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Tag: TBR challenge

SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for July: Below Deck by Dorien Kelly

This month’s prompt is “contemporary,” which offered me a vast range of choices. I went for this one because I still fondly remember a book Kelly wrote for the old Harlequin Flipside series called Do-Over. It was fun and funny and had an endearing romance. The book I just read is very different, though, and it didn’t work nearly as well for me. Rats.

Below Deck is part of the Harlequin series Mediterranean Nights, in which all the stories are set aboard a cruise ship called Alexandra’s Dream. I’m not a cruise ship person; the idea of being cooped up in a floating hotel with higher-than-average chances of catching communicable diseases has never appealed. (As an aside: I sailed on a couple of famous ocean liners as a child, but those were a whole different thing in a different era.) Nevertheless, it’s a great setting for a romance, since the protagonists are thrown together in a confined space, and they also get to get off the boat in beautiful locales.

Our two MCs are Mei Lin Wang, the ship’s massage therapist, and Gideon Dayan, head of security. Lin has taken the job to get away from the Chinese government, who want to question her about her late husband’s activist colleagues, and to protect her baby from personal and political threats. And of course the baby has to be kept a secret (although multiple other ship employees know about him and help her take care of him). And did I mention that Lin is still nursing baby Wei and has no breast pump, so she is constantly worrying about leaking milk and making sure he’s fed in a consistent way? Realistic and in some ways refreshing, but not really adding to the romantic aura of the story.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for June: Lady Polly

I read this in time for the June 19 deadline but I didn’t get it written up before we left for Wales and then I was occupied with walking and writing about walking. But it’s still June, so at least I made the month.

The prompt challenge for June was historical, of which I have many in the TBR. As usual I chose from my Harlequin TBR and I decided to go with a favorite author. Cornick wrote a bunch of trads before she switched to single-title historicals and I’ve been reading through the new-to-me ones over the last couple of years. They are in the vein of the old Signet Regencies and she knows her historical material so they hit my comfort-read sweet spot. Lady Polly is no different; while I didn’t love every aspect of it, I found it an enjoyable read with a wonderful hero.

The book is part of a series, but while there are clearly characters who starred in an earlier installment, you don’t need to have read it for this story to make sense (I know I’ve read the previous one but I didn’t remember much about it and it didn’t matter).

Lady Polly Seagrave and Lord Henry Marchnight were in love with each other but he became embroiled in a scandal and was considered off-limits by her family. When Lord Henry asked Lady Polly to flout convention and elope, she hesitated and Lord Henry told her that was the end of them forever. Five years later, Polly is still single, refusing every eligible offer she gets. Lord Henry returns from wherever he’s been (somewhere debauching, everyone thinks) and resumes contact with her. Slowly they reestablish trust and admit they still have feelings for each other. But Henry is considered to be too dissolute etc. to be a proper match for Polly. What to do.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for May: Her Cowboy Defender

I wasn’t sure I’d get this month’s book read, let alone post a review on it on time. But I’m just under the wire. This month’s challenge book is from an author with more than one novel on my TBR. Needless to say, I have lots of those available. I chose this Harlequin Intrigue release from 2012 because I’d really liked an earlier book by Connor and as a result I’d bought a few more. I wish I could say that it lived up to my hopes, but I can’t.

Piper Lowry is an accountant in Boston who finds her predictable life upended when her younger sister Tara is kidnapped and her twin, Pam, who is an FBI agent, winds up in a coma after an accident. The two events are related. Piper heads off to New Mexico to try and rescue her sister and meets rancher Cade McClain when she demands, at gunpoint, that he drive her to her rendezvous with the kidnappers. Cade is angry (who wouldn’t be?) but then won over by Piper’s story (yes, really) and decides to help her rescue Tara, who is conveniently being held at the ranch adjoining Cade’s.

The entire novel takes place in a 48-hour period and in that time and category page count Connor has to introduce characters and plot, work through several storylines, and bring about an HEA for Cade and Piper. It isn’t enough. The characters are strangers when they meet and they spend the first 24 hours organizing a rescue. Most of the narrative is taken up with introducing the characters and the plot, to the great detriment of the setting. This is technically set in New Mexico but there is nothing to make the reader realize that. The bulk of the story takes place on Cade’s ranch or adjacent to it, but we never even find out what he does on his ranch (except for a lot of paperwork). Is it a cattle ranch? Sheep? Alpacas? Llamas? Donkeys? (I’ve seen all of those in NM, I think.) Who knows. Not only do we not know what this huge ranch is for, apparently Cade can send off the ranch hands and the cook-housekeeper without missing a beat. Maybe he’s just growing sagebrush and cactus.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for April: Burn for Me

