Review: The Heir Affair

It’s here! The highly anticipated sequel to 2015’s bestselling The Royal We, The Heir Affair is finally making its way into the public. Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan have delivered more of the same– which is to say that while it’s not exactly earth shattering, if you enjoyed the first book in the series, you’ll be chuffed with this follow up.

All of your favorite characters are back, in their full glory, perhaps none more so than the apple of every reader’s eye, Freddie, as well as a few new characters. Most notably, Princess Daphne, who, at first blush, seems rather obnoxious, but then I really grew to like her. No more Bex-Freddie shenanigans… Well… Okay, yes, there is tons of dramz with Freddie. But this time, the scandal isn’t nearly as frustrating as before. This book isn’t quite as ‘fun’ as its predecessor, but it matures alongside its characters. Though Nick is his typical, Manic Pixie Dream Boy-self, he finally lets his hair down (or, at least, what’s left of it), albeit for brief romps, such as in ski gondolas. Surprisingly, one of my favorite elements of this book is the relationship forged between Queen-Grandmother Eleanor and Bex. I love the snarky Queen, and am I the only one who felt badly for her? I mean, yes, she’s a slave to the Crown and forces others to bend to its might and antiquated traditions… But, guys, she’s A SLAVE! TO THE CROWN! The real villain here is Prince Dick, amiright? Ugh. I didn’t like him before and I like him even less here. Oh, yeah, and Clive.

For anyone wondering whether they *have* to have read The Royal We to be able to get into this book, the answer is no. There are plenty of moments where the authors fill you in on what you might have missed. That being said, their recaps serve better as reminders of what you might have read and forgotten in the 5 years between books (no need to re-read). I’d recommend taking the full tour de Lyons, if you’ve not read the first book.

If you had a problem with the length of The Royal We, this one’s even longer. Great, if you’re enjoying the journey (as I did); not so much if you’re just looking to add numbers to your ‘read’ list.

The Ultimate Life is a Journey of Passion and Purpose ...
Rating: 3.5/5 stars, rounded up for Goodreads and NetGalley

Review: The Royal We

Buy The Royal We on Amazon Here.

Dun dun da duuunnnn.

A blast from the past, friends! But not really, since I’ve just finally gotten around to reading The Royal We. I remember when this book came out in 2015 and immediately landed on all of the bestseller lists. Not being a particular fan of modern monarchs– I didn’t make it through season one of The Crown and, *GASP*, I didn’t watch either of the royal weddings– this wasn’t in my ‘to be read’ pile. However, I can’t resist a good romance. I requested an ARC for the much-anticipated sequel, The Heir Affair, and was granted a copy, so figured I’d go back and start with the first book in the series.

Let me just paint a picture for you really quickly, of my reading habits. Every morning, I wake up and do two hours of fasting cardio. That’s over ten miles on the treadmill, per day. This is my prime reading time, and really the only way I can keep going for that long. What does that mean? I’m not always the most patient or forgiving reader. This book had me excited to wake up and get on the treadmill. What a great surprise, to become so invested in and entertained by this silly, but endearing, novel. I’ve no clue how much of this is or isn’t “true”, as I don’t know much about the contemporary royals and their wives. I do think it’s interesting, reading it after Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle both married into the House of Windsor, as Bex reads like an amalgamation of both of those women, rather than solely Kate, after whom she was apparently modeled.

Regardless of the truth/lack thereof, there’s so much to enjoy. The plot is strong, the characters are mostly lovable, though they’re all flawed and have their own complexities (as far as characters in a romance have complexities, I mean). Usually, I’m the first to point out flat characters, a lack of overall edginess, and a book being too long. But here, where characters are boring/lack edge, it’s expected– hello, these are royals— if Bex were a drug kingpin or Wills Nick were turning tricks for play money, it would be insufferably unbelievable. There’s just enough scandal, but it all lies within the realm of possibilities, including the final, almost-relationship-ending scandal. (Yes, it’s far-fetched, but could I see it happening? Sure. There’s a reason such cliches exist. Though would a royal couple still go on to marry after such a scandal? That, I’m not necessarily buying. Though I will, for the sake of the sequel.) Which brings me to the length. Absolutely, this could’ve been shorter. But it’s such a fun ride, I wouldn’t have wanted it to end any sooner. In fact, I fully intend to ride this wave through the next installment of Bex and Nick’s story. Hey, we’re in quarantine. There are no rules here regarding guilty pleasures. Gotta make the best of it.

