Two For One: Food for Love by C Fonseca and Contract for Love by Alison Grey

I received free e-ARCs of Food For Love by C Fonseca and Contract for Love by Alison Grey directly from the publisher in return for review consideration; my opinion and the content of this review have not been affected by this. Food for Love and Contract for Love are lesbian romance novels published by Ylva Publishing in the UK on 5th September 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of Food for Love:

When Jessica Harris flies home to Australia to sort out her late brother’s estate, the last thing she wants to face is his altruistic investment—an eatery on the rural Bellarine Peninsula.
The injured British/Indian elite cyclist just wants to settle up, move on, get rehab, and certainly not have to deal with the restaurant’s beautiful owner and artisan foodie, Lillian McAllister, or her sweet, four-year-old daughter.
In order to win, Jessica’s disciplined life is dedicated to controlling her emotions, and she isn’t sure she’d survive letting her walls down now.
A lesbian romance about how nourishment is so much more than the food we eat.

And the Goodreads synopsis for Contract for Love:

Single mom Sherry lives in a trailer park with her six-year-old son Jake, trying to make ends meet as a waitress.
Madison’s life couldn’t be more different. She’s been raised by her rich grandmother, and her only goals are partying and bedding women.
When her grandmother threatens to disinherit her if she doesn’t clean up her act, Madison has to find a way to convince her she’s changed.
After a chance encounter with Sherry, Madison comes up with a crazy idea that will rock both of their worlds: she wants to hire Sherry to play her fake girlfriend.

First off, Food for Love. This is a quiet book, but one that’s full of heart. Set largely in Australia, this is a book all about family in all forms, and about how what you do affects who you are. I really enjoyed both of the main characters. Jessica, with her difficult family relationships and the ongoing physical problems caused by her crash, is quiet and self-contained. Lillian, who’s surrounded by family and close friends, is more outgoing, but struggles with the sudden appearance of a new person in her life. They compliment each other well, and the development of their relationship feels organic and realistic.

There are great secondary characters in this book as well, and they help to give a feeling of two very human people with support networks, trying to do the best they can for themselves and the people around them. The conflict within the story is well handled, again feeling very realistic, and I found myself truly rooting for Jessica and Lillian, but also believing that there was the potential for them not to be able to work through their issues, and to go their separate ways. For me, even with a romance novel where a HEA is usually a given, I want to believe that the characters genuinely have to work through their problems to find the HEA, rather than it just being given to them.

The Australian setting is wonderful. Fonseca really brings the restaurant and the surrounding countryside to life, making the reader feel like they’re there experiencing everything with the characters. And I would definitely suggest having snacks alongside when you start on this book, as there are plenty of gorgeous food descriptions which, if you’re anything like me, will make you hungry!! Overall, this was a book that I really enjoyed, with realistic characters and relationships, and a great setting.

***

Moving onto Contract for Love, this was sadly a less enjoyable book for me. Fake dating is a trope I love, but I think it has to be handled carefully to really make it work. For me, I felt like the power dynamic between the two characters wasn’t addressed carefully enough, and I ended up feeling uncomfortable for much of the book.

Sherry and Madison felt, to me, like very ‘paint by numbers’ characters. Sherry’s poor and uneducated, but rich in heart and with a few close friends and family members she can rely on. Madison’s the privileged rich girl, swanning her way through life with little responsibility and not feeling bad about it, convinced money will get her anything she wants. For me, there wasn’t anything to make these characters seem like anything other than a collection of characteristics culled from similar storylines.

Grey tries to tackle a number of difficult issues in this book – privilege, poverty, family relationships, homophobia – but with there being so many, I felt like none of them was truly covered in enough depth. Problems are uncovered and acknowledged, but characters seem to move past them with relative ease. And with the main characters being so stereotypical, the changes they went through seemed rote to me and inevitable, rather than truly developing from their relationships and the events of the book.

Despite the similar titles, these are two very different books. Food for Love is one that I would recommend, and particularly to any romance lovers looking for a book not set in the US. Contract for Love, on the other hand, is not one that I would recommend, due to its uncomfortable and unexamined power dynamics, and paint-by-numbers characterisation.

If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified of future posts, please follow my blog here at WordPress, or at Bloglovin’.

Advertisements

If I Loved You Less by Tamsen Parker

If I Loved You Less.jpg

I received a free copy of If I Loved You Less by Tamsen Parker directly from the author in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. If I Loved You Less is a self-published lesbian romance novel, due to be published in the UK on 20th September 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Sunny, striking, and satisfied with her life in paradise, Theodosia Sullivan sees no need for marriage. She does, however, relish serving as matchmaker for everyone who crosses her path. As the manager of her family’s surf shop in Hanalei Bay, that includes locals and tourists alike. 

