Top Ten Tuesday – 20th February

I’m doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme, which is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the theme for 20th February is…Books I’ve decided I’m no longer interested in reading. I probably should have looked at this before I did last week’s post and knocked a bunch of things off my TBR! Oh well, here goes:

  1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – this was the first book on my TBR before I had a bit of a clear out the other day. I obviously added it when I was going through a phase of ‘these are ‘good’ books that I should read’. These days, regardless of how much of a classic it may be, I’m just not interested in reading this at all.
  2. Anything else by Charles Dickens – as mentioned the other week, I read Great Expectations at school, and it put me off Dickens for life. As with the above, his books may be classics, but I’m no longer interested in reading those just for the sake of it.
  3. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen – this one comes under the heading of ‘I don’t particularly like what I’ve read about the author, so I’m not interested in reading their work’. I know that can be a controversial opinion, but I’m okay with it.
  4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – this one’s is a mixture of the Jonathan Franzen reason, and the fact that I’ve read reviews which make me pretty certain that the representation of female characters within the book and how they’re treated would really frustrate me.
  5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – I think Outlander is probably a very good book, but I decided when I was cleaning out my TBR that it’s probably not for me. There is a definite possibility that I’ll change my mind about this in the future.
  6. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – this is another book that I cleaned off my TBR. There’s so much I want to read that gives insight into other experiences and cultures, and reading a book by a white guy about a culture that he is not part of and, from what I’ve read, hasn’t treated with any particular nuance, doesn’t further that aim.
  7. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz – I really enjoyed the original millennium trilogy, but was so disappointed by The Girl in the Spider’s Web that I don’t feel the need to pick up any more of the series with Lagercrantz at the helm.
  8. The First Bad Man by Miranda July – this is apparently still on my TBR, but I tried No-One Belongs Here More Than You a couple of years ago and I just could not get on with it. And with so many books to read, I don’t feel like revisiting authors whose work I haven’t previously enjoyed. Again, I reserve the right to change my mind on this one.
  9. The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker – I picked this up in a Kindle sale last year, but after a few chapters, I already disliked the main character and the book’s bland, unchallenging approach to gender roles that I gave up.
  10. Anything else by JK Rowling – I have a lot of respect for a lot of what JK Rowling has done, and the amounts she’s donated to charity and her refusal to back down from Twitter trolls. However, the Johnny Depp thing last year, and the ‘Dumbledore’s gay but wait, we don’t want to actually show you that’ has sadly left me with the impression that her feminism is not nearly as intersectional as she would have us believe, and that’s something that’s important to me these days.
But anyway, what books are you no longer interested in reading? I’d love to hear!

Just For Show by Jae

Just For Show

I received a free e-ARC of Just For Show by Jae directly from the publisher in return for review consideration. Just For Show is a contemporary lesbian romance novel, due to be published by Ylva Publishing in the UK on 21st February 2018 on the Ylva webstore (available everywhere from March 7th).

Please note that the book contains scenes of an explicit, sexual nature between consenting adults of the same gender.

Below is my synopsis of the book:

Successful psychologist Claire Renshaw is on the verge of a book deal, something she’s wanted all her life. Then, out of nowhere, her fiancée breaks up with her, and suddenly not only is Claire single, but the book deal is at risk – would potential readers want to take advice from someone who’s not successful in her own relationships? Enter Lana Henderson, a struggling actress who is Claire’s opposite in so many ways

I’m going to start by saying that I absolutely loved this book! I’m a sucker for the ‘fake relationship’ trope, and Jae handles it so well in Just For Show.

Lana and Claire, the main characters, are both appealing and entertaining. Lana, the free-spirited actress, is a perfect foil for tightly-strung Claire, and as the pair get to know one another better, some of their better qualities rub off on each other. I really enjoyed seeing the two characters grow over the course of the story, without either of them losing any of the key aspects of their personalities. I also liked the fact that Lana is not a stick-thin waif with a perfectly flat stomach – she’s described as being full-figured, and generally feeling happy in her body, which I found really refreshing.

Claire’s career as a psychologist also works as a tool to allow Claire to think about her own relationships and start to apply her professional training to her own life, something which she hasn’t really done before. Lana is far more in touch with her own feelings, and along with her skills and experience as an actress, she’s better able to cope with the unexpected incidents that arise as their relationship develops. But she also has a lot of insecurities, and is dealing with the aftermath of a serious accident and few years previously.

