Silly romance two-fer: A pair of mini-reviews

While traveling for a few days this past week, I read two romances that were very silly — one silly but entertaining, and one silly and annoying. Which is which? Read on…


Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto: This is the silly and entertaining one! Four Aunties and a Wedding, the follow-up to Dial A for Aunties, continues the hilariously ridiculous adventures of Meddy, a wedding photographer, and the four aunties who dominate her Chinese-Indonesian family. In this sequel, Meddy is finally about to marry the man of her dreams, but when she overhears her own wedding photographer plotting a murder and realizes that there’s going to be a mafia hit on her big day, she and the aunties spring into action to foil the evil plans. Shenanigans ensue — kidnappings, spontaneous Tai Chi, komodo dragon fascinators, and marijuana-laced cocktails, to name but a few of the outrageous obstacles that interfere with Meddy’s dream destination wedding.

This is a light, fast read, and I enjoyed it overall, but did find myself getting annoyed eventually by just how over-the-top the plot became, how the aunties and Meddy jumped to one false conclusion after another, and how these ridiculous circumstances completely ruined the wedding day. Fortunately, Meddy’s groom is far more understanding and loving and, well, just plain perfect than any ordinary man might be, so the couple gets their happy ending… and so what if zipties, druggings, and assassination attempts get in the way?

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos: Obviously, that leaves this book as the silly and annoying one! This Austen-inspired romance centers on a 39-year-old single mother whose business is failing. In desperation, she makes the obvious choice — to go to England and participate in what she thinks will be a documentary about Regency life, but turns out to be (drumroll, please…) a Regency-themed reality dating show. The prize is marriage to a wealthy British hottie (and $100,000), and Chloe is determined to win. To get to the prize, though, she must live in total Regency style, meaning chamber pots, no technology, food-based cosmetics, and constant chaperonage. This book was published in 2012, and feels a lot like an Austenland retread — and also feels pretty dated, in terms of attitudes toward relationships and female competition.

The plot really doesn’t make sense, the Regency affectations are applied inconsistently and weirdly (for example, the woman playing the role of Chloe’s chaperone is very pregnant, and has agreed to give birth Regency-style… WHY?). There are slapsticky misadventures, mistaken identity, and plain old nonsensical decisions. I finished the book, and I suppose it held my attention enough to make me want to see how it turned out, but I can’t say I recommend this one.

Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.


And there you have it! Fun romance, not-so-fun super annoying romance… and now I’d better switch up my reading for a bit and tackle something with a bit more there there.

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Audiobook quick takes: An Austen retelling and some less-than-perfect “getaways”

With a trip coming up and limited time this week, I decided to listen to a bunch of Audible’s free short stories rather than start a full-length audiobook. It was a mixed bag overall — here’s what I listened to and what I thought:

Imagine if you made one little mistake when you were young and were punished for it for the rest of your life. Well, that’s what happened to Lydia (yes, that Lydia, the youngest Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice), and she’s here to set the record straight. Hold on to your teacups and get ready for sophisticated (and a little bit naughty) hot takes and witty banter that’ll make you laugh—and think.

We meet Lydia just as she is denounced by her family, exiled miles from home, and married to the rogue George Wickham, who seems to love all women…except his own wife. She must learn to summon great bravery to carve out a place for herself in the society that has brutally rejected her.

Lydia isn’t the traditional Austen heroine, and this isn’t a traditional, polite period drama. Lydia is a badass. A trailblazer. She’s fierce and fiercely funny. And she might inhabit the Regency period, but she’s fighting the same battle many of us are today—having to defend the decisions she’s made and the person she chooses to love, to shut out the “trolls” and gossips, to hold her head high in a world that will judge her for any mistake she makes.

Starring Academy Award nominee Jessie Buckley (Fargo, The Lost Daughter) and Johnny Flynn (Lovesick, Stardust), this hilarious and timely listen is for fans of classics with a twist. Writer and creator playwright Sarah Page says that she wrote Mrs. Wickham to “entertain people with a romantic, optimistic, and seductive comedy,” but that there’s also a “message held at its heart to treat each other with kindness.”If you binged Bridgerton, this one’s for you.