One person she won’t be playing Cupid for is the equally happy bachelorette down the street. Baker Kini ʻŌpūnui has been the owner of Queen’s Sweet Shop since her parents passed away and her younger brother married Theo’s older sister and moved to Oahu. Kini’s ready smile, haupia shortbread, and lilikoi malasadas are staples of Hanalei’s main street. 

However, Theo’s matchmaking machinations and social scheming soon become less charming—even hazardous—to everyone involved. And when she fails to heed Kini’s warnings about her meddling, she may be more successful than she ever intended. Theo has to face the prospect of Kini ending up with someone else, just as she realizes she’s loved Kini all along.

Though this is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, most of my familiarity with that story comes from that nineties masterpiece, Clueless. Also, a warning for Hamilton fans that Theodosia has popped up again, so prepare to get singing!

The action has moved to Hanalei, Hawai’i. I really enjoyed the setting and think that it worked well here, providing that ‘small town’ feel where everyone knows everyone, and where new people invite a lot of interest, which is vital to this story. It’s not a place I know anything about so I couldn’t vouch for the accuracy of Parker’s description, but I definitely was able to paint a picture in my head of where Theo lived and all the places she spent her time.

As a main character, I did struggle somewhat with Theo. She’s flighty, not always considerate of people around her, and one hell of a meddler. With the story being from her perspective, this does help somewhat, as we understand why she does what she does and that she’s usually trying her best, even if things don’t always turn out how she expected. However, I did like the fluid approach she took towards her own sexuality, being open to being attracted to a man she meets, though her previous interest has largely been in women.

The plot of the story will be familiar to anyone who knows either Emma or Clueless, and so there’s nothing there that should really come as a surprise. However, I did find myself getting lost at some points, as the characterisation of many of the characters, Theo included, didn’t always feel very consistent. Although some of those inconsistencies were explained later in the story, it didn’t much help my confusion at the time. Also, having not read the synopsis in detail before I started reading, I didn’t know which character Theo was going to end up with and for me, that relationship didn’t seem particularly believable. I recognise that that’s part of the point of the original, that Emma suddenly realises her attraction to Mr Knightley despite their long acquaintance, but here, it didn’t feel realistic or well-developed, but more like it was just happening because the plot required it.

Overall, this was a light, entertaining read, but one which left me ultimately unsatisfied. I’m always up for queer retellings of well-known stories, but for me, the inconsistent characterisation and undeveloped romantic relationship meant the story felt flat. However, I think I would be interested in reading others of Parker’s books, to see what she can do when she’s not sticking to an existing script.

If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified of future posts, please follow my blog here at WordPress, or at Bloglovin’.

Top Ten Tuesday – 18th September 2018

I’m doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme, which is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the theme for 18th September is…books on my autumn 2018 TBRMy TBR changes regularly, as I add review copies and things based on when they need to be finished so I can review them, but this is how it currently stands (or, at least how it stands when I’m writing it):

  1. The Female Man by Joanna Russ – this is for one of my book clubs, and it’s a book I’ve been intending to read for a while, so I’m glad to have a reason to move it up my TBR
  2. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson – I read this book just last year, but again, we’re reading it in one of my book clubs, so I’m going to re-read it and I’m super looking forward to it
  3. A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer – I was approved for this on NetGalley and since it’s coming out in January, I’d like to read it this autumn
  4. Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand – I’ve got this on pre-order, so it should show up on my doorstep next month and then I can throw everything else aside and pick this up!
  5. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan – another book I have on pre-order, I’m super excited for this November read
  6. The Spy with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke – yet another pre-order, I read the companion book a few weeks ago, and am very excited for this one
  7. The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah – I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of this, and think it’s going to make a great autumn read
  8. Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin – I was lucky enough to hear Sarah talk at a panel a few weeks ago, and she absolutely sold this book to me. I now have a gorgeous signed copy sitting on my bookcase, ready for me to dive into
  9. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee – in all honesty, I’m mostly planning to read those so I can get to the sequel, which I think is going to be right up my street
  10. Stay by Nicola Griffith – I finally got hold of a copy of this the other week, and I can’t wait to get started on it, having absolutely loved the first book in the series

This was such a fun topic! I have plenty of other books I’m also looking forward to reading, but I think these are the ones I’m most excited about.

