Friday, October 29, 2021


September & October Reading Notes


Image Copyrighted by Candice Hern There are different types of editors. Some let your words stand for themselves, some pick and choose here and there and polish it up but leave most of it alone allowing your voice to shine through, some ask questions to force you to think deeper and more critically, and then there are others, who take your words and rewrite the piece in their own words while retaining some of your phrases and ideas/information. I was used to the first, am really appreciating the second and the third because they make me a better writer, and am bemused at the fourth because the end result doesn't sound like me; not my voice, not my style. Writing for different outlets is making me aware of such different editing styles.

Reckless by Selena Montgomery AKA Stacey Abrams
Category: Contemporary Romanctic Suspense
Comments: [A Starred Review for Booklist.] This was my first book by Stacey Abrams. I keep meaning to read her hugely popular mystery, but I have been a bit leery whether the book is popular because of the contents of the book or Abrams' name. However, this book has convinced me that she is an excellent writer. I am hoping Avon plans on publishing other of her Selena books. Reckless has a mystery as well as the romance, and both are very well paced. The heroine is a high profile celebrity defense attorney in Atlanta and he is a small-town sherriff in a small town in Georgia, who moved there from Chicago and finds that the small town suits him better. This small town is also where the heroine grew up, and moving back here to defend a client has her questioning her high-stress job in the big city. [My review is here.]

Love, Chai, and Other Four-Letter Words by Annika Sharma
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [A Starred Review for Booklist—it was on the cover of the Sept 15 issue and also a Review of the Day!] A strong cultural clash between a woman from India and a white man from Tenessee set in NYC and New Delhi. This is the first South Asian multicultural book I have read where one set of parents is based in India, so the clash is between conservative Indian Indian values and Southern Caucasian American values as opposed to Indian American and Caucasian American values in nothern cities, which are easier to meld. Sharma's work is pitch perfect here as she has her protagonists walking the tightrope between what their hearts desire and what their cultures demand of them. [My review is here.]

The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller
Category: Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Comments: This book was a wow book for me. My first Biller, and I plan to pick up her first. In this gorgeously written romance, Diana Biller provides a fascinating view into the psychological makeup of two haunted lovers, where one is literally haunted. Yes, there are ghosts in this book. This is a stunning novel of tender emotions amid harsh circumstances. The romance is set in 1878 France, seven years after the horrific events of the siege of Paris and the Paris Commune. It’s an unusual setting for a romance, full of great strife and turmoil, and Biller provides readers with a fabulous immersion into that place and time. The heroine is a prima ballerina with the Paris Opera Ballet. The hero and heroine met 12 years ago in a whirlwind summer romance, but she broke it off. Now he is back and determined to rekindle their romance, yet she sends him away again. He realizes that he has to let her go so she can decide if they are meant to be together. This book is very much her journey from living a rigid life of conformity and denial into one of acceptance and courage and in charge of her happiness. [My review is here.]

Battle Royal by Lucy Parker
The Royals Next Door by Karina Halle
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [This was a double review for BookPage.] In Battle Royal, the pastry chef heroine and the princess bond over her wedding cake. In The Royals Next Door, the school teacher heroine befriends the royal duchess, whose character is greatly influenced by Meghan Markle, as a neighbor. Both pairs of women quickly become bosom bows. Both books are enemies-to-lovers romance stories. Parker's hero is a competing pastry chef, whereas Halle's hero is the royal couple's chief bodyguard. There is much angst between the couples and much tenderness from the heroes. All four characters have had traumatic pasts that are sensitively portrayed. I really enjoyed both stories. Be prepared for a new direction in Parker's style from her London Celebrities books. [My review is here.]

Meet Me in London by Georgia Toffolo
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [Reviewed for Booklist.] Toffolo, known as Toff, is a big British TV personality. This book was previously published in the UK and is Toffolo's debut book for the US market. It was very well-received in the UK. Set in London, it's a heartwarming story about love between a barkeep, who moonlights as a fashion designer, and the reluctant heir to a billion-pound department store empire. This is a fake fiancée story where she serves as his conscience to pay his privilege forward and he serves as a deep, abiding support in her struggles with her inability to have children. An immersive London setting would've made this story better.

Never Fall for Your Fiancée by Virginia Heath
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: [Reviewed for Booklist.] Fans of Heath’s Harlequin Historicals will enjoy this first installment in her Merriwell Sisters series, a historical rom-com. This is possibly my first historical rom-com written in the modern style. Of course, it displays the deep period knowledge that Heath has. The heroine is a woodcut engraver and illustrator barely eking out a living for herself and her two sisters. Enter a nobleman thinking her perfect as her fake fiancée to bamboozle his mother and get her off his back about marrying.

Peter Cabot Gets Lost by Cat Sebastian
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: This short novel is a sequel to Sebastian's novella Tommy Cabot Was Here. This is an m/m story set in the 1960s and unfolds over the course of a cross-country journey by car from Boston to LA. Peter is the son of a super wealthy Massachussetts family of politicians, with his father running for president. All his life, he has been considered the family's disappointment. He never measures up to their drive and ambition; and they don't yet know that he is gay. Throughout his four years of college, he has lusted after his classmate Caleb, the one who has it all together. Or so it seems. Caleb comes from poverty and through dint of scholarships and sheer hard work has made it through an Ivy League university. Now, he has landed a prestigious job at LA Times as a journalist. But he just has to get there, and he has very little money left, and his ride skipped out on him, and he is stuck...and in tears. Spying Caleb on the side of the road, Peter jumps to his aid and offers to drive him to LA—mentally consigning his father's campaign to the flames. His family thinks very low of him, and he just plans on pleasing himself from now on. Peter is all laconic charm, bending over backwards to please. Caleb is grumpy, prickly, and has a chip on his shoulder about money and paying his share. The heart of the story is how they grow together and become more of themselves through the belief and support of the other in them. They each believe that the other is wonderful in every which way. And a journey that was supposed to take days becomes a life-long committment. Tender and fierce, this book is what romance is all about. Highly recommended!

Two Houses by Suleena Bibra
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Bibra’s debut is an immensely fun enemies-to-lovers story of two auctioneers at rival auction houses, Loot and Carlyle’s, in New York. Despite their expertise in evaluating art and taking to the rostrums to run successful sales, Priya Gupta and Gavin Carlyle’s domineering fathers run roughshod over them. Whereas Gavin is laidback, lowkey, and a playboy, Priya is intense and married to her work. Snark and pranks rule the day as do stealing clients from under each other’s noses. While tempers simmer between them, so does attraction, but neither father would countenance a match between enemies. An unusual art collection from a private collector puts them head-to-head and vying for the sale. A week-long house party at his Long Island estate is the perfect opportunity for business and shenanigans, such as a colorful celebration of the Indian festival of Holi and an art gallery viewing on a yacht.

Christmas in Rose Bend by Naima Simone
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: In this book, prolific author Simone returns to the small, charming Massachusetts town of Rose Bend, the close-knit Dennison family, and their Kinsale Inn. A panic attack puts ER nurse Nessa Hunt on an enforced medical leave. Her mother’s deathbed revelation of Nessa’s parentage and her experience of holiday tragedies in the ER has soured Nessa on Christmas. Yet, she arrives in Rose Bend in time for holiday festivities for a month with her rebellious, resentful 12-year-old stepsister, because her stepfather decreed in his will that they bond together. Wolf Dennison is an expert carpenter, who has been betrayed in love by his best friend and who is torn up by guilt over his other best friend he couldn’t save in war. Nessa and Wolf are two wounded souls coming together. This book showcases Simone’s signature characterization of complex, marginalized people who heal together and fall in love. A little less hyperbole, fewer pop culture references, and deeper emotional analysis would’ve made for a more powerful book.

Rescuing Lord Inglewood by Sally Britton
Category: Traditional Historical Romance
Comments: This was a Saturday Book Club read, and it wasn't very successful. I wonder whether "middling" books become "not great," because of the slow reading, the deep attention to detail, and the discussion with multiple people, thereby sundering the magic from the book. Maybe if I had read it all in one gulp, I would've enjoyed it more because I would've become caught up in it. The book started out well enough with our intrepid heroine rescuing the hero by bodily throwing herself over him to protect him from a falling statue. The hero tries to save her reputation, but circumstances, rumor, and innuendo means they have to marry. MOC!! My favorite trope...only when both the protagonists are mature. In this case, the hero decides to make the best of it. He is officious and a bit high-handed, for sure, but his heart is in the right place and his intentions are kind. She, on the other hand, is stuck in her childhood and makes the hero pay for his slights over and over again with immature and inexplicable behavior. It was understandble for a bit, but quickly became tiresome. I was #TeamHero.

The Lovely And Dangerous Launch Of Lucy Cavanagh by Stacy Peterson
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [Reviewed for Foreword Reviews. Foreword Reviews magazine goes out librarians and booksellers and carries reviews of indie books.] I don't know how much I am allowed to say here about it, so I won't say much other than the book was a bit of a mess in terms of storyline, characters, plot, pacing, and writing craft. Pity. It started out strong with a heroine taking a courageous step in leaving her wealthy home in New York City and heading out on a perilous journey by herself to her aunt in San Francisco. It is a story set in 19th century Wild West Americana and is a tale of the heroine's journey, physical and emotional.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Category: Literary Fiction
Comments: This was a chapter sample. I wanted to see what the brouhaha was all about because this book received 67 (!!) reviews in reputable outlets before two weeks post publication were out. An Observation: From reading LitHub and now this piece, I realize that tiny, particular details are so important these days. To me, they seem like persnickity details that probably don't matter; but there is "literary" value these days to detailing everything and juxtaposing non-coherent details one on top of the other. As far as this book goes: I enjoyed the writing. I am intrigued by the premise. And I have FOMO. It's on my list to read over the Holidays.

