Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

44792512Summary from Goodreads:
In this warm and witty romance from acclaimed author Kate Clayborn, one little word puts one woman’s business—and her heart—in jeopardy . . .

Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing beautiful custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . . .

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late . . .

So, do you like planners and bullet journals and pens and paper? And food and nerdy games? And romance and longing and fantastic hand-written love letters? I have a book for youuuuuu.

The Planner of Park Slope – Meg Mackworth, whose hand-lettering business has taken off after a Buzzfeed profile – is having a creative block. She has deadlines and planner clients and a (huge) secret project for a life-changing opportunity and she just can’t get the design juices flowing. So she’s is helping out a friend in her stationery shop when an old client comes in. Meg hasn’t seen Reid Sutherland since the meeting a year before – a whole 45 minutes – when he came with his fiancee Avery to approve the final designs for his wedding stationery. Reid found a code hidden in the wedding program – he’s a mathematician – and has returned to ask Meg how she knew his marriage would fail (actually, he and Avery called off the wedding in a very amicable way since the discovery of this code gave him the impetus to do so, so don’t worry about evil ex-fiancees coming back to ruin things, this is not one of those books).

Meg is slightly panicked when stern, triple-take handsome Reid confronts her about the program. The code is a tic she has. Sometimes she sees words in specific fonts or forms, sometimes her impression of a client slips out in a tiny way, like specific letters will fall a hair lower than others in a word when she draws them. So she explains this to Reid over a coffee (and tea, Reid is a tea guy). He accepts her explanation and then admits that he only sought her out because he’s probably leaving New York City soon. He doesn’t like the city.

Meg, however, loves New York City and Brooklyn, where she lives. She came to love the city by exploring it on foot, taking notice of signs. How they talk to her, how they use color and design and font to convey information. So when she hits on an idea to break through her creative block she emails Reid and invites him on an adventure – they’ll walk around an area of the city and find signs for inspiration. Reid suggests that they make it a game and use the signs to spell out words of their own.

Thus begins an incredibly charming and cozy romance novel about an artist who creates custom stationery and journals and a Wall Street mathematician. There are so many things I loved about this book. Competence pr0n your thing? YES. Actual adults with jobs and adult stuff who handle their emotional mess through self-reflection and talking about it with others. But they are also in transition, which is what happens when everyone gets into their mid-to-late twenties. People grow and change, their goals change, intended careers don’t pan out, friends develop other relationships. This is where Meg is when the book opens and Reid comes in to ask her about the hidden message in his never-used wedding program. I loved their games, wandering around Brooklyn taking pictures of signs; this is very much a “setting-as-character” kind of novel. There is a hand-written love letter that comes into play late in this book and I may have turned into a puddle on the floor (exhibit A: one of my favorite books on this Earth is Persuasion, which also has a letter at a pivotal point in the plot, and I love this so much).

The book is written in first person present POV, which in general I do not like in my romance novels, but this one is in Meg’s perspective for the entire book. It is so skillfully done. The reader definitely doesn’t lose anything by not having Reid’s perspective alternating with Meg’s. If anything, it helps the story along because we also wonder along with Meg about this mysterious job Reid has and will not talk about.

I loved this book so much I read it twice in a row.

Love Lettering is out today, December 31! Get it and curl up for the New Year! (The cover is so pretty!)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley – twice – and I preordered a copy at my store.

Addendum: this book will make you want to sit down and draw all the prettiest journal pages (spoiler: I have zero drawing capability but I have stickers, washi tape, and all sorts of colored pens. I can fake it 😂).

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe (The Four Hundred #3)

37821671Summary from Goodreads:
Joanna Shupe returns to New York City’s Gilded Age, where fortunes and reputations are gained and lost with ease—and love can blossom from the most unlikely charade

With the fate of her disgraced family resting on her shoulders, Lady Christina Barclay has arrived in New York City from London to quickly secure a wealthy husband. But when her parents settle on an intolerable suitor, Christina turns to her reclusive neighbor, a darkly handsome and utterly compelling inventor, for help.

Oliver Hawkes reluctantly agrees to a platonic marriage . . . with his own condition: The marriage must end after one year. Not only does Oliver face challenges that are certain to make life as his wife difficult, but more importantly, he refuses to be distracted from his life’s work—the development of a revolutionary device that could transform thousands of lives, including his own.

Much to his surprise, his bride is more beguiling than he imagined. When temptation burns hot between them, they realize they must overcome their own secrets and doubts, and every effort to undermine their marriage, because one year can never be enough.