I’m always up for a Pride and Prejudice spin-off, and was intrigued by the idea of following Lydia after her marriage. I’m not sure that this story actually needed Lydia Bennet, though — it’s a cute gimmick, but really, this could be the story of any woman surviving scandal and finding redemption (and somehow, even falling in love with her own husband). I didn’t realize in advance that this would be a full-cast audio play, rather than narrators reading an audiobook. The cast as a whole is entertaining and funny, but some of the production elements are decidedly weird (loud rock music in bar scenes, for examples) or icky (hearing Lydia vomit after a bout of ill-advised drinking). Overall, I was entertained enough to finish, but that’s about it.

Audible Original: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Three more from Amazon’s Getaway collection — six short stories described as:

Perfect vacations or last resorts? In this collection of short psychological thrillers, bestselling authors bring trouble to paradise. Today’s itinerary: surfing, sailing, hiking, facing your worst fears . . . Most dream vacations never live up to expectations—but few cause this many nightmares.

Of the six, I picked stories by authors I already was familiar with:

On the New England coast, an irresistible vacation rental draws a woman into the sinister secrets of her past in a cunning short mystery with a gothic twist by a New York Times bestselling author.

Clea McAllister returns to the Newport haven of her childhood, a gilded mansion by the sea once owned by her beloved grandmother. Now she is a paying guest at her own ancestral home, and Clea’s vacation hides a darker intention: to confront the estate lawyer who stole her rightful inheritance. But wicked games are still being played at Belle Mer, and Clea uncovers more than she ever intended.

Quick entertainment — this is a suspense story about a stolen inheritance, a fight to regain control of the family mansion, loyal servants, a missing lawyer… There’s a lot going on here, and it all comes together well by the end. This is a fast listen, and the author uses the short story format to quickly build tension and intrigue before a sudden shock at the end.

Audible Original; 1 hour, 21 minutes
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

An extravagant anniversary trip turns into a desperate scramble for survival in an unsettling short story about desire, manipulation, and revenge by a New York Times bestselling author.

Psychiatrist Olivia Cole is a shell of herself after only two years with her tyrannical husband, the outwardly perfect Sebastian. On their two-year anniversary, she’s subjected to one power move too many when Sebastian whisks her away on a surprise trip—first to the charming capital of Sweden, then to an unexpected final destination. Miles from home and help, the only way for Olivia to wrest back control of her life is to give Sebastian an even bigger, shocking surprise.

Ummm, not sure what to make of this one. It’s suspenseful and creepy, but overall, it’s such a disturbing look at a woman whose lost all semblance of self-determination to her cruel, controlling husband that it’s impossible to actually enjoy listening to the story. Then again, I’m not particularly a fan of thrillers in general, so this may have been just a step too far for me in a genre I’m not always comfortable with. Your mileage may vary, but I found the plot details too awful to actually consider it entertainment.

Audible Original: 1 hours, 11 minutes
Rating:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

“Speak your truth.” An icebreaker leads to unintended consequences for two strangers aboard a luxury yacht in this seductively twisty short story by the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Sister.

When Ella boards a sumptuous charter off the coast of Australia, she feels…dread. Her husband, Mac, the social butterfly who makes these wellness retreats so much easier to navigate, is stuck at work, leaving her exposed to the other passengers. Luckily, she forms an instant bond with the charismatic Chloe, a newly single woman salving a broken heart. But as the friendship grows, Ella discovers they share more than the need for an escape, and their devastating connection has the power to forever alter their lives.

Sally Hepworth is so terrific at creating interpersonal dynamics that are something other than what they initially appear to be. In this short story, the main character’s sea voyage takes a dramatically different direction when she meets another passenger whose story has just a few too many familiar elements to it. The psychological drama and tension build throughout, although I was expecting a much darker resolution to it all. I wasn’t entirely comfortable once I realized that infidelity would be a major theme — that’s not something I particularly enjoy or look for in fiction, but given that the Getaway collection seems to be squarely in the thriller/suspense genre, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Overall, this quick listen held my attention and was well performed — not a bad piece of entertainment, for what it is.

