Fiction

SPOILER ALERT by Olivia Dade

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Marcus’ character on TV’s most popular fantasy drama might be nuanced, intelligent, and heroic, but Marcus’ public persona is anything but. Perhaps it’s the vapid, dim-witted personality he projects or his seeming obsession with his own physical appearance that leads a troll to mention him in a fat-shaming tweet about a female fan’s cosplay. Marcus could ignore it–that would probably be the best PR move, the least risk of exposing his true personality and alienating his fanbase–but his conscience won’t let him. When complimenting the woman’s physical appearance doesn’t shut the troll up, he puts his money where his mouth is and asks her out to dinner.

But that turns out to be a mistake. Not because he doesn’t like April–quite the contrary. April is gorgeous, funny, and intelligent. So intelligent that she instantly sees through his “pretty-boy” facade. And then comes the final nail in his coffin: it turns out that April is the fellow fan-fic writer that Marcus has developed a friendship with over the past two years. Revealing his public persona is a fake would be one thing, but revealing that he writes fan-fic under an assumed name, and that under that fan-fic handle he’s criticized the scripts and the show-runners he works for–that would be career suicide, not to mention legally actionable. But now that they’ve finally met IRL, the chemistry they both felt on the Internet blossoms into something more than friendship, despite the fact that April still has no idea that Marcus is both personae. The longer he waits to tell April the truth, the deeper they fall in love with one another, and the less likely it seems that this relationship can possibly survive the revelation of Marcus’ secrets.

I cannot squeal enthusiastically enough to do this book justice! Scientist by day, fan-fic writer by night (and sometimes also by day), April is a killer heroine, while Marcus’ demigod persona on-screen only accentuates his believably human flaws IRL. This book is not-so-secretly about GoT fan-fic, and its exploration of that world is perfect. And then on top of the humor and the fan-fic community, there is some real, gutting content about fat-shaming, learning disabilities, and the far-reaching effects of parental microaggressions on the lives of their (even adult) children. Truly wonderful, and a must-read for fans of steamy contemporary romance, especially GoT/fan-fic fans/writers.

Amazon.com: Spoiler Alert: A Novel eBook: Dade, Olivia: Kindle Store

THE SILVER BLONDE by Elizabeth Ross

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Clara is ecstatic when the studio execs promote her to the film editing staff. After putting in her time in the film studio vault, she will now be a real member of the crew. It is her dream come true–a dream that would have been difficult enough for any woman to attain, let alone a German immigrant in 1946. But her triumph turns to horror when she stumbles on the body of film star Babe Bannon’s stand-in.

Everyone has a theory as to who killed poor Connie. After all, Babe has a slew of enemies in the studio and beyond, and it would be easy enough for someone to mistake the stand-in for the star. Same build, same costumes, same silver-blonde hair. But Clara isn’t convinced that Babe was the intended victim. When the cops let her return Connie’s belongings, Clara finds herself swept up in an investigation that endangers her job and brings her back in contact with the Nazi threat her family worked so hard to leave in the past.

I loved this atmospheric noir mystery! Though WWII historical fiction is ubiquitous, this novel takes a fresh look at the War (and post-War) in Hollywood and the subtle, insidious ways that ordinary people get swept up in hateful movements. There are frequent reminders of the many American Nazi sympathizers before Pearl Harbor (including famous figures like Walt Disney and Henry Ford) and the way microaggressions create a culture of discrimination. Though it is set in the past, this novel is (sadly) timely.

Adult fans of historical mysteries: do not let the YA label turn you off to this book! It is for you. Teen fans of historical fiction, noir fiction, and/or Old Hollywood will certainly enjoy the book as well, but THE SILVER BLONDE really exists in the mythical “New Adult” niche. All of the characters are 18+, some of them war veterans, struggling to advance their careers in misogynistic, antisemitic workplaces and reevaluating priorities when good career moves will take them away from family. While these themes aren’t inaccessible to teens, they will resonate most with college-age adults and 20- and 30-somethings. College book clubs will definitely want to check this one out!

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Amazon.com: The Silver Blonde eBook: Ross, Elizabeth: Kindle Store

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION by Emily Henry

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Poppy has worked hard to create her perfect life. She has a New York apartment, an influencer best friend who takes her along to the fanciest restaurants, and her dream job as a writer at an upscale travel magazine that actually pays her to take ritzy, exotic vacations. So why does she feel such a deep sense of dissatisfaction? Why, when her boss is assigning her a posh gig on Santorini in the Mediterranean, is she wistful for a rainy beach week in a dive bar in Florida?