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer
Category: Nonfiction
Comments: Pico Iyer is one of the greatest of writers and philosophers living today. (He'd be the first to disavow this approbation.) He has written countless articles, essays, reviews, books and so on, edging ever closer to philosophy. His book about His Holiness the Dalai Lama is one of my treasured books. So I was really curious about his thoughts on stillness—periodic pauses in one's life. From His Holiness, Leonard Cohen, Thoreau, and the masters at the temples in Kyoto, Iyer has come away with a deep and vast knowledge of self that is integrated in all that he is and does. His writing is the easiest way for outsiders to observe this. This book came from the TED Talk he gave on this subject a few years ago. It's a slim hardcover—only 70-odd pages—but it is packed with wisdom.

The Unexpected Friend: A Rohingya Children’s Story by Raya Rahman, illustrated by Inshra Sakhawat Russell
Sugar in Milk by Thirty Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le
Category: Children's Picture Books
Comments: Children suffer the most when people are displaced from their homes through natural means and/or human depredations and violence. Without their volition and against their wishes, they are uprooted from the safety and security of their homes and made to undergo harsh circumstances in faraway lands. And yet, their trauma and their stories often go untold. These two books seek to redress that disregard. [My reviews are here.]

Where Three Oceans Meet by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
Seven Golden Rings by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat
The Secret Code Inside You: all about your DNA by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Steven Salerno
Category: Children's Picture Books
Comments: This year is a banner year for author Rajani LaRocca. She has two middle grade novels publishing as well as four picture books for children. I was highly curious how LaRocca does it all given her busy career as a doctor. All four of her picture books are Indian-themed and range from tales for the very young to older children. Her repertoire is large in terms of the stories she tells and the writing style. Her favorites are books where math and science are embedded into the stories. I cannot wait to see what she has in store next year. This is one author to watch. [My interview and reviews are here.]

Tuesday, August 31, 2021


My Summer Reading Notes (Long)


Image Copyrighted by Candice Hern I moved this summer. As a result, my time was not my own. Between all the culling, donating, packing, shipping, moving in, unpacking, and arranging my worldly goods, not to mention selling our house and renting a new one, I was exhausted from morning to night and had no energy to do any writing. I did do some reading and reviewing, as you can see below, but that was it. I stopped writing my Morning Pages and had only short updates for my journal. But now, I feel I have a better handle on things, so, hopefully, I will be able to return to writing Morning Pages and detailed journaling.

It is mindblowing to me how people move every few years. Perhaps, you acquire fewer things, only those you absolutely need and absolutely love, rather than so many things that look interesting in the moment but turn to crap long-term. I was in my old home for 21 years. I still remember how few things I brought into that home from my apartment. And I regret, how very many things I brought into my current home. Given that this house is much smaller, and despite the innumerable donations (and literal junking of things), right now, there are quite a few boxes in the garage. Luckily, the garage has storage. Given that I am renting right now, there are more moves in my near future. Woe! Perhaps I should donate boxes wholesale if I haven't opened them in this next year. But, oh, I loathe to part with my books—many of those boxes are of books. As it is, I reluctantly gave away hundreds before I moved, and that was wrenching. The only consolation was that out of the many boxes of books I donated, a close friend of mine got four.

In reviewing news... Frolic Media changed its direction at the end of June to mostly audio-video contribution as opposed to written. As a result, my 2.5-year-old review column Book of the Week went bye-bye. They had given me all the freedom in choosing the books I wanted to review, and I was allowed to develop my own style of reviewing. I'm incredibly grateful to them for believing in me and supporting me all these years. As a result of my departure from Frolic, in the midst of the move, I was frantically DM-ing people I know and cold-writing to editors. Luckily for me, American Library Association's Booklist, BookPage, Washington Independent Review of Books, and Foreword Reviews took me up on my promise to be able to write for them. I will, of course, continue to write for the Independent Examiner.

Interview with author Lucy Parker
Ever since Carina Press published Act Like It, I have been a fan of Lucy Parker’s books set in the theater world, and the her fans are legion. Parker pairs keen observations about modern London life with a quirky sense of humor and spicy language. Her latest published this month, Battle Royal, is the first in a new series centered around the monarchy.

Interview with author Marguerite Kaye
Her Heart for a Compass, which came out earlier this month, was the most anticipated royal historical novel of the year. Authored by Sarah, Duchess of York, in collaboration with Marguerite Kaye, the story is a fictional account of the life of the duchess’ great-great-great-aunt Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott, who was a close acquaintance of Queen Victoria. The book is Ferguson’s first adult novel. The Scottish Kaye, however, is an award-winning romance author of more than 50 books.

The Layover by Lacie Waldon
Category:Contemporary Romance
Comments: On some level, this is a rom-com where two protagonists meet on a plane and discover that they have much in common with each other than they had previously thought. Spending time together with periods of intense self-revelatory explorations convinces them that they’re compatible on multiple levels. However, such a breezy précis does this introspective book a disservice. There is psychology at play in this story. It is a wonderful meditation on the conscious and subconscious mind, traumas of childhood, and the separation of the adult from the child. And Waldon does it all with the light hand of a rom-com. My review is here.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Category:Contemporary Romance
Comments: [CW: prejudice and violence against queer people, death, homophobia, anti-Asian hate crimes] How do you romance someone on your subway commute? Especially when, she is lost in time and trapped on a train? And especially, especially when you want to help her return to her time in the 1970s? One Last Stop is a new adult, queer, magical realism spin on Kate & Leopold. Life circumstances have made Caucasian American August Landry a cynic. She arrives in New York with her entire life in a few boxes. She moves into an apartment with people who are wildly different from each other. And yet, they meld together in one close, wisecracking family. August meets Asian American Jane Su, in her ripped jeans and leather jacket, on the Q train. From the first, August is entranced and hopes she can meet Jane again and again. And she does...until she realizes that Jane is actually a time traveler from the 1970s stuck on the Q train. The book cover is fabulous and has such tiny-tiny details from the story. My review is here.

First Love, Take Two by Sajni Patel
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [CW: racism, colorism] This was my first review for Booklist. The story is set in the same circle of friends as Patel's debut book, The Trouble with Hating You. An Indian American woman fell in love with a Black man back in college, but pleasing her parents caused her to repudiate him. He was devastated. Now they're back in touch and just as much in love. Will they fight their parents for their right to love each other? Since my review was published for the magazine, I don't have a link to the full review.

The Sweetest Remedy by Jane Igharo
Category: Contemporary Women's Fiction
Comments: This was for Booklist as well, and I don't have a link to the full review. I loved Igharo's debut, Ties That Tether (review here), so i was eagerly looking forward to her next book. While the first book was more romance, this is more women's fiction with a strong romance sub-plot. The heroine is biracial and had been abandoned by her Nigerian father because he already had a family of his own in Nigeria. Upon his death, his will stipulates that she travel to Nigeria and meet up with his family. And she discovers a new family there and a new love. Igharo is Nigerian Canadian, and her Nigerian setting feels authentic and well-researched.

A Duke Worth Fighting For by Christina Britton
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: This is the last book in Britton's Isle of Synne series. It is a classic Beauty and the Beast tale, where the circumspect widow of a Waterloo veteran is challenged with aiding a battle-scarred, socially inept, virginal duke with his matrimonial prospects. Unknown to them, their meeting on the Isle of Synne has been engineered by a Machiavellian matchmaker, the dowager viscountess who is the widow’s grandmother. My review is here.

The Scoundrel's Daughter by Anne Gracie
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: This is an excellent start to The Brides of Bellaire Gardens series by Anne Gracie. The book does an excellent job of developing both of its romances equally, which is rare. Usually the secondary romance is tied up in a quick, neat bow. But here, Gracie gives sufficient page time to interleave the development of the two romances, while retaining the primacy of one. There's an abusive husband, handsy lords, army discipline and integrity, widowers, cute girls, cuter kitten, curricle race, a bold goose and a bolder goose girl, young love, old love, hard-to-get prickly women and patient loving men, and Gracie's lovely writing. My review is here.

Division Bells by Iona Datt Sharma
Category:Contemporary Romance
Comments:This book was fabulous! I read it on KJ Charles' recommendation, so I went in with the hope of a good read, and it did not disappoint. It is set among the politics of the British House of Lords and is a clash between a senior civil servant attached to a baroness "Minister" and her special advisor whose father is a peer of the realm and former member of the Lords. I loved, and wallowed, in all the political details of getting their alternative energy items attached to a bill through the committee and full vote in the House. There is a ton of politics, and I was surprised to find myself a political wonk. Their relationship starts out adversarial, moves to attentive, then sexual, then loving. And the progression is gradual and organic and the characters are memorable. The book may only be 80 pages, but the story is much larger than that. Sharma is a gifted writer, and I wish she would write more.