The actual fake relationship, the central concept of the story, is dealt with very well. I appreciated that the parameters of the relationship were clearly laid out and agreed to by both Claire and Lana, and that when their relationship officially moved beyond those bounds, they actively made the decision to put the contract aside.

There are some entertaining secondary characters as well. Claire’s parents and sister provide depth to Claire’s character, showing some of how she came to be the person she is, and why, publishing contract aside, she’s so set on presenting a certain persona to the wider world. Lana’s friends, Jill and Crash, are warm and welcoming, and as the story progresses, we learn about the supportive role they played during a difficult period in Lana’s life.

Just For Show is easily a favourite of the lesbian romance novels I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of them! If you’re looking for a fresh take on an old trope, with great characters and a lot of humour, check out Just For Show.

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Top Ten Tuesday – 13th February

I’m doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme, which is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the theme for 13th February is…it’s a Love Freebie!! I’m going to go with my ten favourite fictional relationships. And I’m going with the idea that platonic love is just as good as romantic, so I’m writing about a couple of my favourite friendships as well.

**There is a spoiler for Malinda Lo’s Adaptation series below – it’s 6 and I’ve whited out, so just highlight the text to read**

  1. Reta and Tom Winters in Unless by Carol Shields – Unless is one of my favourite books of all time anyway (seriously, if you haven’t read, go read it now and then come back. I’ll wait!), and the relationship between Reta and Tom is just brilliantly written. They support one another, even in an incredibly difficult time, and are essentially my vision of a perfect marriage.
  2. Stephen Moran and Antoinette Conway in The Secret Place by Tana French – the Dublin Murder Squad series is one of my standard recs to anyone who asks, and this is my favourite of the series to date (followed closely by The Trespasser because I adore Detective Conway). The way their partnership develops over the course of this book is masterfully managed, and the counterpoint of the deep friendship between the four teenage girls at the heart of the mystery sets it off perfectly.
  3. Thursday Next and Landen Park-Laine in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde – the Thursday Next series is a hilarious reading experience for any bookworm, and the relationship between Thursday and Landen is at the heart of it. They have their ups and downs but ultimately, they’re there for each other always.
  4. Rosemary and Sissix in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – this book was one of my highlights of last year, and the relationship between the human Rosemary and the Aandrisk Sissix was part of why I loved it so much. Chambers isn’t afraid to explore the nature of romance between two individuals who experience the universe, affection, and sex in very different ways.
  5. Paula McIntyre and Elinor Blessing in the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series by Val McDermid – it warms my little queer heart that the healthiest relationship in McDermid’s long-running series is between two women with immensely stressful jobs who, at the end of the day, just want to come home to each other.
  6. This is the one about Adaptation: Reese Holloway, Amber Gray, and David Li in the Adaptation series by Malinda Lo – I did not think that Inheritance was going to go there, but it did. The very existence of this triad is reason enough for celebration, but Lo deals with it so well and it’s just glorious.
  7. Irene and Kai in the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman – my favourite thing about these two is the unexpectedly grown-up way they deal with their attraction to each other. It’s just so refreshing to read something where people manage not to jump each other straight away, because they realise it’s inappropriate for whatever reason.
  8. Achilles and Patroclus in The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – this is a beautiful book and does some serious justice to one of the most interesting relationships in mythology. It also gives Patroclus more depth than we really get in the main canon, and it really is just beautiful.
  9. Caidence Harris and Robyn Ward in Playing the Role of Herself by KE Lane – I see more problems with this book these days than when I first read it, but it holds such a spot in my heart as probably one of the first lesbian romance novels I read and I still wish there was a sequel, as I would have loved to see what happened after the end of this book.
  10. Elphaba Thropp and G(a)linda Arduenna Upland in Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire – need I say any more?

I actually found it harder to come up with this list than I expected, mostly because when I start talking about favourites, I feel like it’s really important that I pick the ‘right’ things, which is ridiculous. But these at least were the ones I came up with today.

Are any of these on your list? And if not, what is?

