Take A Peek Book Review: A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

In a powerful debut novel about motherhood, immigration, and identity, a pregnant Chinese woman makes her way to California and stakes a claim to the American dream.

Holed up with other moms-to-be in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles, Scarlett Chen is far from her native China, where she worked in a factory job and fell in love with the owner, Boss Yeung. Now she’s carrying his baby. Already married with three daughters, he’s overjoyed because the doctors confirmed he will finally have the son he has always wanted. To ensure that his son has every advantage, he has shipped Scarlett off to give birth on American soil. U.S. citizenship will open doors for their little prince.

As Scarlett awaits the baby’s arrival, she chokes down bitter medicinal stews and spars with her imperious housemates. The only one who fits in even less is Daisy, a spirited teenager and fellow unwed mother who is being kept apart from her American boyfriend.

Then a new sonogram of Scarlett’s baby reveals the unexpected. Panicked, she escapes by hijacking a van–only to discover that she has a stowaway: Daisy, who intends to track down the father of her child. They flee to San Francisco’s bustling Chinatown, where Scarlett will join countless immigrants desperately trying to seize their piece of the American dream. What Scarlett doesn’t know is that her baby’s father is not far behind her.

A River of Stars is an entertaining, wildly unpredictable adventure, told with empathy and wit. It’s a vivid examination of home and belonging, and a moving portrayal of a woman determined to build her own future.

My Thoughts:

A River of Stars was my book group’s pick this month, and I ended up listening to the audiobook. So, some pluses and minuses: The narrator was pretty good, doing (I’m assuming) a good job with the Chinese phrases, which gave the story a nice, rich feel as a “listened-to” book. While the initial set-up — an off-the-books maternity home for Chinese women of wealth, to ensure that their children would have the advantage of US citizenship — is interesting, the story really picks up once Scarlett and Daisy flee and have to fend for themselves, using their wits and friendship to survive on the run.

When Scarlett and Daisy finally arrive in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the heart of the story really develops. There, they rely on community bonds to make a home for themselves, deliver their babies, and figure out a way to start a life in America while cut off from family, financial stability, and legal status. Scarlett is determined, protective, and entrepreneurial, all traits that can be seen in memories of her earlier years, when she fled her peasant village to seek the opportunities of factory work in a city. Scarlett is inventive and daring, never accepting no for an answer when there’s a way she might better the lives of the people she considers family.

On the negative side, the ending is increasingly implausible (for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t go into why), and I did feel that the book spends too much time on chapters from Boss Yeung and others’ perspectives, rather than keeping a tighter focus on Scarlett and Daisy.

As a resident of San Francisco, I enjoyed the peek behind the scenes of life in Chinatown, with its rich community and traditions that casual visitors and tourists aren’t privy to. And as a reader who appreciates strong women as main characters, I was fascinated by Scarlett’s determination and ambition, and how these brought her from her poor village to her brand new life in America.

A River of Stars is an engrossing read about unusual characters, and I ended up really liking the story of their search for a good life for their babies. Well worth checking out!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: A River of Stars
Author: Vanessa Hua
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: August 14, 2018
Length: 289 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Expats. Kate Moore is back in a pulse-pounding thriller to discover that a massive terror attack across Paris is not what it seems – and that it involves her family

American expat Kate Moore drops her kids at the international school, makes her rounds of chores, and meets her husband Dexter at their regular café a leisurely start to a normal day, St-Germain-des-Pres.

Across the Seine, tech CEO Hunter Forsyth stands on his balcony, wondering why his police escort just departed, and frustrated that his cell service has cut out; Hunter has important calls to make, not all of them technically legal.

And on the nearby rue de Rivoli, Mahmoud Khalid climbs out of an electrician’s van and elbows his way into the crowded courtyard of the world’s largest museum. He sets down his metal briefcase, and removes his windbreaker.

That’s when people start to scream.

Everyone has big plans for the day. Dexter is going to make a small fortune, finally digging himself out of a deep financial hole, via an extremely risky investment. Hunter is going to make a huge fortune, with a major corporate acquisition that will send his company’s stock soaring. Kate has less ambitious plans: preparations for tonight’s dinner party–one of those homemaker obligations she still hasn’t embraced, even after a half-decade of this life–and an uneventful workday at the Paris Substation, the clandestine cadre of operatives that she’s been running, not entirely successfully, increasingly convinced that every day could be the last of her career. But every day is also a fresh chance to prove her own relevance, never more so than during today’s momentous events.