Side note: I would absolutely hate to go on this wellness sea voyage! Only eight passengers, too many touchy-feely sharing sessions, intrusive challenges… so not my idea of a fun vacation!

Audible Original: 1 hours, 44 minutes
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

As I’ve said many, many times on this blog, I am not a big fan of short stories. I deliberately chose to listen to shorter works this week, but I’m not particularly surprised that none of them actually wowed me. Still, they passed the time and held my interest! Who knows? Other readers may really enjoy these, especially (with the Getaway stories) for those who love suspenseful fiction.

Book Review: The Emma Project by Sonali Dev

Title: The Emma Project
Series: The Rajes
Author: Sonali Dev
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: May 17, 2022
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Emma gets a fresh Indian-American twist from award-winning author Sonali Dev in her heartwarmingly irresistible Jane Austen inspired rom com series.

No one can call Vansh Raje’s life anything but charmed. Handsome—Vogue has declared him California’s hottest single—and rich enough to spend all his time on missions to make the world a better place. Add to that a doting family and a contagiously sunny disposition and Vansh has made it halfway through his twenties without ever facing anything to throw him off his admittedly spectacular game.

A couple years from turning forty, Knightlina (Naina) Kohli has just gotten out of a ten-year-long fake relationship with Vansh’s brother and wants only one thing from her life…fine, two things. One, to have nothing to do with the unfairly blessed Raje family ever again. Two, to bring economic independence to millions of women in South Asia through her microfinance foundation and prove her father wrong about, well, everything.

Just when Naina’s dream is about to come to fruition, Vansh Raje shows up with his misguided Emma Project… And suddenly she’s fighting him for funding and wondering if a friends-with-benefits arrangement that’s as toe-curlingly hot as it is fun is worth risking her life’s work for.

The Emma Project is the 4th book in author Sonali Dev’s Jane Austen-inspired series about the powerful, wealthy Raje family. The Rajes, descended from Indian royalty, are fabulously rich and highly influential, especially now that their son Yash has been elected California’s newest governor. (See Incense and Sensibility for Yash’s story).

In The Emma Project, the youngest of the Raje clan takes center stage. 26-year-old Vansh is the “prince” of the family, extremely good-looking and pampered by all of his older sisters and cousins. Vansh has spent the last several years flitting around the world, from project to project lending a hand to all sorts of socially responsible causes, but never settling on just one thing.

After working to support Yash’s campaign, Vansh decides to stick around for a bit, and soon catches the attention of a powerful tech billionaire who wants to fund a project for Vansh — by pulling funding from Naina’s important work. Naina’s work is her whole life, especially since her association with the Rajes ended with public scandal after her fake romance with Yash came to light. (It’s complicated; again, see Yash’s story in the previous book).

Naina is furious over the loss of funding, and she accuses Vansh of engaging in an “Emma project” — basically, like Austen’s Emma, taking on a project for the sake of making himself feel good and alleviating some boredom, but lacking a true commitment or perspective on what others may need.

Over time, Vansh and Naina begin to work together, and become aware of a crazy hot chemistry between them too… but with Naina essentially ostracized by Vansh’s family and being burdened by all sorts of relationship issues due to growing up with an abusive father, any sort of romantic future between the two seems highly unlikely.

Except… there’s that chemisty to deal with, and they just can’t avoid it for long.

Perspective shift between Vansh (the Emma character) and Naina (Knightley), so we get to understand each character’s feelings and why they behave the way they do. All the various Rajes make appearances, often to meddle and complicate situations even further, and there’s a sub-plot about Vansh’s cousin Esha that’s a weird distraction from the main story (and makes very little sense), which seems to be a stand-in for the Jane Fairfax/Frank Churchill storyline from Emma.

