Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

40514431Summary from Goodreads:
In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn’t correct them. In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy’s childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and he can’t figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button.

When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken–and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they’ll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they’ve broken, the plans they’ve changed, and the secrets they’ve kept. They’ll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance–right up until the last out.

Evvie Drake Starts Over opens as the titular Evvie is getting ready to leave the house – and her husband. She’s saved up some money and loaded her luggage into the car. All she has to do is get in, start the motor, and leave. But then the phone rings. Her husband has been in an accident, she needs to come to the hospital immediately.

One year later, Evvie is performing the role of grieving widow – she is stuck in her house she shared with her now-deceased husband in the same small Maine town and unable to process either grief or guilt at the idea of telling anyone she was actually in the process of leaving her husband. Even her best friend has no idea. But she’s in financial straights with the expense of the house. When Andy suggests renting the mother-in-law apartment to a friend of his who needs some quiet time, Evvie agrees.

Dean Tenney got “the yips” and it ended his career as a major league pitcher. The media frenzy just makes everything worse. So he could definitely use a quiet place to try and figure out some next steps. He and Evvie develop a tentative friendship – with some rules about what kinds of questions or topics that must be avoided – and start to develop something much deeper…but they each have to deal with their own baggage, secrets, and broken dreams first.

Evvie Drake is For the Love of the Game and Catch and Release and a good cry all rolled into one. This a story that starts in a bad life place for two people and lets them work through all their stuff over the course of a year. And boy-howdy do they have STUFF. We find out why Evvie was going to leave her husband and why it was such a risky step for her; she also has to grieve for the man she used to love, even if that love has been gone for years. Dean has to learn to grieve for a dream career that he may not be able to return to. Evvie and Andy have to renegotiate their friendship when he starts a serious romantic relationship (we have all been there when a Best Friend gets a romantic partner and suddenly is no longer available to us). You just want to cheer and sigh (because that is the finishing touch for a romance right there, the HEA sigh) for Evvie and Dean. This is Linda’s first novel and I sincerely hope it won’t be her last. (I’ve been a Linda stan for years, ever since she was writing for Television Without Pity).

Evvie Drake Starts Over is out today!!!! Go get a copy of this book that is perfectly made for summer reading.

Dear FTC: I begged/borrowed/stole my way into a digital galley (jk, no stealing) and I’m picking up a hardcover copy today.

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mini-review · Romantic Reads · sleuthing · stuff I read

Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian (Page & Sommers #1)

44785311._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.

James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.

The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.

As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.

Cat Sebastian: Do you want a galley of my new post-WW2 m/m mystery-romance?
Me: OMG YES PLEASE

Hither, Page is a m/m romance and mystery set in the village of Wychcomb St. Mary. If you like Grantchester, and want a bit of romance, too, this first installment in Sommers & Page is as if Sidney Chambers was a hot doctor, instead of the vicar (and if you’ve seen the TV adaptation, James Norton is almost a dead-ringer for Dr. Sommers) and Geordie was a jaded spy, and they were both gay. This is a romance set in the immediate aftermath of WWII so many lives have been shattered and not put back together, if they ever will be. The resolution of the mystery was a bit too tangly but I enjoyed the characters of Sommers and Page, and so many of the side characters especially Edith and Cora and Wendy, very much.

Also – everyone wash your hands and don’t share utensils/cups, etc. because tonsillitis/strep throat in the early antibiotics era is contagious as all get out.

This is much less steamy than other Cat Sebastian romances.

Dear FTC: Many thanks to Cat Sebastian for the galley. I bought a copy, too. 🙂

Austenesque · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev (The Rajes #1)

41154302Summary from Goodreads:
Award-winning author Sonali Dev launches a new series about the Rajes, an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty, who have built their lives in San Francisco…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:
· Never trust an outsider
· Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations
· And never, ever, defy your family
Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with…
A family trying to build home in a new land.
A man who has never felt at home anywhere.
And a choice to be made between the two.