And Mahmoud? He is planning to die today. And he won’t be the only one.

The Paris Diversion is author Chris Pavone’s follow-up to his 2012 debut, The Expats. In The Expats, we meet Kate Moore, a former secret agent now living a life of domestic boredom as a wife and mother while her husband engages in some shady high finance dealings. The book is terrific and tense and surprising, so definitely check that one out!

Now years later, we re-meet Kate living in Paris, her boys a few years older, her husband mildly to incredibly annoying, and her career back in full-swing, running her own espionage bureau with only the loosest of ties to the US government.

The Paris Diversion takes place over one very dramatic day, as Kate and husband Dexter prepare for a dinner party — and a complicated plot revolving around terror threats and corporate sabotage unfolds in the city around them. As Kate plunges into action, unable to convince herself to stay on the sidelines, it becomes clear that Dexter’s hands may not be entirely clean. Meanwhile, we meet the various players in this international web of intrigue, some bit players, some criminal masterminds, and some merely pawns who find themselves useful or expendable in different ways.

The plot of The Paris Diversion is complicated, but not impenetrable, and hooked me right from the start. It’s interesting to get inside the mind of Kate Moore, a woman with pretty typical worries about aging and career and family, plus others hopefully less familiar to most women — do I have the right weapons? am I being followed? is my disguise in place? how many people will I have to kill today? The book starts off as a thriller about terrorism, but it quickly becomes clear that there’s much more going on than meets the eye, and the final puzzle pieces don’t click into place until the very last pages of the novel.

Do you need to read The Expats first? Not necessarily? I think The Paris Diversion would work perfectly well on its own — there’s enough backstory provided about the characters and their lives, so it shouldn’t be hard to for someone to fully enjoy The Paris Diversion on its own merits. Still, if you’re so inclined, I’d definitely recommend reading The Expats as a starting place. Kate is a fascinating character, so why not start with her first appearance?

I’ve read all three of Chris Pavone’s previous novels, and thought they were all excellent. I don’t tend to read a lot of spy thrillers, but these books absolutely work for me!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Paris Diversion
Author: Chris Pavone
Publisher: Crown
Publication date: May 7, 2019
Length: 374 pages
Genre: Spy thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Shelf Control #167: Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South by Beth Macy

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!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.png

Title: Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South
Author: Beth Macy
Published: 2016
Length: 420 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The true story of two African-American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a 28-year struggle to get them back.

The year was 1899 and the place a sweltering tobacco farm in the Jim Crow South town of Truevine, Virginia. George and Willie Muse were two little boys born to a sharecropper family. One day a white man offered them a piece of candy, setting off events that would take them around the world and change their lives forever.

Captured into the circus, the Muse brothers performed for royalty at Buckingham Palace and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. They were global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success was in the color of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even “Ambassadors from Mars.”

Back home, their mother never accepted that they were “gone” and spent 28 years trying to get them back. Through hundreds of interviews and decades of research, Beth Macy expertly explores a central and difficult question: Where were the brothers better off? On the world stage as stars or in poverty at home?

Truevine is a compelling narrative rich in historical detail and rife with implications to race relations today.

How and when I got it:

I found this on our book swap shelf at work last year!

Why I want to read it:

I read a few reviews of this book when it came out — all very, very positive. The subject matter sounds sad and fascinating, and I understand that the story is very well told. I’d been curious about the book already, so when I saw a (free) copy up for grabs… well, I grabbed it! I just don’t get around to reading a whole lot of non-fiction, but I do want to make time for this one.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

__________________________________

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!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books That I Refuse to Let Anyone Touch

tulips-65036_1280

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 That I Refuse to Let Anyone Touch. And yes, I definitely have some of these. My off-limits, NO YOU MAY NOT BORROW IT WHY DO YOU EVEN ASK books are all about the sentimental value. I’m not a book collector for the dollar value, and doubt that I have more than a handful of books that might actually be worth more than what I originally paid for them. The books that I guard and never, ever lend are ones that hold special meaning for me… and that I’d cry over if they ever got lost or damaged, or even *gasp* just a little dog-eared.