What’s on your autumn TBR? And if you’ve got a TTT this week, pop the link in a comment and I’ll check it out.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified of future posts, please follow my blog here at WordPress, or at Bloglovin’.

I Invited Her In by Adele Parks

I Invited Her In

I received a free ARC of I Invited Her In by Adele Parks directly from the publisher in return for review consideration. I Invited Her In is a thriller, due to be published by HQ, an imprint of Harper Collins, in the UK on 20th September 2018.

Synopsis

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

When Mel hears from a long-lost friend in need of help, she doesn’t hesitate to invite her to stay. Mel and Abi were best friends back in the day, sharing the highs and lows of student life, until Mel’s unplanned pregnancy made her drop out of her studies.

Now, seventeen years later, Mel and Abi’s lives couldn’t be more different. Mel is happily married, having raised her son on her own before meeting her husband, Ben. Now they share gorgeous girls and have a chaotic but happy family home, with three children.

Abi, meanwhile, followed her lover to LA for a glamorous life of parties, celebrity and indulgence. Everything was perfect, until she discovered her partner had been cheating on her. Seventeen years wasted, and nothing to show for it. So what Abi needs now is a true friend to lean on, to share her grief over a glass of wine, and to have some time to heal. And what better place than Mel’s house, with her lovely kids, and supportive husband…

Review

I’d heard Adele Parks’ name before, but not read any of her work, so I was excited to pick this one up. Sadly, although I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations, I didn’t enjoy the book very much.

There were a few things I liked though:

  1. A decent husband – Ben, Mel’s husband, is portrayed for the most part as a good man and a good husband. It’s definitely shown that Mel does the majority of the emotional labour and housework, which isn’t great, but Ben is at least portrayed as recognising and appreciating that, while he brings in most of the money
  2. The relationship between Ben and Liam – the relationship between a step-parent and a step-child can often be awkward in literature, veering between awful and perfect. I think Parks strikes a good balance here, whilst also acknowledging the tension between Ben and Mel over Liam when things aren’t going so well, where her role as a single mother for the first years of his life remains a strong part of her identity
  3. Positive representation of a young, single mother – although we only see Mel as a single mother in glimpses of her past, it’s made clear that she made an active choice to have the child that others suggested she should get rid of, and that she did a great job of raising him. Parks also touches on the isolation young mothers can feel, and how that’s impacted Mel as she’s grown up, having missed out on the twenties that her contemporaries experienced and finding herself not quite in step with the other mothers who have similar aged children

With all that said, I had some serious issues with the book as a whole:

  1. Women against women – much of the plot of this book is about two women who end up at odds over various male figures in their lives. At this point in time, I feel that this is a storyline that I am just not interested in reading ever again
  2. Plot points driven by people not speaking to each other – I know I’ve mentioned this before, but this is a trope that I don’t enjoy at all. Even aside from the fact that Abi’s deception of everyone around her makes up half the plot, her impact would have been significantly reduced if other characters had been truthful with each other, both regarding events within the book and events prior to the book. Not only do I find this frustrating, but to me, it doesn’t feel like good writing. Yes, it’s completely reasonable that people not always be one hundred percent truthful, but they should have solid reasons for doing so, at least in books!
  3. The writing style – I didn’t find Parks’ writing in this book to be particularly engaging. With much of the book written in first person POV from Mel’s perspective, I found her to be an oddly stilted character, and the dialogue between her and Abi often seemed unrealistic. Abi’s sections, written in the third person, flowed a little better for me, but again, I struggled to believe in her character at all

Summary

Sadly, this was very much not a book for me. I do appreciate that it’s not the kind of book I typically read, so I can’t say whether or not it’s a good example of the genre, but I don’t think I’d really recommend it to anyone, given how frustrating I found most of the characters, and the fact that I didn’t find the writing engaging either.

If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified of future posts, please follow my blog here at WordPress, or at Bloglovin’.

Life Honestly from The Pool

Life Honestly

I received a free e-ARC of Life Honestly by The Pool from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. Life Honestly is a non-fiction essay and article collection, due to be published by Pan Macmillan in the UK on 20th September 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

A compendium of favourite and most-read articles plus new content from The Pool, in print for the first time. You’ll find diverse views covering topics from work, health and beauty to family, friends and more generally, life. With introductions from co-founders of the platform, Lauren Laverne and Sam Baker, Life Honestly is a collection of advice, comment and opinion that acts as a complete guide to life.

I’m not a regular reader of The Pool, but I’ve definitely read some of their articles when they’ve been shared by friends. But the book appealed to me, as it’s described as providing diverse views on a number of topics. And there were definitely things I enjoyed about the book, but I found it disappointing in one key way.

Starting with the good parts, the book does truly cover a broad range of topics, some of which were familiar to me, and some of which weren’t. There are chapters which cover the specific experiences of their authors, and those which are more general discussions of particular topics. I enjoyed the variety that brought, and felt that it gave more depth to the book than if it had been only personal essays or only general discussions. It felt like a well-curated collection of articles, and if this is representative of the general type and quality of work published by The Pool, then that might be a website I should check out more often.

As the book is written by multiple contributors, the style and quality of the writing definitely varies across the book. There were some chapters that I particularly enjoyed, including Catharine Gray’s chapter about grief, and Zoe Beaty’s chapter about depression, whilst there were others which I found less enjoyable. But where most of the chapters are short, I found that I quickly moved onto the next chapter, and my overall impression of the standard of writing was good.

My main issue with the book was what felt to me like an overall lack of inclusivity and intersectionality. What I mean by this is that to me, it felt as though the ‘standard’ chapter was from the perspective of and aimed at straight, cis, middle-class, able-bodied white women. There were then specific chapters aimed at a more diverse audience, such as Vic Parsons’ moving chapter about coming out to their father, or Yomi Adegoke’s excellent chapter about the need for a more intersectional discussion of imposter syndrome. But these ‘standard’ chapters often failed to take an intersectional approach towards their topic. For example, an entire section on ‘wombs’ which, as far as I can remember (and I did go back to check), doesn’t once mention that not everyone with a womb is a woman, and not every woman has a womb.

For chapters relating the specific experience of a specific person/specific people, I completely understand that they only represent one person’s experience. However, many of the chapters cover topics more generally, and this is where I found the lack of inclusivity obvious. By seeming to separate chapters which focused on more intersectional issues or were from the perspective of an additionally marginalised person, this perpetuates the idea that a ‘normal’ woman is white, is straight, is cis, is able-bodied, and ‘others’ everyone who doesn’t fit into those categories. For me, that’s no longer good enough.

There were some truly interesting chapters in this book, and I certainly appreciated a lot of the personal essays and their insights into their authors’ lives. But on the whole, I think this collection missed a chance to be truly inclusive, and for that reason, the book ultimately isn’t one that I enjoyed overall.

If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified of future posts, please follow my blog here at WordPress, or at Bloglovin’.

Top Ten Tuesday – 11th September 2018

I’m doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme, which is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the theme for 11th September is…hidden gemsI feel like a decent amount of what I read is not super well-known, so this is a fun category for me!

  1. The Rachel Peng series by KB Spangler – I’ve recommended these books before, but this series is the crime fighting cyber cop series you’ve been looking for, if all the mainstream options feel like they just aren’t written for you. Spangler takes on identity, group dynamics, politics and law enforcement, disability – honestly, I just adore these books
  2. Anything by Carol Shields – I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve recommended Shields to, usually on the proviso that if they like Atwood, they should definitely give Shields a go. But for my money, I find Shields’ work to be far more accessible, and I’ve enjoyed her books far more
  3. Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler – this contemporary YA novel puts female friendship at its heart throughout. It’s sharp and incisive, and gave me so many feelings by the time I finished it
  4. On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard – this is a novella set in de Bodard’s Xuya universe, featuring an AI IN TROUBLE. It’s beautifully realised, and will leave you eager to dive into the rest of the universe
  5. Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge – I only just got round to reading this book, having had it on my TBR for literally years, and it’s just outstanding. The setting is great, the plot is awesome, and the MC is just the best
  6. The Abyss Surrounds Us series by Emily Skrutskie – this is a YA SF series featuring sea monsters, pirates, and an adorable queer romance. If it was m/m rather than f/f, I’m pretty certain it would be the Next Big Thing
  7. Paris Adrift by EJ Swift – I read this awesome time travel story last year, and I was captivated by its Parisian setting, and the clever concept, and it deserved so much more buzz with when it was released
  8. A Matter of Oaths by Helen S Wright – I’d never heard of this 80s SF novel until last year, and I don’t understand why! It’s got a great concept, brilliant writing, and queer characters. I hope its re-release at the end of last year brings it to the attention of more people
  9. The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North – this is a murder mystery with a twist, told from the perspectives of a group of people who all knew the deceased Sophie Stark. It took me by surprise in the best way, and I don’t know why I haven’t heard more about it
  10. The Aud Torvingen series by Nicola Griffith – okay, so I’ve only read the first one so far, but Torvingen is the queer hard-ass detectives of all our queer dreams, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series

Have you read any of these books? And what are your hidden gems – what should I add to my TBR? Let me know, and if you’ve got a TTT post this week, pop the link in a comment so I can check it out!