‘Tis a year of Austen re-tellings – Unmarriageable was out a little earlier this year (that I haven’t got to, yet, because I didn’t have a galley), Ayesha at Last is finally publishing States-side in June, an adaptation of Emma coming in August, and this month we have Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors.

In this version of Pride and Prejudice, we don’t have strict analogues for each original Austen character. Fitzwilliam Darcy is now Dr. Trisha Raje, a brilliant neurosurgeon and the younger child in a privileged Indian-American family. In undergrad she met and befriended Julia Wickham, who later almost destroyed the life and political career of Trisha’s brother Yash; Trisha has been on the outskirts of her family ever since. Feisty Lizzie is now DJ Caine (Darcy James, just to be tricky), a talented French-trained chef who moves to the Bay Area to support his sister Emma as she seeks treatment for a brain tumor that can only be removed by Trisha Raje. But removing the tumor will destroy Emma’s sight, the worst result for a visual artist. Trisha and DJ get off on the wrong foot at a Raje family ‘do he’s hired to cater and then Julia Wickham (in full hippie-white-lady-with-dreds mode) returns to town and lends an ear to Emma and DJ….

I had a little trouble getting into this book, which annoyed me as an Austen fan. I think it’s because Dev introduces SO MANY characters at once, so we’re trying to sort out who’s who and what they do and who has history, etc because it’s very expansive instead of insular. There are a lot of B-plots (Yash, older sister Nisha and her husband, Emma’s decision regarding surgery and her art, the cousin with visions who is the obvious Mary stand-in) that create a lot of extra stuff Trisha and DJ have to work around aside from the obvious “pride” and “prejudice” themes imported from the Austen original. But once I got past the first 40 pages (i.e. I put on my giant headphones in the airport terminal) and got a basic handle on who-was-who, I was able to sink right in. I really liked how Dev did a “remix” of the characters and shook everything up a bit (Julia Wickham is the only character who performs exactly the same function in this book as George Wickham does in the original).

There are two things I have issues with in this book. First, many characters in this book – Trisha first among them – violate HIPAA repeatedly and cavalierly. This is plainly irresponsible. Tangential to this is a lack of support from social work or patient advocacy for Emma (although this is what allows the Wickham character to get close to Emma and DJ, so plot bunny). Second, there is an explanation of what Julia Wickham did to Yash that draws from #metoo and gets part of it very wrong. [I’m going to do some minor spoiling – it’s not a secret that Original Wickham is a sexual predator and has a thing for teenagers so it stands to reason that Julia Wickham is a predator, too – but skip the rest of this paragraph if you want to stay un-spoiled.] Julia roofies Yash, among other things, and assaults him (this is the “incident” Trisha feels she is being punished for). When this is finally revealed to the reader, we are given the scene between Trisha and Yash talking it over from Trisha’s point-of-view – and Trisha thinks that if this came to light, that even if Yash was the victim it would set back progress women were making with #metoo (I’m paraphrasing). This is a misreading of #metoo – we don’t fight that fight just for women who are assaulted by men, but also for men assaulted by women, and so on. It’s a very tone-deaf couple of paragraphs.  Which is unfortunate because Sonali Dev gets so much of the classism, racism (DJ is biracial – Anglo-Indian and Rwandan – and he experiences racism from both his paternal family in London and from the police in the US), privilege, and misogyny right in setting her Pride and Prejudice in 2019 California.

But those things aside, I did like it a lot. An excellent vacation book to read in the airport/on the plane.

Appetite warning: This book will make you VERY hungry because DJ is an amazing chef. All food described in this book is drool-inducing.