My top ten are:

1) Signed hardcover editions of The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell: The Sparrow is one of my all-time favorite books, and even though I had paperback copies, I jumped on these when I found them on EBay.

2) The thousand or so copies of Outlander books stacked up throughout my house: Call me crazy. I have hardcovers, anniversary editions, trade paperbacks, mass market paperbacks… multiple copies of every book in the Outlander series. And no, I don’t lend any of them.

3) Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill: I went to a book signing for Joe Hill’s first novel, back before he was quite as huge as he is now, and he was charming and all sorts of awesome. So I treasure this book. (It’s also scary AF.)

4) Graphic novels: I love all the graphic novels I’ve accumulated over the years, and since they’re all part of series, I don’t let any of them out of the house. Because I once did, and I ended up having to replace that volume when it got lost. (I’m still traumatized.)

5) Lamb by Christopher Moore: I have a very beat-up paperback edition of this book, but I really especially love my Bible-esque edition.

6) Everything Harry Potter: There are lots of sets of Harry Potter books in my house. Each of my kids has their own complete set, and I have mine — and mine are mine alone. I don’t share Harry Potter!

Wrapping up my list, it’s less about individual books and more about collections. I love these authors, and I love their books, and I keep my copies strictly to myself!

7) My Gail Carriger books (only some of which are pictured here):

8) My Patricia Briggs books (again, this isn’t all of them…)

9) Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant  — once again, my pictures don’t include all of my books by this author, but I do get to show off my gorgeous hardcovers from Subterranean Press.

And while I could go on, I’ll end with this one:

10) A really pretty illustrated edition of Pride and Prejudice, just because:

Do you lend your books? Do you have any that are off-limits? If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

The Monday Check-In ~ 5/20/2019

cooltext1850356879 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 ended up staying home three days this week due to a family medical situation (all is well, but I was just needed around the house) — so on the plus side, I ended up with more time for reading than usual!

What did I read during the last week?

Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs: The newest Mercy book! Loved it, of course. My review is here.

Red, White & Royal Blue: A totally adorable love story! Really a delightful read. My review is here.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren: Light & fluffy romance. My review is here.

And a novella too! I read (and loved) The Undefeated by Una McCormack. My review is here.

Pop culture:

I did a lot of thinking about TV this week, I guess, since I posted not one but two TV-related pieces:

  • Thoughts on the most recent season of Survivor
  • And a round-up of a few other shows

Fresh Catch:

After my somewhat insane splurging last week, I made it through a week with no book purchases at all. Yay, me!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Westside by W. M. Akers: Just getting started, but I like it already!

Now playing via audiobook:

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua: My book group’s pick for May. Getting close to the end — which is good, since our discussion starts this week.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads at the moment:

  • A Fugitive Green by Diana Gabaldon, from the Seven Stones To Stand or Fall collection: We’re just starting this (long) short story (novella?) this week. I’ve read it once before, but it’s a good one! Looking forward to sharing it with the group
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — our current classic selection. I’m all caught up, which is good — it’s my turn to write chapter summaries this week.

Pop culture footnote:

I’m writing this on Sunday, counting the hours until the Game of Thrones finale. My anxiety levels are creeping higher and higher. I hope the ending isn’t a major letdown.

So many books, so little time…

 

boy1

TV Time: What’s Lisa watching? Further random thoughts from my couch.

Check it out — my 2nd TV-related post in two days!

I wouldn’t say I’ve been watching more TV than usual lately, but I thought I’d mention a few shows that were highlights for me this past week:

The Big Bang Theory. Is it too obvious to say that this show when out with a bang? After 12 seasons, the series finale of The Big Bang Theory aired this past week. I’ve had my moments of absolutely loving this show, although I think the last few seasons have been kind of spotty and the jokes a little too predictable. Still, twelve seasons with characters we care about is a pretty big accomplishment. For the most part, I was happy with the finale. (Spoilers ahoy!)

  • Sheldon and Amy won a Nobel prize!
  • Raj got to go the award ceremony with Sarah Michelle Gellar — not too shabby for a guy who didn’t used to be able to speak in front of women.
  • We finally got to see the Wolowitz children. (Adorable, of course).