Simple: Alex Nilsen. She hasn’t spoken to her former best friend and travel partner in two years, not since the disaster on their Croatia trip that made everything awkward between them. When a text of “hey” turns into a conversation that makes her realize how much she’s missed him–and how much of his life she’s missed–Poppy knows this might be her last chance to get Alex back in her life. She turns down the Santorini feature and joins Alex on a budget trip to his brother’s wedding in Palm Springs. But time and memories of Croatia have left a mark on the relationship, and Poppy isn’t sure they’ll be able to restore their friendship. And even if they do, will friendship alone be enough?

True Story: I didn’t plan to buy this book since contemporary rom-coms are hit or miss for me, but when my toddler accidentally bought it on my Kindle, I gave it a whirl. And what a happy accident that was! I laughed so hard through this book. The banter! Loved both the hero and heroine and just enjoyed every minute I spent with them. Fans of the genre, or anyone who enjoys witty dialogue and adults who aren’t afraid to be silly together, pick this one up! Highly recommend it.

HER DARK LIES by J.T. Ellison

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Claire’s wedding to Jackson Compton, heir to the Compton business empire, will be the event of the century. But things start going wrong before they even reach the family’s Italian island. When an intruder breaks into Claire’s home, she wrestles away his gun and shoots him in self-defense. Jack persuades her to lie to the police, saying that the bodyguard killed the intruder, but the trauma of the incident follows Claire to Italy and worsens as unexplained events continue to disrupt their plans. It all seems to relate back to a visit from an art dealer who bought one of Claire’s paintings a week earlier. The problem: that particular art dealer died six months ago. As events on the island take a deadly turn, Claire is forced to wonder whether their stalker could really be a ghost–or is it merely the family’s dark secrets that have come back to haunt them?

With murders, secrets, spies, and even ghosts, this thriller never slows down. I didn’t find the twists particularly surprising in this one, but it definitely kept my heart pounding. The relationship between Claire and Jack and the secrets they keep from each other was a major element that kept me turning pages, as well as the question of whether the ghost was real. Overall, a good pick for thriller fans!

Her Dark Lies: A Novel (9780778388302): Ellison, J.T.: Books

LAST GATE OF THE EMPEROR by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen

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Yared has his whole day planned out: sail through school right until the last possible moment, then dodge the truancy robots and make his escape to crush the competition in one of the highly secretive VR battles he always dominates. But when the system forces him to log in with his real name for the first time, a shadowy group of warriors swoops in to capture him, with help of a gigantic and terrifying beast that Yared can’t believe exists. The beast and the warriors–those were things out of Uncle Moti’s stories, nothing more than legends. But when Yared returns home to find the warriors trashing his house, he realizes two things. First, Uncle Moti’s stories of the mythical kingdoms locked in an eternal battle were all real. And second, for some unfathomable reason, Yared seems to be caught up in the middle of it. If he has any hope of rescuing Uncle Moti, Yared will need to recall all of his uncle’s bizarre lessons and trust the last person he ever though he’d have to rely on: his VR rival, the Ibis.

This book kept me laughing. It’s fast-paced and imaginative with a great protagonist who is a delight to root for. I’d recommend it to middle grade readers who enjoy SFF and humor, and it will especially appeal to Black Panther fans.

Last Gate of the Emperor: Mbalia, Kwame, Makonnen, Prince Joel, Makonnen,  Prince Joel: 9781338665857: Amazon.com: Books

A LADY’S FORMULA FOR LOVE by Elizabeth Everett

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Violet can’t risk getting involved in a scandal. Though she retained the title of viscountess after her husband died, her “unladylike” experimentation in chemistry has left her as an object of ridicule. If it were only her own social standing at stake, she wouldn’t worry. But the social club for lady scientists depends on her good name for its survival. So when an anonymous enemy starts threatening her with violence, Violet reluctantly agrees to having a bodyguard.

Arthur has followed a strict rule throughout his career of service to the Queen: never get emotionally involved with someone he is protecting. He only broke the rule once, and it cost a man his life. But the more time he spends with the brilliant and compassionate scientist, the more difficult it becomes to maintain his distance. The mutual attraction is undeniable, and after the first slip, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay away from Violet’s bed. But he makes himself clear: they are only indulging their physical desires. They can never become emotionally involved. For a scientist and an assassin, that shouldn’t be too difficult, right?

A fun start to a new series about eccentric female scientists in the Victorian era. Lust at first sight, a bodyguard/client relationship, and a heroine with self-esteem issues may turn off readers who dislike those tropes, but I LOVED the book–especially the mutual respect of the relationship, the suspense, and the fact that the woman was the brains of the operation. Highly recommend to fans of The Brother’s Sinister, HIS AT NIGHT, and other Victorian romances about women breaking out of their “station.”