I’ve had this book in my Kindle collection for years. Sirius is a huge Ilona Andrews fan and she bought it for me as a gift. I read about a third of it but then put it aside. I don’t remember why it didn’t work for me, but I just wasn’t engaged. I’ve been meaning to go back to it and this month’s challenge, “Something Different” seemed like a good opportunity because if there’s one subgenre I don’t read, it’s PNR/UF. Yes, I know they’re not the same, but the features they share are the features I generally shy away from.

I cracked it open, started reading, and was immediately engaged with the characters, the world, and above all the voice. I’ve been reading the Andrews’ blog for the last few months, and I could hear the voice that I enjoy there in the book.

I’m guessing many of you have either read the book or know enough about it that you don’t need me to recap. But I’ll give you the setup and a quick summary of the plot. Nevada Baylor owns a private investigation firm in which she’s assisted by her military vet mother and her college-going cousin Bern. They live together with the rest of their family (grandmother, another cousin, and Nevada’s two younger sisters) in a converted warehouse. The firm used to be run by Nevada’s father, but he died a few years earlier from cancer. The treatments took all their money and forced them to sell their house and mortgage the business to one of the big Houses of Houston, where the story is set.

This Houston is our Houston but also not our Houston. The discovery and development of a serum that gave people magical powers has created a world of haves and have-nots based on their magic endowments. The Houses are powerful families who have the highest levels of magic and can use that magic to consolidate and extend their power and influence. Augustine Montgomery has taken on a job for House Pierce, a client, to find their wayward son Adam, who is sought by police for a deadly arson at a bank. Nevada doesn’t want the job but she can’t turn it down. Meanwhile, Adam had a partner from another big House, which brings in Mad Rogan, a vet with his own amazing magic skills.

The plot has two main threads: the search for Adam and the development of a partnership between Nevada and Rogan. Both play out against the backdrop of Nevada’s family, a set of characters who are great fun to spend time with. Nevada has a magic skill but because it’s one that is sought after by governments and law enforcement, she has hidden it and not allowed it to flourish. By contrast, Rogan has obvious and over the top powerful magic skills.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for March: Love and Shenanigans

Love and Shenanigans in the first novel is Zara Keane’s Ballybeg series. I picked up the five-novel boxed set ages ago and it’s been on my ereader for almost as long. Zara is someone I’ve known in Romanceland since before she was a published author, but I’ve had no contact with her for the last couple of years since we’re not on the same social media platforms anymore.

This month’s TBR theme is “favorite trope,” which I had a bit of trouble with because I don’t really read by trope. But I do like certain setups and relationships more than others, no question. I like pretty much any form of romance that involves people who already know each other, whether it’s friends to lovers, second chance at love, friends of siblings, etc. And I’m a total sucker for marriage of convenience. I also have a weakness for small-town romance despite all the problems with those and despite the fact that (or perhaps because) I have never lived in anything remotely approaching a small town. I dug around in my TBR, considered and discarded a few possibilities, and then rediscovered Zara’s books on my ereader.

Love and Shenanigans features a heaping helping of tropes I gravitate toward: small-town childhood friends who discover that their supposedly annulled Las Vegas marriage wasn’t annulled after all. And if that isn’t enough, they find out on the eve of the hero’s marriage to the heroine’s cousin. Talk about piling on. But it totally works, because the main couple are down to earth and fun, and also because the writing doesn’t wink at the reader or camp it up. Yes it’s a ridiculous situation but I bought the whole thing (OK, maybe not the drunken marriage itself, but everything else). Keane is Irish and she writes the heck out of an Irish setting without condescending. It reminded me of Ballykissangel in a good way, i.e., less cloying and clich├ęd. If you step back and think about it then yes there are stereotypes, but they aren’t hitting you over the head.

On to the story. Fiona comes home to Ballybeg to be Maid of Honor at her unpleasant cousin Muireann’s wedding to Gavin. She doesn’t really want to but she wants to please her Aunt Bridie, and it’s her last act before going to Asia and Australia on her sabbatical year from teaching. But then she discovers that her fake marriage to Gavin nine years ago wasn’t as fake as they thought and the fat is in the fire. The fallout at the wedding ceremony results in a hospital visit for Bridie, and Fiona is the only one around who can pick up the slack.

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