Okay, but here’s where I get a little stuck: Penny is pregnant. After making very clear that she had no desire to have children, ever, and Leonard asserting that he accepted her choice, the show left Penny with a surprise, unplanned pregnancy, and she and Leonard seem perfectly happy about it. What happened? Why did the show feel the need to tack this on at the very end? If Penny had been ambivalent, or had said she didn’t want kids YET, it might feel more okay. But no, suddenly she’s totally into it, with no on-screen discussion whatsoever.

Look, I get that these are fictional characters on a sit-com and that the series finale is not the place for a serious conversation. But then why include it at all? It’s as if the show is saying that a marriage can’t be truly happy without children, that a couple needs a baby to be complete. And I think this sucks. Why not respect Penny’s very clear choice? Or at the very least, deal with it earlier in the season so Penny and Leonard could talk about it in a meaningful way? Choosing to be childless is a valid choice, and the show should have respected it, rather than forcing Penny and Leonard — a couple who don’t follow the usual path in their marriage — into a happily-ever-after formula that doesn’t suit them. Grrr.

Dead To Me. Who else is watching/has watched Dead To Me on Netflix? I just binged it this weekend, and loved it. With a terrific cast and a pretty dark sense of humor, the show zips through 10 30-minute episodes. Never boring, often deeply emotional, with plots twists and craziness and ridiculous situations galor, Dead To Me is hard to describe without giving away key plot elements. Let’s just say: It’s the story of a recently widowed mother of two who befriends a somewhat kooky woman through a grief support group, but really nothing is as simple as it seems. There’s a powerhouse ending — I want more!

Check out the trailer:

Awesome, right?

Santa Clarita Diet: Oh, I’m so sad to have come to the end of this zombies-in-suburbia series! What a pity that Netflix has chosen not to renew it for a 4th season. Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant are spot-on hilarious as realtors Sheila and Joel, who sell houses, raise their daughter, and find bad guys for Sheila to kill and eat in order to quench her cravings for flesh. Sheila is undead, you see, and that’s kind of hard on a marriage. This show is amazing, really — crazy developments, terrific cast and guest stars, and buckets and buckets of blood (which means that if you’re at all squeamish, you probably shouldn’t watch).

The show ended with a cliffhanger, which makes it all the more awful that there won’t be more. C’mon, Netflix, give it another chance!

Game of Thrones: For anyone talking about TV today, this is the elephant (dragon?) in the room. But I’m just not going to get into it right now. There are thousands and thousands of opinion pieces out there related to the season so far — no one needs mine on top of that! As I write this, we’re about 4.5 hours away from the series finale, and I can barely breathe through all my anxiety over the ending. Will I be satisfied? Will the show do the remaining characters justice? AAAAAAGH. So hard to wait.

♦♦♦♦♦

Are you watching any of these? Please share your thoughts!

Save

Novella Review: The Undefeated by Una McCormack

 

She was a warrior of words.

As a journalist she exposed corruption across the Interstellar Commonwealth, shifting public opinion and destroying careers in the process.

Long-since retired, she travels back to the planet of her childhood, partly through a sense of nostalgia, partly to avoid running from humanity’s newest–and self-created–enemy, the jenjer.

Because the enemy is coming, and nothing can stand in its way.

What a cool story!

This brief sci-fi tale follows writer Monica Greatorex, a worlds-famous journalist who’s spent her life on the front-lines of inter-planetary battles for conquest, as the Commonwealth expanded and expanded to take over and absorb the planets on the periphery.

Now in her 60s, Monica heads back to her home planet of Sienna, going against the tide of desperate humans fleeing the outer planets for the supposed safety of the Commonwealth core. Monica is accompanied by her companion Gale — a jenjer, a genetically engineered human whose people were originally created as an indentured servant class.

And now, the jenjer are ready to rise up, and it’s becoming clear that nothing can stand in their way.

In The Undefeated, Monica’s trip to Sienna brings up memories of her childhood, and in particular, a key occurrence that led to her family’s flight from their home to the structured, wealthy, bland life of the Commonwealth. Her reminiscences about her youth and everything that came after are fascinating, and are key to understanding the fear and inevitability of the story’s main sequences.

