy, just pure entertainment to leave me in a happy mood.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten books on my TBR list for summer 2022

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books On My Summer 2022 To-Read List.

I have SO MANY books to get to this summer! Some are new releases I’ve already bought, and some are ARCs for upcoming releases (July and August publication dates) — and half of these are books in series I’m invested in. I’m excited for all of these!

  • A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow
  • The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison
  • An Island Wedding by Jenny Colgan
  • Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
  • Flash Fire by TJ Klune
  • Love in the Time of Serial Killers by Alicia Thompson
  • What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
  • Upgrade by Blake Crouch
  • Thank You For Listening by Julie Whelan
  • Soul Taken by Patricia Briggs

What are you planning to read this summer? Please share your links!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 6/27/2022

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My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

I’m back! I was away from computers, email, and blogging last week while on a road trip with my husband. The trip was amazing! We traveled up through Northern California, enjoyed the redwoods, spent a couple of days in Ashland, Oregon at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and then came back down through the Lake Shasta area. We visited two national parks (Redwood and Lassen), visited a lavender farm, saw The Tempest in an outdoor Elizabethan-themed theater, did lots of good hiking, and enjoyed the fresh forest and mountain air!

Here’s a little montage of some highlights:

And now I’m back! I spend Sunday doing laundry, putting away my hiking shoes and other outdoorsy stuff, and catching up online. I’m dreading tackling my work email — I was very good about NOT checking it while away, but that means it’ll all be waiting for me bright and early Monday morning.

What did I read during the last week?

Between traveling and my obsession with my new subscription to the New York Times games features, my reading time this past week was pretty meager. Must stop spending so much time on Sudoku!

Book of Night by Holly Black: A dark adult debut from a favorite YA author. My review is here.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry: So much fun! This author never lets me down. I’ll l write up some thoughts later in the week, once I’m feeling a bit more caught up.

Since I was in the car with my husband for the entire past week, I didn’t listen to audiobooks at all. And I missed them! But he could not be convinced to play along. Sigh…

Pop culture & TV:

Being away also meant very little screen time — we didn’t watch or stream anything at all on our trip! So, I have some catching up to do…

I still have 5 or 6 episodes of The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem to watch, plus 2 episodes of The Boys, the season finale of Come Dance With Me, and most of the newest season of Love, Victor. I guess I’ll be busy this week!

Puzzle of the week:

Right before leaving on our trip, I finished this puzzle — super fun! I was a little nervous when I ordered it, since I’d never tried anything from this company before and I’m picky about puzzle quality. It all worked out well — the pieces are sturdy and well-cut, and I really enjoyed all the colors and patterns!

Purchase via Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/a/24793/9781743796672

Fresh Catch:

I took advantage of some Kindle promotions to add to my (ever-growing and unread) Kindle library:

I also decided that, now that I’ve seen The Tempest, I should read it too! I bought myself this cute little paperback, with a “plain English” translation alongside the original text:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

In the Quick by Kate Hope Day: It’s been a long time since I picked up a random book on a whim, but that’s exactly what happened with this one! While browsing in a cute indie bookstore in Ashland, this pink astronaut cover caught my eye. The fact that it’s described as “Jane Eyre in space” helped seal the deal! I’ve only read about 25% so far, but I’m liking it!

Now playing via audiobook:

The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune: I loved this book so much when I first read it, and doing a re-read via audiobook is just as awesome as I’d hoped! The narrator is amazing — he captures the main character’s personality brilliantly. I’m rereading books 1 & 2 before the 3rd in the trilogy comes out in July.

Ongoing reads:

These books will be on my plate for months to come:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’ve started our group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. If anyone wants to join us, just ask me how! All are welcome.
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare: My book group’s current classic read. We’re reading one scene per week — now in the middle of Act IV.
  • Tales From Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb: I bought this paperback to help us prepare for seeing The Tempest, then decided it might be fun to read through all the story summaries. I’m fairly familiar with Shakespeare’s tragedies, a little familiar with the comedies, and not at all familiar with the histories. My plan for now is to read a couple of chapters per week, on and off. We’ll see how it goes!

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: Book of Night by Holly Black

Title: Book of Night
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: May 3, 2022
Print length: 320 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

In Charlie Hall’s world, shadows can be altered, for entertainment and cosmetic preferences—but also to increase power and influence. You can alter someone’s feelings—and memories—but manipulating shadows has a cost, with the potential to take hours or days from your life. Your shadow holds all the parts of you that you want to keep hidden—a second self, standing just to your left, walking behind you into lit rooms. And sometimes, it has a life of its own.

