Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon

Will the princess save the beast?
Of Curses and Kisses (St. Rosetta's Academy, #1)
For Princess Jaya Rao, nothing is more important than family. When the loathsome Emerson clan steps up their centuries-old feud to target Jaya’s little sister, nothing will keep Jaya from exacting her revenge. Then Jaya finds out she’ll be attending the same elite boarding school as Grey Emerson, and it feels like the opportunity of a lifetime. She knows what she must do: Make Grey fall in love with her and break his heart. But much to Jaya’s annoyance, Grey’s brooding demeanor and lupine blue eyes have drawn her in. There’s simply no way she and her sworn enemy could find their fairy-tale ending…right?

His Lordship Grey Emerson is a misanthrope. Thanks to an ancient curse by a Rao matriarch, Grey knows he’s doomed once he turns eighteen. Sequestered away in the mountains at St. Rosetta’s International Academy, he’s lived an isolated existence—until Jaya Rao bursts into his life, but he can't shake the feeling that she’s hiding something. Something that might just have to do with the rose-shaped ruby pendant around her neck…

As the stars conspire to keep them apart, Jaya and Grey grapple with questions of love, loyalty, and whether it’s possible to write your own happy ending.

A re-telling of Beauty and The Beast but set in a boarding school – what’s not to love? The premise is that Jaya and her sister have been sent to an elite school for the rich and famous (and/or their offspring) to wait out the media storm surrounding the younger sister (whose name escapes me). But while there, Jaya has a plan to break the heart of the person she holds responsible.

I loved the originality of the retelling: the princess seeking out the beast to break his heart in retribution for his family ruining her sister’s reputation. But Grey isn’t easy to get close to, as he believes in the family lore that Jaya’s family cursed his for stealing a priceless jewel centuries ago. The whole thing had a very Romeo and Juliet feel to it, with family feuds and old curses and no-one really remembering why it all started in the first place!

I did not understand the whole “curse” thing – it was really secretive for a long time then revealed to only be that his mother died in childbirth! Says more about his father blaming him for it, than it does about Grey “killing” his mother. Plus, from Jaya’s point of view, her family doesn’t really believe in the old story that one of her ancestors cursed Grey’s. It all seemed to have been blown out of proportion, plus it wasn’t explained very well. It involved a lot of telling rather than showing, with a lot of inner monologue, especially from Jaya.

I appreciated the dual perspective, although I’m not sure it added a whole lot, as much of Grey’s chapters were him brooding and Jaya’s were complaining about the strict traditions she had to follow. Both characters had their very real flaws that only added to their characters: Jaya was the older, responsibly sister and so followed the rules to the letter, which became very annoying as she put the rules above her own feelings. And Grey had Lord Byron-level of brooding and had a very angsty aura that, unfortunately, got old quickly – at least for me. Having said that, I liked that once they got to know each other, they balanced each other out.

All in all, I enjoyed this story but too much of it was disappointing. It’s not like I wanted Grey to turn into a werewolf or anything (although that would have been awesome!) but to discover a third of the way through that the reason he avoided people was that his jerk father had let him believe he had killed his mother when really, she had died in childbirth. I couldn’t really get other that, as on the one hand it made me feel sorry for Grey but on the other, it was a crappy reason to believe that he deserved to be alone and to die on his eighteenth birthday.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

If I Never Met YouWhen her partner of over a decade suddenly ends things, Laurie is left reeling—not only because they work at the same law firm and she has to see him every day. Her once perfect life is in shambles and the thought of dating again in the age of Tinder is nothing short of horrifying. When news of her ex’s pregnant girlfriend hits the office grapevine, taking the humiliation lying down is not an option. Then a chance encounter in a broken-down elevator with the office playboy opens up a new possibility.

Jamie Carter doesn’t believe in love, but he needs a respectable, steady girlfriend to impress their bosses. Laurie wants a hot new man to give the rumour mill something else to talk about. It’s the perfect proposition: a fauxmance played out on social media, with strategically staged photographs and a specific end date in mind. With the plan hatched, Laurie and Jamie begin to flaunt their new couple status, to the astonishment—and jealousy—of their friends and colleagues. But there’s a fine line between pretending to be in love and actually falling for your charming, handsome fake boyfriend...

Published March 2020

This is my first Mhairi McFarlane novel and I can see why she’s a favourite of the rom-com genre! Basically, Laurie gets dumped by her long-term boyfriend, who thinks he’s stuck in a rut, and sends her spiralling into an existential crisis about where she should be at this point in her life. Enter Jamie, who needs a way to improve his reputation at the law firm they all work at and has a crazy idea for them to fake-date. It kills two birds with one stone, you see, it will improve his image and make Dan jealous – win-win!