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A Heart to Call Home by Jeannie Levig

A Heart to Call Home

I received a free e-ARC of A Heart to Call Home by Jeannie Levig from NetGalley in return for review consideration. A Heart to Call Home is a contemporary lesbian romance novel, and is due to be published by Bold Strokes Books in the UK on 13th February 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Dakota Scott has spent her entire adult life trying to outrun her past, but even the privilege and reputation her family name affords her haven’t helped her forget. Her mother’s mental illness and the memory of the night that haunts her from so long ago won’t release her. When the one woman with the power to set her free shows up, Dakota is drawn to her, but she is a painful reminder of everything Dakota has been trying desperately to escape. 
When Jessie Weldon returns to her hometown after thirty years of avoiding it, she knows she has demons to face and a conflicted past to resolve, but she has no idea love awaits her. Can she give her heart to Dakota with the tragic past that lies between them?

There were a number of elements that I enjoyed about A Heart to Call Home. I liked that both characters were older, and that they had lives before the start of the book involving other people and other relationships. I feel that I’ve read a lot of books where characters’ lives prior to the main storyline are treated as inconsequential, or else purely negative, particularly when it comes to previous romantic relationships. Jessie in particular is seen dealing with the consequences of ending a previous serious, long-term relationship and learning what she wants from the future.

Significant sections of the book are devoted to ‘the night that haunts’ both women, as mentioned in the synopsis. This central mystery element runs throughout the book and informs many of the decisions the two main characters have made over the course of their lives, and particularly during this novel. Levig does a great job of dishing out little bite-sized pieces of information, and then making you wait just long enough for the next one. However, towards the end of the book, I did find that this dragged things out longer than was maybe necessary.

I also found some of the secondary characters lacking in depth. With the exception of a few specific characters who serve their own purposes, the background characters are supportive and helpful, which made some of the conflict in the story seem a little forced. Had Jessie and Dakota sat down and had an honest conversation at the start of the book, there would have been little standing else in the way of them starting a relationship, and for me, that was a source of frustration.

On the whole though, and bearing in mind the points mentioned above, if you’re looking for a sweetly romantic novel that looks at how seriously our pasts can affect our futures, and how difficult it can be to let go of long-held beliefs, this one might be worth checking out.

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Hearts Like Hers by Melissa Brayden

Hearts Like Hers

I received a free e-ARC of Hearts Like Hers by Melissa Brayden from NetGalley in return for review consideration. Hearts Like Hers is a contemporary lesbian romance novel, the second in the Seven Shores series, and is due to be published by Bold Strokes Books in the UK on 13th February 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

No one pencils in falling in love. 

All work and no play has Autumn Primm in the market for a little excitement. Her Venice Beach coffee shop, The Cat’s Pajamas, is her pride and joy. While she doesn’t mind the long hours, she finds herself staring dreamily out the window, imagining the life she’s yet to lead. The time has come to take off the apron and see what the world has in store. 

Kate Carpenter needs to get away. And quick. A small-town firefighter, Kate’s been crowned a local hero for reasons she can’t quite get behind. An open highway and some time off have her fleeing the scene to sunny California to catch her breath and put some distance between herself and the unwanted acclaim. Dreamy Autumn Primm was never supposed to be part of that bargain. What Kate needs is a temporary escape, emphasis on temporary.

I read a fair bit of lesbian and queer romance these days – it’s such an escape, and there’s such variety available. Hearts Like Hers fits squarely into the contemporary category, but definitely places high on my list of favourites within that category.

Kate and Autumn are both likeable, realistic characters. They’re both successful in their chosen careers, but less successful in their personal lives. Both women are at crossroads, facing difficult decisions and not expecting to find themselves romantically entangled with someone who might affect the choice they make. I liked that Kate and Autumn’s core traits and personalities remained strong throughout the story, even as their lives became more entwined and they learned to adjust to one another.

There’s quite a cast of secondary characters in the book. The major ones are Autumn’s friends, and Kate’s brother. Autumn’s friends, in particular, bring a lot of depth and colour to the book, fleshing out Autumn’s history and offering advice to both her and Kate, even when it’s not wanted. I also liked the revolving assistants working at Autumn’s coffee shop, each of whom brings their own idiosyncrasies to the story and provides a little comic relief.

The book does deal with some fairly serious issues. Kate’s coping with the aftermath of a serious fire back in her hometown, and Autumn is on the brink of travelling down a life-changing and potentially difficult path. These issues are treated with respect, and Kate and Autumn are shown working through these situations with careful thought, and a lot of discussion as they become more and more important to one another.

The one issue I had was with the epilogue. Without giving away anything about the plot, it felt quite rushed to me, and I think I would have preferred either that there was no epilogue, or else that it was a little longer and more fleshed out.