Special Interests by Emma Barry
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I really wanted to like this book. I really like the author, and folks I know on Twitter really like this book. But I didn't. It is a debut book, and it shows. It needs more introspection and character growth from that introspection. For the most part, the heroine is static. Her inexplicable reactions to the hero swing wildly between being pissed at him and wanting to jump his bones and nothing in between. I understand wanting to show conflicting feelings in a character but the extremes didn't work for me. However, it was the hero who sank the ship for me. It is a case of opposites attract. She propotions him. Twice. Both times he turns her down with a "it is not you, it is me" line. She is humiliated but every time he gives her a crumb of attention, she comes to him. He's patronizing, self-absorbed, and not very nice to her in thoughts and comments. Other than his looks, I don't see what he has going for him. The political details, unlike the book above, are light—they do convey a sense of DC but not in the depth that would've made the story shine. I read Barry's mission statement about her books with interest. Special Interests follows that definition of the basic structure of all her stories accurately. I wonder how Barry can make book after book original give these guidelines. (This book needed a copyeditor. I am surprised Carina Press put out a book with elementary errors.)

Mr. Hotshot CEO by Jackie Lau
Category:Contemporary Romance
Comments:[CW: depression] I have read four of Lau's books, and the first one made it to one of my Best Books of the Year list. But upon reading this book, I realized that Lau has one story to tell, and she rehashes it in every book I have read. Yes, the meet-cutes may differ and some of the turning points or crises may as well, but the bones of the stories are the same. While this is an interesting exercise in how an author can craft seemingly news stories from a confining structure, I was disappointed with this book. What lifts the book up from mediocrity is Lau's depiction of the heroine's depression. Lau discusses it with a degree of authenticity and depth that speaks of personal experience. She is open about it on Twitter, so I never questioned her depiction of it as I read along. How the heroine handles the illness, her role in it, other people's roles in it, and how she relates to other people is where the story is. This can be very triggering for some readers, uplifting for some, and fascinating for some. It is handled sensitively.

Marian's Christmas Wish by Carla Kelly
Category:Historical Romance
Comments: I loved this book. Vintage Kelly is always a hit for me. It is a typical Christmas story where good things are wished for and succeed in occuring as part of the spirit of the season. However, the characters elevate the story from the ordinary to memorable. Marian's father, a squire, has just died from an ill-advised ride in the countryside after he had been drinking. As a result, Marian and her family are about to lose their family home. Given how eccentric Marian is, all hopes for a lucrative match to save their family rest on her beautiful sister. Trouble is, her sister is in love with a poor curate. Enter an earl with who has had an arid life and is charmed by Marian's madcap schemes and unconventional foibles. She entertains him and he rapidly falls for her; she takes a while to arrive at the conclusion that she has loving feelings for him and that he feels likewise for her. This is a delightful traditional Regency.

The Duke's Regret by Catherine Kullman
Category:Historical Romance
Comments: The Saturday Book Club finished discussing this book with a flourish. Lovely, quiet book of second chances for protagonists in their mid to late thirties. This author is such a find! I talked about this book in some detail in my May review roundup. The biggest discussion of our club centered around why and how does the duchess decide to move forward with her relationship with the duke after two decades of neglect by him? How much and how does he atone in order to move forward in their relationship? Has he done enough? Is she too forgiving? And what about his relationship with the children he has neglected? This is a novella, and while at times it felt a little more exploration would've been warranted, overall, the pacing and details were very well done. A book to definitely pick up.

A Comfortable Alliance by Catherine Kullman
Category:Historical Romance
Comments: Given how much I loved Kullman's book above, my anticipation was high for her latest book. So I was crestfallen when I was underwhelmed by it. Frankly, I was bored. There were no stakes in the book. They meet. They like each other. They have a good intimate life and get along very well outside of it. While their marriage was based on respect and tepid affection, they fall into deep affection and into love from the get-go. Their life together is good—each does their part to make their marriage and their external life work well. The only fly in the ointment is that she constantly compares him to her lost youthful love; she is convinced that what she felt then was love with a capital 'L,' and what she feels for her husband is only affection. And she ruminates on it on and on. The book keeps bowling along as though narrated by an omniscent narrator, and frankly, I was bored. No stakes, no story. And it has the unsexiest sex scene I have ever read. Kullman should stick with closed door.

An Embroidered Spoon by Jayne Davis
Category:Historical Romance
Comments:This is the third book of The Saturday Book Club read. The author was recommended by Willa. Alas! Our book club decided to abandon this one part way through. The story started out bold and interesting. There is a stuck-up, rich beauty banished to a small village in Wales to live with her supposedly poor spinster aunt as a punishment for not accepting eligible suitors that her father put forward. She is spoiled and mistakes the hero for a local yokel and treats him as such. He's a tradesman from the Borders who ventures up there to buy the goods necessary. He's a sharp businessman and is fluent in Welsh and English. So the book starts out strong, but the heroine's about face from imperious to easygoing, from uppercrust to aweshucks was too sudden. There was no story left partway through the book, and I felt like the author was pulling the characters along, rather than the story being organic to the characters.

Miss Lattimore's Letter by Suzanne Allain
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: I loved Allain's Mr. Malcolm's List (review here) last year. Filming is under way with screenplay by Allain and Sam Heughan as Mr. Malcolm. The day my review published, Heughan RT'd my review!!!!!, thus, making my day/week/month/year. Miss Lattimore's Letter is likewise excellent. Allain has a keen ear and eye for conveying an immersive Regency setting. The book has two interweaved romances—one is Miss Sophronia "Sophie" Lattimore's with Sir Edmund, and the other is her cousin Cecilia's. While the secondary romance does not overshadow the main one, it does get sufficient page time to not be a pat thing that Allain wraps up in a cute bow. Sophie is a matchmaker by happenstance. She spies two unhappy couples and pairs them up through an anonymous letter, which becomes public, thereby raising Sophie's status from an unwanted spinster relation to a young woman worthy of notice. She then proceeds, reluctantly, to aid other couples with their troubled relationships and finds she has a knack for it. The heart of the story is Sophie's jilted past informing on her present choice of Sir Edmund's laidback and cautious courtship and her old beau—who rejected her for a woman with money—actively and ardently pursuing her. Who will she choose? Allain has done a good job of making the choice equitable, and not one the obvious non-choice.

The Shaadi Set-Up by Lillie Vale
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is a second-chances romance with lovely prose and tender feelings. Rita runs a furniture refurbishing business that is getting noticed more and more. But she is also perennially cash-strapped. Her boyfriend, Neil, is handsome and successful and a mama's boy who talks big about settling down but will never ever oppose his mother's will. The Bollywood-style plot twist is that Rita's mom had been rejected by Neil's grandparents as a bride for Neil's father. Rita's mom is still miffed about it and would never, ever, over-her-dead-body consider Neil for Rita. Enter Rita's old fling whom she had loved, loved, loved from when she was fifteen till their senior year in college. He had loved her back just as much...till, he broke them up over his grades and parents and...Now, Milan is back, just as handsome and cocky as ever and rich and successful to boot and wants Rita back in his life in her professional capacity (as interior decorator and stager for his realtor business) and on personal terms as well. Rita is CONFLICTED! The word "shaadi" means "marriage" and comes from the fictional Indian American matrimonial/dating site MyShaadi.com where Rita, Neil, and Milan have profiles. Rita tries to wrangle hers and Neil's profiles so they can be matched as fated mates to be presented to her mom as fait accompli, but instead, she and Milan get matched up. Oops! While the beginning half is stellar, the other half gets bogged down by rehashing of Rita's old feelings and not enough development of their second-chance "new" relationship. I wanted to see what the grown-up Rita and Milan brought new to the table and not merely as a continuation of their "never fell out of love" relationship.

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
Category: Nonfiction Essays
Comments: As mentioned in these blogs before, I belong to an antiracism book club in one my kids' schools. We started reading this book last month because it was AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) month, and until then, we'd read books by Black Americans but hadn't branched out to other marginalized authors. From the premise of the book on Amazon and reviews of the book, I was excited to read it. However, I ended up being disappointed by the poor writing. The essays were incoherent. I am used to personal essays being tightly formatted with thoughts (ideas, theories, and annecdotes) laid out in orderly thoughts with an overarching theme and progression towards an understanding. These essays meandered all over the place and at the end I was not sure what the points were. In our group discussions, we were all befuddled and didn't know how to critique the book. We didn't want to be prejudiced against the essence of the book despite the writing and especially because it was so touted by respectable review outlets. However, I feel no such caution. Bad writing is bad writing because bad writing does not convey what the writer thinks they're conveying and confuses the reader.

Thursday, May 27, 2021


May Reading Notes


Image Copyrighted by Candice Hern This month, I read more historical romance than contemporary, which is an unusual departure for me. It's becoming harder and harder to find new historicals that appeal to me. Also a departure for me, I read only two diverse books this month.

Forbidden by Jo Beverley
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: Our Saturday Book Club finished reading this book this month. Our first book, and I'm so glad I joined up with Janet Webb (@JanetETennessee), Willa (@Willaful), Growly (@GrowlyCub), and Joanne Smythe (@regency_gal) to read it. These smart ladies made me really think hard about the book: the characters, the plot, the motivations and goals of the characters, and the ramifications of their actions. Looking forward to reading other books with these ladies in the months ahead.