I’ve enjoyed most of the books in the Rajes series, but this one was was only so-so. The characters’ inner lives, especially Naina’s, come across as overwrought after a while. The endless ruminations on feelings about relationships and love truly started to get on my nerves. I also couldn’t understand why the Raje family treated Naina the way they did — from a plot perspective, it just didn’t make a lot of sense.

Vansh and Naina have a lot of heat between them, which fine, I’m happy two adults are enjoying themselves so much! However, there’s a restaurant scene that absolutely made me roll my eyes over its ridiculousness, and I had a hard time suspending my utter disbelief enough to get through the rest of the book.

From the author’s notes at the end, it sounds like The Emma Project is the final Raje book. Too bad — I guess we won’t be getting Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey retellings! As a whole, I’ve enjoyed this series, even though I ended up not as engaged with this last book.

Travel reading wrap-up (fall 2021): A batch of mini-reviews — high school drama, Aztec vampires, and classics retold

I’ve just returned from a one-week trip (which was all sorts of awesome), and realize that I’ve fallen way behind on my reviews. Here’s a quick wrap-up of what I read while I was away (and the week before, when I was already in pre-trip mode). As always, a mix of genres, topics, and new vs old.


Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado: A YA story starring a plus-sized Latina high schooler who dreams of a first kiss, even while feeling like she’ll never measure up. The story emphasizes the importance of true friendship and trust, as well as body positivity. Charlie experiences a first relationship, has her relationship with her best friend tested, gains confidence as a writer, and learns to stand up for herself and not let others’ negativity undermine her belief in herself. While there are some plot points that I found frustrating (such as a mother whose toxicity about Charlie’s weight is never truly resolved, and unnecessary break-ups with both her boyfriend and her best friend), I loved the lead character enough to make this a really enjoyable read overall.

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: This is my 3rd book by this author, but it definitely won’t be my last. Certain Dark Things is a gritty, noir-ish story of vampires, gangs, and drug runners in Mexico City. The main character is a teen boy who devotes himself to helping a lone Aztec vampire escape the city and the various other clans of vampires who want to see her and her people wiped out. It’s a fascinating spin on the world of vampires, and while I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the origins and natures of the different vampire species, I still really enjoyed this book. It’s dark, fast-paced, and surprising.

Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers: I guess I should have read the full synopsis, instead of deciding after just the first sentence that this book sounded like fun. The main character wakes up alone in a Las Vegas hotel room with a vague, hung-over memory of having married an adorable woman the night before. All she has to go on is a note left by the woman with a radio station listed. Grace decides to track down the mystery woman… but for the most part, despite the potential rom-com set-up, this is a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world, figure out who she’s meant to be, and understand her relationships with family and friends. Maybe because I went into it with incorrect (or incomplete) expectations, I was mostly frustrated and annoyed by the depth’s of the main character’s introspection and occasional selfishness.

Rating:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle: This YA retelling of Romeo and Juliet offers a fresh perspective — that of Rosaline, the girl Romeo loved before meeting Juliet. Here, the teens are seniors at an upscale California high school. Rose has been looking forward to reuniting with Rob, her best friend and boy next door since they were small children, especially since their near-kiss right before he left for his summer job. But within a few days of school starting, Rob dumps Rose for the new girl in town — the mysterious Juliet, who also happens to be Rose’s cousin. I really liked the way the author turned the classic story into a contemporary YA drama, and found her portrayal of Rose very thoughtful as well as being a creative twist on a tale that’s been told and retold so many times. When You Were Mine follows some, but not all, of the original’s storyline, and the little differences keep this book fresh and engaging. Sure, I have a few quibbles and would have liked to see a few plot points handled differently, but overall, this is quite a good read.