I didn’t manage to get to the third book in Joanna Shupe’s Four Hundred series, A Notorious Vow, before the galley expired – but my excellent public library had a copy and I was able to get to it sooner rather than later.

A flat-out one sitting read. I picked up my hold at the library and soon found myself eating a sandwich one-handed and trying to pour a glass of milk with only half an eye. The care and work Shupe has taken with her Deaf hero is outstanding. Oliver’s experiences were based on historical sources and personal experiences of people close to Shupe and she is very up-front in stating in her Note that she had input from members of the Deaf community. You really do understand why Oliver kind-of gives up on dealing with society and their garbage assumptions about Deaf people and shuts himself up in his house to use his intelligence and fortune to make a device to help others with diminished hearing. Christina, also, is more than just a young English lady cowed by her parents but has backbone and intelligence. The novel’s plot is first-rate (fake-marriage trope, yes!) and the secondary characters are excellent: Christina’s parents are the actual WORST, Oliver’s cousin is appropriately greedy and nefarious, and Oliver’s little sister is endearingly spunky. The best of The Four Hundred Series thus far.

Dear FTC: I started with a digital galley then borrowed a copy from the library.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Duchess by Design by Maya Rodale (The Guilded Age Girls Club #1)

38388578Summary from Goodreads:
In the first novel of Maya Rodale’s enthralling new series, an English duke vows to make an American seamstress his duchess…

In Gilded Age Manhattan, anything can happen…

Seeking a wealthy American bride who can save his family’s estate, Brandon Fiennes, the duke of Kingston, is a rogue determined to do the right thing. But his search for an heiress goes deliciously awry when an enchanting seamstress tumbles into his arms instead.

…and true love is always in fashion

Miss Adeline Black aspires to be a fashionable dressmaker—not a duchess—and not even an impossibly seductive duke will distract her. But Kingston makes an offer she can’t refuse: join him at society events to display her gowns and advise him on which heiresses are duchess material. It’s the perfect plan—as long as they resist temptation, avoid a scandal, and above all do not lose their hearts.

I have agonized over my thoughts on Maya Rodale’s new book, Duchess by Design. Because it isn’t BAD, this was a fun read. I loved all the amazing historical details and lady-positive plot points (and consent-positive sexytimes). But I just didn’t believe that, beyond the Instalust, Kingston and Adeline deserved their HEA. They didn’t spend very much time together aside from a walk in the park and a meeting or two and a few nights out on the town; their social statuses were so different they didn’t spend much time together except for strategic points in the plot. We don’t really get to know them as a couple. So while this is a really great start to a new series I know Maya can do better. (As my friend Karena pointed out to me – this is really a love story between a woman and her awesome dresses with pockets.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

As Lie Is To Grin by Simeon Marsalis

34146663Summary from Goodreads:
David, the narrator of Simeon Marsalis’s singular first novel, is a freshman at the University of Vermont who is struggling to define himself against the white backdrop of his school. He is also mourning the loss of his New York girlfriend, Melody, whose grandfather’s alma mater he has chosen to attend. When David met Melody, he told her he lived with his drug-addicted single mother in Harlem, a more intriguing story than his own. This lie haunts and almost unhinges him as he attempts to find his true voice and identity.

On campus in Vermont, David imagines encounters with a student from the past who might represent either Melody’s grandfather or Jean Toomer, the author of the acclaimed Harlem Renaissance novel, Cane (1923). He becomes obsessed with the varieties of American architecture -upon land that was stolen, – and with the university’s past and attitudes as recorded in its newspaper, The Cynic. And he is frustrated with the way the Internet and libraries are curated, making it difficult to find the information he needs to make connections between the university’s history, African-American history, and his own life.

In New York, the previous year, Melody confides a shocking secret about her grandfather’s student days at the University of Vermont. When she and her father collude with the intent to meet David’s mother in Harlem–craving what they consider an authentic experience of the black world–their plan ends explosively.

The title of this impressive and emotionally powerful novel is inspired by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem -We Wear the Mask- (1896): -We wear the mask that grins and lies. . . .

As Lie is to Grin is a strange short novel, not quite plotless but the plot is almost secondary to the narrator’s exploration of race, cultural appropriation, passing, and the performance (or not) of “blackness”. There are many trans-fictional elements involving the architecture of the University of Vermont and of Harlem (this is a very “New York” novel, if you know your way around the metropolitan area). If you haven’t read Jean Toomer’s Cane, that is a major touch point for the narrator and you should read it anyways bc it’s good.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.