Stay tuned for my next review, of The Heir Affair, which is due for release June 16th, 2020.

Rating:

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Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: In Five Years

Click the link to purchase In Five Years on Amazon.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years for the comparisons to One Day in December. Overall, I really enjoyed the book; it was a quick read that I didn’t want to finish. But weirdly, in examining its parts, I didn’t love the individual elements. The characters didn’t particularly grab me, nor did I feel strongly for either relationship (with long-term fiancé David or premonition-fling Aaron), and I thought the concept had much more potential than the book actually delivered. I was on the fence about the relationship between Dannie and Bella, because both of them could be quite frustrating, but I did feel for them once the major struggle manifested *don’t want to ruin a major plot point there*.
My favorite thing about this book is the jumping off point: where do you see yourself in five years, and what would you do if you could actually see a snapshot of where you end up? It’s similar to the device Serle employed in her previous effort, The Dinner List, that one being: if you could have dinner with any five people, who would they be? In this book, Dannie sees a snapshot of her life that is completely out of alignment with what she thought her life would be like in five years. I think what’s great is that, while she doesn’t overhaul her life in an effort to change the outcome, she does make small changes that wind up leading her to the same conclusion (however, it should be noted that said conclusion is not what one might expect).

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think?

Review: You Were There Too

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Meeting the literal man of your dreams? Sign me up!

I knew I was going to like this book based solely on the premise. The question was, would the writing be brilliant enough that I’d LOVE it? Would it compare to some of my favorites, like Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Maybe In Another Life and Jill Santopolo’s The Light We Lost? You Were There Too bears enough resemblance to those two that I did stick with it, despite feeling let down in the first half.

As with its title, You Were There Too suffers from some clunky writing that, had it been elevated, could have been up there with the aforementioned comparisons. Take a second and compare “You Were There Too”, to “The Light We Lost”– both are simple strings of four words, but the latter has a certain poetry to it, which is present throughout Santopolo’s entire novel, lending it a literary quality. Dissimilarly , Oakley’s novel is just a bit coarse or unpolished. This book is high-concept, average-execution. But the main issue here is that the author wanted this to be a love triangle, where both of Mia’s love interests were equally compelling and worthy. Unfortunately, the draw of the story for me was the promise of the man of one’s dreams, which is compromised by the need to balance him with the protagonist’s husband. 

All of that being said, Oakley’s novel is worth reading. It’s a good story, and, most of all, the end is shocking and completely unexpected. First, the person she chooses is NOT who I would’ve expected, though I respect her decision immensely and think it’s a great lesson for readers. We’re often so caught up in the romance of things that we forget the practicalities. It’s so easy to vilify people in real life who take the ‘grass is always greener’ approach, abandoning their tried-and-true spouses in favor of the newer, hotter, younger thing. Yet, in fiction, we often yearn for our female protagonists to seek freedom or red, hot, lust, or the perfect man (never mind the impossibility of such). Sure, it’s just escapist entertainment, letting our imaginations run wild. But amid a vast expanse of said escapism, it’s refreshing to read something real. (Like dreaming up a man and then meeting him, right? Haha). Maybe because the plot hinges on a pseduo-supernatural occurrence, Oakley decided to take an anti-Romance (capital R, as in the genre) cliche stance. She upends all expectations, and then, throws in a final twist worthy of a great thriller or mystery. Fans of the genre be damned, Colleen Oakley is coming for you, locked and loaded, with this ending.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Buy You Were There Too on Amazon here.

Review: Musical Chairs

Musical Chairs

This book isn’t scheduled to be released for a while, but I’m going to do something I’ve never done before and post a pre-review, because this should definitely be on your radar. Stay tuned for my full review, which will be posted on publication day, July 20, 2020. Let me know in the comments if you’re excited to read Musical Chairs, or if you’re already a fan of Amy Poeppel!

Let’s start with: this is not my usual fare. I almost exclusively read and review books with twenty-or early-thirty-something protagonists, often set in urban landscapes, with edgy subject matters and/or a biting sense of wit. Musical Chairs has none of that. Instead, it is a tame book about family dynamics, set in rural Connecticut, with a middle-aged protagonist and zero Millennial angst.  Nevertheless, I genuinely enjoyed this book, which is a testament to Amy Poeppel’s writing. There’s not a ton going on here as far as plot, but the characters are all well-developed and the world feels immediately available for entering and viewing, as flies on the water-dampened walls of Bridget’s home. Usually, I’ve found with novels like this, the details drown out all else, but Poeppel manages the fine balance of detail, dialogue, and action. Her skills are so evident that I plan to go back and read her previous work, Small Admissions.