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi: Another classic retold! This twist on Pride and Prejudice centers on the “Bennet Women” — the young undergraduate women living in Bennet House at Longbourn College. EJ (the Elizabeth stand-in) is a senior studying engineering and the RA of Bennet House, who holds the values and standards of Bennet House dear to her heart. Her best friends are a trans woman, Jamie, who’s our Jane stand-in, and Tessa, who has a smaller role and seems to be taking the place of Charlotte Lucas. While hitting the major plot beats of P&P, it’s a fresh take full of woman power and feminism, with a nicely diverse cast and some clever approaches to the expected storylines. I really appreciated how EJ’s education and aspirations were given prominence. Here, marriage isn’t a goal or even talked about much — it’s about finding love and respect while also finding themselves, pursuing their dreams, and not giving in to the many ways the world outside of Bennet House might want to limit their opportunities or pull them down.

Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

That’s my reading round-up! And now, back to all the ARCs and other books calling my name…

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Book Review: Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev

Title: Incense and Sensibility
Author: Sonali Dev
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: July 6, 2021
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Yash Raje, California’s first serious Indian gubernatorial candidate, has always known exactly what he wants—and how to use his privileged background to get it. He attributes his success to a simple mantra: control your feelings and you can control the world.

But when a hate-fueled incident at a rally critically injures his friend, Yash’s easy life suddenly feels like a lie, his control an illusion. When he tries to get back on the campaign trail, he blacks out with panic.

Desperate to keep Yash’s condition from leaking to the media, his family turns to the one person they trust—his sister’s best friend, India Dashwood, California’s foremost stress management coach. Raised by a family of yoga teachers, India has helped San Francisco’s high strung overachievers for a decade without so much as altering her breath. But this man—with his boundless ambition, simmering intensity, and absolute faith in his political beliefs—is like no other. Yash has spent a lifetime repressing everything to succeed.

Including their one magical night ten years ago—a too brief, too bright passion that if rekindled threatens the life he’s crafted for himself. Exposing the secrets might be the only way to save him but it’s also guaranteed to destroy the dream he’s willingly shouldered for his family and community . . . until now.

As you might guess from the title — but not from the synopsis — Incense and Sensibility is a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. It’s also a moving, well-written, and engaging contemporary novel about love, pain, and healing.

I&S continues the loosely connected story of the Rajes, a wealthy Indian-American family living in the Bay Area. Previous books have focused on Yash’s sister Trisha (Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors) and his cousin Ashna (Recipe For Persuasion). In both of those books, Yash is a background character — the successful, driven brother who can achieve anything he wants. He’s the golden child, the one everyone believes will do great things.

He’s also haunted by trauma, although he doesn’t even realize this until events kick off in I&S. As the book opens, Yash is running a competitive race for governor of California, and his chances look good. He’s a man devoted to public service, who truly believes that he’s called to make life better for those who are suffering. While popular with many voters, Yash also encounters the racism you’d unfortunately not be surprised by due to his skin color and ethnicity. An attempted shooting at a rally leaves Yash lightly wounded, but puts his trusted friend and bodyguard Abdul into a coma that he isn’t expected to wake from.

Suddenly, Yash’s world is turned upside down. He feels tremendous guilt about Abdul’s sacrifice, and is overwhelmed by an anxiety attack when he attempts to go onstage at his next rally. With only months to go until the election, and with a growing lead in the polls, his family is desperate to “fix” him. And so they turn to a friend of Ashna and Trisha’s, India Dashwood, a yoga instructor and Reiki healer.

India lives with her mother Tara and her highly emotional sister China in the apartment above their yoga studio. They’re not well off, but they’re getting by, until Tara falls ill and India realizes they may not be able to cover her necessary medical treatments. On top of that, China is head-over-heels in love with a Korean pop star, but the woman she loves is deeply closeted and insists on secrecy. China sees a rosy future, but India is afraid that China will be hurt badly.

When Yash reenters India’s life, it’s ten years after they spent a magical, romantic night together in which they fell in love, but then parted and never reunited. India has never quite recovered from the pain of Yash’s disappearance from her life, but she also can’t turn him away when he’s obviously in such pain and in need of help. As she works with him on healing from trauma, old wounds reemerge and are finally confronted, and Yash and India’s feeling for one another resurface as well. But with the election his to lose, Yash has to make some big decisions about telling the truth and taking a stand, and India must decide whether she’s willing to risk the peace she’s found for the man she’s never gotten over.