This is a short piece, but really captivating, with excellent world building and character development. Highly recommended!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Undefeated
Author: Una McCormack
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: May 14, 2019
Length: 112 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

TV Time: What’s Lisa watching? Thoughts on a disappointing season of Survivor.

Oh, Survivor. What did you do to my show this season?

I can’t call myself a superfan. There were bunches of seasons that I just didn’t watch. But I’ve been back in for the last 8 – 10 seasons, and it’s been a blast. There’s just something about Survivor. The personalities, the scheming, the strategizing, the challenges — it’s a suprisingly entertaining little social experiment, with stakes of $1 million dollars each time a batch of new players hits the beach.

The 38th season of Survivor wrapped up this past week, and geez — what a letdown. In some ways, the season was doomed from the start due to a weird and dull-but-infuriating theme. Here are some thoughts on the highs and lows, and where I think the season really went wrong.

The full cast competes on SURVIVOR: Edge of Extinction when the Emmy Award-winning series returns for its 38th season, Wednesday, Feb. 20 (8:00-9:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

New and returning players. This season, we had 14 new players and 4 returning players. Why, Survivor, why? The four returnees are all relatively recent players, all very popular with fans despite never winning the game. And I mean, it’s nice to see them again — but who decided it would be a good idea to mix new and returning this way? The new players, while some quite starstruck, nevertheless pretty immediately banded together to decide to get rid of the returnees. They were seen as big threats, and the general feeling seemed to be, “they had their shot already — this is OUR time.” Two returnees were placed on each of the two tribes, making them outnumbered from the start, and despite some good alliance-building, they never really seemed to have a shot at making it to the end.

I like seeing returning players (well, some of them, at any rate), but not in such a weird ratio to new. I’d much rather watch an all-returnees season, or a fans vs favorite set-up, where at the least the numbers are even going into the game. I couldn’t really figure out the rationale here, and it ended up seeming like a waste of good, exciting players to put them in this no-win situation.

The returning players

Edge of Extinction was a disaster. The concept here is a new one for Survivor. Instead of being out of the game once voted out, as expected, each player who’s voted out has a choice: Go home (to Ponderosa) and kick back until the game is over, or grab a torch and get in the boat to the Edge of Extinction. All of the players voted out chose the torch, naturally, and then they just sat around on a bare island, waiting… and waiting… and waiting. The voted-out players had a chance to compete to get back in the game mid-way through, and then again toward the end, when only a handful of players remain. And lo and behold, the guy who ended up winning the game spent 28 out of 39 days on the Edge of Extinction. So how did he win the game, and was it fair?

In my view, no, it wasn’t fair. Chris, the winner, was the 3rd person voted out of the game. He then had all those weeks to hang out with all of the other voted-out players, all of whom ended up being the Survivor jury. So he had a chance to make friends, resolve any hurt feelings, not compete, and basically just lay low, meanwhile scooping up all sorts of intel that ended up giving him an edge when he did win his way back in.

No disrespect to Chris — he’s not the one who created the concept. But it does seem like a bizarre twist, and one that gives an edge to someone who actually played much less than the other remaining contestants. And by playing less, he didn’t piss people off, have to compete, deal with alliances or betrayals, or any of the other key elements of game play. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

The final three

On top of the fairness question, Edge of Extinction had a strangely diluting impact on the TV show itself. Most episodes featured some amount of check-in time with the voted-off players, who really weren’t doing anything of note, which ended up taking time away from the action amongst the players who were actually still in the game. At first, the twist seemed kind of cool… but once it became clear that there was nothing actually happening at Edge of Extinction, it became more and more clear that something was off about the entire concept.

They need to fix the final four elimination. A couple of seasons ago, the Survivor powers-that-be added a fire-making competition to determine the final three. At the very last immunity challenge, when there are four players left, the winner automatically goes to final three. He/she then gets to pick who also goes to final three, and the remaining two have to compete to make fire, with the winner getting the 3rd spot in the finals.

The problem is, it’s a dumb way to figure out the finalists. In seasons where there’s someone who’s a clear favorite to win, unless that person wins that last immunity challenge, there’s no way anyone (with an eye on winning a million dollars) will bring that person to the end. And fire-making is a crapshoot. Someone could be a great fire maker, but just have an off day or maybe the wind is blowing wrong. It’s just so disappointing to see someone play a truly great game and get knocked out right before the end.