What I especially loved about this story was that it was realistic. Jamie was always a gentleman and proved to not be the man-whore everyone made him out to be, and Laurie wasn’t all career-oriented or baby-crazy, she was a nice mix of both, plus super smart and incredibly witty. Their relationship was a proper slow-burner as well, not falling into any of clichés of shoving two characters together but rather letting them get to know each other outside of work, away from the distractions and gossip and the surprisingly toxic environment of their office.

All in all, it was a lovely page-turner, both romantic and dramatic, with dashes of feminism, important friendships and the perfectly imperfect love interest.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, 16 December 2019

Unpregnant by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan

Unpregnant (Unpregnant #1)Veronica is top of her class - and somehow she's found herself gazing in disbelief at a positive pregnancy test. Even worse, her ex-best friend and the high school's legendary malcontent, Bailey, is the only one there to help. In this warm and darkly funny road trip story, Veronica and Bailey drive a thousand miles to an out-of-state abortion clinic - rediscovering their friendship in the process.

Hooked by the premise of a bonding-style road trip and the emotional roller-coaster of seeking an abortion, I was surprised at how much I loved and laughed at this book. Basically, Ronnie discovers she’s pregnant and her dreams of Ivy League university crash and burn, along with her parents’ and friends’ image of perfect Veronica. After her boyfriend tries to propose, spilling that he already suspected she was pregnant, Ronnie needs to go to another state to get an abortion as she is under 18 and can only turn to her ex-best friend Bailey to drive her nearly 1000 miles.

I thought I knew what to expect: tough emotional moments debating an abortion, telling (or not telling) the parents, the boyfriend’s reaction, and cute bonding moments on a cross-state road trip with old friends. Instead, I got a creepy-as-all-hell boyfriend who poked holes in the condom and followed them to try and convince Ronnie to not go through with it; I got Bailey in all of her Gothic, sarcastic, trespassing glory; and I got a ridiculous and hilarious journey involving a stolen car, a strip club, pro-life fanatics and a giant statue of an elephant. To name but a few!

I absolutely adored this, it was funny and insane but also raised great questions about consent, growing up, relationships and responsibilities. Plus forgiveness and the importance of true friendships, as Ronnie and Bailey grow closer after years of separation while Ronnie developed her “perfect” image. The whole story was just brilliantly written, heartfelt with insane laugh-out-loud moments. Highly recommended.

Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen

Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance

Lady Victoria Aston has everything she could want: an older sister happily wed, the future of her family estate secure, and ample opportunity to while her time away in the fields around her home.

But now Vicky must marry—or find herself and her family destitute. Armed only with the wisdom she has gained from her beloved novels by Jane Austen, she enters society’s treacherous season.

Sadly, Miss Austen has little to say about Vicky’s exact circumstances: whether the roguish Mr. Carmichael is indeed a scoundrel, if her former best friend, Tom Sherborne, is out for her dowry or for her heart, or even how to fend off the attentions of the foppish Mr. Silby, he of the unfortunate fashion sensibility.

Most unfortunately of all, Vicky’s books are silent on the topic of the mysterious accidents cropping up around her…ones that could prevent her from surviving until her wedding day. 

Set in one of my absolute favourite periods of history, Georgian England: the finery, the manners, the drama! I adored this, it was a great mix of romance and mystery. 

Vicky was a pretty cool heroine – considering the limitations of the period, all she wanted to do was help run her family’s estate. She was headstrong and romantic and had learned all her life lessons so far from Jane Austen novels, which isn’t necessarily helpful when life proves to be far more difficult than Miss Austen had suggested. Between her older sister returning home from an abusive husband and a mysterious person trying to take over her family’s estate, Vicky suddenly has more on her plate than looking after the flock of sheep. Now, she must navigate the season and find an eligible gentleman to help her save the house and grounds, but that is surprisingly difficult. Apparently, even two hundred years ago, bachelors were a terrifying mix of trustworthy and absolute monsters! 

The characterisation and the setting was just incredible, and I completely fell into Vicky’s world of dances, trying to find love and surprising fisticuffs. It was really easy to read and I immensely enjoyed the tension and the stakes of Vicky needing to find a husband. Plus, it showed a side of the era that we rarely see, one with fighting for divorce and the intricacies of running an estate, especially as a woman. It was a lot of fun and I highly recommend it for fans of historical romance, duels at dawn and love in surprising places.

Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Friday Reads: Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren

Image result for dating you/hating you

Christina Lauren is quickly becoming one of my favourite contemporary adult romance authors (although it is a duo!). So when one from their back catalogue was offer for 99p on Kindle, I snapped it up and started it almost immediately.