Hearts Like Hers is a great contemporary romance, with a lovely beach setting and realistic and likeable characters. I would recommend it if you enjoy romance novels which don’t shy away from serious issues, and which examine how sometimes, the things we need are the things we weren’t looking for at all.

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The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles

I received a free e-ARC of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton from NetGalley in return for review consideration. The Belles is a YA fantasy novel, Clayton’s debut, and is due to be published by Gollancz, an imprint of Orion, in the UK on 8th February 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision. 

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

I received a sampler of this book at Gollancz Fest last year, and saw a lot of hype about this book around the bookish parts of the internet, so I was psyched to be approved on NetGalley for the e-ARC. I was also a little apprehensive, as I always am when I pick up something I have such high expectations for. But The Belles did not disappoint. In fact, it brought so much more to the table than I was expecting.

Camellia, the main character is a brilliant protagonist. As she attends the Beauté Carnaval, and leaves the home where she’s grown up, we travel with her and experience a world that’s as new to her as it is to us. The expectations she has for her new life are soon shattered, and as she starts to learn the truth about Orléans and the Belles, the layers of her world are peeled back. She discovers who she can and can’t trust, and that Orléans is a more complicated place than than she could ever have imagined.

The central conceit, that beauty is a finite and carefully controlled commodity, is novel and inspired. As well as providing a strong concept around which to base the story, it allows Clayton to provide commentary on the nature of beauty in our world, and how fickle and changeable its parameters can be. Clayton talks at the end of the book about the inspiration behind the story – her own teenage obsession with beauty, fuelled by the myriad changing images in the media and the damaging way they encourage us to judge our bodies and those of others around us. The way that she’s transformed her own experience into such a fascinating book is incredibly impressive, particularly for a debut novel.

There’s a lot of food-related descriptive language used throughout the book. Colors are raspberry, nutmeg, and milk; perfumes and other scents remind Camellia of sweets and cakes. Aside from making me hungry, I enjoyed how consistent Clayton was with her use of these images, as it really brought Camellia’s character to life for me. I also liked the French language elements; again, it brought depth to the setting of Orléans, making it feel like a distinctive, fully-formed place with its own history and own traditions.

It’s also super important to talk about the fact that this is an #ownvoices book, and one in which diversity is tightly woven into every strand of the story. The Belles is a superb example of how much richer a fictional world is when a wider variety of experiences are represented, something which is sorely needed in all genres.

The Belles is a stunning debut, and well worth your time if you enjoy fascinating new worlds and concepts, insightful commentary on our own world, and a main character whose journey you’ll be desperate to follow into the sequel.


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Top Ten Tuesday – 6th February

I’m doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme, which is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the theme for 6th February is…Books That Have Been On My TBR the Longest and I Still Haven’t Read. In the interests of full disclosure, I read this and realised that I really needed to prune by TBR a little bit! So these are the ten left once I went through and knocked a few off.

  1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – apparently the first book on my TBR list now is a book about books! Oh, the shame.
  2. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – even more shame with this one, as I actually have a copy on the bookshelf (though it might be my girlfriend’s?).
  3. Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner – I think this one might be leftover from my very short-lived attempt to read all the Booker winners. A lot of them don’t actually appeal to me, but this one does, so hopefully I can steal my mum’s copy next time I go back to my parents’.
  4. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb – I borrowed a copy of this from my friend and never got round to reading it. Looks like I’ll need to borrow it again!
  5. The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin – this is the first book in the Hainish Cycle, and I have a copy of this as well. Having enjoyed The Left Hand of Darkness so much more the second time around, I need to move this up my TBR a bit.
  6. Dressing Up for the Carnival by Carol Shields – I love Carol Shields, and this is one of her only books that I haven’t already read.
  7. Maidenhead by Tamara Faith Berger – I seem to remember this being on a Jezebel summer reading list a few years ago. It’s not super highly rated on Goodreads, but I’m still keen to read it.
  8. Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm – I had completely forgotten what this was about, but I just read the synopsis and it sounds so good! This one might need to be pushed up the list a little as well.
  9. A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab – I’ve never read anything by Schwab, so this seems like a good place to start. And the library as it, so there’s no excuse for me not to read it.
  10. Restless by William Boyd – spies!! Need I say more?

So that’s this week’s top ten. What’s at the start of your TBR? And are there things on there that you no longer want to read?

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