That’s what happened here. Chris, returned from Edge of Extinction, won the final immunity. The other three contestants included Rick Devens, the clear favorite to win, and two others, Gavin and Julie, who made almost no impression on me with their gameplay. Chris made the risky decision to give his immunity to Gavin and go up against Rick in the fire-making, knowing that (a) if he won, it would be a big move for his Survivor resume and increase his odds of winning the ultimate prize, and (b) if he lost, well, he would have lost to Rick in the final anyway, so why not chance it?

The player most likely to win… until he got knocked out in the fire-making competition.

Chris made a smart move — but I still hate it. At four, it feels like too much power in the hands of the person who won the last immunity challenge. And if that particular challenge happens to be one that the best overall player isn’t suited to, they’re pretty much guaranteed to be eliminated. Look what happened to Malcolm the first time he played — if he’d made it past that last challenge, he’d have won the game.

My suggestions? Try a different approach. Maybe make the remaining three battle it out three ways, with the top two finishers moving to the finals. Or maybe allow hidden immunity idols to still be played at final four, offering one more reward to a person who hustled to find it. I just can’t stand seeing finals where the strongest player has been pushed out, so we end up with lackluster players who made it to the end because no one saw them as dangerous enough to vote out.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

Will I keep watching Survivor? You betcha. But I hope the show runners take steps to fix some of the problems from this season.

For anyone who watched, what did you think of this season? Did you think the right person won? Hit me up in the comments!

Take A Peek Book Review: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Olive is always unlucky: in her career, in love, in…well, everything. Her identical twin sister Ami, on the other hand, is probably the luckiest person in the world. Her meet-cute with her fiancé is something out of a romantic comedy (gag) and she’s managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a series of Internet contests (double gag). Worst of all, she’s forcing Olive to spend the day with her sworn enemy, Ethan, who just happens to be the best man.

Olive braces herself to get through 24 hours of wedding hell before she can return to her comfortable, unlucky life. But when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning from eating bad shellfish, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. And now there’s an all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs.

Putting their mutual hatred aside for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs. But when Olive runs into her future boss, the little white lie she tells him is suddenly at risk to become a whole lot bigger. She and Ethan now have to pretend to be loving newlyweds, and her luck seems worse than ever. But the weird thing is that she doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she feels kind of… lucky.

My Thoughts:

Over the past year, I’ve become a fan of the writer duo known as Christina Lauren. Their books tend to be light and breezy, with lots of sass and romance, and The Unhoneymooners fits the mold. Olive ends up on an all-inclusive 10-day luxury vacation in Maui after the disaster of her sister’s wedding reception, and figures she’ll just grit her teeth and put up with Ethan’s company if that’s what it takes to enjoy some gorgeous beaches in paradise. Naturally, she and Ethan begin clicking in all sorts of ways, and before long they discover that their mutual dislike is founded on misunderstandings, missed cues, and some deliberate misdirection from an unlikely source.

Olive and Ethan are, naturally, totally adorable together, and their island escapades are silly and sexy. My quibbles with this book are around the unlikeliness and sheer ridiculousness of some of the set-ups for the plot. Ami’s obsession with freebies is, well, odd, and the fact that no one blinked twice about going along with her schemes is a little worrying. I found it really unlikely that Olive’s new boss — from back home in Minnesota — would show up at the exact same Maui resort as she did, and I just didn’t think her reasons for deception were all that convincing. (I’m also not convinced that his later decision to fire her for dishonesty based on something that happened in a casual setting prior to employment would really hold up, but hey, that’s me allowing my day job to creep into my book enjoyment!).

My main quibble with The Unhoneymooners, and with Christina Lauren books in general, is the tendency to create female characters with awesome professions and then never see them actually doing much in a work setting. Olive never makes it farther than the HR office in this book, and while we learn that she’s a virologist with a Ph.D., we mainly just see her awkward, ditzy self. Even when contemplating work and career, it’s not particularly serious or the topic of much discussion beyond a brief mention or two. Okay, yeah, this is a romance, so career is SO not the point, but still — I’d prefer to see these accomplished women doing what they’re great at!