Although it hasn’t been exactly what I thought in terms of the story set-up, it’s been really interesting reading so far. Set in an agents office in LA, there’s loads of fascinating boys-club/feminist talk about the dynamics of the industry, especially as the romantic leads are practically pitted against each other after their two companies merge. Plus I'm really enjoying the fact that the female lead is a successful thirty-something year old - not seen very often!

I’m almost certainly going to finish this tonight and enjoy the final drama and hot romance that I’ve come to expect from Christina Lauren’s books!

Reading plans for the rest of the weekend are the other ebook I picked up on offer: Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey. What are you planning on reading this weekend?

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh

The Beautiful (The Beautiful, #1)

Everyone has been talking about this book! Renee’s latest novel is set in the 1870’s, in New Orleans, the city full of secrets, both human and mythical. Setting the scene for a new series, The Beautiful tells of Celine, a young woman fresh off the boat, hoping to find a new start in a new city, where no-one will know what she’s running from. Somewhat ironic, because it seems just about everyone in New Orleans is not what they appear.

A hunter is stalking the citizens of New Orleans, leaving young women with their throats mutilated. The police are baffled but Celine is starting to suspect that this so-called Court of Lions knows something. Part crime thriller, part swooping romance, this was stunningly gorgeous to read but honestly… it took me a while to get into. I don’t like to admit that, because everyone else has spoken so highly of it but I think that lyrical language, while amazing, didn’t suit my style of reading which is typically dipping in and out. Having said that, the ending massively picked up and I read the last 20 or so percent in one evening. 

What made it for me was the characters and the setting. New Orleans is a fascinating city and Renee’s style of writing made it seem so magical and mysterious, and the Court of Lions was just as mysterious as the city they inhabited. A group of not-quite-humans have sought refuge in the city and their leader was the charming and handsome Sebastian. Trouble was, he knew it, and pulls Celine into their tangled web, despite everyone’s better judgement. 

Although I had some trouble getting into the flow of the writing (which is entirely my fault, not the book’s), it was gripping and thrilling and darkly lyrical, perfectly encapsulating the feel of the magic of the city and all of its enigmatic inhabitants.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 11 October 2019

The Places I've Cried in Public by Holly Bourne

The Places I've Cried in Public

As I’ve come to expect from Holly’s novels, this was a moving, poignant and highly topical story about an emotionally abusive relationship and how easy it is to lose yourself in that drug-like high called love. Told in two intermingling timelines, we see Amelie meet and fall for Reece, a cute and charming boy in a band, and six months later, Amelie retracing their steps to figure out why it hurts so much after the broke up. 

The premise was fascinating and oddly hilarious, as Amelie butts in on herself, warning us of the red flags that she should have seen at the time, like the casual claim Reece laid on her when they first met or the way he systematically removed her from her friends. All the romantic gesture that had Amelie swooning at the time, made her to angry months later. Even I was practically screaming at the book at times – for example, Reece gate crashes Amelie’s first gig to sing her a song and tell her he loves her. Um, rude! But most of the girls at school, Amelie included, thought it was the sweetest thing. No! But, of course, it’s easy to see in hindsight the terribly manipulative things he did. 

I saw Holly at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival at the end of September and she spoke about her writing process for this book. Holly knew it was going to be an ambitious project but wanted to book to be a rite of passage, a safe place for girls to understand the importance of healthy relationships, while remaining hopeful. Apparently, it was originally in second person and Holly had to re-write all the pronouns when she wanted to create the two timelines, which made the whole thing all the more complicated! 

Holly also talked about Reece, how a psychology student noticed that he has classic traits of narcissistic attachment disorder, and how she wrote him to be douche gift-wrapped in charismatic coolness. Reece is one of those characters that you love to hate, that you can’t quite put your finger on what makes your skin crawl about him. Holly wanted to prove that abusers blend in, that abuse itself transcends class and doesn’t discriminate to any particular “type” of victim. And Amelie doesn’t read as stupid or naïve, just caught up in a dramatic relationship and thinking its love. It highlighted the grey areas, especially in teenage relationships, where love can burn fast, and behaviours learned from rom-coms aren’t always healthy. It also emphasised the importance of listening to your gut, about recognising the red flags and being comfortable and confident enough in your relationship to speak up. 

I adored Holly’s latest. Maybe a bit different to her other novels, it still highlighted the important issue recognising and having healthy relationships, romantic or platonic, young or old. I wanted to bundle Amelie in a hug and smack Reece in the face for most of the book, and even though I finished it a few weeks back, it’s still swirling around my head: how Reece could behave like that, how I wish Amelie was stronger in the first place to voice her worries, how emotion trauma is just as significant as physical and just as difficult to move on from. Definitely a winner of a book and one that all teenagers should read.