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but I also bought a paper copy after I came back from vacation.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Cadenza by Stella Riley (Rockliffe #6)

42394213Summary from Goodreads:
The performance finished in a flourish of technical brilliance and the young man rose from the harpsichord to a storm of applause.
Julian Langham was poised on the brink of a dazzling career when the lawyers lured him into making a catastrophic mistake. Now, instead of the concert platform, he has a title he doesn’t want, an estate verging on bankruptcy … and bewildering responsibilities for which he is totally unfitted.
And yet the wreckage of Julian’s life is not a completely ill wind. For Tom, Rob and Ellie it brings something that is almost a miracle … if they dare believe in it.
Meanwhile, first-cousins Arabella Brandon and Elizabeth Marsden embark on a daring escapade which will provide each of them with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The adventure will last only a few weeks, after which everything will be the way it was before. Or so they think. What neither of them expects is for it to change a number of lives … most notably, their own.
And there is an additional complication of which they are wholly unaware.
The famed omniscience of the Duke of Rockliffe.

I heard the ad-read for Cadenza on Book Riot‘s When in Romance podcast and basically bought it immediately. There’s a first for everything. Georgian? Yes. There’s a professional-level musician? Yes. There’re two young women who trade places and romantic shenanigans ensue? Yes yes yes.

It’s really good. If you have run out of Georgette Heyer books to read (especially if you liked These Old Shades and others of her Georgian-set romances), Cadenza would be a good one to try. It has that same older, more dialogue-centered feel and no pre-marital hanky-panky. And, even though this is the last book in the series, you can totally read this one without worrying about reading in order or anything. If I hadn’t already known it was in a series I wouldn’t have guessed.

Plot-wise there are no surprises (womp womp), there is a plot reveal (someone has a SEKRIT) with a lot of build-up but is just dispensed in a single infodump conversation without much pay-off for the reader, and the ending is a bit over-long (I’d trim about 25 pages). But the music sections are lovely, Arabella and Julian’s interactions are delightful, and you really feel for Lizzie’s reticence and how much she has to lose with this scheme Arabella cooked up. I very much liked the character of Rockliffe as a deus ex machina so I’ll probably check out a few of the earlier books in the series.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy on my nook.

Austenesque · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

By the Book by Julia Sonneborn

35297218Summary from Goodreads:
An English professor struggling for tenure discovers that her ex-fiancé has just become the president of her college—and her new boss—in this whip-smart modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Persuasion.

Anne Corey is about to get schooled.

An English professor in California, she’s determined to score a position on the coveted tenure track at her college. All she’s got to do is get a book deal, snag a promotion, and boom! She’s in. But then Adam Martinez—her first love and ex-fiancé—shows up as the college’s new president.

Anne should be able to keep herself distracted. After all, she’s got a book to write, an aging father to take care of, and a new romance developing with the college’s insanely hot writer-in-residence. But no matter where she turns, there’s Adam, as smart and sexy as ever. As the school year advances and her long-buried feelings begin to resurface, Anne begins to wonder whether she just might get a second chance at love.

Funny, smart, and full of heart, this modern ode to Jane Austen’s classic explores what happens when we run into the demons of our past…and when they turn out not to be so bad, after all.

First of all: Persuasion is my absolute favorite Austen novel. Would pay good money to get Ciaran Hinds to read Wentworth’s letter aloud over and over (the movie fades Hinds’s and Amanda Root’s voice-overs back and forth and I’m not a fan of that, Hinds only please). Any Persuasion re-telling churned out of the Austen fan-fiction machine gets extra side-eye and skepticism from me.

Second: I have an extra-helping of skeptical for retellings that chain themselves to the original plot in lock-step. (There are retellings out there for Pride and Prejudice to which you can set your watch.) Some of the best retellings/modernizations/sequels take what they need from the bones of the story and jettison what no longer applies to twenty-first century novels.

