Book Review: Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Title: Instructions for Dancing
Author: Nicola Yoon
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication date: June 3, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

In this romantic page-turner from the author of Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star, Evie has the power to see other people’s romantic fates–what will happen when she finally sees her own?

Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore. Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began . . . and how it will end. After all, even the greatest love stories end with a broken heart, eventually.

As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance Studio, learning to waltz, fox-trot, and tango with a boy named X. X is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. His philosophy is to say yes to everything–including entering a ballroom dance competition with a girl he’s only just met.

Falling for X is definitely not what Evie had in mind. If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, it’s that no one escapes love unscathed. But as she and X dance around and toward each other, Evie is forced to question all she thought she knew about life and love. In the end, is love worth the risk?

This YA book made me so, so happy. It’s sweet and sad, and makes me want to dance!

To understand Evie, the main character, you need to know a few key facts: Evie is a high school senior, and a former fan of romance novels. Evie is also the daughter of recently divorced parents. A year ago, Evie’s parents split up, and Evie discovered that her father was having an affair. Now she lives with her mother and younger sister, bottling up her anger at her father and refusing to see him, and she’s absolutely sworn off romance and love stories.

What I’ve learned over the last three weeks is that all my old romance novels ended too quickly. Chapters were missing from the end. If they told the real story—the entire story—each couple would’ve eventually broken up, due to neglect or boredom or betrayal or distance or death.

She’s seen it in real life — two people who were supposedly in love end up with nothing but pain and betrayal and ashes of a relationship. Why should she believe in happily ever afters?

Given enough time, all love stories turn into heartbreak stories. Heartbreak = love + time.

Through a strange set of circumstances, Evie winds up with a dancing instruction book that leads her to the La Brea Dance Studio, a small studio whose main clientele seem to be pre-wedding couples trying to master their first dance. The studio is owned by an older couple who are magnificent dancers and who’ve clearly been in love all their lives. While there, Evie meets X, the couple’s teen-aged grandson who’s recently dropped out of his senior year of high school and moved to LA to pursue a music career.

When Fifi, the domineering dance instructor, ropes Evie and X into being partners in an upcoming amateur ballroom dance competition, the two become friendly and then eventually acknowledge their chemistry, which grows along with their hustle, salsa, and tango skills.

“Anyway, you can play to thank us. Every good bonfire needs a hot guy playing guitar.” “You don’t have to play,” I tell him. “But you still have to be hot,” Cassidy says. “I don’t mind doing both,” he says with a grin.

Meanwhile, Evie has come into a strange gift: When she sees a couple kiss, she gets a flash of their entire romance — how they met, how they are in that moment, and what’s to come. This means that she sees the end of the relationships, not just the swoony romantic bits. And for Evie, that’s just further proof that love doesn’t last… so why even bother?

It’s not hard to predict that Evie and X will get together, but I won’t ruin things by going into further detail on how they connect, what obstacles they face, and how it turns out. Let me just share some observations instead:

I loved that this isn’t a by-the-numbers romance, with a meet-cute, initial attraction, getting together, obstacle/break-up, and happy ending. Yes, some of these beats are included, but the overall flow of the book is different enough to keep the reading unpredictable.

Evie’s family life is given equal weight to the romance elements, and this is critical. Evie’s perception of love and commitment have been perhaps permanently scarred by her parents’ divorce, but as the novel progresses, she learns more about long-term love and relationships, and learns that situations aren’t all one way or their other. By learning to let go of her bitterness, she’s able to start allowing some shut-off family connections back into her life, and she can’t help but acknowledge that this is much healthier for her.

“You think because your father and I didn’t last, our love was any less real?”

A harder lesson for Evie is X’s approach to life — saying yes to experiences, living in the moment, and grabbing joy when it’s in front of you. Evie is so consumed by endings that she’s unable to appreciate the middle parts — all the smaller and larger moments that make time together so valuable, no matter how long or short that time might be.

It doesn’t matter that love ends. It just matters that there’s love.

I feel like this would make a great movie, since my one complaint about the book is that I wanted more dancing scenes! At the same time, I have to acknowledge that it’s hard to make a written dance scene compelling, and while the author does a great job with this, I could only satisfy my need by diving down a dance video rabbit hole on YouTube.

Instructions for Dancing is a moving, well-written, thoughtful YA novel with some beautiful moments as well as heartbreak. With captivating characters, a hint of magic (that goes unexplained, but somehow doesn’t distract from the contemporary feel of the plot), great dance moments, and even some humor, this is a book that shouldn’t be missed!

**********

Through affiliate programs, I may earn commissions from purchases made when you click through these links, at no cost to you.

Buy now at Amazon – Book Depository – Bookshop.org

Audiobook Review: The Stand-In by Lily Chu

Title: The Stand-In
Author: Lily Chu
Narrator: Phillipa Soo
Publisher: Audible Originals
Publication date: July 15, 2021
Print length: n/a
Audio length: 10 hours 55 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Audible Plus Catalog
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

How to upend your life:
–Get fired by gross, handsy boss
–Fail to do laundry (again)
–Be mistaken for famous Chinese actress
–Fall head-first into glitzy new world

Gracie Reed is doing just fine. Sure, she was fired by her overly “friendly” boss, and yes, she still hasn’t gotten her mother into the nursing home of their dreams, but she’s healthy, she’s (somewhat) happy, and she’s (mostly) holding it all together.

But when a mysterious SUV pulls up beside her, revealing Chinese cinema’s golden couple Wei Fangli and Sam Yao, Gracie’s world is turned on its head. The famous actress has a proposition: Due to their uncanny resemblance, Fangli wants Gracie to be her stand-in. The catch? Gracie will have to be escorted by Sam, the most attractive—and infuriating—man Gracie’s ever met.

If it means getting the money she needs for her mother, Gracie’s in. Soon Gracie moves into a world of luxury she never knew existed. But resisting Sam, and playing the role of an elegant movie star, proves more difficult than she ever imagined—especially when she learns the real reason Fangli so desperately needs her help. In the end, all the lists in the world won’t be able to help Gracie keep up this elaborate ruse without losing herself… and her heart.

The Stand-In is an Audible Original in which an ordinary woman suddenly gets the chance to experience the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It’s a fun Cinderella story, but it helps to suspend disbelief A LOT to truly enjoy it.

When we meet Gracie, she has a job she hates thanks to a boss who sexually harasses her constantly — but rather than making a fuss or going to HR to report him, Gracie tries even harder to blend into the background, dressing dully and using makeup that’s neutral and not the least bit eye-catching. Gracie’s mother, a Chinese immigrant to Canada, drilled into Gracie’s head that she should always try to fit in, not stand out.

But when Gracie is mistaken for Chinese actress Wei Fangli in a coffee shop, her world changes dramatically. Caught on camera by a paparazzo on a day when she’d called in sick, Gracie is fired by her creepy boss and plunges into despair. How will she afford the nursing home her mother needs if she has no income? With her mother’s dementia steadily progressing, Gracie feels the pressures mounting, and none of her daily planners and apps seem to help her get her life under control. (Remember the bit about the planners — this is important later.)

Gracie is approached by Wei Fangli and her super-hot costar Sam Yao with a proposition: Because of their similar looks, Fangli wants to hire Gracie — for a huge amount of money — to be her public double. Gracie will dress and act like Fangli and attend social engagements in her place, allowing Fangli to just focus on her theater performances and otherwise avoid the pressure of a public life.

Against her better judgment, Gracie accepts the offer. She needs that money! But she soon learns that she likes it, too. She gets to dress in gorgeous clothes, live in a luxury hotel suite, and spend lots and lots of time with Sam. Yes, she feels guilty for essentially lying to everyone she meets as Fangli, but she keeps reminding herself that she’s doing it for her mother.

The Stand-In is a fun fairy tale of a story, with echoes of The Prince and the Pauper too. Wouldn’t every “ordinary” person love the chance to walk in a celebrity’s (high-priced designer) shoes? I wouldn’t say the plot is believable — I mean, they can’t really be that identical, can they? But it’s certainly amusing to see Gracie trying to master the art of posing on a red carpet, being photographed from every angle, and speaking as if she’s used to being the center of attention.

There are some interesting ideas too about public personas and what it means to always be on, especially as compared with someone like Gracie who’s been taught all her life not to make waves. Additionally, Grace is a biracial woman living in Toronto who doesn’t speak Mandarin, yet is impersonating a Mandarin-speaking Chinese actress and is also trying to connect with a mother who slips more and more into the language of her youth. Gracie has to deal with issues related to identity and race, on the one hand being seen as Chinese rather than Canadian, yet being seen by Chinese people she interacts with as not Chinese enough.

There’s also a love story, of course, and while it comes across as absolute wish-fulfillment (the sexiest man in the world falling for an ordinary woman!), it does have some very sweet moments of flirtation, sharing secrets and wishes, and making connections. Also, Sam really is a great character, and it’s easy to see how some of his big romantic gestures might make anyone with a heartbeat swoon.

I really liked Gracie’s blossoming friendship with Fangli and the ways in which they end up helping and supporting one another. I wasn’t crazy about the plotline revolving around Gracie inventing a daily planner. While I suppose the point is to show Gracie finding a way to take control of her own life and make a splash as a businesswoman, there’s too much time spent on her figuring out ways to organize her tasks and to-do lists.

Plotwise, The Stand-In really is more romantic fairy tale than real-life contemporary drama. A lot of the developments are ridiculous if you think about them too hard. If you can put aside the need to say “but this could never happen!”, it’s still a fun listen. I would also add my main quibble about the plot — the old “listening through a doorway and jumping to conclusions” romance trope. This makes me batty — a character overhears a conversation, immediately misinterprets what they hear, and then take dramatic action based on this misinterpretation. It’s just so dumb. At least verify what you think you’ve heard!! Sigh… but then where would the drama be?

In terms of the audiobook narration, it’s a treat to listen to Hamilton star Phillipa Soo. This is her first full-length audiobook — you can read more about her experience recording it here. Overall, I think she does a good job voicing the different characters and making them distinct. The one complaint I have is that in dialogue scenes, it can be hard to tell whether Gracie is thinking a response to herself or saying the response to the other person — her voice isn’t actually different for asides, so it does get confusing.

The Stand-In is an Audible Original and is available (free) as part of the Audible Plus Catalog. For those who have access, I recommend giving it a listen. The story is sweet and engaging, and despite the fairy tale-esque twists and revelations, the characters are really special and will stick with you.

**********

Through affiliate programs, I may earn commissions from purchases made when you click through these links, at no cost to you.

Buy now at Amazon

Check out video interviews and more about this book at Audible



Book Review: On the Way to the Wedding (Bridgertons, #8) by Julia Quinn

Title: On the Way to the Wedding (Bridgertons, #8)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2006
Length: 371 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A funny thing happened …

Unlike most men of his acquaintance, Gregory Bridgerton believes in true love. And he is convinced that when he finds the woman of his dreams, he will know in an instant that she is the one. And that is exactly what happened. Except …

She wasn’t the one. In fact, the ravishing Miss Hermione Watson is in love with another. But her best friend, the ever-practical Lady Lucinda Abernathy, wants to save Hermione from a disastrous alliance, so she offers to help Gregory win her over. But in the process, Lucy falls in love. With Gregory! Except …

Lucy is engaged. And her uncle is not inclined to let her back out of the betrothal, even once Gregory comes to his senses and realizes that it is Lucy, with her sharp wit and sunny smile, who makes his heart sing. And now, on the way to the wedding, Gregory must risk everything to ensure that when it comes time to kiss the bride, he is the only man standing at the altar …

Another plane trip, another Bridgertons book… and this time, I’m done! I’ve now read all 8 books in the series, each one devoted to one of the Bridgerton siblings. This time around, it’s Gregory’s turn. Gregory is the 2nd youngest, and the youngest of the male Bridgerton’s. It’s about time for him to get his happily ever after, even though, once again, it’s disconcerting to read a romance about a character who looks like this per the TV series:

Never fear; In On the Way to the Wedding, Gregory is all grown up at age 26, but lacks a firm direction in his life. What he does know for sure is that he believes in love, even though he has yet to experience it himself. His own parents married for love, and he’s seen each of his seven siblings blissfully married off to the person they love as well. With that kind of family history, how could he settle for anything else?

Unfortunately, Gregory doesn’t really understand the difference between love and infatuation, so when he catches a sight of the gorgeous Hermione Watson at his sister-in-law’s house party, he’s instantly smitten and feel certain that Hermione is his destiny. Hermione, though, is absolutely bored to tears by the nonstop parade of men falling all over her. Her best friend, Lady Lucinda Abernathy, is used to running interference, and she steps in to divert Gregory from making a complete arse of himself.

All sorts of hijinks ensue, and before long, Gregory comes to his senses and realizes that the pragmatic, smart, funny Lucy is really the woman of his dreams. But there are complications, of course, leading eventually to a mad dash across London to try to stop her from marrying another man.

I don’t feel that I got a really good grasp of Gregory and Lucy as individuals, but maybe I just have Bridgerton fatigue and they’re all starting to blur together in my mind. I enjoyed the story, especially the dramatics that explode with an interrupted wedding, a case of blackmail, and a daring rescue… but I don’t think this book will stick with me the way some of the earlier Bridgerton stories will.

Once again, the plot is brightened by appearances of other Bridgertons, but those are few and far between (although author Julia Quinn really is superb at making the most of their brief cameos).

And finally, I’ve finished all the Bridgerton books! Eight siblings, all happily married! It’s a satisfying ending for an engaging romance series. And now I need season 2 on Netflix!

**********

Through affiliate programs, I may earn commissions from purchases made when you click through these links, at no cost to you.

Buy now at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Series wrap-up: Moose Springs series (#1 – 3) by Sarah Morgenthaler

Sometimes you need serious reading material. And sometimes, fluffy reads rule! I’ve been leaning into light, not-too-serious reading lately, especially when it comes to audiobooks, and these sweet romances with an Alaska setting have been just right for my mood.

Title: The Tourist Attraction
Published: 2020
Length: 352 pages
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

He had a strict “no tourists” policy…

Until she broke all of his rules.

When Graham Barnett named his diner The Tourist Trap, he meant it as a joke. Now he’s stuck slinging reindeer dogs to an endless parade of resort visitors who couldn’t interest him less. Not even the sweet, enthusiastic tourist in the corner who blushes every time he looks her way…

Two weeks in Alaska isn’t just the top item on Zoey Caldwell’s bucket list. It’s the whole bucket. One look at the mountain town of Moose Springs and she’s smitten. But when an act of kindness brings Zoey into Graham’s world, she may just find there’s more to the grumpy local than meets the eye…and more to love in Moose Springs than just the Alaskan wilderness. 

The Tourist Attraction introduces us to the split-personality town of Moose Springs, Alaska — a quirky little town set amidst magnificent mountains, which both relies on its high-end luxury resort for economic survival and detests all outsiders.

Graham is rude and gruff, but you just know there’s a heart of gold underneath it all, and he falls head over heels for Zoey, despite his no-tourists rule. After an awkward incident in which Zoey thinks she’s about to get murdered by a chainsaw wielding maniac (don’t ask), Zoey and Graham find themselves repeatedly thrown together, and of course, sparks fly.

The setting is charming and sounds beautiful. While Moose Springs is fictional, from the description, I can’t help picturing it as based on Girdwood, a small-ish town that’s home to the beautiful Alyeska Resort.

The romance is cute and somewhat predictable, but chapters that delve into the corporate machinations of The Montgomery Group (which owns most of the town’s property) left me cold. (Cold! ‘Cuz it’s Alaska!) Zoey’s best friend Lana Montgomery is her host during her Alaska getaway, and Lana is one of the Montgomery family’s chief businesswomen and heir apparent — and while Lana seems like a good person, there’s perhaps too much focus on the business dealings for my taste.

There’s an appealing cast of supporting characters, a beautiful setting, a few moose wandering through, and some small-town hijinks. Also, a perfect border collie who is blind, has an extensive wardrobe, and is the most beloved dog in the entire town. The book as a whole is absurdly cute, and is a nice mix of romantic fluff and emotional connection.

Title: Mistletoe & Mr. Right
Published: 2020
Length: 400 pages
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

How the moose (almost) stole Christmas.

Lana Montgomery is everything the quirky small town of Moose Springs, Alaska can’t stand: a rich socialite with dreams of changing things for the better. But Lana’s determined to prove that she belongs…even if it means trading her stilettos for snow boots and tracking one of the town’s hairiest Christmas mysteries: the Santa Moose, an antlered Grinch hell-bent on destroying every bit of holiday cheer (and tinsel) it can sink its teeth into.

And really…how hard could it be?

The last few years have been tough on Rick Harding, and it’s not getting any easier now that his dream girl’s back in town. When Lana accidentally tranquilizes him instead of the Santa Moose, it’s clear she needs help, fast…and this could be his chance to finally catch her eye. It’s an all-out Christmas war, but if they can nab that darn moose before it destroys the town, Rick and Lana might finally find a place where they both belong…together.

In the 2nd Moose Springs book, it’s about six months later, Zoey and Graham are bonkers in love, and Lana Montgomery takes center stage. Lana has been visiting Moose Springs since childhood and has been mostly tolerated by the locals, but her plans to build luxury condominiums and revitalize the local economy are being met with hostility by the townsfolk, who resent her intrusion and the likelihood of even more tourists messing up their lives.

Lana ends up falling for Rick, the owner of the local pool hall, who is equally smitten. There’s a silly subplot about a moose who hates Christmas decorations, but mainly it’s about Lana and Rick deciding to have a holiday fling, then realizing that their feelings go much deeper.

I hate that the synopsis and the book itself keep referring to Lana as a “socialite”. What does that even mean? Yes, she’s a gazillionaire, but she’s a businesswoman heading up her family’s corporate investments in Alaska, not just some flighty rich person attending lavish parties.

This is an opposites-attract plot for sure, since Rick is not rich, polished, interested in “society”, or used to luxuries. But, he falls for Lana, the feeling is mutual, and they have great chemistry and some pretty goofy adventures.

I did feel extremely angry at this book when, toward the end, it feel into a romance trope I hate — the “I’m breaking up with you despite being in love with you because I’ll only hold you back” plot device, which is just, ugh, so emotionally unfair and manipulative. So you know better than the other person what they really need? Yuck.

Of course, there’s an HEA, because hey, this is a romance, not real life. And I enjoyed it enough to want to keep going!

Title: Enjoy the View
Published: 2021
Length: 352 pages
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A grouchy mountaineer, a Hollywood starlet
And miles of untamed wilderness…
What could possibly go wrong?

Former Hollywood darling River Lane’s acting career is tanking fast. Determined to start fresh behind the camera, she agrees to film a documentary about the picturesque small town of Moose Springs, Alaska. The assignment should have been easy, but the quirky locals want nothing to do with River. Well, too bad: River’s going to make this film and prove herself, no matter what it takes.

Or what (literal) mountain she has to climb.

Easton Lockett may be a gentle giant, but he knows a thing or two about survival. If he can keep everyone in line, he should be able to get River and her crew up and down Mount Veil in one piece. Turns out that’s a big if. The wildlife’s wilder than usual, the camera crew’s determined to wander off a cliff, and the gorgeous actress is fearless. Falling for River only makes Easton’s job tougher, but there’s only so long he can hold out against her brilliant smile. When bad weather strikes, putting everyone at risk, it’ll take all of Easton’s skill to get them back home safely…and convince River she should stay in his arms for good.

Enjoy the View feels pretty different from the previous two books, since most of the action happens outside of Moose Springs, on the (very scary) nearby mountain Mount Veil.

Easton is a familiar character, good friend to Graham and Rick, a huge mountaineer who doesn’t say much, but — as we see here — has a heart of gold and untapped emotional depths. When Easton encounters River, he doesn’t recognize her from her movie career — he just sees a strange tourist walking down the side of the road with a suitcase. He doesn’t realize that by stopping to offer assistance, he’s interrupting a shot for her movie. Oops!

River’s Hollywood career seems to have stalled. At the ripe old age of 29 (!!), she’s not being offered great roles any longer, and she’s turned her attention to producing and directing. She and her trusty crew have been hired by the Alaska tourism board to make a movie about Moose Springs, but unfortunately, the tourist-hating town wants nothing to do with them and impedes their filming at every turn. With no other options, they turn to the big attraction outside of town — Mt. Veil, the intimidating mountain that only the most skilled climbers can successfully summit.

Of course, River needs a guide, and of course, Easton is the man assigned to her climb. As they work together, their attraction deepens into an emotional connection. River is feisty and argumentative, Easton is quiet and strict when it comes to his safety rules, and they clash incessantly — but we just know that beneath it all, they’re falling in love.

I enjoyed reading about the climb and how scary it is, but I pretty frequently wanted to give River a good shake. She repeatedly ignores Easton’s rules and ends up endangering herself and others because of it. Somehow Easton keeps forgiving her, and I assume we’re supposed to find River’s rebelliousness charming and a sign of her independence, but her actions seem downright foolhardy at some points. I would not be nearly as forgiving as Easton, never mind falling in love!

As is typical of this series, there’s cute banter, some adorable wildlife (including a memorable marmot), and lots of breathtaking scenery. I wish the familiar characters from the town had bigger roles in Enjoy the View, but even in their brief appearances, it’s fun to see Graham, Zoey, and Easton’s sister Ash.

Enjoy the View is a fun way to end a three-audiobook binge!

Wrapping it all up…

This is clearly not a series that’s meant to be taken too seriously. It maintains a casually funny tone throughout, even when there are more emotional moments taking place. The town of Moose Springs is full of small-town quirky personalities, and the setting makes it really fun.

My two main complaints are:

1 – The male leads are cookie-cutter outdoorsy-loner types with a soft, gushy intererior. There’s really not much to distinguish them apart from their different occupations and physical builds (although they’re all versions of gorgeous, muscular hunks who look great in flannel). Really, I found Graham, Rick, and Easton to be fairly easily interchangeable (although, I admit Graham’s humor does set him apart to some extent). Not to say that I don’t like them, just that there’s not much distinctive about them.

2 – A more serious complaint is that there is just no Native representation, and that bothers me. Yes, these are fluffy romances, but the books seem to present Alaska as being populated strictly by the above-mentioned flannel-wearing white outdoorsmen. This omission is pretty glaring and is an irritant throughout the books.

Complaints aside, I have to admit that these books are addictively fun, with lots of silly misadventures and cute scenarios. And who can resist big, gruff men becoming marshmallow soft as soon as they fall in love?

I see on Goodreads that book #4 (no details or title provided) is due out sometime in 2022. Hmmm, who will the romantic focus be for whatever tourist wanders into town next? Easton’s sister Ash? Resort owner Jax? I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

But will I read it? You betcha!

Book Review: It’s In His Kiss (Bridgertons, #7) by Julia Quinn

Title: It’s In His Kiss (Bridgertons, #7)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2005
Length: 407 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

IF IT’S IN HIS HEART… IT’S IN HIS KISS

MEET OUR HERO…

Gareth St. Clair is in a bind. His father, who detests him, is determined to beggar the St. Clair estates and ruin his inheritance. Gareth’s sole bequest is an old family diary, which may or may not contain the secrets of his past… and the key to his future. The problem is—it’s written in Italian, of which Gareth speaks not a word.

MEET OUR HEROINE…

All the ton agreed: there was no one quite like Hyacinth Bridgerton. She’s fiendishly smart, devilishly outspoken, and according to Gareth, probably best in small doses. But there’s something about her—something charming and vexing—that grabs him and won’t quite let go…

MEET POOR MR. MOZART…

Or don’t. But rest assured, he’s spinning in his grave when Gareth and Hyacinth cross paths at the annual—and annually discordant—Smythe-Smith musicale. To Hyacinth, Gareth’s every word seems a dare, and she offers to translate his diary, even though her Italian is slightly less than perfect. But as they delve into the mysterious text, they discover that the answers they seek lie not in the diary, but in each other… and that there is nothing as simple—or as complicated—as a single, perfect kiss.

I had yet another airplane flight this week, and so I turned to yet another Bridgerton book for company. Book #7, It’s In His Kiss, jumps ahead to the 8th and youngest of the Bridgerton offspring, Hyacinth, who is 22 years old when the story opens. It’s her 4th season out in society, she’s had six unsuitable proposals in her previous three season, and while she’s not on the shelf yet, that moment isn’t quite as far away as it once was. Is is because Hyacinth is too picky, or is it because she’s too opinionated and outspoken, not willing to play the shy maiden? Whatever the reason, Hyacinth both really wants to find a husband and doesn’t want to relinquish her ability to think and make her own decisions — not a combination that typically leads to romantic bliss.

(Of course, it’s a little challenging for me to picture Hyacinth as old enough to be married, since we saw her on the Netflix series looking like this:)

Hyancinth – the early years

Hyacinth is devoted to Lady Danbury, the elderly woman who rules society with her imperiousness and the stomping of her cane, and the two have a weekly visit during which Hyacinth reads aloud from the latest melodramatic pulp novel.

Lady Danbury’s grandson is Gareth St. Clair, a notorious rake known for his irresponsible ways and a string of opera singer mistresses, as well as for never, ever courting a young lady from the ton. Gareth has been estranged from his harsh, domineering father for ten years, and his father seems determined to run the family wealth into the ground, especially now that Gareth’s older brother, the presumed heir, has died at a young age, leaving Gareth to inherit the family title and holdings.

When Gareth comes into possession of his paternal grandmother’s diary, written in her native Italian, he needs a translator, and fortunately, Hyacinth is proficient in the language. They agree that she’ll work on a translation, and as they check in on the progress, the two become increasingly attracted to one another. Through the translation, Hyacinth learns that the grandmother was very unhappy in her marriage and that she had a secret — a trove of jewels that she brought with her from Italy and hid somewhere in Clair House. As far as Gareth knows, no one else is even aware that the jewels exist, but they could be the answer to the debt Gareth seems destined to inherit.

As in the other Bridgerton books, there’s some delicious flirtation and chemistry between the two main characters, as they’re thrust together repeatedly. There are shenanigans and near-disasters, as Hyacinth refuses to sit home demurely when there’s adventure afoot, and she repeatedly drives Gareth to distraction by taking risks with her safety and her reputation in order to help him on his quest.

Between the more light-hearted escapades, there are also weightier moments, told through Gareth’s perspective, as he struggles with his social status, his father’s animosity, and a secret that could deprive him of everything he hopes for, including Hyacinth’s regard.

It’s In His Kiss is a fun outing in the world of the Bridgerton clan, although I do with we’d had more glimpses of the rest of the family. Daphne, Anthony, and Penelope make brief appearances, Lady Violet is a more active and present character, and the rest, while mentioned, are all offstage.

I did really enjoy this book, as I have the other books in the series, but of course, there are some elements that feel a bit cringe-inducing.

She might not have said yes, but she didn’t say no.

Granted, explicit verbal consent wasn’t a thing in the 19th century, but reading this through today’s lens make me uncomfortable.

Additionally, Gareth is so afraid that Hyacinth will call off their engagement if she hears certain things about him that he realizes his best option is to seduce her. She’s clearly interested and responsive to him physically, but again, the idea that he’s going to deliberately set out to “ruin” her so she’ll have no choice about marriage makes me very unhappy — even though the sex is definitely consensual when it finally happens.

Still, Gareth and Hyacinth share a knack for banter and humor that keeps this book on the lighter side:

Gareth thought his head might explode. “Good God, woman, have you been listening to anything I’ve said?”

“Of course I have. I have four older brothers. I can recognize a supercilious, pontificating male when I see one.”

Surprisingly, there seems to be more time spent on Gareth and his POV than Hyacinth, but still, the book works, and is a fun addition to the overarching Bridgerton storyline. And as I’ve learned, I can always count on a Bridgerton book for some good, engaging, but not too heavy travel reading.

Will I continue with the Bridgertons? Well, of course!

That’s seven Bridgerton children happily married, one more to go!

**********

Through affiliate programs, I may earn commissions from purchases made when you click through these links, at no cost to you.

Buy now at AmazonBook Depository – Bookshop.org

Book Review: The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren

Title: The Soulmate Equation
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: May 18, 2021
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction/romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Single mom Jess Davis is a data and statistics wizard, but no amount of number crunching can convince her to step back into the dating world. Raised by her grandparents–who now help raise her seven-year-old daughter, Juno–Jess has been left behind too often to feel comfortable letting anyone in. After all, her father’s never been around, her hard-partying mother disappeared when she was six, and her ex decided he wasn’t “father material” before Juno was even born. Jess holds her loved ones close, but working constantly to stay afloat is hard…and lonely.

But then Jess hears about GeneticAlly, a buzzy new DNA-based matchmaking company that’s predicted to change dating forever. Finding a soulmate through DNA? The reliability of numbers: This Jess understands. At least she thought she did, until her test shows an unheard-of 98% compatibility with another subject in the database: GeneticAlly’s founder, Dr. River Pena. This is one number she can’t wrap her head around, because she already knows Dr. Pena. The stuck-up, stubborn man is without a doubt not her soulmate. But GeneticAlly has a proposition: Get to know him and we’ll pay you. Jess–who is barely making ends meet–is in no position to turn it down, despite her skepticism about the project and her dislike for River. As the pair are dragged from one event to the next as the “Diamond” pairing that could make GeneticAlly a mint in stock prices, Jess begins to realize that there might be more to the scientist–and the science behind a soulmate–than she thought.

Funny, warm, and full of heart, The Soulmate Equation proves that the delicate balance between fate and choice can never be calculated.

When you pick up a new Christina Lauren book, you know you’ll get crazy good chemistry, unlikely pairings, great banter, and lots of clever plotting. The Soulmate Equation is no exception — yet another really fun modern romance with a few tricks up its sleeves.

Main character Jess, on the cusp of 30, spends all day, every day at a local coffee shop, working on her freelance statistics jobs alongside her best friend Fizzy, a successful romance writer. They use the free wifi, buy snacks and drinks every 90 minutes so they’re not just mooching, people watch, get work done, and enjoy one another’s company. And they always notice the arrival of “Americano”, the surly yet gorgeous businessman who arrives every morning exactly at 8:24, orders the exact same drink, and leaves without making eye contact with a single person.

Jess is getting by, but she has constant worries. She needs to keep and attract more clients to feel financially secure, and as the single mother of a 7-year-old, she’s only too aware of how precarious their situation could be. One dropped client could mean no ballet lessons for Juno, but one more could mean she’d be able to save for braces. Fortunately, Jess and Juno live in the same complex as Jess’s Nana and Pops, the loving grandparents who raised Jess, and their love and support makes a huge difference.

Everything changes one day when Fizzy learns that “Americano” is starting an online matchmaking business, which the friends just can’t believe. He is so stern and buttoned-up! Fizzy, being her usual effervescent self, stops him in the coffee shop and asks him, and while he says it’s not exactly a matchmaking service, he does leave a card and invites them to learn more. Never one to waste time, Fizzy insists that they go check out the office same day.

Lo and behold, “Americano” is actually Dr. River Pena, a geneticist and found of GeneticAlly, a company that uses DNA analysis to assess compatibility and match people biologically determined to be likely soulmates. It all sounds a bit crazy, but Jess is reluctantly fascinated by the statistics quoted during their presentation, and Fizzy just wants a chance for some reasonably good hook-ups. Fizzy submits a sample, and Jess eventually does too, after a day when she feels particularly down about how unchanging her life feels.

Things truly get crazy when Jess is urgently called back to the GeneticAlly offices. Her tests have come back, and she’s matched at a 98% compatible score, something never seen before. The company reps are thrilled, especially at the idea of the great press they’ll get ahead of the company’s IPO… all except Dr. Pena, who, it turns out, is Jess’s match. But how can this be? They can barely tolerate one another!

You can see where this is going, right? Jess agrees to spend time with River for the sake of the company, even though she knows the data must not be right. How can numbers predict who you’ll fall in love with? An even scarier thought for Jess is, what if the numbers really are true? Can science say you’ll fall for someone even when all first impressions say the exact opposite?

Watching Jess and River get to know one another and start to acknowledge their developing chemisty is quite fun. Jess is an amazing and responsible mother, so she’s very cautious about letting River into her life. Meanwhile, River is a serious scientist who’s never made time for love, but he’s staked his entire career on this company and absolutely believes in it — so if he denies that their results mean that they’re meant for one another, what does this mean for his faith in his own work?

The flirtation and courtship and physical attraction between these two is adorable, and I love how they each open up to one another, allowing the other person to see and understand their vulnerabilities, their past experiences, and their hopes and fears. They’re incredibly sweet together, and if you don’t melt during some of the scenes of River helping Juno with her homework, then you have no soul. (Too harsh? Sorry.)

One thing I always appreciate in Christina Lauren books is how smart and competent and professional their female characters are. Jess is a statistician — how cool is that? And it’s not just a throwaway. Not that I understand her work, but I liked reading about her projects, her thought processes, and how she applies her knowledge of data and statistics to understanding River’s work and GeneticAlly’s match results.

Fizzy is an awesome best friend, and I love that she’s a romance writer. There are a few lines about her work that made me think she’s standing in for the author duo and proving wrong (in the funniest way possible) every lousy, ill-informed comment about writing romances that they’ve ever been subjected to. Fizzy is funny and supportive and silly, and I’d love to read even more about her!

The Soulmate Equation is a lot of fun, and it’ll leave you with all sorts of warm, fuzzy feels. I read it over the course of two gray, drizzly days, and it made me feel like the sun was shining again! If you enjoy smart contemporary romance that feels authentic even when it’s funny, don’t miss this one!

**********

Through affiliate programs, I may earn commissions from purchases made when you click through these links, at no cost to you.

Buy now at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Book Review: When He Was Wicked (Bridgertons, #6) by Julia Quinn

Title: When He Was Wicked (Bridgertons, #6)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2004
Length: 426 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In every life there is a turning point . . .

A moment so tremendous, so sharp and breathtaking, that one knows one’s life will never be the same. For Michael Stirling, London’s most infamous rake, that moment came the first time he laid eyes on Francesca Bridgerton.

After a lifetime of chasing women, of smiling slyly as they chased him, of allowing himself to be caught but never permitting his heart to become engaged, he took one look at Francesca Bridgerton and fell so fast and hard into love it was a wonder he managed to remain standing. Unfortunately for Michael, however, Francesca’s surname was to remain Bridgerton for only a mere thirty-six hours longer—the occasion of their meeting was, lamentably, a supper celebrating her imminent wedding to his cousin.

But that was then . . . Now Michael is the earl and Francesca is free, but still she thinks of him as nothing other than her dear friend and confidant. Michael dares not speak to her of his love . . . until one dangerous night, when she steps innocently into his arms and passion proves stronger than even the most wicked of secrets . . . 

Another flight, another Bridgerton book! Book #6, When He Was Wicked, tells the story of the 6th Bridgerton child, Francesca — who spends much of the book series (as well as practically all of season 1 of the Netflix series) off-screen.

A rare glimpse of Francesca

We’ve heard about Francesca from afar during the previous couple of books. A year younger than her sister Eloise, Francesca is largely absent from the goings-on in the earlier books, at first being too young to be out in society, and later, already away from London.

We learn in book #4 (I believe) that Francesca is already a young widow at age 24. We hear of her through other family members, and know that she was married to an earl and lives at their estate in Scotland. That’s pretty much all we know, other than that she seems to never be around for family gatherings.

“It’s as if I don’t exist,” she said…

Finally, in When He Was Wicked, Frannie’s story takes center stage.

We start the book, however, not with Francesca, but with her husband’s cousin. Michael Stirling is first cousin to John Stirling, Earl of Kilmartin. Michael has a reputation as a terribly wicked rake (of course! don’t all the attractive men?), but he’s also loyal and devoted to John, who is more brother to him than cousin. Michael also has the bad luck and bad timing to fall head over heels in love with Francesca at first sight — which happens to be only a day and a half before John marries her.

Michael hides his feelings, and becomes a true friend to Francesca. The three — Michael, John, and Francesca — are inseparable, and best of friends. But two years later, when the unthinkable happens and John dies suddenly, Michael and Francesca are torn apart as well. Michael, as John’s heir, will step into his role as Earl. He feels horrible guilt over living what should have been John’s life, and cannot bear the idea of being close to Frannie and being her main support while knowing the guilty truth of his secret love for her. Michael flees to India as soon after John’s death as he can, and Francesca is left widowed, in mourning, suffering, and feeling abandoned by the person she most counted on.

Years pass, and Francesca realizes that she wants a baby. And of course, the only way to get a baby is to marry — so she leaves the estate in Scotland to spend the season in London and look for a suitable husband. Michael shows up as well, ready to fully assume his duties as Earl, which also means finding a wife.

As the widowed Countess of Kilmartin, Francesca takes up residence in the Kilmartin home in London, and so does Michael, where the two soon find themselves too close for comfort. After a series of misunderstandings and confrontations, there’s finally a kiss, and Francesca is shocked and embarrassed to realize that she feels attracted to Michael. And, as such things go in romance novels, she assumes it’s one-sided and flees back to the Scottish estate, only to be pursued by Michael, where things quickly become hot and heavy… and as the title lets us know, very, very wicked.

I enjoyed the storytelling very much in this book, and felt quite sorry for poor Frannie, widowed too young, facing a lifetime on her own, and longing so much for a family that she’s even willing to consider marriage without love if it’ll allow her to have babies. There are some very sweet moments between her and her mother Violet, in which they share thoughts on widowhood, losing the love of one’s life, and how to move on. Violet is open to Francesca in a way which we haven’t seen with her daughters in other books, probably because none have been as vulnerable as Francesca, and it’s lovely.

Michael is given equal time with Francesca as a point-of-view character, and I found his outlook refreshing and insightful. As is typical in romances set in this period, his sexual conquests aren’t seen as shameful (only women can be ruined by inappropriate conduct, not men), but at least we get to hear his perspective on all the women he’s been with and how they were all really just stand-ins for Francesca. Michael’s sorrow and guilt regarding his cousin seem genuine and heartfelt, so that as he and Francesca start to explore their attraction and growing feelings, it makes sense that Michael would be held back by his inner doubts even while yearning to be with the woman of his dreams.

I’m not sure that I loved Michael’s ultimate gambit for tying Francesca to him. He can’t make progress by words or wooing, so he sets out to seduce her, figuring he’ll make her want him even if she doesn’t love him. (Spoiler alert — she does love him!) The sexual advances and hot-and-heavy scenes are all entirely consensual — he asks her every step of the way — but I still felt a little uncomfortable with the idea of his using her arousal to push her into a relationship she might not otherwise be ready for.

He’d awakened the wanton within her, and she wanted her revenge.

It’s not a surprise that true love and a wedding and babies are the end game here — in that sense, When He Was Wicked is no different from the other books in the series. Still, the plot here is quite good, and I liked getting to know Francesca, and seeing a very different view of the social pressures of Regency society. Francesca is no virginal debutante — she’s a widow of means who has the social and economic power to remain unmarried and independent for the rest of her life, if she so chooses. In When He Was Wicked, we see marriage and courtship through a practical lens — if a young widow wants a baby, then how else is she to get what she wants but to find a suitable husband and make it happen?

I also found the chronology of When He Was Wicked interesting, as it overlaps with events from the previous two books, and I thought author Julia Quinn pulled off the interwoven events and details very well! Overall, this is another delightful addition to a series that becomes more and more addictive as it goes along. This many books into the series, it’s hard to stop.

That’s six Bridgerton children happily married, two more to go!

**********

Through affiliate programs, I may earn commissions from purchases made when you click through these links, at no cost to you.

Buy When He Was Wicked at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Book Review: To Sir Phillip, With Love (Bridgertons, #5) by Julia Quinn

Title: To Sir Phillip, With Love (Bridgertons, #5)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2003
Length: 383 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Sir Phillip knew from his correspondence with his dead wife’s distant cousin that Eloise Bridgerton was a spinster, and so he’d proposed, figuring that she’d be homely and unassuming, and more than a little desperate for an offer of marriage. Except . . . she wasn’t. The beautiful woman on his doorstep was anything but quiet, and when she stopped talking long enough to close her mouth, all he wanted to do was kiss her…

Eloise Bridgerton couldn’t marry a man she had never met! But then she started thinking… and wondering… and before she knew it, she was in a hired carriage in the middle of the night, on her way to meet the man she hoped might be her perfect match. Except… he wasn’t. Her perfect husband wouldn’t be so moody and ill-mannered. And he certainly should have mentioned that he had two young – and decidedly unruly – children, as much in need of a mother as Phillip is in need of a wife.

Bridgerton books have become my go-to comfort reads, and an absolute must for long plane trips. They’re sweet, light, and easy, but never fail to entertain. Let’s dive in.

Since watching Bridgerton on Netflix, I’ve had a soft spot for Eloise — that’s the letter E, which makes Eloise the 5th Bridgerton child and the 2nd girl in this large family. TV Eloise is awesome — independent, outspoken, intelligent, and not too wound up in societal niceties.

In book #5, many years have passed since we first met Eloise. Here, she’s 28 years old and a spinster. She hadn’t minded her spinster status so long as she had her best friend Penelope to keep her company, but now that Penelope has gotten married, Eloise suddenly isn’t so content any more.

As the story opens, we learn that Eloise has been in correspondence for a year with a man named Sir Phillip Crane, the widower of her deceased 4th cousin Marina. After sending Sir Phillip a note of condolence after Marina’s death, the two have continued to write and to get to know one another via letters. Finally, Phillip suggests that she come to his country estate for a visit to see if they might suit one another for marriage.

Eloise being Eloise, rather than accepting the invitation and traveling with her mother’s permission and a suitable chaperone, decides to just go, and sneaks off while her family is busy at a soiree so she won’t be missed right away. She shows up unexpected on Phillip’s doorstep, and the two do not suit at all at first glance. He’s gruff and unwelcoming and taken aback by her arrival, and she’s tired, talkative, and unimpressed by his lack of hospitality. She’s even less impressed to learn that he has 8-year-old twins who are out-of-control hellions — whom he completely failed to mention in his letters.

He’s clearly looking for someone to take control of his children, and assumed a spinster would be grateful for marriage to a man with wealth and an estate. Eloise, meanwhile, having turned down six previous offers of marriage, has always hoped for a love match (after seeing her parents’ loving marriage, as well as the romances of her four older siblings). She’s not willing to settle, and is already contemplating her escape back to London — but as she and Phillip slowly start to become acquainted, there’s something holding her there, making her want to at least give him a chance.

Clearly, we all know where this is going to end up, and that Eloise and Phillip will end up falling madly in love after all. The fun is in getting there.

Eloise speaks her mind and thinks for herself, and makes it clear that Phillip needs to step up and be a better father as well as a better companion if he’s going to be worthy of her. She’s a delight.

The best scene in the book, in my humble opinion, is when Eloise’s brothers descend en masse to make sure that this oaf hasn’t ruined their sister. Seeing four big Bridgerton brothers ganging up on Sir Phillip is awesome. But hey, at least they don’t actually strangle him, so he comes out of it okay. They’re there to make sure a marriage takes place, no two ways about it, and really, the couple is left with no choice.

I did really enjoy To Sir Phillip, With Love, but didn’t find it quite as entertaining as some of the other books in the series. For as much as I love TV Eloise, I felt that her book personality here was a little more generic than I’d expected, making her just a little bit less quirky and unusual. Still, she’s a lot of fun, and I enjoyed seeing the growing connection between her and Phillip, as well as her developing relationship with his children — who, it turns out, are less awful and more suffering from lack of attention than Phillip realizes. (And of course, Eloise is the guardian angel who heals the rift between father and children.)

Will I keep going with the Bridgertons? Of course!

That’s five Bridgerton children happily married, three more to go!

**********

Through affiliate programs, I may earn commissions from purchases made when you click through these links, at no cost to you.

Buy To Sir Phillip, With Love at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Book Review: The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan

Title: The Intimacy Experiment
Author: Rosie Danan
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: April 6, 2021
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Naomi and Ethan will test the boundaries of love in this provocative romance from the author of the ground-breaking debut, The Roommate.

Naomi Grant has built her life around going against the grain. After the sex-positive start-up she cofounded becomes an international sensation, she wants to extend her educational platform to live lecturing. Unfortunately, despite her long list of qualifications, higher ed won’t hire her.

Ethan Cohen has recently received two honors: LA Mag named him one of the city’s hottest bachelors and he became rabbi of his own synagogue. Taking a gamble in an effort to attract more millennials to the faith, the executive board hired Ethan because of his nontraditional background. Unfortunately, his shul is low on both funds and congregants. The board gives him three months to turn things around or else they’ll close the doors of his synagogue for good.

Naomi and Ethan join forces to host a buzzy seminar series on Modern Intimacy, the perfect solution to their problems–until they discover a new one–their growing attraction to each other. They’ve built the syllabus for love’s latest experiment, but neither of them expected they’d be the ones putting it to the test. 

In author Rosie Danan’s follow-up to The Roommate, the story focuses on Naomi Grant, who we meet as a supporting character in The Roommate. Here, Naomi takes center stage, and really, she’s a fabulous main character.

Naomi is a sex worker with an advanced degree — a former adult performer (aka porn star) who has shifted her career by becoming co-CEO of a wildly successful sex-positive online platform, Shameless. Naomi sees her calling as being a voice for sex-positivity and helping people experience love, intimacy, and sexual expression in ways that are fulfilling and empowering. However, her very public background means that she can’t get a teaching job at any of the local colleges, no matter where she applies.

Enter Ethan. After meeting at an education conference, Ethan sees Naomi as a potential partner for his project of bringing new members to his floundering synagogue. Ethan is a young rabbi (formerly a physics teacher) with energy, enthusiasm, and compassion. His synagogue, like so many, is largely populated by an older crowd, and without an infusion of members, it won’t be able to survive. Ethan hears Naomi speaking passionately about her goals in education, and approaches her with a proposition — to teach a course on modern intimacy, sponsored by his synagogue.

After some doubts, Naomi agrees. Naomi is a fearless, hard-edged woman who never backs down from a challenge, but she also remembers her early life as Hannah Sturm, a Jewish girl raised without much formal religion who abruptly left her past behind after a disastrous public shaming that left her with some deep-seated scars (and which directly led to her embracing the porn industry). Naomi can’t really believe that a respectable rabbi would want to be associated with her scandalous personal brand, but Ethan thinks it’s a perfect match.

Together, they build a curriculum for a seven-part series that covers everything from courtship and first dates, to satisfying sex, to how to break up. With each new lecture, the course draws more and more participants, but it’s not without controversy: The stodgy, traditionalist synagogue board members think associating their shul with someone like Naomi Grant is damaging to their reputation and goes against their core values, and give Ethan some increasingly dire warnings intended to push him to cut ties with Naomi. But Ethan, despite his warmth and patience, also has a backbone, and he’s not going to back down from what he believes is the right thing to do.

Needless to say, alongside their professional partnership, Ethan and Naomi have instant chemistry, and the more they work together, the more they realize that it’s not just physical. Yes, they’re wildly attracted to one another, but they also connect on a deeper level, and find that their feelings are growing in ways that neither expected.

There’s a lot to love about The Intimacy Experiment. First off, this book is way more Jewish than I would have expected! As someone who grew up around synagogues and JCCs, I was tickled pink every time there’s a mention of something I could relate to. It was really intriguing and surprising to discover how much the plot is driven by the very real challenge facing synagogues today — how to reach and engage unaffiliated Jewish young adults and bring them into organized religious institutions at a time when synagogues and religion may be viewed as ultra-conservative relics of the past.

Before starting the book, I felt a little uncomfortable with the idea of seeing a rabbi as a romantic lead, but I got over it! Ethan is smart, sweet, and compassionate, and his spiritual journey is described in very meaningful ways. And yes, there are sex scenes, but by the time the book gets there, I’d gotten to know Ethan as a person, not just as his title, and it didn’t bother me.

If you’re familiar at all with The Roommate, you’ll know that that book — while a great read — is also very explicit when it comes to sex. The Intimacy Experiment has sex scenes as well, but they don’t permeate the entire book they way they do in The Roommate. Instead, The Intimacy Experiment focuses on — as the title promises — intimacy, as we see the developing feelings between Naomi and Ethan and see how they apply Naomi’s lecture topics to their own relationship.

Beyond a really engaging plotline, The Intimacy Experiment has the clever and funny writing that the author excels at. While the book has heavier, more serious moments of introspection and processing earlier trauma, the overall tone is lightened up by the banter and frankness of its characters.

Also, and I can’t stress this enough, Naomi’s no-bullshit, no-shame approach is hilarious:

Naomi wondered how many women who got asked to be maid of honor used to fuck the groom, and on camera no less.

Ethan does manage to keep up, though.

“You don’t kiss like a rabbi,” Naomi said, her voice full of furious accusation, as she tugged him past the innocent bystander hunting for their lost keys.

Ethan focused on exhaling. “How many rabbis have you kissed?”

Naomi brought her fingers up to her swollen lips. “Evidently, not enough.”

While I really enjoyed this book, I did find myself annoyed by its use of the standard romance trope of miscommunication/bad assumptions — the point in the plot where a couple who are totally into one another end up fighting or breaking up because they misunderstand the other’s intent or feelings. Here, Naomi and Ethan each assume that the other deserves better, but don’t discuss it. For two intelligent, articulate, aware characters, it seems unrealistic and just there because a standard romance needs this type of plot element.

My other quibble with the book may stem from my own lack of knowledge, but in one scene, Ethan takes a selfie at an Oneg Shabbat at the synagogue following Friday night services, and in another, he has Shabbat dinner at his mother’s house, where a dish with butter is served alongside a dish with meat. Ethan is a Reform rabbi, and I grew up in Conservative Judaism, so I may be off-base, but it seems to me that a rabbi of any branch of Judaism would keep kosher and observe Shabbat. But, since the book seems to get so much right in its Jewish elements, I can’t help wondering if I’m just assuming things that aren’t universally true.

All in all, The Intimacy Experiment is a really enjoyable read, with an engaging romance and a surprisingly rich level of food for thought. Based on my experience with her two books so far, Rosie Danan is an author to keep an eye on!

**********

Through affiliate programs, I may earn commissions from purchases made when you click through these links, at no cost to you.

Buy The Intimacy Experiment at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Also by this author: The Roommate: AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Book Review: Romancing Mr. Bridgerton (Bridgertons, #4) by Julia Quinn

Title: Romancing Mr. Bridgerton (Bridgertons, #3)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2002
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Historical romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Everyone knows that Colin Bridgerton is the most charming man in London. Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend’s brother for…well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret…and fears she doesn’t know him at all.

Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of everyone’s preoccupation with the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can’t seem to publish an edition without mentioning him in the first paragraph. But when Colin returns to London from a trip abroad he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same – especially Penelope Featherington! The girl haunting his dreams. But when he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must decide…is she his biggest threat – or his promise of a happy ending? 

Bridgerton books have become my go-to for those times (like long flights) when I want to be entertained, without having to make too much effort. Romancing Mister Bridgerton, the 4th in the series, was a perfect choice for a travel companion for me this week.

This time around, it’s Penelope’s turn to find romance!

While the Bridgertons series revolves around the eight children of the Bridgerton family, each getting a book in which to find true love and marriage, the love interests in each book are just as important as the Bridgerton family member at the center of the action.

In the 4th book, it’s 3rd son Colin Bridgerton who takes center stage. At age 33, everyone agrees that it’s about time for Colin to settle down with a wife and start a family. He’s restless and unfulfilled, though, lacking a greater purpose beyond being a member of the ton and attending social functions. When his restlessness hits, he takes off, and has traveled extensively around the world, returning to England for brief periods before he’s driven to set out again.

Meanwhile, Penelope Featherington, at age 28, is now considered firmly “on the shelf”, having navigated many social seasons without a single proposal to show for it. Best friends with Colin’s younger sister Eloise, Penelope has been a fixture in the Bridgerton household for years. Unbeknownst to Colin, Penelope has also been secretly in love with him for over a decade, but being an overlooked wallflower, she has no hope that Colin will never notice her in any but a brotherly fashion.

Anyone who’s watched the Bridgerton TV series on Netflix will already know what Penelope’s huge secret is… but for those who don’t already know, I’m not spilling the beans! Trust me — it’s huge, and could have a permanent impact on Penelope’s social standing if it ever got out. In book #4, the truth is about to be revealed, and Penelope may not be able to stop it.

Meanwhile, she and Colin are thrown together more frequently, and each begins to learn more about the other and see their previously unnoticed depths, as well as the chemistry that begins to spark between them. Naturally, they fall in love, but (as is the case in all of these books) complications pop up and threaten to derail their blossoming romance.

Romancing Mister Bridgerton is such fun! It’s especially rewarding to get to see Penelope taking center stage — the overlooked girl growing into a confident woman who just needs to learn to use her voice. She’s a terrific romantic heroine, not the classic beauty, but a vibrant, intelligent woman who doesn’t need to be a cookie-cutter replicant of society’s ideal.

Colin has always been a favorite for me, and his sense of humor and playfulness make him funny and relatable to read about. Colin and Penelope make a charming couple, and it made me so happy to see them together!

This book sets up the events of #5 with a sort-of cliffhanger about Bridgerton sister Eloise, so I have a feeling I won’t be waiting too long to continue with the series.

My usual random thoughts:

  • Years have gone by, and all of a sudden, Hyacinth is out in society! And Gregory is in university! Kids grow up so fast these days.
  • We learn that Francesca (that’s Bridgerton child #6, for those keeping score) has not only married off-screen but is already widowed. I don’t believe we’ve really seen her much in the books so far, so she feels like a non-entity to me, but I guess she’ll get her turn in a couple more books.
  • The Bridgerton family dynamics make these books so much fun. It’s delightful to see all the sibling bickering and Violet (Mama Bridgerton) rolling her eyes at her children’s outrageous behavior.
  • I love that Julia Quinn has created a whole little world among the ton. Even though some people are only mentioned in passing, I feel like a lot of these characters are well enough known by now that I’m exclaiming over who’s gotten married, as if they were actually part of my social circle.

This wouldn’t be a Bridgertons review if I didn’t include at least a few juicy and/or fun selections:

Sex…

When he felt her relax slightly beneath him, he pushed forward a bit more, until he reached the undeniable proof of her innocence.

… and true love…

He smiled, and suddenly she knew that his words were true. Everything would be all right. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but soon. Tragedy couldn’t coexist in a world with one of Colin’s smiles.

… and some family silliness…

Penelope tried to signal discreetly at her husband, but all her attempts at circumspection were drowned out by Hyacinth’s vigorous wave and holler of, “Colin!”

Violet groaned.

“I know, I know,” Hyacinth said unrepentantly, “I must be more ladylike.”

“If you know it,” Violet said, sounding every inch the mother she was, “then why don’t you do it?”

“What would be the fun in that?”

Ah, these books go down like candy! They’re sweet and fluffy, and I’m enjoying every moment. Even while chuckling over some ridiculous societal affectation or silly romance wording, I’m still having a great time. At this point, I’m all in, and won’t stop reading until every one of those eight Bridgertons is happily married.

Four down, four to go!