Incense and Sensibility may look light and possibly even funny from the cover, but it’s really not. While there are some lighter moments, the book deals with very real trauma and pain, and the author isn’t afraid to show how the characters are affected by their pasts in damaging ways. At the same time, the characters really are lovely and sympathetic, and I loved getting to know the new characters introduced in this addition to the Rajes series, especially India, who is just wonderful.

As an Austen retelling, I found I&S to be very successful. Contemporary retellings of Austen novels are hard to pull off. With the classics’ focus on marriage, their themes can be hard to translate to a modern setting, and many of the retellings I’ve read feel like they’re trying too hard to shoehorn Austen’s storylines into a setting where they just don’t work.

Not so in I&S. Sonali Dev doesn’t hit us over the head with the Jane Austen references and plot points. While they’re there, they work organically, so the story would make sense and be appealing even without knowledge of the original. And while some characters’ storylines are a bit more obvious — for example, China as the Marianne stand-in is destined to have her heart broken — I was still taken by surprise by some of the twists and turns of the story, and that’s a good thing. Also, for what it’s worth, it took me a really long time to figure out who the Colonel Brandon character would be, even though it should have been obvious (I won’t say why, because spoilers!).

Incense and Sensibility is a terrific read, both as a standalone contemporary love story and as an Austen retelling. I can’t wait to find out which Austen novel the author will tackle next! I’m so enjoying the characters and their lives, and look forward to the next book so I can stay in their world.

And as a side note — India’s yoga practice and her approach to life have finally convinced me that I need to find a good yoga class!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Wishes… straight from my wish list

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 Bookish Wishes — and here’s the description:

{Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl’s} birthday is today, so celebrate with me by granting the wishes of your friends! This is a popular thing to do on Twitter, but today we’re blog hopping. List the top 10 books you’d love to own and include a link to a wishlist so that people can grant your wish. Make sure you link your wishlist to your mailing address or include the email address associated with your ereader so people know how to get the book to you. After you post, jump around the Linky and grant a wish or two if you’d like. Don’t feel obligated to send anything!

Okay, so I’m NOT actually sharing links to a wishlist or at all asking anyone to grant my wishes! But still, it’s always fun (and a little crazy) to take stock of how many more books I’d like to get sooner or later… despite the huge number of unread books sitting on my shelves.

Here are my top 10 wishes: 

  1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Encyclopedia: The Ultimate Guide to the Buffyverse by Nancy Holder: This one has been on my wish list for years! I’d love to have a copy… but enough to actually spend money on it.
  2. Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel: I’ve actually read this one already — it’s a fabulous mash-up of Frankenstein and Pride and Prejudice, and I really need a copy of my own.
  3. Victories Great Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders: I have copies of her other books, and need this one too!
  4. Seed to Harvest by Octavia Butler: This is an all-in-one edition of the Patternist series. I do have these books on my Kindle already, but I’d love a hard copy too.
  5. The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker: Since I have a copy of The Golem and the Jinni, I’d like the sequel to go with it.
  6. The Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: The hardcover edition is from Subterranean Press, and their books are always so pretty (but expensive).
  7. One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky: No particular reason — it just sounds like fun!
  8. Jane in Love by Rachel Givney: It’s Jane Austen plus time travel! How does that not sound cool?
  9. Network Effect by Martha Wells: I can’t believe I stalled out on the Murderbot books before getting to this one! There’s no good reason — I just haven’t gotten to it yet. I’d love to own copies of the entire series.
  10. Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley: The book sounds so good, and the cover is too pretty not to have my own copy.

What books are you wishing for the most? Please share your links!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Summer 2021 TBR

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 2021 TBR.

This is really just scratching the surface — so many books to read! Here are 10 of my upcoming reads, all being released in June, July or August. Six out of ten are sequels or continuations of series, and four are new stand-alones. They all sound amazing!

