#22 – The Mirador, by Sarah Monette
This entry in the series appears to be a jumbled mess for the first 90% of the book, with subplots springing out of every hinge and joint and dovetail, but then, at the end, everything comes together in one fantastic crash that resolves the vast bulk of the previously unrelated story threads.
I can admire the masterful plotting as a writer, juggling so many things at once, but as a reader, I was more often frustrated than not. I honestly couldn’t see much in the way of foreshadowing that would let me put together some of the clues myself, and the slow-as-molasses pacing coupled with story threads being dropped and picked up again a hundred or more pages later made this a more challenging read to follow than either of its predecessors.
One thing I’m pleased that was dropped, though, was the will-they-won’t-they incest angle between Mildmay and Felix. Rumors of that twist to their relationship are mentioned in passing by other characters, mostly as part of the complex court intrigue that carries most of the plot–but as far as Mildmay and Felix themselves are concerned, it seems to be entirely in the past for them. Felix’s tumultuous relationship with Gideon was something I was glad to see carried over from the end of the previous book–given Felix’s nature, I had no idea if that was going to last, especially when it became clear how much time had passed since.
And I did like how Mildmay’s relationship with Mehitabel, in some key ways, mirrored Felix and Gideon. Mehitabel herself was a fine addition as a POV character, leading to some of my favorite bits of dialogue and twists of intrigue, and her absolute inability to take shit from people was a nice contrast to Mildmay, who basically does nothing but.
The end really does make the book, and I’m glad I stuck with it, though I would have preferred if the insane complexity of the plot that led me there had been toned down some.
#23 – A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
I came into this already knowing the significance of the title, and came out of it agreeing wholeheartedly with the precept, if not with the execution.
Ninety years removed from when this lecture-turned-book happened, it comes across as occasionally racist (sadly, but those were the times); and also antiquated in how it speaks of the supposed differences in the male and female brains, attributing much to them that now we can simply pass off as the lack of privilege and opportunity afforded to women of the past–nurture, rather than nature.
With all that in mind, however, it amazed and angered me how little has changed in ninety years. Yes, women write, and they write a lot–I won’t deny that that’s progress. But there is still a pronounced criticism of the writings of women, how they aren’t literary, how it’s just genre fiction, how it will never stand the test of time the same way men’s books will. Consider the derogatory tones of a man saying something is “chick lit”–even when women use that term happily for that genre. Consider how female authors still have to obscure their gender if they want to reach a male audience–I’m looking at you, JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith.
I don’t have a room of my own–my husband’s computer is five feet to the left of mine in our shared office space. Are there times I wish I had my own? Of course, just as there are times I wish I could spend another half hour writing instead of making dinner, or in fact eating at all. I’m struggling to find time to write even with him splitting the chores with me, because there’s still so much to do and so little time to “be idle” for the sort of woolgathering Woolf details near the beginning of the book. (Which was enchanting.)
I’ve come out of this frustrated, but energized. I will write the books I want to write.
#24 – The Governess Affair, by Courtney Milan
I loved it, and for once, I didn’t want a novella I enjoyed to be any longer than it was. This was a whirlwind adversaries-to-lovers story, and lengthening it could only distract from its charm–the snappy dialogue, brilliant pacing, and satisfying conclusion that leads into the main series.
Which I am looking forward to reading.
In just 150 pages, Milan deals beautifully with consent issues, even in such a fast-paced premise, by contrasting consent and mere compliance, then giving our hero a system (trading hairpins! I nearly died from cuteness overload!) for ensuring true consent from the heroine. I loved that scene more than anything else in the whole story.
And the ending, as we moved past our lovers to the future, promises an excellent setup for the first novel. I can’t wait! (I have to wait, I’m on a book-buying ban. But I don’t want to wait!)
#25 – Save the Date, by Annabeth Albert and Wendy Qualls
How do you make the accidental wedding party hookup trope better? Make it gayer, apparently.
There were so many things about this to love that I hardly know where to start. It’s a gay romance that has absolutely nothing to do with coming out, and while one of the pair is definitely shy and nervous, he’s never ashamed of his sexuality. Both of them come from (relatively) healthy, happy families and don’t have Traumatic Gay Pasts on their backs. (Hunter does have some issues weighing on him, but they’re related to his military service, not his orientation.)
THEY TALK ABOUT THEIR MISUNDERSTANDINGS. Like adults, even. I hate that I have to set the bar so low, but this is a serious sticking point in a lot of the romances I read, no matter the gender of the leads.
It’s cute and fun, but serious when it needs to be, and if only more m/m romance had actual characters like this, instead of cardboard cutouts of “men” having fantastic sex but no emotional depth or chemistry…well, that would be nice. I would like that.