That aside, the authors are great at building a mood, playing up passion and romance, and not being afraid to inject humor into any setting. In fact, humor and snark are really cornerstones of Olive and Ethan’s relationship here. and that’s part of what makes them so cute together. I also loved Olive’s big, over-involved, supportive family… and how could I not enjoy the hell out of a book that includes a passage like this one:

I stare up at him, hating the tiny fluttering that gets going in my chest because he knows the Harry Potter reference.  I knew he was a book lover, but to be the same kind of book lover I am? It makes my insides melt.

Sigh. Now THAT’s romantic.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Unhoneymooers
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: May 14, 2019
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

Swoon.

Swoony swoon swoon.

For whatever reason, probably based on the cover, I thought this was going to be a sweet, light YA romance. But considering that the main characters are in their 20s, two healthy, lusty, consenting adults, I’m not sure how to categorize this. Is this what’s meant by new adult? Can we just agree that this is fiction featuring young-ish grown-ups, and forget about putting it on the correct shelf?

Red, White & Royal Blue is a delicious mix of sexy romance, hearts-and-flowers-worthy first love, politics, scandals, and plenty of hot and heavy action between two very attractive 20-ish young men. Who are, you know, royalty and the American version thereof.

Alex is the son of the first woman president, now up for reelection. He’s a smart-aleck who acts out plenty, but at heart he’s a policy geek who dreams of a career in politics for himself, following in the footsteps of his mother and his Congressman father. Henry is the second son of the heir to the British throne, the younger brother who’s handsome and pampered and kept very isolated from authentic experiences and relationships. The two have collided repeatedly over the years and are, at best, frenemies (without the friendship part), but after a public spectacle involved smooshed royal wedding cake, Alex and Henry are thrown together in a public relations ploy to defuse the media focus on their supposed fight.

As they start spending time together, Alex and Henry develop a strange connection via late night phone calls and texts, discovering unexpected shared life experiences and connecting through the strange reality of living life in a fishbowl, always under the scrutiny of the press and the public. When their fake friendship develops into true friendship, Alex finally realizes (after a surprise New Year’s kiss) that his friendly feelings for Henry run deeper than expected, and also, he finally understands that he’s bi and just never actually faced it.

Things blossom pretty quickly between Alex and Henry, and their encounters are hot and steamy and full of passion. But there’s also a lot of hiding and creating false narratives to throw their families and the public off their trail, and it’s exhausting. In this day and age, you wouldn’t expect coming out to be such a big deal, but Alex and Henry are not at all people in normal circumstances. The tabloids are already obsessed with their every move. What would happen to US/British relations if the truth was revealed? What would it mean for the President’s chances at reelection? What what it mean for the British monarchy to have an heir to the throne (third in line, in fact) publicly acknowledge that he’s gay?

Red, White & Royal Blue handles the issues with humor, political savvy, and a surprising depth of feeling. It’s hard not to feel sorry for both Alex and Henry. Each faces different sorts of pressure, and while either on their own coming out might be news for a bit, putting the two of them together can only lead to an explosion of scandal. Alex and Henry are adorable together, and their romance is lovely and funny and passionate in all the best ways. At the same time, it’s amusing to see the scurrying of secret service and campaign managers who need to keep the two in line, and how simple things like dating require NDAs and removals of cell phones just to get off the ground.

The politics is really entertaining too. First off, yes, it’s just as awesome as you’d think to have a story about a woman in the White House. I loved the President’s relationship with her kids, how no-nonsense she is, and yet how she comes through when she needs to. Seeing the royal family in action is a whole other set of fun, especially as the younger generation confronts the Queen about what they want out of life and what they’re willing to do to get it.

I was a little doubtful at the beginning, but pretty quickly, I was swept up in the giddy fun and the super-cute romance of the story. There are definitely lots of pretty steamy, detailed sex scenes, so ya know, if you prefer your fictional romances to be more flowery and less sweaty, you might think twice about picking up this book. But otherwise, prepare to swoon! Red, White & Royal Blue is escapist romantic fiction that hits lots of high points, starring very public figures without losing out on the personal, emotional connections that make a good love story.

And a final word — Red, White & Royal Blue would be adorable as a movie! Netflix, are you listening?
_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Red, White & Royal Blue
Author: Casey McQuiston
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: May 14, 2019
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley