Reviews: Royally related.

I’m currently working on yet another tangentially royal-related manuscript at the moment (not an AU Victorian novel, but a more modern one). Without giving too much away (after all, it’s not quite finished yet), events lead to a royal wedding (here’s the Pinterest board, if you’re interested). Thus, my ‘research’ reading is gearing towards fluffy rom-coms with elements of both. Here are two recent reads.

The Royal Next Door

To start, this is such a fun set up. A Meghan Markle/Prince Harry couple move in next door to our heroine, who lives on an island in Canada. Is the PPO attached to the (royal) fictional couple super hot? He is. In addition to a steamy romance, I really enjoyed how Ms. Halle incorporated modern elements. She created a realistic royal world, and smartly set herself up for a spin off. I would definitely read additional novels by the author.

The Paid Bridesmaid 

Another fun concept — a paid ‘professional’ bridesmaid! Unfortunately, the romantic storyline took FOREVER to unfold. I’m all about a slow burn, but by the end, I was just frustrated (as were the characters, sexually). Points for a realistic storyline and usage of modern elements, but overall it was a bit of a slog waiting for the leads to get together. Also, for me, I feel the need for a wildly obvious ‘we’re married and having a baby’ happy ending just a bit too far.

Do you have any recommendations for books in this genre? I’d love to hear from you!

Reviews: Recent royal reading.

Majesty

This was the follow up of American Royals, which I really enjoyed last year.  The sequel was not quite at the same level, and the ending a bit abrupt, but overall, in 2020, it was a fun bit of escapist fiction that I had fun reading.  (And yes, if there are any further books in the series, I will continue reading them.)  Also, was I rooting for a completely different pairing in the book?  I was.

The Guinevere Deception

Wow, I really enjoyed this book!  Given my Queen Juliette’s connection to Arthur and Excalibur, I’ve always been interested in the legend.  Ms. White comes at the well known myth with complete originality, excellent use of magic and world building, diverse characters, and a plot that was an absolute page turner.

The Camelot Betrayal

Unfortunately, the second book in the series was a bit all over the place.  While I really wanted to see more interaction between Guinevere and Arthur (for various reasons), the author chose to keep Guinevere on a number of frustrating side quests which seemed clunky and distracting.  As much as I want to see what happens next (the book ends on a very abrupt cliffhanger), I’m not sure I would be in a rush to pick the next in the series up.

Have you read anything memorable recently?

Some recent royal reading (and watching) reviews.

Given my interest in royalty and all things Arthurian, I think the two subjects are things I’m always going to be involved in, thus – some recent reading and viewing choices.

The Heir Affair

A sequel to the very popular The Royal We, I thought the follow up was fun (just maybe not quite as good as the original).  The novel is a brunch soapy reading, and both books are quite long, so it’s excellent escapism (which I think is kind of necessary in 2020).

Once and Future

Always interested in interpretations of Excalibur, I was immediately interested in this futuristic retelling of Arthur and his knights (especially with a gender bent twist and such an excellent cover).  Unfortuantely, what I got was an unsalvageable bunch of nonsense, with what appeared to be a contest to stuff the maximum amount of ‘wokeness’ into one novel.  Yes, I believe in diversity of characters, but not at the expense of a narrative. DNF.

Cursed

Similar to above, this recent series had my name all over it.  Nimue (the Lady of the Lake) has a bit of a cameo in The Queen of England: Grand Tour, and I loved the idea of following her origin story.  Unfortuantely, the pilot was a bit of a snooze, and even though I’ve not seen anything past the first episode, if our lead is meant to have chemistry with Arthur, well, it’s not there.  We didn’t watch any additional episodes, but I imagine that I’ll watch this on some long flight in the future (if and when we get to fly again).

So, a bit of a mixed bag.  Do you have any royal recommendations to share?

Book Review: The Wedding Date.