This will be popular among book club enthusiasts, for its quaint story that opens up larger discussions of what it is to be a middle-aged woman, raising children who are struggling to find their way, taking care of aging parents, and having a life of one’s own romantically and professionally. How does the modern woman navigate all of life’s nooks and crannies (which is what it is here, rather than the cliche ‘ups and downs’)? While this isn’t the book you’d go to for thrills, laughs, or a steamy romance, it is the perfect book with which to curl up on a rainy day.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Pre-order Musical Chairs on Amazon here.

Review: The Love Solution

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I’d give Ashley Croft’s The Love Solution a 2.5, as it really was just okay, but after having looked at the other reviews, I decided to round up to 3 stars (on Goodreads) because I don’t believe a book’s quality should be assessed based on the moral judgements of its readers. It’s one thing to say a book is poorly written, constructed, plotted, or its characters are one dimensional, etc. But to say ‘this book is not good because I disagree with the morality of the characters, choosing to use a love potion’, is silly. Not that I think the Love Bug story points add to the quality of the book as a whole; in fact, I actually think the book could’ve done without that bit entirely, and would’ve perhaps been stronger, as that whole back and forth was ultimately a bit pointless, and the characters and relationships were interesting enough on their own. Also, characters are meant to be flawed– and sure, maybe *you* are the kind of person who maintains utmost integrity, even in the face of heartbreak, and you would never succumb to your own desperate misery. But I’m not going to pretend for one single second that I couldn’t be led down a ‘dark path’, or that I’d label someone who did resort to something like a magic love pill as a ‘bad person’. Yeah, there are ethical issues with that– that’s precisely why we have Science Fiction (or, in this case, Romantic Comedies with Sci-Fi-Light elements), to extrapolate and tease out the potential pitfalls of such medical and technological advancements.

Outside of all that, The Love Solution is truly mediocre. It’s the kind of thing you pick up because you’ve exhausted everything other option, or because there’s a secondhand copy on sale for $1.99. Funny enough, after I wrote this review, I went to pull the Amazon link and it is indeed being offered for… $1.99. At least the publisher is aware what they have here, and they’re not price gouging their customers. It feels like it has been churned out, a bottom of the barrel tale that the author spruced up so she could make that next mortgage payment. It all feels very dated, in its language and domesticity, as if it was either created twenty years ago, or else is intended for an audience of senior citizens who prefer a more tame story. And, by the way, I don’t mean that as a cut down; I think it could be successful in assisted living book circles, and there’s not a ton geared towards that demographic.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Buy The Love Solution on Amazon here.

Review: Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating

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This is my first foray into the duo that call themselves Christina Lauren, and I wasn’t disappointed. Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating is exactly what it claims to be: quirky heroine becomes best friends with the hottie from college, fun and emotional chaos ensues as they attempt to set one another up on blind dates that go poorly, until they realize they’re in love. It’s a simple romantic comedy, which is anything but simple to construct, so kudos to the authors.

Something that really stood out to me about this book is that you could almost feel the authors having fun together as they created their story. Obviously I got a sense of Josh and Hazel, who are both thought out and detailed characters, as I read, but there was also a pervasive sense of the authors. I could see Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings  sitting together, perhaps with mimosas on Sundays, shooting the shit, maybe sharing some anecdotes, and crafting these characters with whom they themselves have fallen in love. Maybe I’m wrong and they’ve just been paired together by their publisher and in reality, they barely speak to one another, working mostly over e-mail exchanges of chapters. In which case, bravo to them, as they’re even more brilliant than I thought.

Aside from that, what kept bouncing through my head were similarities to Helen Hoang’s debut The Kiss Quotient, which was released a mere three months before this. Both books are romantic comedies featuring extremely quirky/conventionally “undateable” lead females, hunky, Korean, men, with that cultural element being a nice little thread throughout. Not that I think there’s any plagiarism here– I’m sure this book was already at the presses when Kiss Quotient was released– but  I think that having read them in such close proximity, it flattened this for me. Both are well written, and I’d actually give the edge to Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Dating as far as writing is concerned. It is slightly more clever and the writers feel more seasoned in this genre, capturing all of the hallmarks of romantic comedy without crossing over into being cliche. This is especially clear in the sex scenes, which is maybe a strange thing to compare, and I’m certainly not a connoisseur of literary porn, but where Hoang’s scenes go too far overboard, Lauren is able to craft a steamy scene that doesn’t make you roll your eyes.

Would I recommend this book to fans of the genre? Absolutely. While it’s not breaking any boundaries, it ticks all the boxes for romantic comedy and would be a nice poolside read. If you’ve read Kiss Quotient, I’d give yourself a little breathing time so this doesn’t feel stale. Unless you were obsessed with that book and want more of the same, now, then have at it.

Rating: 3.5/5

Buy Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating on Amazon here.

Review: The Light We Lost

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HOW DID I MISS THIS BOOK WHEN IT WAS RELEASED LAST YEAR?! Cue existential crisis-slash-anxiety attack that despite my attempts to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s hot in the literary world, great books are still falling through the cracks. Ladies and gentlemen– or however it is you folks are defining yourselves; don’t let me confine you– I’m giving out what I believe to be my first five star review of the blog. And possibly of 2018 (even though this was released in 2017).

Page One: Jill Santopolo reached right into my chest cavity and grabbed my still-beating heart.

The Light We Lost is stunning, from start to finish. It is that rare book that is both literary and relatable, which I think is due to its using beautiful language not as flourish, but because it’s from the soul. It’s the language of love and loss. Every word is meticulously wrought, but never pretentious or gratuitous. Or perhaps I’m just a hopeless romantic– emphasis on the ‘hopeless’. I think that my having not discovered this book until I did has to be for some reason. I mean, is it a complete coincidence that I randomly found it on September 11th? Social scientists would say yes, total coincidence. But again, I’m somewhat of a romantic.

This book is designed for those among us who are prone to losing themselves, at least occasionally, in the ‘what if’s?’. Those among us who are seemingly content in our lives, but who struggle to resist the urge to stalk the social media accounts of a former flame. Those among us who wonder about ‘the one that got away’– the one that, over time, rather than deteriorating in our memories, has built up, becoming super-human, invincible.

If none of those things sound familiar, then you’re lucky. But not really, because you’ll likely not appreciate the magic of this book. Santopolo is a genius at crafting meals out of mere moments, like this gem:

“Your face closed. I could see it, like a door shutting behind your eyes… I had stumbled into a fault line I didn’t know was there. I filed that away– I was discovering the landscape of you. Already I was hoping it was terrain I’d learn well, one that would become second nature to navigate.”

To me, this book captures the same tragic emotions of one of my absolute favorite soliloquies in Shakespeare: To be, or not to be. It captures perfectly the “heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”. The only other contemporary author I’ve read who comes close to capturing this kind of heartbreak and longing is Julian Barnes, though I have to say, I think Santopolo’s feminine perspective gives it more resonance, at least for me.

A few other samplings I love from the book:

“It always seemed like you belonged to you and let yourself out to me when you felt like it; I never had complete ownership.”

“Sometimes a year feels like an eternity, broken up into tiny capsules of time. Each chunk is so monumental that it seems like its own lifetime within a life.”

Okay, guys, I could go on and on. And honestly, I’m getting annoyed with the fact that I don’t have anything snarky to say. The worst thing– the only bad thing, really– is that it had to end. I want to cry. I want to hold it in my hands, clutch it to my chest, crush it to bits so that I never have to let it go.

Now that I’ve set your expectations way too high, please check it out and then argue with me.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Buy The Light We Lost on Amazon

(PS: Because this is the first of Santopolo’s novels in this genre, I’m unable to binge read her and thus, would greatly appreciate any recommendations, if you know of any similar books– fiction or nonfiction, either way works for me– or if you have been similarly touched by a book.)

Book Review: The Kiss Quotient

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Autism– especially the high-functioning end of the spectrum, commonly referred to as Asperger’s– has always fascinated me. I think because I’m almost always drawn to people (particularly men) who are treading the fine line between genius and mad, I’ve become well acquainted with the quirks, both positive and negative, that accompany Asperger’s. I loved John Elder Robison’s memoir, Look Me in the Eye, and enjoyed Mark Haddon’s hit Curious Incident. However, I haven’t had much experience with women on the spectrum. I had assumed that was because I seek male partners, and, I guess, I assumed that it was more common in males than females. But Hoang’s notes at the end of the book explain that women are diagnosed far less often because they are more likely to hide their symptoms. I’ve not yet researched this to fact-check it, but it’s definitely believable and interesting to consider.