#26 – Winning Back His Wife, by Gwen Hayes and Zoe York
I like seeing a romance exploring the rekindling of a failing marriage, but this felt rushed and occasionally awkward. It hit me in the feels quite a few times with elegant prose surrounding the emotions of the characters, but the plot was fairly thin, and the flashbacks to their summers at the camp where they met, or unexpectedly reuniting in college, either needed more attention–they were all super-short–or needed to be cut as separate sections altogether and worked into the narrative as memories or conversations about their past.
#27 – Second Chance Summer, by Kait Nolan
As always, Nolan excels at crafting characters that complement each other. Hudson and Audrey were no exception, and I found their fast-paced, intense romance believable, sweet, and often moving. Neither his PTSD nor her limited mobility were treated lightly or dismissively.
The shorter format of the CFF novels (they’re so short they’re almost novellas) didn’t do her any favors, though, because I would have liked to see them have more time to truly work out their issues. I also don’t think sharing a setting with other authors as part of a series plays to Nolan’s strengths. Part of what I love about her Wishful romance series is the depth of setting as well as the complex web of interconnected characters, and we simply can’t get that here.
That being said, it was still a great, if short read, and I’m glad I picked it up.
#28 – In Her Court, by Tamsen Parker
For someone who loves nearly everything she’s read of Tamsen Parker, I was disappointed by this one. It’s good, but it’s not what I would have expected at all.
Even if I’m glad to see more FF romance, which is thin on the ground, Van and Willa never convinced me their relationship was much more than lust. They were definitely both into each other physically, but their major emotional conflict–going into/being a part of academia–was so intense and personal compared to how well they actually knew each other that it felt grafted onto the story, rather than an organic part of it.
#29 – More Than Once, by Elizabeth Briggs
My first problem with this is calling it a “standalone” romance in the blurb. Yes, many series have entries that can be read as standalones, or in any order. I had read the first of this series quite a while back, and I wasn’t worried too much about skipping past #2 + 3 when I found this one on sale.
But this is not, at all, a standalone. If I hadn’t read #1, I’d be completely lost. It was nice to see a minor character come back and get her redemption novel, basically, because she was such a brat when she was introduced. But without that context, this story loses a lot of its punch.
And as for skipping books? Major spoilers for them, which is to be expected in a series, but again, don’t call it a standalone then.
My second problem was the emotional extremes and wishy-washy-ness of both leads. Becca does challenge Andrew about his mixed messages, which at least lampshades how badly he doesn’t have his head together, but these two bounce around on the page like pinballs.
What made this book endurable was actually the sex scenes, strangely enough. When they get physical, it’s like they’re entirely different people written by an (almost) entirely different author. Which might be a criticism in some cases, but here, it definitely underscores how their connection started as a one-night stand both of them considered fantastic but were scared to pursue further.
Ultimately, though, it was a shallow read that didn’t impress me.
#30 – When We Touch, by Brenda Novak
Every character in this story was a terrible, unsympathetic person and I have no idea why I should care about any of them.
If I’m supposed to feel charitable for Olivia, whose recent ex is marrying her now-pregnant younger sister, then she shouldn’t be such a doormat by being willing to plan the entire wedding to keep peace with her family.
The sister Noelle is a cartoon made up of all the worst things femininity has to offer.
The ex Kyle is an absolute idiot for having anything to do with her, and he deserves whatever life holds for him by going through with the marriage.
And Kyle’s stepbrother Brandon, Olivia’s supposed love interest, comes across as the only half-way decent person in the bunch, despite being the supposed bad boy/black sheep of the family, because while he goes along with Olivia’s lies about their supposed relationship (at least until it becomes real), he also encourages her to stand up for herself and plays the only voice of reason in the entire story.
Both sets of parents are absolutely awful, as well.
On top of all that, the extremely short length tries to pack in too much, dealing not only with the complicated family dynamics of Olivia/Noelle’s family, but Brandon/Kyle’s as well, plus a half-baked subplot about Brandon’s skiing career being sidelined by injury. The ending is supposed to be sweet, I guess, that Olivia abandons her normal life to follow Brandon to Europe for the surgery that’s apparently going to save his career, but since he ends the novella not even caring if he actually can ski again because he’s got Olivia…then why did he go to all the trouble to get the surgery in the first place?
Also, a bunch of small details that irked me, like equating skin-revealing clothes with promiscuity, Brandon addressing Olivia as “babe” when we first meet him, have no idea who he is or what their relationship to each other was/is, and also apparently they went to his junior prom together and have both secretly wanted each other ever since, but we don’t find that out until after Olivia’s POV introduces him as just Kyle’s bad-boy stepbrother? Talk about burying the lede.