Book Review: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: The Beautiful Ones
Author: Silva Moreno-Garcia
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: April 27, 2021
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a sweeping romance with a dash of magic.

They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun, and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis—neighbors call her the Witch of Oldhouse—and the haphazard manifestations of her powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.

When entertainer Hector Auvray arrives to town, Nina is dazzled. A telekinetic like her, he has traveled the world performing his talents for admiring audiences. He sees Nina not as a witch, but ripe with potential to master her power under his tutelage. With Hector’s help, Nina’s talent blossoms, as does her love for him.

But great romances are for fairytales, and Hector is hiding a truth from Nina—and himself—that threatens to end their courtship before it truly begins. The Beautiful Ones is a charming tale of love and betrayal, and the struggle between conformity and passion, set in a world where scandal is a razor-sharp weapon.

A book doesn’t have to be long to be a completely immersive reading experience. Case in point: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia — a 320-page novel that left me feeling utterly transported.

The Beautiful Ones was originally published in 2017, but is being reissued this month via Tor Books, with a gorgeous new cover. I hope this book gets tons of attention — it’s definitely one of my top reads of the year.

From the very first page, we’re swept up in a love story that feels desperate, epic, and heart-pounding all at once.

Ten years earlier, a pair of nineteen-year-olds, Hector and Valerie, fell madly in love. But their relationship was unsanctioned and seemingly faced impossible hurdles. Hector was a young, poor performer, but Valerie was one of the “Beautiful Ones” — a descendent of an old-money upper class society family. Valerie’s family, however, having lost its fortune, was relying on Valerie marrying wealth in order to redeem them from impending disaster. Hector and Valerie pledged to marry and became secretly engaged, and then he left to seek his fortune — only to receive a letter from Valerie several months later, letting him know she’d married someone else.

The world of The Beautiful Ones is familiar in many ways, yet with its own oddities. It has a Victorian feel to it, with a huge emphasis on manners, class distinctions, reputation, and social connections. At the same time, this is a world where people may have rare talents, such as Hector’s telekinesis — which elevates him to heights of fame and admiration, but which in a woman is considered somewhat gauche, a bit of a magic trick that polite women don’t display in public.

“Nina, if you want to play these games in the privacy of your room, I will not chide you, but in the presence of others, you should restrain yourself…

“It is not normal. It is a performance at a fair, like the freaks they display for a few coins…

“I don’t mean you. I mean, in general, these are carnival games, these are things unfit for ladies.”

The story is centered in the city of Losail, considered the epicenter of fashion and society. There’s a continent called Iblevald where Hector spends ten years exploring and performing, which sounds tropical and dangerous, with cities as well as undeveloped areas. Losail sounds like it could be in France (certainly, many of the names are French or French-inspired), but this is really a world that’s not ours, so the comparisons only go so far.

As the story begins, Hector returns from his ten years abroad, now a wealthy and famous man, appearing in performances in Losail to great fanfare. Why Losail? Because that’s where he’s heard that Valerie and her husband live, and after all these years, he’s still obsessed. He knows she’s married, but he can’t help himself — he has to see her, be near her once again.

As he attends his first social engagement, he’s crushingly disappointed to learn that Valerie is not present, but instead ends up meeting Antonina — who prefers to be called Nina — Valerie’s husband’s young cousin who is staying with the couple as she enters her first social season. Nina is sweet, impulsive, not held back by manners, and very, very curious. She also has talents of her own — telekinetic powers that come out when she’s particularly emotional, usually without her control, which have earned her scorn and a nickname (the Witch of Oldhouse) back in her country village.

Nina is starstruck and full of admiration for Hector, but he sees her as a means to an end — getting close to Valerie again. As Hector starts to court Nina, he’s clearly using her, but even as his obsession with Valerie continues, Nina’s essential goodness begins to impress him in unexpected ways.

But then Nina smiled. It was like looking down and finding the first green sprouts rising from the frozen, black earth. Almost invisible and yet there, heralding spring.