I haven’t done too much on this blog that can be considered ‘research’ for my HS Reunion manuscript.  In fact, I think this is my first official post related to the book — even though I finished the rough draft in May.  Oops.  I think that’s because it’s a straight rom-com, which I have plenty of research in already.  Having lived almost forty years, and a fan of obvious tropes, sitcoms, chick lit, and other Basic™ romance, I felt more than adequately prepared for the challenge ahead.

So, The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory was on sale, marked down from its usual $7.99 (!) to either .99 or $1.99, which made it reasonable.  And with a lot of travel in the next few months, I guessed there would be some down time for me to read the book.

To start, although I’m self-published, I do always compare traditionally published books to my own.  In the case of The Wedding Date, I definitely found my work to come out ahead (and wondered why on earth Penguin would publish this novel in its current form).

Where did the book go so wrong?  While I loved the initial trope of Meeting In A Condensed Space (in this instance, trapped in an elevator), followed by an even better trope of Fake Dating (the best!), the book kind of ran out of steam at the 20% point, after the pair go on the titular ‘wedding date.’  There was no conflict.  I mean, other than the hero/heroine live in two different cities (but see each other all the time) and have a few communication errors, there’s really nothing going on.

Oh, except the boning.

I unapologetically love romance novels, and am nearly always reading one.  I have read some amazing sex scenes — ones charged with passion and tension.  Ones that are beautifully written and do right by the characters.  I can tell you that The Wedding Date is filled with absolute vanilla nonsense, that somehow is both what I would consider a ‘clean’ read (i.e. the descriptions are quite limited when it comes to anatomy) and ‘turning the lights out’ as in, the author leaves the audience to imagine what happens.

The problem is that the main characters bone a lot.  Like, half the book is just them having sex.  Great, kudos for them.  However, when sex is written poorly and while it appears they are fucking just to fuck, it doesn’t add anything to the book, especially when it’s poorly written nonsense.  If there’s any silver lining, I am glad the author focuses on safe sex, and they use a condom every time (no mention of birth control for the heroine).

So, if I learned anything from reading this book, it’s to make sure the sex in my novel is there for a reason.  That it’s well written and not just to take up space.  In my current draft, there are three separate scenes where the characters are intimate, but now I’m wondering if the third one isn’t a little gratuitous.  Also, writing smut has always been a weakness of mine, so when I go back to edit, I’ll need to make sure that the scenes are worth reading and not clunky Tab A / Slot B descriptions.

Also, why are these characters ALWAYS EATING?  Nearly every scene revolves around food in some strange way.  I’m not saying people don’t need to eat, but the constant eating made me feel full.  Also, who eats donuts that much?  Have the characters, one of whom is a doctor, never heard of diabetes?

Finally, while there is no doubt I’m happy to see representation with a POC lead, I wish it had been with another book.

Am I encouraged to read another book by Ms. Guillory?  No, unfortuantely, I am not.

Have you read The Wedding Date?  What did you think?  What are you favorite romance/chick lit tropes?

Review: Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Yes, it’s been a minute since I reviewed something, hasn’t it?

From the outset of Evvie Drake Starts Over, I couldn’t help but wish this had been published before I finished writing Life After Joe, as I know I would’ve been very positively influenced by Ms. Holmes’s novel.  Similar to my Joe, the book opens with the death of a husband (not a spoiler).  What follows is a wonderful story about Evvie and Dean, two well-developed and complicated characters.  Even Tim (the dead husband), who is ‘present’ throughout the book gets an excellent, believable backstory.  The chemistry felt natural, and I loved the supporting cast (just as realistic as the main characters).  Overall, I loved Ms. Holmes’s voice and would be happy to pick up her next novel.  The book brings up great questions, and yes, there is romance.  A weird sub-genre, but if reading about modern widows is something you’re interested in, then this is one to add to your list.  I have no doubt this will be optioned for film (maybe Hallmark, maybe someone bigger) by the end of the year.

I received this book as an ARC through NetGalley.  Opinions are my own!

Book review: Heist Society.

Noticing a theme here, are we?  😉

For the next of my heist research novels, I turned to (what else?) YA.  When writing UTROL earlier in the year, I briefly debated knocking ten years off everyone’s ages, but there’s far too much suspension of disbelief that would need to take place for that to read in any realistic format.