By the Book was recommended to me by author (and bookseller) Sarah Prineas, so I decided to take a chance on it. In this setting, Anne Elliot, lonely, over-looked, middle daughter of a class-obsessed, cash-poor baronet, has been transformed into Anne Corey, an over-worked, under-appreciated English professor trying to get a tenure-track position at her liberal arts college Fairfax. Captain Wentworth, gallant naval captain rising through the ranks via his success in the Napoleonic Wars, is now Adam Martinez, a former undocumented child immigrant from Guatemala who has risen through the ranks of collegiate administration to become one of the youngest college presidents in the United States. He is Anne’s ultimate boss…and her ex-fiancé (Anne had got some less-than-stellar life advice from her advisor, Dr. Russell – cue Lady Russell – about not having a serious relationship in grad school). Entering from stage right is our Mr. Elliot – in this iteration rock star author Richard Forbes Chasen, very sexy, British, and successful, who has just taken the job of writer-in-residence at Fairfax (he gets to give a JFranz burn, and I laughed forever).

These are the bones of Austen’s original: a hero and heroine with a second-chance romance and a bit of a villain. And this is all that By the Book needs. It is a sweet and charming campus novel about a professor who is lonely and uncertain in their job prospects. It does not lock-step its plot to the original, so if you are very familiar with Persuasion (like me) you won’t quite guess the path to the denouement (y’all, if you can’t guess how this book generally ends you need to read more Austen and romance novels). Austen fans will enjoy all the little bits pulled out of Persuasion and used to flesh out the plot. Sonneborn even borrows a little bit of Wickham from Pride and Prejudice. But if you have never read Persuasion, you don’t need it to enjoy By the Book.

Anne is our protagonist throughout this book. We feel all her indecision, uncertainty, and frustration at being a single woman trying to get some respect and job security in a really, really tight job market (there is a rejection letter for her book that almost made me punch my iPad). And maybe also find a boyfriend because loneliness is the worst sometimes. I had a good chuckle every time Anne and her work-husband, Henry James-teaching professor Larry, had to deal with their tone-deaf department chair because lack of insight in administrators is a real thing. Speaking of Larry, I really liked his character. He’s an adaptation of Captain Bennick, the grief-stricken, poetry-obsessed friend of Wentworth. As Anne’s best friend, Larry is a hopelessly romantic gay man who becomes embroiled in an illicit affair with the hottest actor of the moment who is starring in an obvious Twilight-esque teen movie where Jane Eyre is a vampire (it’s hilarious, I’m not kidding). He’s always got a good quip, some timely text emojis, and an unironic love of a terrible mash-up movie (based on an uneven genre mash-up novel) even while stating he doesn’t read novels published after 1920 (see also: I laughed forever at this, too). I felt so much for him at the end of this book.

I’ve been reading some reviews of By the Book that don’t quite feel the romance or tension between Anne and Adam. This may be a fair criticism. Anne and Adam don’t spend a lot of time together (especially alone) in the book, particularly compared to genre romance novels so expectations may not be met on the page. But, in my opinion, this makes sense in the end especially given that Adam is the college president where Anne is very much his subordinate; no one with even half of Adam or Anne’s intelligence would jeopardize their academic career to get a leg up with the boss. This goes triple for women and people of color, which Anne and Adam are. Adam also makes a nice speech at one point that brings up plot-specific reasons for not trying to get with Anne once he’s at Fairfax, which I won’t spoil here. In addition, this separation between characters is exactly what happens in Persuasion. The only person who flirts with Anne Elliot is Mr. Elliot, making everyone, including Wentworth, believe that those two will marry.

I really enjoyed By the Book. I was pleasantly surprised by how deftly the update in plot was handled and I loved the warm-fuzzy feeling I got while reading (I love second-chance romances in general). I think this is also a good entry in the “campus novel” genre, because I recognized a lot of real-world things that happen on college campuses (raise your hand if you’ve ever been “volunteered” for institutional fundraising drives?). A definite recommend.

Comment: I do not like the US cover. It says “charming novel about young love set in a bookshop in the French countryside” not “campus novel about tenure-track professors at a liberal arts college within driving distance of Beverly Hills/Los Angeles.” Does anyone even ride a bicycle in this book? (There’s a motorcycle, but I don’t remember a bicycle.)

By the Book will be available on February 6.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss after someone whose taste I trust told me they thought I might like it. I’ll probably buy a paper copy to put with the Austen collection.