I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll stick to major themes instead of plot points from here on out. The Beautiful Ones has the breathless feel of a romantic tragedy, but there are also moments of joy and sweetness and emotional connection. The obsession that at first had me thinking of Wuthering Heights turns into something else, and I loved both Nina and Hector’s emotional journeys over the course of the book.

The book includes chapters from different points of view, and it’s fascinating and illuminating to be inside Nina, Hector, and Valerie’s heads. Each are very, very different, and the intentions (and manipulations) that become apparent can be moving or shocking, depending on whose POV we’re focused on in any given moment.

I was thoroughly spellbound as I read this book, and found it hard to focus on anything else in my life until I could sit back down and keep reading. There’s so much drama and tension, and it all builds to an unforgettable set of confrontations and consequences.

Nina herself is a fabulous character, with hidden depths, a core of steel, an undeniable curiosity and intelligence, and a heart that wants nothing more than to love and be loved. She makes this book so enjoyable, and you can’t help rooting for her happiness at every turn.

I love the elegance and the urgency of The Beautiful Ones. There’s a tense, dramatic mood created right from the start, and I couldn’t help fall under the spell of the beautiful writing and the magical atmosphere that builds from page to page.

The Beautiful Ones is a must-read! Don’t miss it.

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Buy The Beautiful Ones at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Shelf Control #265: Slayer by Kiersten White

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!

Title: Slayer
Author: Kiersten White
Published: 2019
Length: 404 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.

How and when I got it:

I picked up a Kindle version of this book during a one-day price drop, sometime last year.

Why I want to read it:

BUFFY!

Yes, I’m a Buffy fan. I miss the show, and I’m probably long overdue for (another) re-watch binge. I remember seeing the buzz about Slayer when it came out in 2019, and I was impressed by how many positive reviews I read at the time.

While the show ended way back in 2003, Buffy’s story lives on! I kept up with the comic seasons that followed (although I realize that I never did read the final one). These characters have a life of their own, and I’m always open to revisiting their world. While Slayer is apparently about a new main character and a very changed version of Buffy’s world, it sounds like there’s enough of a connection to pull me in and make me happy.

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!

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Buy now at Amazon or Audible.

Top Ten Tuesday: Colorful Book Covers

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 Colorful Book Covers. I misread the topic, so I had a completely different list ready to go… but I guess I’ll save that one for another time! I went back to my shelves and looked through all the covers there, and came up with this collection of colorful book covers:

  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
  2. Icons by Monica Ahanonu & Micaela Heekin
  3. Jane Was Here by Nicole Jacobsen
  4. The Roommate by Rosie Danan
  5. Outlawed by Anna North
  6. Mythos by Stephen Fry
  7. The Peacock Emporium by Jojo Moyes
  8. The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
  9. A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey
  10. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

What colorful book covers did you feature this week?

Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

The Monday Check-In ~ 4/19/2021

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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.

We had family visiting from the East Coast this week, which was oodles of fun. Beyond that, just the usual working, reading, and going for walks!

What did I read during the last week?

It’s been a romance-heavy reading week for me! Sometimes, a sweet escape is just what I need.

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne: Very sweet! My review is here.

Maggie Finds Her Muse by Dee Ernst: A 48-year-old author seeking love and inspiration in Paris. Lovely! My review is here.

The Roommate by Rosie Danan: Explicit yet surprisingly engaging. My review is here.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: I finished the audiobook, narrated by the awesome Stephen Fry. Just as silly and adorable as I remembered!

The Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian: An unusual subject and time period for this terrific author, but it ended up being a really interesting read. My review is here.

Pop culture & TV:

My daughter turned me on to Staged on Hulu. I’ve only watched a few episodes, but it’s delightful.

Fresh Catch:

I received two giveaway books this week! Plus, I treated myself to a used copy of yet another Georgette Heyer book.

Puzzle of the week:

I didn’t get to any new puzzles this week… but I did decide to torment myself with a Very Important Puzzling Question. Weigh in here, please.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Just getting started! But I like it so far.