  1. Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon
  2. The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison (set in the world of The Goblin Emperor)
  3. The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig
  4. While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory
  5. The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
  6. Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell (the 3rd Simon Snow book)
  7. Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev (fun series of Jane Austen retellings)
  8. Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  9. Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton (sequel to Hollow Kingdom)
  10. Sunrise By the Sea by Jenny Colgan (another book in the Little Beach Street Bakery series!)

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

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Shelf Control #223: Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen V. Wasylowski

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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!

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Title: Darcy and Fitzwilliam
Author: Karen V. Wasylowski
Published: 2011
Length: 481 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A gentleman in love cannot survive without his best friend…

Fitzwilliam Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam couldn’t be more different, and that goes for the way each one woos and pursues the woman of his dreams. Darcy is quiet and reserved, careful and dutiful, and his qualms and hesitations are going to torpedo his courtship of Elizabeth. His affable and vivacious cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam is a military hero whose devil-may-care personality hides the torments within, until he finds himself in a passionate, whirlwind affair with a beautiful widow who won’t hear of his honorable intentions.

Cousins, best friends, and sparring partners, Darcy and Fitzwilliam have always been there for each other. So it’s no surprise when the only one who can help Darcy fix his botched marriage proposals is Fitzwilliam, and the only one who can pull Fitzwilliam out of an increasingly dangerous entanglement is Darcy…

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy at a used book store a couple of years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I hadn’t heard of this book before, but it practically jumped off the bookstore shelf straight into my hands. I’m always up for a good Austen retelling, and I think presenting the Pride and Prejudice story with an emphasis on Fitzwilliam’s role and his viewpoint sounds like a really good twist.

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!


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Book Review: Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev

Title: Recipe for Persuasion
Author: Sonali Dev
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: May 26, 2020
Length: 464 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

From the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors comes another, clever, deeply layered, and heartwarming romantic comedy that follows in the Jane Austen tradition—this time, with a twist on Persuasion.

Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen? 

Rico Silva, that’s what.  

Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster. 

FIFA winning soccer star Rico Silva isn’t too happy to be paired up with Ashna either. Losing Ashna years ago almost destroyed him. The only silver lining to this bizarre situation is that he can finally prove to Ashna that he’s definitely over her. 

But when their catastrophic first meeting goes viral, social media becomes obsessed with their chemistry. The competition on the show is fierce…and so is the simmering desire between Ashna and Rico.  Every minute they spend together rekindles feelings that pull them toward their disastrous past. Will letting go again be another recipe for heartbreak—or a recipe for persuasion…? 

In Recipe for Persuasion, Sonali Dev once again takes readers on an unforgettable adventure in this fresh, fun, and enchanting romantic comedy.

Persuasion is one of my favorite Jane Austen novels, so of course I was going to read this modern romance that riffs on Persuasion‘s themes!

Recipe for Persuasion is a loose follow-up to last year’s Pride, Prejudice & Other Flavors. The Raje family is still the center of the story, but here, the focus shifts to Ashna Raje, who was a supporting character in the previous novel.

Before getting too far into discussing Recipe for Persuasion, I want to get one thing straight, which is that the blurb above is very misleading. I think if you go into this book expecting a heartwarming romantic comedy or a fresh, fun, and enchanting romantic comedy, you’ll be both disappointed and quite possibly very confused.

Because at no time in my reading of Recipe for Persuasion did I feel it was a comedy. Not at all.

Which does not mean it was not a good read. I actually enjoyed it very much. But readers should know that this is a much sadder and darker story than the synopsis would make it out to be.

Okay, let’s get down to business. Ashna and Rico were high school sweethearts, very much in love, but each with a ton of baggage related to family expectations and demands. They dreamed and planned for a life together, but ended up apart after a really terrible set of circumstances, and the faulty communications at the time which led each to believe that the other had betrayed him/her.

(Yet another example of bad communications leading to heartbreak, which is a standard trope of the genre, and which drives me bonkers as a plot point… but I digress.)

Now, twelve years later, Ashna is a French-trained chef who’s struggling to keep her late father’s classic Indian restaurant viable, and Rico is a superstar soccer player forced into early retirement by a devastating knee injury.

When Rico is reminded of Ashna while attending a friend’s bachelor party, he decides to Google her. And when he learns that she’ll be appearing on Cooking with the Stars, he makes sure to get a slot on the reality show as her cooking partner. Rico is looking for closure, a way to get past the hurt from all those years ago when Ashna turned him away, giving into family pressure that he just wasn’t good enough for the high-class Raje family.

Meanwhile, Ashna is consumed by the guilt and trauma that accompanied her father’s death, experiences horrible panic attacks when she tries to cook anything not on her father’s original menu, is estranged from her super-feminist mother… and has never, ever gotten over Rico.

Their first meeting on set for the cooking show involves a near-miss with a very sharp knife, and suddenly, they’re a viral internet sensation. The pressure is on. Each wants to win… and also to prove to the other that they’re totally fine, which is so not the case.

Over the course of the book, we learn much more about Ashna’s past. Especially powerful are the chapters told through her mother’s point of view, which show her experiences as a young woman and the horrific situation she was forced into. Here’s where content warnings might be important: Someone expecting a romantic comedy probably won’t be prepared for scenes of abuse and rape, and I can only imagine how traumatic it would be to encounter these scenes while expecting a light romance.

This piece of the story is handled very sensitively, but of course, it’s awful and heartbreaking to read about. It also explains so much about Ashna’s experiences as a child, her parents’ marriage, her lingering resentment toward her mother, and her inability to move forward in a meaningful way in any sort of adult relationship. There’s really a lot to unpack here.

On a brighter note, Ashna and Rico have great chemistry, and I really enjoyed the scenes that show their teen years and the early stages of their romance. Because she is so traumatized, Ashna isn’t exactly a fun character (sympathetic, yes, but not fun), but luckily, Rico is — with his swagger, charm, and man-bun, he’s clearly supposed to be walking sex appeal, and this definitely comes through in the writing.

The San Francisco setting is a big plus for me, and I enjoyed revisiting the Raje family members from Pride, Prejudice & Other Flavors. As for Austen elements — the general themes of Persuasion are present, but not in such an obvious way that it feels like a retelling. As with Persuasion, the young lovers are separated in response to family pressure, but not really in the same way as in the Austen novel. Still, it’s an interesting way to weave the classic into a modern romance, and bonus points to the author for having Rico quote Frederick Wentworth’s “half agony, half hope” line!

Overall, Recipe for Persuasion is a very good read, although the balance between truly painful memories and emotions and the bustle of a reality show doesn’t always work in terms of tone. Still, I really enjoyed Ashna and Rico’s journey back to one another (there’s never any doubt, after all, that they’ll find love again)… and who can resist a book that lovingly describes so much amazing food?

Maybe that’s my main complaint, when all is said and done: This book should come with samples! I want to try every dish and cup of tea that’s described in Recipe for Persuasion.

The Monday Check-In ~ 7/29/2019

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.

My little vacation last week was lovely (but too short). Sun, sand, good books! Some strawberry tiramisu too. What more could I ask for?

What did I read during the last week?

My vacation reading (all reviewed here):

  • Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
  • We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory
  • I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

And since returning home, I’ve also read:

Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior: A sweet, engaging debut novel. My review is here.

Fresh Catch:

Oof. I bought myself a copy of Wanderers by Chuck Wendig. This book is BIG. I need to steel myself a bit before diving in.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar: Israeli science fiction revolving around alternate realities. Really mind-bending! I’ve read about 75% — can’t wait to see how it all works out.

Now playing via audiobook:

Anne of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery: The 6th Anne book! Loving the series, although I’m not sure that I love the shift of focus from Anne herself to her big brood of children. Still, carrying on…

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group read right now:

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — our current classic selection, reading and discussing two chapters per week.
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon: Our newest group read — a novella telling the story of teen-aged Jamie and Ian during their time as mercenaries in France. I’ve read it before, but I”m excited to be sharing it with the group this time around.

So many books, so little time…

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