Charlie is a low-level con artist, working as a bartender while trying to distance herself from the powerful and dangerous underground world of shadow trading. She gets by doing odd jobs for her patrons and the naive new money in her town at the edge of the Berkshires. But when a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie’s present life is thrown into chaos, and her future seems at best, unclear—and at worst, non-existent. Determined to survive, Charlie throws herself into a maelstrom of secrets and murder, setting her against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, shadow thieves, and her own sister—all desperate to control the magic of the shadows.

Holly Black makes her adult debut with Book of Night, a modern dark fantasy of shadowy thieves and secret societies.

I’m going to keep this brief and to the point: Holly Black’s YA faerie-world trilogy The Folk of the Air is one of my favorite fantasy trilogies. I love the characters, the setting, the writing, the plot. So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to hear that this author would be releasing her first adult book this year.

Sadly, it didn’t quite work out for me — although some elements are very good.

In the world of Book of Night, shadow magic has become a fashion trend and a sought-after talent, but there’s a much darker side too. Yes, it’s fun to have your shadow altered to reflect your real self — but shadows have a tendency to get out of control or to become dangerous, especially when fed blood and strengthened with a person’s life force. And then there’s the whole seedy world of stolen shadows, as well as the black market in books of magic — each gloamist (people who work with shadows) wants the best secrets, and they’re fiercely competitive and protective when it comes to books that might reveal even more essential secrets of shadow manipulation.

Main character Charlie Hall is a highly skilled con-woman and thief who left behind her life of crime after a particularly nasty incident endangered not only her own life but that of her sister as well. Still, she can’t ever seem to completely walk away. There are those who know of her skills and want her on their side, and Charlie can’t avoid her old life forever.

The world of Book of Night is dark and grim. Everything is seedy and run-down, with dark bars and pawnshops and danger lurking down every alley. Shadow magic itself seems terrifying, with skilled gloamists being able to “puppet” people via shadows or even choke them to death by sending their shadows down their throats.

There’s a lot that’s fascinating about this world, but at the same time, I found myself utterly confused at times. There are some key people and positions whose roles aren’t fully explained. An entire ruling body is introduced in about a paragraph, and how they work and who they are remains murky at best. The magical system isn’t well enough explained — I found myself confused by the rules, the power structure, and the purpose of some of the magical items introduced throughout the story.

Charlie as a character is fun to ride along with. She’s absolutely a criminal and a bad-ass, but we get chapters from her past that show us how she became what she is. Criminal with a heart of gold, I guess — she’s fiercely loyal to those she loves and wants to keep them safe, but just can’t get away from her past life or find a way to stay on the straight and narrow.

I won’t go too far into further details. For some reason, this book took me a lot longer to read than I expected — maybe because of other factors in my life, but also because I never got to a place where I absolutely couldn’t put the book down. As a result, I never felt truly immersed.

I will say that the ending has some pretty unexpected and cool twists, which raised my overall impression of the book by a lot. Again, no details — you definitely don’t want spoilers! But the final chapters offer a great payoff and some really good surprises (although the pieces of the world that seemed unclear to me remain unclear all the way to the end — there are some things that I just don’t get).

The ending of the book leaves a lot of questions hanging about what’s next for Charlie, so it certainly seems like there will be a sequel. And despite my issues with the world-building, I’m intrigued enough by how the story ended that I’ll want to read that sequel, whenever it shows up!

Book Review: Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Title: Written in the Stars
Author: Alexandria Bellefleur
Narrator: Lauren Sweet
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: November 10, 2020
Print length: 384 pages
Audio length: 11 hours, 11 minute
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

With nods to Bridget Jones and Pride and Prejudice, a charming #ownvoices queer rom-com debut about a free-spirited social media astrologer who agrees to fake a relationship with an uptight actuary until New Year’s Eve—with results not even the stars could predict!

After a disastrous blind date, Darcy Lowell is desperate to stop her well-meaning brother from playing matchmaker ever again. Love—and the inevitable heartbreak—is the last thing she wants. So she fibs and says her latest set up was a success. Darcy doesn’t expect her lie to bite her in the ass.

Elle Jones, one of the astrologers behind the popular Twitter account, Oh My Stars, dreams of finding her soul mate. But she knows it is most assuredly not Darcy… a no-nonsense stick-in-the-mud, who is way too analytical, punctual, and skeptical for someone as free-spirited as Elle. When Darcy’s brother—and Elle’s new business partner—expresses how happy he is that they hit it off, Elle is baffled. Was Darcy on the same date? Because… awkward.

When Darcy begs Elle to play along, she agrees to pretend they’re dating to save face. But with a few conditions: Darcy must help Elle navigate her own overbearing family over the holidays and their arrangement expires on New Year’s Eve. The last thing they expect is to develop real feelings during a fake relationship.

But maybe opposites can attract when true love is written in the stars?