Now playing via audiobook:

I’ve been alternating between two very different audiobooks:

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams: Onward with the 2nd Hitchhiker’s Guide book! This one is narrated by Martin Freeman, and it’s just as fun as you’d expect.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim: I started this in print, but wasn’t in the right mood and had a hard time concentrating. I’m hoping I’ll have better luck with the audiobook, especially since this is my book group’s pick for April and the discussion is coming up this week!

Ongoing reads:
  • My book group’s classic read is part 2 of Don Quixote. Continuing onward, 3 chapters per week. Current status: 88%.
  • Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart: Gotta be honest, I haven’t touched this book in a few weeks now. But it’s still on my nightstand, so I’m still considering it an ongoing read!
  • On hold: Over at Outlander Book Club, we started our group re-read of Dragonfly in Amber a couple of weeks ago… but we’re putting it on hold now that a release date for the 9th Outlander book has been announced. To prepare for #9, we’ll be starting a re-read of #8 in early May. Stay tuned for details!

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: The Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

Title: The Hour of the Witch
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Publication date: April 20, 2021
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A young Puritan woman–faithful, resourceful, but afraid of the demons that dog her soul–plots her escape from a violent marriage in this riveting and propulsive historical thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant.

Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But here in the New World, amid this community of saints, Mary is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary’s hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life. But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary–a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony–soon finds herself the object of suspicion and rumor. When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary’s garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows. A twisting, tightly plotted thriller from one of our greatest storytellers, Hour of the Witch is a timely and terrifying novel of socially sanctioned brutality and the original American witch hunt.

I have read quite a few books by Chris Bohjalian by now, and without fail, they’re always interesting, unusual, and thought-provoking. And while most of the books I’ve read by him have been contemporary fiction, I’ve also read two terrific historical novels (The Sandcastle Girls and The Light in the Ruins), both of which shed light on important and disturbing historical periods and show these periods through the eyes of ordinary people.

In The Hour of the Witch, the author goes several centuries into the past to bring us a story set in the Puritan settlement of Boston in the 1600s. If you’ve read stories of the early Colonial days, then the moral code and rhythm of the community’s life may feel familiar.

Mary Deerfield, at age 24, is married to a truly awful man, Thomas Deerfield, a miller. Thomas often comes home “drink-drunk” and berates her, intimidates her, and beats her. His violence escalates over time, as does his verbal cruelty — but apparently no one sees his abhorrent behavior but Mary. Their servant girl Catherine appears to be enamored of Thomas, and Mary feels such shame about her marriage that she hides her bruises and keeps the violence a deep, dark secret.

On top of the misery of this abusive behavior, Mary has not conceived, despite five years of marriage. Her “barren” state subjects her to even more abuse from Thomas, not to mention public scorn and mistrust. If she’s barren, it must be God’s will — and could that be because she’s in league with the Devil?

“Women who are barren often act strangely. It would be like an owl that couldn’t fly: it would be antithetical to our Lord’s purpose, and the animal would, by necessity, go mad.”

Mary’s troubles grow further when she innocently accepts a gift from her father, a successful importer — a set of silver forks. But in the Puritan view, these are “the Devil’s tines”, since a three-pronged implement resembles a pitchfork, and those who use the Devil’s tines must therefore be suspect of inviting in evil.

When Mary finds a pair of forks buried in her garden, she suspects that someone is trying to curse her, and when Catherine observes her in the garden with the forks, Catherine immediately suspects that Mary herself is in league with the Devil.

Thomas’s violence eventually causes severe injury and Mary flees to her parents, taking the unprecedented and dangerous step of petitioning the elders for divorce. In the book’s two sections, we see two different trials, each giving us a horrifying view of what passes for justice at that time. The magistrates follow their own set of rules, accept as evidence hearsay and superstitious signs, and have no respect for women — especially not a barren woman like Mary, who, by their logic, must be guilty of something bad in order to be deemed unworthy of bearing children.