A Lady's Formula for Love by Elizabeth Everett: 9780593200629 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

THE GIRL FROM VENICE by Siobhan Daiko

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When Jewish people began to be persecuted in Italy, Lidia lost her fiance and her spot in the medical college–and soon after her father was taken, too. As she tries to find a safe haven in the Italian countryside, she will have to decide what she is willing to do–and what she’s willing to become–to keep herself safe. Sixty years later at the time of her death, her granddaughter makes a journey to the same Italian countryside to search for the truth about her grandmother’s past.

The Venetian setting of this novel sets it apart from much of the WWII fiction focused on Germany, Poland, and Austria, and will appeal to readers with a particular interest in the time period. The novel never reached the level of emotional depth I wanted in order to establish a real connection with the characters, and the modern timeline didn’t grab me. For this reason, I’d recommend THE GIRL FROM VENICE to the reader who can’t get enough WWII fiction, but not to the reader looking for the next great historical fiction novel.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

The Girl from Venice by Siobhan Daiko

THE WISTERIA SOCIETY OF LADY SCOUNDRELS by India Holton

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When Cecilia learns that Lady Armitage has hired a pirate to assassinate her, she is pleased. Her late mother would be terribly proud that she finally merited an assassin. In fact, she is shaping up to be a fine pirate herself. She knows how to fly a house, how to pick a lock and a pocket, how to fight with knife, gun, or sword–in short, everything a lady needs to be a successful member of the Wisteria Society of Victorian pirates.

But as it turns out, her assassin isn’t as keen on killing her as Lady Armitage expected. In fact, Ned, as he insists she call him, warns Cecilia of a plot by her murderous father to kidnap her. Though Cecilia doesn’t trust Ned, when the rest of the Wisteria Society is shanghaied, she has no choice but to ally herself with him in order to effect a rescue. But while Cecilia may be well-versed in the art and science of piracy, she is in no way prepared for the feelings she begins to have toward Ned, and even less prepared for the feelings he seems to have toward her.

I’m pretty sure this book was written to delight me. I started laughing at the “Table of Significant Characters” and never stopped. But in addition to humor, it also checked all my boxes on what I want from a historical romance: a hero and heroine who I actually like, both independently and as a couple; a meaningful project not directly related to romance on which they can collaborate; and of course a healthy dose of swoon-worthy sexy-times. Still, as you can probably guess from the house-flying pirates, this won’t appeal to all historical romance readers. I would describe it as Sherry Thomas meets Gail Carriger. If that doesn’t help, read chapter one, and you will know if it’s for you. (And if this book is for you, we should definitely be friends. Because like I said, delighted…)

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels (Dangerous Damsels): Holton, India:  9780593200162: Amazon.com: Books

THE DUKE UNDONE by Joanna Lowell

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When Lucy stumbles upon an unconscious, drunken, and very naked man, she can’t believe her luck! Though she and the other female artists at the Royal Academy are circulating a petition to be allowed to participate in life drawing sessions, she has not yet had the opportunity to sketch a male nude. Putting modesty and Victorian propriety aside, she memorizes the features and anatomy of the gorgeous specimen–the front of him, anyway–and hurries off to paint. The resulting work is her masterpiece and the first artwork she’s been able to sell. Unfortunately, her unwitting model gets a glimpse of the picture, and even more unfortunately, he turns out to be a duke. Despite the realization that the duke is as attracted to her as she is to him, Lucy wants nothing more than to distance herself from this drunken and very possibly dangerous man and focus on her art career. But when a disingenuous politician arranges to evict her whole block from their homes, Lucy decides to blackmail the duke into helping her win over the Board of Works. It will be fine, as long as she avoids romantic entanglement. How hard can that be?

I love, love, loved this Victorian romance. Could not put it down. It has everything I look for in a steamy historical romance: an interesting and historically grounded conflict, a fierce heroine and principled if flawed hero, and so, so much sexual tension. Highly recommend to fans of Sherry Thomas and Courtney Milan!

THE FOREST OF STOLEN GIRLS by June Hur

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Hwani hasn’t returned to the island of Jeju in years—not since the Forest Incident, when she and her sister were found near the body of a murdered young woman, an incident which Hwani cannot remember.

But Hwani’s father never forgot. The woman’s murder was the one case Detective Min never solved, and the continued disappearance of young girls from the forest caused him to return to Jeju over the past five years. Until the day he disappeared. Disguised as a boy and clutching her father’s journal, Hwani returns to the village of her birth, determined to find her father and solve the mystery of the stolen girls. But when the mystery brings her to the door of her estranged sister, Hwani discovers that the forest isn’t the only source of secrets, and she begins to wonder if finding the truth of her past will be worth the cost.

Set in 15th century Korea, this historical mystery is suspenseful, atmospheric, and thought-provoking. It gripped me from start to end. Though it is YA, adult historical fiction readers will find lots to love here, too. My favorite book of the year so far, and a must-read for YA mystery or historical fiction fans!