The synopsis really says it all — Written in the Stars is a fake-dating, opposites-attract romance with a guaranteed HEA, but with a few bumps along the road.

Darcy is a (gorgeous) tightly-wound actuary who likes her world orderly, clean, and easily analyzed and compartmentalized; Elle is a (super-adorable) astrologist who likes gel pens, glitter, marching to her own drummer, and a certain amount of chaos. They have nothing in common — yet somehow, their fake-dating arrangement starts to feel more and more real as they have fun together, learn to see beneath their surfaces, and (obviously) recognize that they have a major spark going on.

The comparisons to Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones are mostly unnecessary. Yes, the Darcy character comes across as judgy and off-putting, but that’s just a piece of the puzzle in this relationship, and the P&P trappings (sisters named Jane and Lydia, for example) are just minor details that don’t particularly matter.

Elle and Darcy have a lovely chemistry, each forcing the other to rethink basic assumptions and stretch a bit in their worldview — although honestly, most of the changing seems to happen on Darcy’s end. They’ve each been hurt in different ways in the past, through family dynamics or disastrous relationships, and they bring their baggage with them. As their fake relationship deepens into something more, they’re forced to open up and be honest about their dreams and their fears — but of course, as happens in pretty much all romance fiction, there’s a major falling out before they can get to a happy ending.

I enjoyed Written in the Stars, but not without some quibbles. The writing is spirited and light, and I liked getting chapters from both Darcy and Elle’s perspectives. But, certain wording choices started getting on my nerves, possibly more noticeable because I listened to the audiobook and repetitions really jumped out at me — for example, I lost count of how many times it’s mentioned that a particular character licked her lips. (It was a lot.)

All romance novels have the inevitable obstacle right before the happy ending, but the big drama here had to to with an overheard conversation and misinterpretation, and the way the scene was constructed left me feeling that the characters were behaving unreasonably and with a lack of maturity. Yes, their fall-out was over some big issues that they needed to address and resolve in order to move forward, but an actual conversation would have been a much healthier approach.

Side note: Some day, I’d like to read a romance where the main characters have a misunderstanding and then TALK ABOUT IT LIKE ADULTS, rather than having to go through a break-up, pints of ice cream, ugly crying, and then a BIG GESTURE in order to get to a good place. Anyway…

In terms of sexual content, there aren’t a huge number of sex scenes, but the ones that do exist are on the graphic end of the scale. (See my thoughts on a ratings scale for sex scenes in books, here). We are up close and personal with the characters through every moment of their encounters. Not my personal taste in fiction, but could appeal to those who generally enjoy these scenes on the explicit side.

Overall, Written In the Stars is a sweet story with lots of cute and funny moments. The audiobook is well done, with the narrator infusing humor and personality into the dialogue (and doing a great job with how she reads the many texts between characters — a very fun aspect of the story).

There are two more books that follow Written In the Stars, one focusing on Darcy’s brother, the other on Elle’s best friend and roommate. I don’t feel a need to continue at this point, but I may keep them in mind for when I want a light diversion at some point down the road.

Sexy, steamy, or downright raunchy — how do you rate THOSE scenes?

Has this happened to you?

You’re reading a pleasantly romantic book, eagerly turning pages, enjoying the building chemistry… and WHAM! Suddenly, you feel like you’re either in (a) an anatomy classroom or (b) the gynecologist’s office? So many body parts. So much fluid (ick). So many, many, many specifics.

Now, granted, tastes vary GREATLY by reader. The moaning and slipperiness that send me running for the hills are absolutely what other readers look for in their romance fiction. All tastes are valid! I’m body-positive, I swear!!

I just prefer my reading to leave certain things more to the imagination, ya know?

When I write reviews of romance fiction, I’ve struggled to find a clear way to let readers know what to expect. And that’s key for me actually — just tell me what to expect!! If I know a certain book has sex scenes that are way more graphic than I prefer, then I can decide for myself ahead of time if I want to read it. (And sometimes I will anyway, because the story or characters interest me enough to give it a try — but at least that way, I’m going into it fully aware of what I’m reading).

I did a bit of Googling, and haven’t found too many consistent approaches. Some of what I’ve found:

Open door/closed door: Pretty much what it sounds like. The door in question is the bedroom door, of course! Open door means the scene will show everything — the metaphorical door is wide open and we’re welcome to watch it all, in technicolor details. Closed door, on the other hand, means we may see some build-up, but once the action really kicks in, we’re left to imagine for ourselves what’s happening on the other side of the door.

Clean: When people talk about clean books, sometimes they’re talking about sex (i.e., nothing more than mild kissing at most), and sometimes the implication goes beyond that, to include everything from swearing to smoking to drinking. My spidey-senses tell me that readers looking for “clean” books often have a more religious standard in mind than I’m comfortable with, so this isn’t a descriptor I’d ever use on my own.