If it sounds like a no-win situation for Mary, as well as any woman who’s unusual and perhaps not quite meek enough, that’s because it is. You can see where Mary’s situation is headed, even when she doesn’t quite believe it, and we readers know early on that Mary’s legal case as well as her domestic situation will go from bad to worse.

The Hour of the Witch presents a fascinating view of Puritan life, although it doesn’t exactly feel new or different to me. I’ve read enough history books and articles about the period to have a pretty decent sense of what a woman’s life would have been like at the time, and the notion of an outspoken woman being accused of witchcraft isn’t exactly startling.

The Puritan phrasing makes the dialogue feel slow and heavy throughout the book, with characters exclaiming such things as “Thou canst not believe that!” and “Do what thou likest” and “I thank thee”. Maybe that’s supposed to be authentic speech, but it feels awkward, especially when a character later in the book says “I feel bad that she has been dragged into this”, which could be something said in a 21st century heart-to-heart.

I did really like Mary as a character, although she makes some unwise choices along the way — but for the most part, these just illustrate how very little control a woman of the time would have had over her own life, and how even the slightest step out of line could lead to life-threatening consequences.

The Hour of the Witch feels a little simple in comparison to some of the more twisty-turvy plots I’ve read by this author, but I still enjoyed reading it. Despite the sometimes slow pace, I was invested in the outcome and had to know Mary’s fate.

If you’re interested in this era in US history, then I’d definitely recommend checking out The Hour of the Witch!

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Buy The Hour of the Witch at Amazon

Help! Have I been doing jigsaw puzzles wrong all this time?

Just a small selection of my 2020-2021 puzzle collection…

By rough estimates, I have done about eleventy-billion jigsaw puzzles since the pandemic started.

I know, right?

But a random comment during a family dinner last night has me freaking out… because maybe my super-awesome puzzling skills aren’t actually all that impressive after all!

As we were chatting about puzzles — like people do — someone commented that once they take the pieces out of the box, they put the box away. And I was like… what??? But how do you know what it’s supposed to look like?

And they told me that they look at the picture before they start, but that’s it.

AND THAT’S HOW REAL PUZZLE PEOPLE DO THEIR PUZZLES.

Which basically implies…

I’ve been cheating all along!?!?!?!?!?!

It has never once occurred to me NOT to keep the puzzle box cover handy as a reference while working on a puzzle. Am I not supposed to? Are we supposed to just do our puzzles blind?

I’m shocked and dismayed and doubting my super puzzling abilities.

What do you think?

Has all my puzzling been in vain?

Photo by Sharon Snider on Pexels.com

I won’t be able to sleep nights until I get some answers! Please share your thoughts!

Outlander joy: Book #9 has a release date!

That wave of salty water lapping at your toes? It’s the happy tears of millions of Outlander fans, knowing that their long wait is finally coming to an end!

The 8th book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Written In My Own Heart’s Blood, was released in 2014. And it’s been a long, long, loooooooong seven years since then.

A few weeks ago, Herself shared on Facebook that she’d finished writing #9:

And now… ta da!… it’s official:

Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone will be released November 23, 2021.

Yes, that’s this year! Seven months from now! Two days before Thanksgiving! (Apologies in advance for ignoring my family all the long weekend while I’m reading.)

Here’s the announcement via Entertainment Weekly: https://ew.com/books/outlander-go-tell-the-bees-that-i-am-gone-release-date-cover-reveal/?fbclid=IwAR1aINP6YpyC347cmumRv2WBu4zwD95EMyN0CBpZn4oU-U2a_eI-Y22Aoi8

According to the Amazon preorder page (here), the book will be 832 pages.

And for those who want to know, here’s the official synopsis:

The author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Outlander series returns with the newest novel in the epic tale.
 
The past may seem the safest place to be . . . but it is the most dangerous time to be alive. . . .

Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall were torn apart by the Jacobite Rising in 1743, and it took them twenty years to find each other again. Now the American Revolution threatens to do the same.
 
It is 1779 and Claire and Jamie are at last reunited with their daughter, Brianna, her husband, Roger, and their children on Fraser’s Ridge. Having the family together is a dream the Frasers had thought impossible.
 
Yet even in the North Carolina backcountry, the effects of war are being felt. Tensions in the Colonies are great and local feelings run hot enough to boil Hell’s tea-kettle. Jamie knows loyalties among his tenants are split and it won’t be long until the war is on his doorstep.
 
Brianna and Roger have their own worry: that the dangers that provoked their escape from the twentieth century might catch up to them. Sometimes they question whether risking the perils of the 1700s—among them disease, starvation, and an impending war—was indeed the safer choice for their family.
 
Not so far away, young William Ransom is still coming to terms with the discovery of his true father’s identity—and thus his own—and Lord John Grey has reconciliations to make, and dangers to meet . . . on his son’s behalf, and his own.
 
Meanwhile, the Revolutionary War creeps ever closer to Fraser’s Ridge. And with the family finally together, Jamie and Claire have more at stake than ever before.

Are people excited? Well… the release was announced two days ago, and here are the sales stats from Amazon:

As for me, I’ve placed my preorder, I’m smiling insanely at random moments, and I’m gearing up for a MOBY (Written In My Own Heart’s Blood) re-read.

Yet another reason to feel like 2021 is really looking up!

Yes, Jamie, our next book is coming soon!

Book Review: The Roommate by Rosie Danan

Title: The Roommate
Author: Rosie Danan
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: September 15, 2020
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

House Rules:
Do your own dishes.
Knock before entering the bathroom.
Never look up your roommate online.

The Wheatons are infamous among the east coast elite for their lack of impulse control, except for their daughter Clara. She’s the consummate socialite: over-achieving, well-mannered, predictable. But every Wheaton has their weakness. When Clara’s childhood crush invites her to move cross-country, the offer is too much to resist. Unfortunately, it’s also too good to be true.

After a bait-and-switch, Clara finds herself sharing a lease with a charming stranger. Josh might be a bit too perceptive—not to mention handsome—for comfort, but there’s a good chance he and Clara could have survived sharing a summer sublet if she hadn’t looked him up on the Internet…

Once she learns how Josh has made a name for himself, Clara realizes living with him might make her the Wheaton’s most scandalous story yet. His professional prowess inspires her to take tackling the stigma against female desire into her own hands. They may not agree on much, but Josh and Clara both believe women deserve better sex. What they decide to do about it will change both of their lives, and if they’re lucky, they’ll help everyone else get lucky too.

You’d never know from the cover that this is one of the most explicit books I’ve read in ages.

Whoo. *wiping away sweat* *clutching my non-existent pearls*

When I read romance, I tend toward the warm and fuzzy, implied steaminess, sensual but not graphic end of the spectrum. When I picked up The Roommate, not having read anything about it but the first few lines of the synopsis, I was expecting something along those lines. Instead, what I got was a book that pushed me way outside my comfort zone — but that I ended up really liking anyway.

In The Roommate, we meet Clara, a 27-year-old recent art history Ph.D. who drops everything in her prim and proper and well-ordered life to take her lifelong crush up on an offer of a spare room in his LA home. Things do not go as planned. No sooner does he pick her up at the airport than he informs Clara that he’s about to hit the road with his band, and she’ll be rooming with a stranger he found on Craigslist.

Clara’s roommate Josh is sweet, a little goofy, very cute, and seemingly at loose ends, having recently moved out of the place he shared with his ex-girlfriend and on a nonspecific break from his work in the entertainment industry. Ho hum, another out-of-work actor, is Clara’s basic impression. But then Clara has lunch with her aunt Jill, who informs Clara that the roommate who keeps sending her goofy selfies is actually one of the hottest stars in the porn industry, Josh Darling.