Anyway, because of my own interest in Asperger’s, and particularly its effects on relationships, I was excited to read Helen Hoang’s highly-praised romance novel, The Kiss Quotient. After all, how great is it when pure entertainment (a la beachy, romance novels) and culturally/socially important messages are intertwined? Not only is it important to get diverse voices out into the zeitgeist, so that we may see things through new perspectives, but it also makes for unique characters that we’ve never seen before. In that sense, this book is successful. It’s cute and fun, culturally relevant, with an intelligent female at its core, and, most importantly, so heartfelt. I connected to Stella and her plight immediately, and that grip never loosened, despite the predictable plot, gratuitous sex scenes, and unrefined writing.

I really loved the world of this novel because of the central character, and I looked forward to returning to it each morning, but I think the writing lacked finesse. While I praise the author on being able to create such a strong emotional attachment to her characters and not let the science and math overwhelm, I think that it needed just a little more poetry and/or intellect injected into the actual writing. This was made even more apparent and at odds, given the supposed brilliance of the protagonist. Stella is portrayed as this phenomenal intellectual, but the immature writing stands in stark contrast. There weren’t any beautiful turns of phrase that I could hold on to and savor, which is one of the things I look for most when I’m reading. I love language, and while plot and emotion are just as important, you can’t sacrifice the words. That being said, it’s a cute novel and I look forward to reading Hoang’s next work.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Buy The Kiss Quotient on Amazon

 

Book Review: Playing with Matches

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If you’re the kind of person who wastes spends hours perusing lists of hot new books, you’ve likely come across Playing with Matches, with its adorable cover and promises of being a great romantic comedy/summer beach read. After flying through When Life Gives You Lululemons, I wanted another smart, cute, easy read– aka more of the same. And maybe that’s not fair, because Hannah Orenstein isn’t a veteran of the genre. In fact, this is her first foray into writing novels, and for a debut, it’s not bad. It’s a quick read, and I made it through without losing interest, though I think that was mostly because I was hoping something would happen that would magically transform the protagonist from a boring millennial, into a multifaceted human with real depth. (Spoiler alert: that never happens).

On the other hand, is it fair to tread lightly or give someone the benefit of the doubt merely because it’s her debut? I don’t think so. Look at Lauren Weisberger– Prada was her debut, and she has a similar story to Orenstein in that both of these first efforts seem to contain at least semi-autobiographical elements (Weisberger was an assistant to Anna Wintour, Orenstein was a matchmaker and young “journalist” for Elite Daily). The Secret History was Donna Tartt’s debut. Jane Eyre was Charlotte Bronte’s debut (well, kind of, since her first attempt wasn’t published until later). The list of successful debuts goes on and on, and in fact, many writers are one-hit-wonders, peaking with their debuts. So, no, we’re not gonna let this one slide. Mostly because I think Orenstein has the potential to write a really solid novel. At least, she came up with a solid concept here and she has her finger on the pulse of culture, to at least some extent.

Maybe that’s what frustrates me, and why I’m spending so much time writing about this novel instead of dismissing it: the story of a millennial matchmaker living in Manhattan, and catering to an elite clientele who doesn’t want to deal with the dregs of Tinder and online dating could have been great. SHOULD HAVE been great. I give the author props for coming up with that foundation, but the execution here is off. As an insider, I would expect her to be able to give us greater insight. Instead, it falls flat. There’s no scandal here, there’s nothing biting or salacious, and there’s nothing unexpected or unique about the scenarios or characters. I also think it was hard to empathize with the “struggles” of protagonist Sasha Goldberg, since she’s reasonably successful and has two strong prospects in terms of matches for herself, and she’s only twenty-two. It’s hard to care that she’s worried about her career or about whether she’ll be getting married because it seems like neither of those things should be happening to her yet. She’s so young, you almost feel like you don’t want her to achieve too much success in her career or relationships yet because she needs to actually experience the struggle and find herself.

Overall, it’s just okay. If you’ve exhausted all of your other options for beach reads and are looking for something simple, straight forward, mindless, I’d recommend it. And when I say mindless, I don’t mean that as a slight. I mean it in the same way that millions of people watch reality television. It’s entertaining, doesn’t take any energy to digest, goes down easily and comes out the other end without adding or taking away too much.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Playing with Matches — Buy Online at Amazon