Like The Heist, it took me a sold two efforts to get into the book — as in, I put the book down for over a month — something that really surprised me.  Because really, the hook of any heist should be something of a page turner.  Especially in the YA genre.  In this instance Kat (Katerina Bishop) comes from a family of n’er do wells, who have been conning and running schemes for years (it’s mentioned she was on a job when she was 5, which seems like very poor parenting).  Everyone needs an origin story, but we only get bits and pieces of Kat’s before she leaves the school she’s attending (where she escaped to get away from a life of crime).

Things I liked?  Go big or go home.  Why shouldn’t there be a teen with more or less unlimited wealth?  Why shouldn’t 15 year olds regularly interact with grown men and crime bosses without hesitation?  Why can’t a group of kids knock off a major museum?  Why wouldn’t they visit (what felt like) 17 countries in a week?  Who needs adult supervision?  Ahem.  In reality, there were a few terms and ideas I picked up for UTROL,  and I loved how the group had chemistry, and lots of inside jokes/events that we, as the audience, are never given any further details on.  Character development was a bit meh, but there were plenty of fun moments, even if the pacing at the start was a bit difficult to get into.  Similar to Ocean’s 11, what works is that we know no one will be killed.  This is a heist with high stakes, but not everything on the line.  I have threats in my own manuscript, but as of now (spoiler alert), I’m keeping everyone alive.

Stuff that needs work?  $7.99 feels high for a book that can be read in one or two sittings (even if it took me 9 or 10).  $4.99 feels much more in line.  Within the book itself, the ‘twist’ was one I saw coming a mile away — and was based on a  decision that felt WILDLY out of character for our protagonist.  Also, as mentioned above, there is simply a bit to much suspension of disbelief to really ground the book.  Ms. Carter, I think you could’ve done better.  Given the feedback on Amazon/Goodreads, I seem to be in the minority, with most readers enjoying the novel.

 Unfortunately, while there are other books in the series, given their price point, I’m not in any particular hurry to pick them up.  I like Kat as a protagonist, but I’m not really invested in her life.  Damn not having a library.

Have you read the series?  What do you think?

Book review: The Heist.

We’ve already established I wasn’t wild about my first outing with Gabriel Allon.  However, given the reviews for The Heist (another novel in the same series by author Daniel Silva), and writing a manuscript where an art heist is the central activity, I thought, “Okay, why not?”

Wow, past Courtney, great job. /s

Unfortunately, this ‘adventure’ with everyone’s favorite Israeli/painter/spy/assassin/man who knows everyone everywhere, while the first 15% of the novel does actually have to do with a stolen Caravaggio, the book then veers sharply into politics.  The book wasn’t a page turner, in fact, I tried valiantly on three separate occasions to finish the book.  In the end, I skipped SWATHES of novel after Gabriel goes back to Israel (for reasons I don’t remember and really don’t care about).  Although part of a series, which I realize that fans of said series would have some investment in Gabriel, his wife (who is STILL nothing but meaningless arm candy/mother to be/vessel for carrying twins), and Gabriel’s career path, however, as a casual reader, the only thing I cared about was the plot, which was convoluted and certainly not the heist or recovery I expected it to be.

Reading the reviews on Goodreads, it appears I am not alone, and is perhaps my thoughts are best summed up by this account: “And before I knew it, my fun art heist caper was gone, and had been replaced by a dreary political thriller.”

For $9.99, I wildly overpaid for this novel, and it will be my last purchase supporting this author.  Perhaps if I had access to a library, I could check out books and skim through them, however, I’m not about to pay for another.

Did I pick up a few things for my novel?  Yes.  Could I have found these details elsewhere? Also, yes.

I’m also befuddled how this book has a 4.1 on Goodreads and a 4.5 on Amazon.  Perhaps Mr. Silva has his audience and people are willing to show up for the previous 13 BOOKS in this series.  No, thank you.

Send any good heist novel recommendations my way…