Clara can’t refrain from looking up Josh’s work, and she’s pretty floored… and amazed… and turned on. And when he catches her in the act of checking out his videos, things get intense pretty quickly.

“I figured that since you’ve already seen me in in flagrante delicto, the embarrassment veil is lifted.”

Josh frowned. “Is that a fancy way of saying I gave you an orgasm? Because like I told you, that was no big deal.”

Meanwhile, Josh is a rising star in the industry (he prefers the term “adult performer” over “porn star”, thank you very much), but is stuck in a contract that takes complete advantage of him and denies him any autonomy or control in his career. He can’t even sell merchandise! The only thing he can do outside of his contract is voice-over work, which isn’t relevant in the world of porn… or is it?

Clara has an idea, and a trust fund to back it up. She sells Josh and his ex-girlfriend Naomi (also a highly successful adult performer) on the idea of creating a new subscription-based web platform — called Shameless — focused on women’s pleasure, featuring respectfully made, very hot videos with Josh’s narration offering tips and guidance encouraging exploration and enjoyment. Clara, as a very risk-averse, buttoned-up blue-blood born and raised in the WASP world of Greenwich, Connecticut, is totally up for being the silent partner, trusting in Josh and Naomi’s expertise and her own bankrolls to get the new project off the ground.

Shameless represented everything he’d ever liked about porn. A celebration of sex and pleasure that didn’t make any apologies.

Along the way, Clara is exposed to way more of the porn world than she’d ever expected, and is forced to step far outside her safe and conservative approach to life to ensure that the business will thrive. Also outside the safe and conservative zone? Her growing feelings for Josh, who seems to return her feelings — but how could a guy who has had countless sexual encounters with hot, experienced women ever be satisfied with someone ordinary like her?

Taking his clothes off tonight would test his ability to open not just his pants but his heart…

Clara is kind of a mess, despite her rigidity and love of order. She gets a Ph.D. in a field that she doesn’t really seem to be interested in pursuing, mostly to extend her time in school and avoid making hard decisions about her life, but also to satisfy family expectations for a respectable career. She’s uptight in so many ways (scared of driving, terrified of letting her family down or damaging the family reputation, obsessed with lists and rules), but she’s irresistibly drawn to Josh, and he’s just as drawn to her — despite the turtlenecks, overalls, and utter lack of chill.

There’s a subplot about the evil corporation which controls the porn industry and takes horrible advantage of the performers and crews who work for them — the company is called Black Hat, and how on the nose is that? Josh and Clara’s fight to bring down Black Hat is a bit too easy to feel at all realistic, but hey, this is romance, not crime drama.

As with any book in this genre, there’s a communications complication that nearly derails everything between Josh and Clara, as each one completely misreads the other, but again, this is a romance, and we just know there’s going to be an HEA.

I wish the wrap-up and epilogue had been clearer about Josh’s career. We know by the end that Shameless is wildly successful and that Clara, Naomi, and Josh have created a new, positive alternative to the sleazy side of the porn industry. That said, throughout the book, we understand from Josh that he really enjoys performing, but once he tries to get out of his contract with Black Hat, he is on a self-imposed performance break. So, my question is, does he go back to performing? I don’t think it would work in terms of his relationship with Clara, but at the same time, a big point of this book is that there’s no shame in enjoying sex and that the people who work in the adult entertainment field are creative, artistic, body-positive people who enjoy their work. So why should Josh stop something he enjoys and is good at? We’re left not knowing, and it kind of bugs me. I want answers!

As I said at the start, the sex in this book is very front and center and very explicit, so if that doesn’t typically work for you in fiction, you might want to skip this one. I’m not a prude, but I just happen not to gravitate toward graphic sex in fiction, so this wouldn’t have been a go-to choice for me if I’d known anything about it in advance. That said, the level of explicit sex makes a lot of sense in telling this story. The point that all people should be able to seek and give pleasure in whatever way feels right to them and that sex is a positive, enjoyable, natural part of life is really well articulated throughout the book. The sex-positive, body-positive messaging is great, and I appreciated the frankness and openness of the characters.