If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified of future posts, please follow my blog here at WordPress, or at Bloglovin’.

Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford

Fight Like a Girl

I received a free copy of Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford from NetGalley in return for review consideration. Fight Like a Girl is a non-fiction feminist memoir published by Oneworld Publications in the UK on 10th September 2018 (originally published in 2016).

Synopsis

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Online sensation, fearless feminist heroine and scourge of trolls and misogynists everywhere, Clementine Ford is a beacon of hope and inspiration to thousands of Australian women and girls. Her incendiary debut Fight Like A Girl is an essential manifesto for feminists new, old and soon-to-be, and exposes just how unequal the world continues to be for women. Crucially, it is a call to arms for all women to rediscover the fury that has been suppressed by a society that still considers feminism a threat.

Fight Like A Girl will make you laugh, cry and scream. But above all it will make you demand and fight for a world in which women have real equality and not merely the illusion of it.

Review

I’m going to start this review by saying that there’s a content warning for the entire book. Due to the nature of what Ford’s writing about, there is discussion of sexual abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, eating disorders, and probably a few other topics as well. If you’re interested in reading the book but are concerned about any topics, drop me a line and I can have a look through for any particular sections or anything like that.

Now, onto the review. This book made me mad. Like, SO MAD! And if it doesn’t make you mad when you read it, then I think we probably wouldn’t get on all that well. Whenever I see Clementine Ford’s name pop up on something, I know it’s something I’m going to want to read, and this book is no exception to that.

As a proud and outspoken feminist myself, Ford’s writing hits me right where it hurts. She covers a myriad of the ways in which women suffer and struggle in the world compared to men (I’m using binary terms here, but want to make it clear that Ford’s feminism is inclusive of all women and gender non-conforming people who are affected by these issues), and it’s a difficult read. She looks both at a personal level – issues that have affected her and her loved ones personally – and a more global one, covering some of the truly horrifying statistics around areas such as domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, and mental health. Although these were all issues I was aware of to varying extents, Ford brings them all together, managing to cover a huge number of topics in a relatively small book. She’s also coming from a different perspective from similar books I’ve read previously, which have been written by British or American authors. Ford is Australian, though has lived all over the world, and thus brings a different set of experiences and some different social elements to the book, which I really appreciated.

As a woman in media, and particularly one who doesn’t conform to many of the standards expected by the patriarchy, Ford has long been subject to some truly hideous abuse online, and she writes bluntly about that – about the kind of language and threats aimed at her, about how she deals with it, and the reactions she gets when she tries to push back against it (unsurprisingly, these reactions are largely as bad or even worse than the initial abuse). For me, this was some of the most frustrating content to read about, because Ford highlights some of the immense and ridiculous contradictions and double standards faced by women with an online presence – a topic which always makes me want to *headdesk* to infinity because it’s all so ridiculous, and yet the people perpetrating the online abuse and attacks are completely oblivious!

Ford also acknowledges clearly the ways in which she experiences privilege which make it easier for her to navigate the world – being white, being cis, passing as straight due to her long-term relationship with a man (bi-erasure is in and of itself a problem, but can provide its own set of privileges in some circumstances) – and looks at particular areas where intersectional identities cause further problems. Plenty of other feminist writing fails to mention this (and Ford mentions one specific book with which I personally have huge issues), and whilst this in no way negates the need for more books by a more diverse group of writers, this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Ford’s writing is blunt and to the point. Her style is fairly conversational (a sweary, angry conversation in the pub), and not at all patronising, as can sometimes be a problem with books like this. She doesn’t pull any punches with her language, emphasising the book’s sharp, angry feel throughout, but it feels appropriate to the subject matter and to Ford’s personal connection and level of permanent anger about things. I feel that anger too, and it makes me want to fight back.

Summary

Fight Like a Girl is an incredibly frustrating read, due entirely to its subject matter. It’s a subject I personally feel very strongly about, and this is a book I would recommend to anyone similarly angry about the huge injustices being dealt with by women all across the world on a daily basis. Just be prepared to feel angry, and maybe have a feminist friend nearby you can rant at when you’re done reading.

If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified of future posts, please follow my blog here at WordPress, or at Bloglovin’.