This is a story with high angst and a wonderful resolution; there is high drama and quiet moments. As I read this book, I was reminded again and again that Beverley was a master of her craft when she was writing this series.

The heroine's husband has died, allowing her to escape a degrading, terrifying marriage that she had been forced into. Her dissipated brothers are now trying to force her into another such marriage, so she flees the family home, leaving behind everything. When she sees a nobleman offering her a bit of kindness, she seizes on a future with him by initiating him into sex—her only bargaining chip for a better life. He is honorable and requests his aunt to house her. Freed from horrible pressures, she starts to grow up from the terrified fifteen-year-old she's ever been into a young woman who knows her own mind. However, when she finds out that she is with child, he is forced against his every wish into an honorable marriage of convenience with her. The story is about how they each grow up and grow together.

The Duke's Regret by Catherine Kullman
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: This is the second book read of the Saturday Book Club. For this read, @NYSuri joined us as well. Catherine Kullman is such a find! Thanks to GrowlyCub, we chose this one for our second club read, and I loved her writing from the first few pages. It is a small book, but the story is large and leisurely, with no spare words. It is a quiet book by modern standards with less plot and more character development, which I love. All the historical details are spot-on but Kullman sprinkles them in the narrative purposefully and with a light hand. We are almost to the end of this book, and I just love it. This was the third book in Kullman's series, and I hope we'll pick up the first book in the series at some point.

The Duke of Gracechurch was forced into a marriage of convenience at a very young age with a girl not even out of girlhood at sixteen. He bitterly resented having his domineering father forcing his hand and vowed to forsake his wife and cleave to his mistress for whom he has much affection. As a result, he returns to his country seat periodically for ducal duties and getting children on his wife. Other than uncomplainingly allowing him to visit her bed, his wife leads a parallel life growing up under the aegis of the duke's mother.

Seventeen years later and after the death of his mistress, the duke takes stock of his life and realizes that he has allowed his life to pass him by. He suddenly craves warmth and closeness with the family he has discarded and sets about making amends. As you can imagine, while his kids are welcoming, his wife is not. But he is willing to exert himself and offer conciliation at every turn to make reparations.

A Wager to Tempt the Runaway by Bronwyn Scott
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: Bronwyn Scott is a writer of great talent who is able to construct story settings that are an immersive experience for the reader, whether they are a country house kitchen by lamplight, a secret cove at moonlight, or a London ballroom in the unforgiving glare of hundreds of candles. And in these settings, she skillfully drops in fully realized characters who live their lives to the fullest.

Josefina Ricci is a reckless artist, all fire and beauty. She has given a deathbed promise to her father to travel the world and shape her own destiny through her art while not being beholden to patrons. She wants to be free of all the trappings of a sheltered young woman, so she leaves Venice in a headlong rush Westwards. When the story open, Josefina is in a sleepy coastal village in England, a fixture at an art school and committed to painting a portrait in order to meet her benefactress’ wild wager. But art does not provide the headiness that smuggling does. Josefina comes and goes in the night, headless of any danger to her person.

Owen Gann is an upright citizen of the village. He comes from a humble background, a man before he could finish growing up. First a smuggler, then an oysterman, he has risen up the ranks to owning a vast international empire shipping oysters. Through sheer dint of single-minded focus — a not-quite-deathbed promise to his mother to achieve success in life — he has earned wealth and repute in the world of men who receive him with mixed feeling over his antecedents. By day, he provides employment to the denizens of the village. By night, he keeps a watch over their smuggling activities, ever vigilant for customs excise officers. My review is here.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
Category: Contemporary YA Romance
Comments: This is what romance is all about. This is why I read Romance. Awash in tenderness, with limitless care, Emiko Jean leads with her heart. Tokyo Ever After is a story that is American and Japanese and neither and both. Like the delicate sakura, the protagonists’ love is essential to them, the very air they breathe; whether like the blossoms it will be impermanent or endure is for the future to know.

This is the story of Izumi Tanaka becoming...

A senior at Mount Shasta High School, Izumi often feels like an outsider in the place of her birth. A minor minority, she makes friends with other minority girls, and together, they form an unshakeable bond against everything life throws at them. As a single child of a single parent, she has often felt lonely, but her questions about her father have gotten instantly shut down. Naturally, she has wondered if he even knows she was born; would he accept her if he knew she existed; does he care — these are questions that circle her mind obsessively. A chance glance at a book reveals a name, expert Googling later there is a contact, a letter is sent…and highly polished Japanese officials shows up in her kitchen with its cracked yellow linoleum floor. Her Imperial Highness Princess Izumi, they call her. She’s the illegitimate daughter of the Crown Prince of Japan and he wants her to visit him at his residence, Tōgū Palace, in Tokyo.

Izumi shows up at Narita airport in leggings and a faded sweatshirt and is greeted by Akio Kobayashi, a gorgeous Imperial Guard with a stick up his backside. For ten hours, he had watched her binge-watch television and not read her critical information binder. Not quite the impression she had hoped to make. My review is here.

Book of Love by Erin Satie
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: I greatly enjoyed Erin Satie’s Bed of Flowers, the first book in her Sweetness and Light series, so I was eagerly anticipating Book of Love, the second book in the series. Satie’s stories are always unusual historical novels, and that is exactly their appeal for me. I approach her books without knowing anything about them, confident that she will sweep me away into a story of great worldbuilding and out-of-the-ordinary characters.

Cordelia Kelly was raised as a boy intellectually. But when she attains womanhood, her parents expect her to be obedient and to toe the conventional line and marry where they please. She repeatedly refuses and ends up having a dramatic falling out with her parents, especially, her beloved father. She hares off to London to fend for herself. Such courage in those times. She lands on her feet, rooming with an intrepid female writer and working on freelance bookbinding jobs. She has succeeded in commercializing her art and hobby—what she loves is putting a roof over her head. And yet, she is haunted by the prospect of poverty every waking moment.

Alistair Chandos, the Duke of Stroud, is loyal to a fault. He is the friend you want in your corner. He makes life fun and helps unstintingly when necessary. Whenever a friend needs a favor, he spares no effort. He also loves to play pranks. He thinks the only way his peers see him is as a jokester — that he has no value other than amusing them. He thinks others don’t think highly of his intelligence and so he has convinced himself thoroughly that he is lacking in the brains department, a bit touched in the upperworks. He is also certain that the reason others pay him any attention is because of his exalted title and great wealth.

Book of Love is a story of a man who has a low opinion of himself and a gem of a woman who values him highly. It is through her belief in him that he starts to believe in himself. My review is here.

Catch a Falling Duke by Eve Pendle
Category: Historical Romance
Comments:This book was a disappointment. The premise looked interesting. A duke is terribly shocked over antecedents of his patrimony—their direct involvement in slavery. He decides to chuck it all by breaking the entail and using the monites for reparations. The heroine is a farmer—not the usual, a woman with noble relations come down in the world, but a bonafide farmer. They casually meet at a roadside inn and decide to share their bodies for one night...which leads to two, three, four...and he proposes. She refuses. Their stations in life is too vast for her to bridge. Interesting premise, no? The problem was the execution of the two storylines.

I consulted with Isobel Carr, who is teaching a class on entails. Breaking an entail requires far more effort and has far more strings attached to it than merely doing the leaglese and donating the monies. I would've liked to have seen the duke actively, and in-depth, working on the process of converting the fee tail to a fee simple. He also has a duty to his tenants and to the vast number of dependants, the annuities and jointures he owes, among other financial encumbrances and responsibilities. In addition, his goal of making reparations is not shown in the great detail it should've been. This is the most interesting aspect of his character—the making of him from a wild man-about-town to a responsible, dependable man. In fact, this is the best part of the story, and it is hand-waved over.

The story has the duke completely become a not-duke by choosing to live at the farm like a farmhand, milking cows and forking hay. He completely divorces himself from his old life in town with nary a thought to its loss. I have seen enough of these kinds of stories to know their appeal to American readers—a man giving up his life for the love of a woman. However, I find characters who totally give up their former lives to become entirely new people unbelievable. To me, this person at some point in their life, after the bloom is off the romance rose, is going to regret the loss of that former person they used to be. In this duke's case, perhaps not the profligacy of that life, but definitely town and friends and the ton.

Towards the end of the story the heroine and the duke decide that they want to turn their farm into a co-op so that they can ensure that it cannot be inherited (and potentially destroyed) by one single person. So they involve everyone currently working the farm to join in. While the resulting discussion was interesting—and something not seen in a historical novel—it received far more page time than the duke's entail. That was of far more import to the story because that is his story. Their joint co-op discussion could've been off-page or make a cameo appearance in the epilogue.

While this book did not work for me, I hasten to add that I have enjoyed this author's books before. So, despite this disappointment, I will choose to read one of her books again.

Totally Engaged by Mina V. Esguerra
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This book is set in modern-day Manila in the Philippines. I have read two of Esguerra's books before, and one made it to my Best Books of the year list, so I had high hopes of this one. But it was a disappointment. The story is very much of the author pulling the characters along through tried and true tropes and well-trodden genre paths to the foregone conclusion. Of writing, Stacey Abrams has said, "If there are no stakes, then there are no payoffs." This story has no stakes. And ultimately, this romance story is not romantic. There is sex, but not much of a romance. I know I am being harsh here but I was disappointed by a story that felt lackluster and like it was hastily put together.