Also, the book as a whole as well as some of the banter is just funny, and we all need more of that in our lives, right?

“Do you regret it?” His voice came out unnaturally neutral.

“Absolutely not. If other people don’t like it, they can take a hike.”

Josh shook his head. “We gotta get you a millennial phrase book or something. Phrases like that are why telemarketers are always trying to sell you osteoporosis medication.”

I ended up really liking The Roommate, despite some of the unlikelier aspects of the plot ups and downs, and I really liked Clara and Josh as characters, as well as their undeniable chemistry. There’s a follow-up book that focuses on Naomi, newly released this month (The Intimacy Experiment), and yes, I’m going to read it!

Book Review: Maggie Finds Her Muse by Dee Ernst

Title: Maggie Finds Her Muse
Author: Dee Ernst
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: April 20, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A sparkling romantic comedy starring a bestselling author who goes to Paris to overcome writer’s block and rediscovers family, independence, and love along the way.

All Maggie Bliss needs to do is write. Forty-eight years old and newly single (again!), she ventures to Paris in a last-ditch effort to finish her manuscript. With a marvelous apartment at her fingertips and an elegant housekeeper to meet her every need, a finished book—and her dream of finally taking her career over the top—is surely within her grasp. After all, how could she find anything except inspiration in Paris, with its sophistication, food, and romance in the air?

But the clock is running out, and between her charming ex-husband arriving in France for vacation and a handsome Frenchman appearing one morning in her bathtub, Maggie’s previously undisturbed peace goes by the wayside. Charming and heartfelt, Dee Ernst’s Maggie Finds Her Muse is a delightful and feel-good novel about finding love, confidence, and inspiration in all the best places.

What a refreshing change to read a romance with a mature woman in the lead role!

Maggie is a successful romance writer, but she’s stuck. The second book in her current trilogy is about to be released, and she’s fast approaching the deadline for book #3. There’s a lot at stake, including a potential TV option that will take her to the next level of financial success and finally enable her to buy the beach house of her dreams. The problem is, Maggie is completely blocked. She’s got nothing on the page, and she just can’t ask for another extension.

Her trusted agent Lee offers a change of scenery as a desperate last-ditch effort to get her writing again: Come to Paris with him and his husband, live in their fabulous apartment free of charge, and let the Parisian vibe restore her to full inspiration once again.

After dumping her live-in boyfriend (who gives off a traditional romance alpha-male vibe, but is actually a self-centered leech), Maggie sets off to Paris. And soon, her creative juices start flowing again. But Maggie is a writer who relies on superstition (like wearing the same old sweater every single day until she finishes a book), and she starts to believe that Max, a charming Parisian who happens to be staying in the apartment as well, might just be her new muse. But what happens if Max leaves? How will she keep writing if her flesh-and-blood inspiration isn’t present any longer?

Along the way, Maggie spends time with her adult daughter and her ex-husband — her first love, who’s newly retired and interested in rekindling their romance after all these years. And yes, it might be nice to spend more time with Alan, who’s lovely and intelligent and comfortable — but what about that spark she feels whenever Max is around?

There’s a lot to love about Maggie Finds Her Muse. As I said at the start of this review, three cheers for a romantic heroine who’s not in her 20s! I love reading about a smart, successful, motivated woman who’s able to take charge of her professional and personal life. Maggie isn’t perfect — she has insecurities and doubts, but she’s also lived life and has learned a lot about herself, her needs, and what she expects from a potential partner.

“Do you think a person becomes too old for love?”

… “No, I don’t think you’re ever too old,” I said. “But I do think that how you love changes. The things you look for when you’re young are not the same ones you want when you’re older. Not in your life, or in the person you want to share it with.”