Movie ratings: I’ve seen some book reviews that use the MPAA rating systems as a guideline — G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17. In some ways, that’s fairly clear and easy to understand… but as a tool for distinguishing between different ways sex is portrayed in fiction, I’m not sure it’s all that helpful. X-rated or NC-17 makes it sound like porn, which isn’t what I’m talking about.

A few other variations I’ve come across:

All About Romance’s sensuality rating system — ranging from N/A to Burning.

Book Cave’s rating system — All Ages, Mild, Mild+, Moderate, Moderate+, Adult, and Adult+. (Interesting, but their system factors in alcohol, violence, profanity, and horror, as well as sexual content, and that’s well beyond the scope of what I care about)

Here’s a raunch rating scale I found on Reddit, which seems pretty practical.

I’m still unsure.

But… I’m thinking something along these lines:

Sweet: Kissing, cuddling, clothes on. Think Hallmark movie dating scene — cute, innocent, lightly flirty.

Suggestive: The flirtation becomes more physical — make-out scenes, caresses, breathlessness, mostly clothed action, driving each other crazy. Getting hot, but not seriously heavy.

Steamy: Bedroom scenes, but from a more zoomed out perspective. We know enough to know what’s going on — actions, positions, interactions, clothing removal — but no camera lens up close and personal.

Graphic: The aforementioned anatomy class / gynecologist’s office scenario. Everything is shown. Lots of fluids, lots of sounds, lots of swollen… well, everything.

What do you think? What am I missing? Would have a ratings scale for these type of scenes be helpful to you as a reader?

As I’ve said, I’m not a prude, I think sex is a good and positive thing when it’s between enthusiastically consenting people, and I believe strongly that people should read whatever appeals to them. I fervently oppose censorship! And I think “smutty” books and erotica are perfectly valid forms of expression, and I support people’s right to read whatever appeals to them.

And yet… I know my own tastes when it comes to what I do and do not want to read — and at this stage in my life, I’d rather know ahead of time that that cute-looking romance I was about to pick up is actually on the graphic end of the scale, thank you very much.

Do you have a scale you use or have come across to describe this kind of content? Do you see a value in it?

I’d love to hear other opinions on this!!

Shelf Control #323: One Perfect Summer by Brenda Novak

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

A scheduling note for Shelf Control: I have a short trip planned for next week, and rather than schedule a Shelf Control post in advance, I’m planning to go easy on myself and skip a week! So, for June 22nd, I will not have a Shelf Control post up on Bookshelf Fantasies, but if you’re participating in the meme, please add your link to this week’s post so I don’t miss it!

Title: One Perfect Summer
Author: Brenda Novak
Published: 2020
Length: 464 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak comes a novel about finding family in unexpected places and the lifelong bonds that don’t need a lifetime to forge

When Serenity Alston swabbed her cheek for 23andMe, she joked about uncovering some dark ancestral scandal. The last thing she expected was to discover two half sisters she didn’t know existed. Suddenly, everything about her loving family is drawn into question. And meeting these newfound sisters might be the only way to get answers.

Serenity has always found solace at her family’s Lake Tahoe cabin, so what better place for the three women to dig into the mystery that has shaken the foundation each of them was raised on? With Reagan navigating romantic politics at her New York City advertising firm, and Lorelei staring down the collapse of her marriage, all three women are converging at a crossroads in their lives. Before the summer is over, they’ll have to confront the paths they walked to get there and determine how to move forward when everything they previously thought to be true was a lie.

But any future is easier to face with family by your side.

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition about a year ago.

Why I want to read it:

I mean… summer!!

Check out that cover! Doesn’t that just make you want to curl your toes in the sand and kick back with a fruity, slushy drink and a good book?

I did a Top 5 Tuesday post this week about books that make me think of summer, and when this one popped up as I was browsing through my Kindle library, I had to stop and ask myself why I haven’t read it yet.

There’s no particular reason why not — just time and moods, I guess. I’ve never read anything by this author, but I know she’s incredibly popular. I don’t necessarily go for books that get tagged (dismissively, in my humble opinion) as “chick lit” — but something about this synopsis really calls to me. In fact, I think it may have originally caught my eye after I did a home DNA test. (Mine came back with unsurprisingly not-surprising results. Still, it was fun to think about “what if” — what if some deep dark family secret suddenly comes to light?)

The book’s description of finding sisters suddenly and getting to know them sounds intriguing — plus, gotta love that Lake Tahoe setting!

This doesn’t sound like a heavy or serious read… and with summer just around the corner, I’m thinking one of my upcoming trips to visit family might be the perfect time to finally dig into it.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!