She is a 41-year-old, who has a fashion design startup and works out of her family home. She has converted the former garage into a studio home that she rents out. Her childhood friend asks a favor to put up her 39-year-old brother for a few weeks while he finds his feet in his new job at this up and coming company. He is looking for a place where he can walk to work because he works insane hours. Enter the interfering mother, sisters, and her close friends. And suddenly, they are fake engaged, chastely share a bed one night, and start sharing their bodies. The sleeping together leads to the relationship. The interference of the relatives was cute at first, and I usually love to see characters and their families, but this went on and on.

Also, I didn't buy the heroine's sort-of amicable relationship with her mom and her desire to please her mom. The only part of the story that I found fascinating was the US immigration story. US immigration wait times are notoriously long, and what happened to the heroine is a true story. The heroine's parents applied for permanent residentship when she was very young. However, by the time their green card came through, she was over 21. She had aged out of the petition. So her family (father, mother, and sisters) went to the US, while leaving her behind in charge of the detritus of their lives and also the large family home. And from the US, the mother keeps on harping on her lack of husband and arranges failed setups. Frankly, I cannot ever imagine this leading to a meaningful relationship between the two.

Thursday, April 29, 2021


April Reading Notes


Image Copyrighted by Candice Hern Some people like to write long individual review posts and some do shorter reviews for a monthly round-up. Both types of posts have their pros and cons. Some people feel that not much analysis is possible in these round-ups, which is true. However,there is blog post fatigue associated with multiple reviews a month. My blog is already miniscule; with multiple posts, it will get further diluted in terms of people reading it.

Given the number of ARCs I read, from which text quotations are disallowed, that style of reviewing has fallen out of my reviewing style. For most of the books reviewed for publication, I do have links to longer reviews where I do more analysis and only put the bare bones of the plot here. For books that I don't review for publication, I do bigger reviews to support why I liked or did not like the books. I do realize that this means longer monthly posts, which could lead to skiming and online reading fatigue and thus skipping, but this style of blogging is what I am most comfortable with at this moment in time.

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I read Jalaluddin’s début book Ayesha At Last with such joy two years ago, and I have been waiting ever since for her second book. To her new book, Jalaluddin brings a maturity and keener eye to emotional nuance. Rich with cultural texture, replete with social nuance, and brimming with humor, it is a delight from the first word to the last. Her talent is in allowing her characters to recount their own stories, whether they are the main characters or the secondary ones. No one gets short shrift in the attention she pays to creating whole, complex people. Jalaluddin’s signature style is in her social commentary on the lives led by Indian Canadian Muslims, the immigrants and the first generations. She had started this conversation with the reader in Ayesha At Last, and she continues on that conversation in Hana Khan Carries On.

This is a book that you need to spend some time immersed in. Jalaluddin’s lyrical prose brings to life a story in subtle shades of meaning and expression as the characters share with you their deepest secrets and dreams. Long-buried family secrets and hate-motivated attacks add to the complexity of the narrative. The book can be read is multiple ways: as Hana’s life journey, as Aydin’s character growth, as romantic love between the protagonists, as being Muslim in Canada, and so on. In this review, I have chosen a few of those strands that make up the narrative. You will have to read the book to discover them all. I cannot express how much Jalaluddin’s books please me; I hope they bring you joy as well. My review is here.

Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [CW: mental illness, anxiety, social anxiety] Hogle has won me over with her back-to-back lovely stories. I would recommend both of her books, You Deserve Each Other and Twice Shy.

Maybell Parrish is restless and unhappy in a dead-end job, constantly thwarted in succeeding in it by her coworker. Still, it’s a step-up, in her mind, from her former housekeeping job at the indoor waterpark, so she works d. She’s a killer baker, and constantly daydreams of a life as a baker with her online friend as a future spouse. So when she finds out that she has inherited her great-aunt, Violet’s, mansion, Falling Stars, in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, she dumps her job and walks away. While she had hoped, she would go out with a bang, her meek, people-pleasing nature only allows her to ghost her employer.

Wesley Koehler is a decidedly grumpy, decidedly reclusive groundskeeper of Violet’s estate. While she lived, he had persistently offered to care for her mansion and make it habitable. But the old lady had an indomitable nature and was adamant that nothing should be changed, and all he could do was offer her a place to stay in his small cottage. So when she passes away and he finds out that he has inherited Violet’s mansion, he immediately sets about planning what he will do to fix the mansion that has good bones and only needs thoughtful renovation. He also wants to build an animal sanctuary.

Plot twist! Maybell and Wesley are not the sole inheritors of Violet’s estate. Rather, they are co-owners. My review is here.

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I have found Sally Thorne’s stories always entertaining and well-paced to hold my interest from beginning to end. I find her a versatile writer. She has written three entirely different books in: The Hating Game, 99 Percent Mine, and now, Second First Impressions. The voice, the style of writing, the choice of words, the type of people, the very narrative—they are all different and unique to the stories she is telling. I know she has received hate for books 2 & 3 by readers who just wanted her to reiterate The Hating Game over and over again.

Ruthie Midona is someone who does not like surprises. She had been bullied as a child and unloved by her family. As a result, she is at pains to always be in control of herself, because when your life is out of control, all you can control is yourself. She is the acting manager of a luxury retirement community, where everything is just as it should be. She is dedicated to her job of caring for the quirky and opinionated denizens of the Providence Villa. Her boss is out for the nonce, and she is in charge.

Teddy Prescott fits the stereotype of a spoilt rich man who doesn’t like to bestir himself for anything involving work. He wants life to be easy and in constant motion, or at least that is what he projects to everyone. In reality, he dreams of owning a tattoo parlor, but he has to first convince his demanding father. Ruthie and Teddy meet when he shows up at the villa expecting to be in charge. My review is here.

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: Jessica “Jess” Davis’ has three people in her life whom she loves with every fiber of her being: her daughter and her grandparents. She is a freelance statistician working constantly to stay afloat as she financially supports her loving grandparents and largely-absent mother every once in a while, runs a house, and struggles to provide her daughter with the comforts, activities, and school involvement she believes every child should have.

When Jess loses a big client because she refuses to compromise her ethics in fudging data, she is forced to become a barista at her favorite coffee shop. For months on end, she was at the front of the counter, now she is behind it. Her humiliation is complete when the person she surreptitiously admires for his gorgeousness but thinks is surly and taciturn comes to order his customary drink and leaves her a big tip.

Dr. River Peña is that grumpy tipper and also a highly regarded biotechnology researcher, who has focused his research on a DNA-based matchmaking app. Along with his mentor, he has founded a company, which he would soon like to take to IPO, based on the research he completely believes in. My review is here.

Waiting for the Flood by Alexis Hall
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: What a stunning story! This was my first Alexis Hall story, and I now get his fame. The writing is...chef's kiss—delicate, unusually perceptive, and imaginative, in emotions and also in the usage of language. Gosh, if you've not read Hall, I'd urge you to give him a try. Do note that this is a slow story and reads like a short novel, despite being only 96 pages long. To me, this is its strength. You can luxuriate in the feelings of the protagonists to the fullest without feeling rushed or feeling like the story is moving to an outline.

Edwin is a book restorer. At the Bodleian in Oxford and at home, he restores all kinds of books that have suffered untold damage. He lives alone in a big house which he used to co-own with his then boyfriend of ten years. The ending of that relationship has been devastating for Edwin. As it is his stuttering has always been the cause of his low self-esteerm, this loss further erodes his self-confidence.

Due to heavy rains, the river close to his house floods his street and his house. It brings Adam, a city engineer, into his life. You would think that a hearty broad-shouldered man wouldn't be in tune with his emotions. But that is not true at all. In Hall's skilled hands, both men come to life in their individual ways and learn to share their sorrows and joys with each other. While is clear in his intentions and feelings, Edwin has to learn to trust and let Adam into his life.

Again, I sound like Hall's publicist, but this is a book worth savoring.

Again by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Category: Vintage Contemporary Romance
Comments: [CW: "Indians," "blacks," racism] There was no reason to include these words or the racism that goes with them. They add nothing to the story other than to attempt to show that the heroine grew up poor and lived on the wrong side of the tracks and how her father sent her to the right side for school. Other than this racist backstory, there is no more racism in the book, because the book is only populated with white characters. This is a book written in 1995, so not that long ago, and I can't imagine how the writer was so racist even then.

If you are able to set the racism aside, this is a fabulous story. I would give it an 'A.' It is a gentle story of uncommon actions and reactions, large and small. What could've been clichéd is not because of the little twists and turns in the story that keep you guessing. What is very sweet about the story is that the hero acknowledges to himself and to the heroine that he is in love with her before the halfway mark. The rest of the book is of him waiting patiently for her to love him, then giving up in despair, and then her bringing him back into being alive by her love.

The setting is a daytime soap studio in Brooklyn. It's a scrappy, low-budget half-hour soap set in the Regency. The network execs were reluctant to part with even the small amount of money they did for it, but surprising everyone, the show took off and drew in rating higher than any of the hour-long soaps. It was a case of the engine who could. This was all because of Jenny cotton, the head writer. It all came from her head and she spent countless hours seven days a week working and reworking the stories, sometimes, making changes even the day of the taping. Luckly, her directors and producer were adept at finding good, professional actors who could adapt and act.

Alec Cameron is a well-known daytime soap actor. Since his childhood when he took care of his sister who died of leukemia, he is used to being the responsible person in the cast. If there was a crisis, he would step in and help fix things. However, right from the begining, his respect for Jenny's brilliance has him stepping aside to let her take the lead. He is fascinated with her right from the begining even though she is living with her boyfriend of fourteen years. Of course, he makes no moves on her other than to tell her that he in love with her. It is only when her boyfriend cheats on her and marries someone else that Alec makes clear that he is interested in marriage and only marriage with Jenny. But Jenny does not love him.

I really liked that Seidel does not have Jenny wallowing in her betrayal. She grieves, she plots some mild revenge, she works through her emotions, and she emerges stronger and more optimistic than before. Wonderful characterization there. Then Alec thinks she would fall in love with him. But there is no such automatic, clichéd response from Jenny. And this is the heart of the story, how she gets to love—at first, it was only the show she loved, now she could love Alec and the show.

After All These Years by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Category: Vintage Contemporary Romance
Comments: Even though the above book is the fourth book in the series and this is the first, I read Again first, fell in love with it, and went looking for more of Seidel's work. And while this was not as great as Again, it was still good. However, it is a different book, more a story of a family than a straightforward romance, even though it does follow some of the genre conventions about building a central love story to a HEA climax. However, a fair bit of the second half of the book is in the POV of the teen son of the heroine, which has nothing much to do with the romance and much to do with his own growth. It does go towards the character reformation of the hero, but given that it is from the boy's POV, it's about his growth arc as well.

Three children, two boys and a girl, were born days apart and lived in nearby houses in the South Dakota countryside outside a small town. The three families were close, supposedly, and despite tragedy robbing the kids of some of their parents, the kids grew up happy and wild and incredibly close to one another. Curry, Tom, and Huck made a blood bond to always stay true to each other and always tell each other the truth. As they grow up, first Tom dates Curry, but he is too intense with her, and she gravitates naturally to the sunny-tempered Huck and they marry at 18 and have a child. Tom and Huck are all fired up to join Vietnam, and only Tom returns home, not to South Dakota and only to marry someone else. He doesn't see Curry for 16 years.

That they love each other is a given. But can they build a life together? Curry is rooted into the South Dakota soil for generations. Tom is a footloose historic homes restorer of some repute who travels constantly, job to job. Curry built a flourishing paint business in town, raised a boy, and took care of her grandmother, who raised her, and her mother-in-law. Tom was an absentee husband and an absentee father to his daughter, whom he loves but rarely sees. Curry is building a life for herself for the future when her chick wiill fly the nest and she will have nothing to do. So she is going to college to earn a degree to teach history in school.Tom wants to continue his aimless life forever.

The story of the book is in the emotional growth of both characters, but especially Tom. What I loved this story is that Seidel does not make Tom renounce his work and live in the small town. Most small town stories are where the folks from the big city always give up their life there completely to move to the small town and remake their life from ground-up. It is a rare book that allows me to believe in future happiness for that person. In this book, both characters give a little and take a little and share a lot. Perfect HEA!

The Heiress Hunt by Joanne Shupe
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: This book is in a voice and style unlike Shupe's former books. The author has had help with this book, and I wonder if that has affected how the story was written and how it reads. It is disappointing. And...I had really been looking forward to it.

Maddie Webster is a high society girl in 1895 New York City. Used to attention and adulation all her life, Maddie is a strong, confident young woman. She convince her parents not to expect her to marry in her first season, but to give her three seasons or so to indulge in her love of tennis. Now, she's become a national championship player and is at the height of her sports career. However, she knows, that despite her parents indulging her wish for a few years, her only job is to get married. So she sets her cap at the biggest prize of the season, the British Duke of Lockwood, and he is slowly warming up to her. While he hasn't proposed, a proposal is imminent.

Into this lovely situation steps her old, beloved friend, who'd abandoned her in her first season and rushed away to Paris for three years. She had been heartbroken that he had completely broken away from their friendship.

Harrison Archer has been in love with Maddie for years. But one night, he overhears her confiding to her friend about him. Stung, he runs away to Paris, and throws himself into amassing a fortune and living a hedonistic life. He is fond of his delightful mistress, but parts with her when he decides to return to NYC when his father dies. His family had abused him as a child, always treating him as a worthless second son, so now, he is back to bankrupt them and ruin their standing in society. Oh, and now that he is back, he is determined to marry the love of his life, Maddie.

This entire characterization of Harrison is strange. Instead of rushing off to Paris, he could've had a clarifying conversation with his closest friend in the world, Maddie. For all that he claims to love her and her being his best friend, he does not even trust her enough to have one mature conversation. Of course, in that case, the book would've never been. Upon his return, he could've had that conversation, and yet, he never does. He could've have returned at any point in the three years he was gone if he was so much in love with her, but he never does. But now that he is back to wreak revenge, as a side benefit, he is going to pursue Maddie and win her. And while the romantic shenanigans are going on, the revenge plot is put on hold. Towards the end of the book, their relationship hits a stumbling block, and they decide to separate for a bit, and immediately, Harrison gets in touch with his mistress. Right.

At no point did Maddie think to talk to Harrison before he left or after he returns or send letters asking him why he had left so precipitously. Does she not want to solve the obstacle in the friendship with her best friend? She just accepts his abandonment. And then despite his having abandoned her and lived a hedonistic life, the minute she sets eyes on him upon his return, her previous friendship morphs into romantic interest. It's like a switch was thrown; there was no build-up to the new feelings. Maddie's behavior in the breakup of their relationship—the requisite clichéd black moment of the book—is immature at best. I think this was a major peeve of mine: the protagonists' immaturity and inability to have an adult conversation with each other.

Thursday, April 1, 2021


March Reading Notes


Image Copyrighted by Candice Hern I am continuing apace with my exploration of audio books. As mentioned earlier, listening in the car works best for me. Sitting in a chair to listen, inevitably puts me to sleep. Before I started listening to books, I had no idea how vital a narrator is to how interesting a book is. The writer's skill matters of course but the performer's is just as important.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Category: Nonfiction
Comments: This book has been a fascinating read thus far. I am in two book clubs for the same book, and depending on the composition of the book group, different aspects of the readings have been highlighted. For me, comparing and contrasting the caste system in the US with the caste system in India has been an interesting exercise. People forget how much privilege they have until they have to grapple with something like this, and realize that so much of what goes on right in front of your nose, you are compeltely impervious to and do not notice its effect on others. I have listened to the author talk in a couple of talks. Brilliant thinker and brilliant book. It should required reading for all incoming college freshman.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [CW: self harm, anxiety] Grace Porter has a newly minted doctorate in astronomy from Portland. Eleven years of dogged hard work and weekends and summers sacrificed to research and achieving new and newer heights in her pursuit of perfection have left her burnt out. Job search has been heartbreaking as she realizes that the field of her dreams is rejecting her Black heritage. Whereas her father, the Colonel, has pushed and prodded her and expected perfection from her emotionally and academically, her mother only wants her to be happy and fulfilled in whatever she chooses to pursue.

Grace wishes she could disappear in the orange groves of her childhood home in Florida. Problems don’t disappear even if you choose to hide, but taking a break is definitely called for every once in a while, before you splinter into tiny particles and get scattered among the stars. In a bid to shore her spirits up, Grace goes off to Las Vegas with her dearest friends. And there, one night, she meets a girl with stars in her eyes and roses in her cheeks; they get drunk; they get married; and they buy a lock together with matching keys and rings. After a night together, the girl leaves behind a love note to her Honey Girl with a calling card and a photo.

Yuki Yamamoto is a Japanese American child of immigrant parents living in NYC. She is a medieval history major who waitresses for her living needs and assuages her lonely soul and those of others in a late night radio show called Are You There? My review is here.

Careless Whispers by Synithia Williams
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [CW: miscarriage, wealthy tobacco company] Parenting has such an impact on how a child grows up into the adult the world sees. One child in this story was brought up to be tough as all heck and giving no way to any softness, and the other child was brought up in a loving family where all feelings were allowed to have free rein. Both adults are driven to succeed, but for one adult, there is never any other way of life, whereas the other one has realized that a fast-paced life is not all that it is cracked up to be.

Elaina Robidoux was trained from birth to one day assume control of Robidoux Tobacco and Robidoux Holdings. From leading boardroom meetings of directors to orchestrating her politician brother’s events, from being a socialite to a ruthless businesswoman, Elaina does it all. Growing up, she had been starved of love and acceptance by her parents, and in her adulthood, she finds herself seeking connections that ultimately fail to give her the love she is attempting to find. As a result, she considers herself unlovable and incapable of loving, pathetic and lonely. She is tired of being strong all the time, but being strong is all she knows.

Alex Tyson has joined his large family in Jackson Falls in a bid to slow down his life. His pedal-to-the-metal way of life leads to him having a heart attack at a very young age. It serves as a wake-up call that his life in New York City is killing him. So he packs everything up and heads south to Jackson Falls to become head of research and development at Robidoux Holdings. Unfortunately for him, he proceeds to clash with Elaina on a regular basis. My review is here.

The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by KJ Charles
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: [CW: Previously enslaved character and mention of enslavement. References to emotional and financial abuse of spouses and children.] KJ Charles continues to write book after book of near perfection. Every time I think, she can’t get better, she does.

Sir John Hartlebury “Hart” is a baronet, a prosaic member of the Upper Ten Thousand with a good-sized property, and also a tradesman efficiently managing his sister’s brewery. He is a large man with a large voice, who cannot be bothered to temper his views or mind his manners when in company. He retains an avuncular interest in the future of his niece, wanting her to acquire some town bronze, while safeguarding her fortune from the hands of fortune hunters.

Robin Loxleigh is a gazetted fortune hunter. He and his sister, Marianne, make no bones about them being down on their luck and from a small village in Nottinghamshire, here in London to make advantageous marriages. They charmingly cozen everyone into thinking them to be harmless, so Society casts a benign eye over their machinations.

Robin and Hart meet when Robin inveigles himself into the notice of Hart’s niece. Hart is instantly suspicious of Robin’s background and motives and sets detectives into digging up dirt on him. In town, he keeps an eagle eye on him and his doings. Deciding to corner Robin into a tight spot, Hart destroys him over a game of piquet to the tune of four thousand odd pounds. The next day, Robin arrives at Hart’s house penitent and defiant over his inability to pay. He leaves with an unholy bargain: his body for a month in exchange for forgiveness of his debt. That entire scene of negotiation is a master class in the subtle use of words juxtaposed with the shifting undercurrents of the unsaid. My review is here.

Cranford Elizabeth Gaskell, performed by Prunella Scales
Category: Literary Fiction
Comments: I abandoned this book partway through. I just couldn't stand the performer. There are many characters in this story and so much of the story is all in conversation, and Scales just isn't up to the heft of this book. I have read the book and watched the miniseries, so I am familiar with the story, and yet, I was bored by Scales' characterization and had a difficult time figuring out who was who. Scales has a bland voice for the omniscent narration and has a tendency to mumble toward the en of sentences. In addition, she did not have much animation and differentiation in the tone and color and style of voices for the different characters. All in all, a disappointing narration.

One thing that listening to the story as opposed to reading the book or watching the miniseries brought up for me was Gaskell's peculiarity, or perhaps it was in literature in the Victorian times, in how her characters' perceive death and their lack of sensibility or emotions surrounding it. There is some sadness, some shock, but life as usual moves on pretty quickly. People died, and ho hum. I found this true in North & South by Gaskell as well, and I find it off-putting. Perhaps there is extreme sensibility in the unsaid that I am supposed to get and am not. Perhaps this is an incorrect reading of Gaskell. Anyway. It didn't work for me.

Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachael Joyce, performed by Juliet Stevenson
Category: Historical Literary Fiction
Comments: What a decided pleasure to be listening to Juliet Stevenson read this book. I chose this book primarily because of her, and then also because the story reminded me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I loved. I am about a third of the way through and thanks to Stevenson am following along really well. Stevenson is a treasure.

A middle-aged woman decides to throw in the towel and leave the teaching job she hates and the modest circumspect life she is leading to travel halfway around the world to New Caledonia in this post WWII story. She is on the search of the elusive golden beatle that she's been fascinated with since she learned about it at her father's knee. Her dream has gotten tarnished over the years, but never abadoned. Now she drags it out, spiffs it up with spit and polish, throws all her money at it, and finds herself on a ship steaming away to New Caledonia with an improbable and suspicious assistant and a stalker with PTSD.

This book embodies the type of heroine with whom I have some difficulty. I saw her type in Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant as well. These are taciturn, very emotionally subdued women, by circumstance, for whom we are supposed to feel sorry and have sympathy. In general, my interest is immediately peaked by the quiet ones, because they usually have much more going on for them, especially because it is not visible. However, the protagonists of both these books assume that the other protagonists have to give and give while they take and take. The little they do give is to be received with gratitude and be considered sufficient. This is the dynamic that both the authors set up for their protagonists. While both Joyce's and Grant's stories are marvelously written and the heroines are superbly drawn, I find that my sympathies are with the other protagonists, not the heroines. Those other protagonists deserve more from life than what the heroines are handing to them. Anyway. Despite these misgivings, I am going to continue on with the book to see where it leads.

Forbidden by Jo Beverley
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: I am now part of a new Twitter book club called The Saturday Book Club with @willaful, @janetetennessee, @regency_gal, @growlycub, and @emmelnie. Forbidden is our first book. We are JoBev fans, so this was an enthusiastic choice. You can tell the caliber of the writer JoBev was from the opening pages. This is a re-read for me, but it has been so long since I last read it, as part of a binge-read of all of JoBev's works, that I have forgotten most of the story other than hazy recollections. We've had two rousing discussions for chapters 1-6, and I look forward to discussing the rest of the book in April, three chapters a week.

The Bluestocking Duchess by Julia Justiss
Category: Regency Romance
Comments: This was a disappointing Justiss novel. Usually, I really like her work, but not this one. There was far too much navel-gazing and retreading of the same concerns throughout the novel without much forward movement. Another issue I had with the book was lack of sexual tension even though there was constant noticing of the facial charms of the other. The anticipation of a kiss or no kiss was used as sexual tension, but again a lack of forward motion there made the anticipation deflate for the reader. Here are the main issues concerning the protagonists.

She is an ancient Greek scholar but believes that no one knows of her expertise. She think she manages to even fool her father and brother despite actually doing a fair bit of the translation work. She is convinced that marriage would mean the end of her scholarship. So she is determined to be a spinster lady's companion. I was not sure how this would enable her to continue the work that "defines her." As a result, while she really wants to kiss the hero, she really does not want to marry him.

He has been newly elevated to a duke's heir. He really wants to kiss her but that would be dishonorable. Marrying her has never occurred to him because despite being attracted to her, his one brush with romance in the past has turned him off romance, even though it seemed like a rather innocuous experience to me. As a duke's heir, he is expected to marry well, and the daughter of the duke's librarian ain't cutting it. He wants to do his duty to the title and let the duke choose his bride but he really wants to kiss her.

Every time they think of wanting to kiss the other person, they retread the above. And frustratingly, I didn't get much of a look into their thoughts—how are they changing how they look at their lives and what they can to get what they want. Yes, of course, there's a HEA at the end of the book so there is forward progress in their relationship towards the end but they stay mired in these ruminations for far too long. Disappointing! I look forward to Justiss' next book because I really like her writing.

Dial 'A' for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I had been looking forward to reading this book ever since I first read the back cover copy. The author's introduction/author's note at the beginning of the book solidified my impression that this was going to be a good book. I enjoyed the dual timelines between the heroine's college life and current life, both progressing along in the story, and I enjoyed the prologue setup, though it was entirely telling rather than showing. On to the story and what caused me to rate it two stars.

I was uncomfortable with how after graduating from college, Meddie breaks up with the love-of-her-life (and the hero of this story) Nathan. She has made up her mind that she cannot abandon her mother and aunts and move away from home. So when Nathan gets the job in NYC, she tells him that she has stopped loving him, all so he wouldn't sacrifice his NYC job for her. He is utterly shocked. It is one thing to be self-sacrificing, but quite another to lie like that and break his heart. Why did she not opt for an honest conversation where she lays out all the reasons she cannot move? Instead, she chooses to break up with him in the worst way possible. He had hoped to marry her. I thought she was very insensitive to his feelings and immature in how she handled the situation.

My belief in her immaturity was solidified by what happens with her ill-fated date with Jake.

Yes, Jake is totally behaving like a creep and a threat to her in the car, and she is justified in being scared by his behavior. But tasering him while he is driving fast is a surefire way to getting both of them badly hurt or killed. Luckily for her, despite the car wrapping around a tree, she is OK and her car is dented but OK, but Jake is so badly hurt that she thinks he is dead. I was then horrified that instead of using his phone to call 911; or walking to get help; or somehow maneuvering him out of the way on the roadside, driving to get help, and returning with the help, she stuffs him in the trunk of her car.

Then she drives home to her mother and lets her mother and aunts take care of her and the situation. She shows no maturity even at 26, no remorse, and no conscience. I read in horrified fascination as she, her mother, and her aunts all eat and joke and laugh while Jake lies unconscious or dead in the car trunk. Then they drive him over and put him in a cooler, which the next day, gets put on a boat to an island, and so on.

I know we are supposed to be laughing along with all these shenanigans, but my sympathies were all with Jake and none with Meddie. I kept on hoping Jake would wake up soon and go on home, chastened by what has happened to him. Instead, the horror kept going on. I had hoped so much from this book. The author paints a wonderful picture of her aunties at the beginning, and I had hoped they would do madcap stuff, which they did, except, I did not want them do to it with a "dead" body. That was just not funny.

(BTW for a 5'2" petite girl to lift a deadweight grown man, who outweighs her by a lot and is much taller than her, is impossible. So that whole thing of her moving him from the driver's seat into the trunk is completely unbelievable. I know we're supposed to suspend disbelief at this point, but it is a bridge too far for me. Implausible things I can take in stride, but this is impossible.)

Thursday, February 25, 2021


February Reading Notes


Image Copyrighted by Candice Hern i can't believe two months of the new year have whizzed past. Life for me has been tranquil these past few days, and I am immensely grateful. Routine is great. Boring is good. It leaves me time to think, to write, to dream a bit. To hope.

North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell, performed by Juliet Stevenson
Category: Literary Fiction
Comments: As I was finishing up with this story, I found myself getting more and more impatient with Margaret. I was shocked how little she mourns the death of both her parents and her godfather. She is more disturbed by the lie she told Mr. Thornton and ruminates on it and castigates herself endlessly, instead of being grief-stricken over those deaths. Ultimately, despite all the good and caring work she did in Milton, I found that she was undeserving of Mr. Thornton's love because she is unfeeling.

People could read her character as someone who feels deeply but hides it well because she doesn't know how to express it. However, her thoughts rarely roam to those she has lost, which I would suppose would happen if she cared deeply for them. People could read that as her mind protecting her from deep sorrow by not allowing her to dwell on them. Other than worrying about the lie she told Mr. Thornton and his opinion of her character, I never saw her even think to herself that she held him in affection or even love. My reading could be the "wrong" reading of the work, but I stopped sympathizing with Margaret towards the end. She did not deserve Mr. Thornton.

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, performed by Prunella Scales
Category: Literary Fiction
Comments: Listening to Cranford narrated by Prunella Scales in the car these days. I am about half an hour into it, and while Scales is not bad, she just isn't as good as Juliet Stevenson. She gets rather lost on long sentences and tries to go fast and far on one breath and peters out.

The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I loved this enemies-to-lovers book. It is such a breath of fresh air in that it infuses the enemies to lovers trope with tenderness and softness and wonder as a contrast to the initial animus.

Shay Goldstein is Caucasian Jewish American and a producer at a public radio station in Seattle. She secretly yearns to be a host of her own show, but in ten years of taking crap from her sexist boss, she hasn’t made much progress in that direction. She still cannot get over the death of her beloved father from whom she got her love of public radio. Now, her mother has moved on and found a new love, and suddenly, Shay finds herself planning for her mother’s wedding when her mother should’ve been planning for hers. Shay finds herself disheartened and living alone in an echoing house.

Dominic Yun is Korean American and has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He is intent on making his mark in serious journalism. Inexplicably, he chooses to do so at a radio station despite his fear of public speaking, because he sees that as a springboard to journalism greatness.

Shay and Dominic’s animosity towards each other fuels great banter between them. Everyone around the station enjoys their snarky comments and brush-offs. So when Shay suggests a new show to draw more listeners in, their boss immediately thinks of them working together. The show’s premise is that a couple who has had a flaming falling out gets together to banter on their show, and while doing so, brings in experts to offer relationship advice and explore all different facets and psychology of relationships.

But Shay and Dominic haven't had a romantic relationship much less had it break up. So now they have to get to know each other in order to lie about a broken relationship. Life quickly becomes complicated for them. My review is here.

Then There Was You by Mona Shroff
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [CW: miscarriage, school shooting, death of child, mourning loss of child, racism]

Annika Mehta is a rebel according to her traditional Indian American parents. She does not go to medical school, nor does she get a fabulous, high-paying job. Instead, she is a kindergarten teacher. It is a job she loves and at which she is really good. But to her parents, she is not achieving success. They are forever trying to set her up with good Indian boys, but Annika has a way of slipping out of the wide matrimonial net they have cast. Her parents and the wider gossiping South Asian community are aghast when Annika gets engaged to a Caucasian man, gets pregnant by him, and then gets dumped by him. Luckily, according to them, she loses her baby. The most traumatic experience of her life evinces not much empathy from her community. Her parents love her but want her to move on and come back into the fold as a “good” Indian daughter who listens to the counsel of her parents. In addition to being a teacher, Annika moonlights at a bar.

Daniel Bliant is an ER nurse practitioner who is passionate about his job. Five years ago, he lost his precious daughter to a senseless tragedy where a gunman shot up her school — the very school at which Annika teaches. Daniel is inconsolable at his loss and cannot move on. When his wife suggests having a second child, he is incandescent with rage, and they divorce. He even cannot see his nephew, because the boy is the same age as his girl had been. He tries to repress all feelings by working every minute he can — all he wants to do is work and sleep and allow life to pass him by. In addition to being an ER nurse practitioner, Daniel moonlights as a helicopter medic.

Daniel meets her when she is unconscious in the hospital, but they officially meet at the bar. Both have so much pain they're carrying from their pasts. Shroff sensitively portrays Annika and Daniel’s soul-deep sense of bereavement at the loss of their children. How to then have them move on and move together into a romantic relationship is where Shroff's skill comes in. My review is here.

Make Up Break Up by Lily Menon
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I have loved Sandhya Menon’s YA contemporary romance novels (When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle, With Love), so I was curious how she would make the transition to adult contemporary romance under the pen name Lily Menon. With this book, Menon has a winner on her hands.

Annika Dev is the CEO of Make Up, an app to help estranged people find love again. Annika and her smart alec developer have worked hard to make their prototype. They are seeing excitement among beta testers, but have, as yet, failed to convince investors of the long-term success of their app. Their cash cushion has run out, and they are facing eviction soon. Annika has pinned her hopes on the EPIC conference, where she hopes to woo and impress investors about how vital her app is for how technology can be used in interpersonal spaces for success in romantic relationships. Her father wants her to become a doctor, but she knows with every particle of her being that she is a creative entrepreneur, and her future lies with Make Up.

Hudson Craft is the CEO of Break Up, an app that helps people break up relationships that have become stagnant or burdensome. Hudson and his team have made a huge splash on the startup scene and seen their app downloaded a million times. Hudson’s reputation is of an up-and-coming CEO who’s a visionary, a genius. Hudson is planning to pitch his app at the EPIC conference to woo and impress investors so he can take his app to another level. Hudson had always dreamed of becoming a sculptor, but he needs to make money so he can help his parents, so for now wealth is what he is pursuing. And he is satisfied with what he has achieved with Break Up.

Annika and Hudson have history together. At a conference in Vegas a few months ago, before either of their apps were anything but a dream, they had hooked up for a blissful weekend. They meet in the present when Annika realizes that Break Up has moved into the office next to hers and is competing neck-to-neck with Make Up. My review is here.

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I loved this book to pieces. I alternated between enthusiasm and delight as I read this book: enthused by the craftmanship of the characters and delighted by their story. There is food and friendship, vulnerability and defenselessness, affection and aloofness, birth family and found family, betrayal and the requisite expiation. And above all, there is love and laughter.

Heron draws on her own Indian Tanzanian Canadian Muslim heritage to write these wonderful characters full of heart and warmth. It is in the small, small details that you get to see this — in the dishes where the Gujarati Indian food has an East African twist, in the occasional comments about what is allowed or disallowed in Islam, in the Canadian-ness of the heroine’s outlook to life, in the longing the hero has for the beauty of Dar es Salaam and the spices of Zanzibar. Culture is not a mere backdrop to the book, but rather an intrinsic aspect of who these characters are; their story could not possibly be told by divorcing it from the culture.

Reena works in finance, a field she despises. It is a field she chose in defiance of her parents’ wishes to work in their real estate business. She wants to stand on her own two feet as far as possible. As it is, she is living in a low-rent apartment in a building her family owns, the last thing she wants to do is work for them and be completely owned by them. And yet, paradoxically, the career she chose is not one at which they would laugh. But in her heart of hearts, she wants to be a baker, a bread baker. She has already learned how to do it well, but she wants to attend an institute to learn how to be a better one.

Nadim has come to Toronto from Dar es Salaam via a graduate degree from the London School of Economics. He is blessed with a posh English accent and a well-developed body. He is easily seduced by bare feet and bread. But, and this is a big stumbling block for Reena, Nadim works for her dad and is the chosen one “from the Muslim Bachelors “R” Us warehouse” for her hand in marriage by both sets of parents. My review is here.

Love at First by Kate Claybourn
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: The authorial voice and writing style of Clayborn's Chance of a Lifetime series are very different from the deeply introspective Love Lettering (my review is here) and are different once again for the angst and humor of Love at First. Clayborn has the remarkable ability to adapt her writing to fit the story, rather than requiring the story to work around her craft. Having said that, I loved Love Lettering much more than this.

Nora DeAngelo Clarke is a freelance web designer, who loves her work. She grew up spending her summers with her Nonna (grandmother) in her small apartment building, and all the neighbors became her extended family. When her Nonna dies, Nora inherits the apartment and moves in and makes it her own. Her attachment to her Nonna transfers over to her attachment to the building and a desire to keep things exactly as they are in perpetuity.

Clayborn has paid a lot of attention to fully developing Nora’s “found family” of other apartment owners. They are quirky and sweet and crochety, each with their own motivations and insecurities, but all are united in their affection for Nora. They are always in Nora’s corner. And she cares of their wellbeing just as much as her Nonna did.

Will Sterling is an extremely busy emergency room doctor who has inherited his estranged (and reviled) uncle’s apartment. He can’t wait to unload the unit for its associations and also for its ugly interior, but there is a stipulation that he has to own it for one whole year. So he is working with an agent to renovate it and have it rented out.

And that is where he runs up against the building association president, Nora. She is adamant in her refusal to allow short-term renters because it will spoil the current ambience of long-term ownership and emotional investment on her part and the others living in the building. He will destroy the character of their sanctuary forever by having strangers trooping in and out at all hours of the day and night. My review is here.