It was really fun reading about her writing process, and I liked hearing about the story elements she explores over the course of the book. While her actual book doesn’t sound like the sort of thing I’d ever read (war-torn romantic drama), I was amused by scenes of her figuring out blocking by having her friends act out action sequences. I did feel not quite so charmed by the setting of her books, an invented country with vaguely foreign elements, which sounds like a Westerner’s standard generic anywhere-but-here kind of setting — warlords, non-English names that are hard to pinpoint, desperate escapes through deserts and mountains… It all feels a little too America-centric, like anyplace that’s not the US must be uncivilized and “other”. But I’m probably over-analyzing. After all, this is romance!

The Paris setting is delicious, of course. Maggie enjoys the food, the sights, the people, the customs, and so we as readers get to do so as well. It made me want to pick up and fly to Paris RIGHT NOW, but only if my trip would include a marvelous flat and totally chic and supportive housekeeper/cook/emotional guide like Maggie has.

“Maman, you cut me to the quick,” Max said, eyes twinkling. “surely, there’s room in one of those books for a dashing older gentleman who can ignite a bit of passion, non?”

Oui. That’s definitely a oui.

As for the romantic elements, Maggie and Max are well-matched and are clearly the pairing to root for in the romantic triangle. Max is suave, kind, confident, and totally supportive of Maggie. They’re not without their difficulties, but I like that Maggie, as a romance writer, is very much aware of the genre tropes, and is horrified when her friends point out that she has fallen into a romance novel complication in her real life.

“Maggie,” Alison soothed, “what I think Cheri is trying to say is that maybe you were the victim of A Great Misunderstanding.”

I sat very still.

A Great Misunderstanding is a commonly used device in romance writing wherein the hero or heroine says something that is completely misconstrued by the other party, and chapters of angst and possible revenge sex happen before the truth is finally known. I hate A Great Misunderstanding and have never used it in any of my books, if for no other reason than if I did, neither Cheri nor Alison would ever read anything I wrote ever again.

“No,” I whispered.

Overall, Maggie Finds Her Muse is a sweet, delightful read. The characters are smart and relatable, and I couldn’t help but want every single one of the people we meet to get a perfect HEA.

From reading the author bio on Goodreads, I learned that Dee Ernst specializes in writing older (okay, I hate calling them that — let’s say age 40+) leading characters, and I think that’s awesome. This is an author whose work I’ll be following!

Shelf Control #264: The Other Family by Loretta Nyhan

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!

Title: The Other Family
Author: Loretta Nyhan
Published: 2020
Length: 285 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From the bestselling author of Digging In comes a witty and moving novel about motherhood, courage, and finding true family.

With a dissolving marriage, strained finances, and her life in flux, Ally Anderson longs for normal. Her greatest concerns, though, are the health problems of her young daughter, Kylie. Symptoms point to a compromised immune system, but every doctor they’ve seen has a different theory. Then comes hope for some clarity.

It’s possible that Kylie’s illness is genetic, but Ally is adopted. A DNA test opens up an entirely new path. And where it leads is a surprise: to an aunt Ally never knew existed. She’s a little wild, very welcoming, and ready to share more of the family history than Ally ever imagined.

Coping with a skeptical soon-to-be-ex husband, weathering the cautions of her own resistant mother, and getting maddeningly close to the healing Kylie needs, Ally is determined to regain control of her life. This is her chance to embrace uncertainty and the beauty of family—both the one she was born into and the one she chose.

How and when I got it:

I seem to have added a lot of e-books to my Kindle collection in 2020. Hmm, why would that be? This is a 2020 title that must have been offered at a price break at some point, so I grabbed a copy.

Why I want to read it:

There’s something about the description that really appeals to me. First off, I have a daughter with a chronic illness that results in a compromised immune system, so this aspect of the plot immediately makes me feel sympathetic toward the characters and makes me want to know more.

On top of that, the discovered-family element is quickly becoming a favorite trope for me. Having recently read one memoir and one novel where the secrets uncovered by DNA testing shake families up, I’m very interested in seeing how this plays out in different scenarios. In this case, having the health history elements seems to add another layer to the discovery, and I’m so curious to see how it all plays out.

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!