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Tag: TBR challenge

SuperWendy's TBR Challenge for January: Big Trouble in Old Shanghai by Jeannie Lin

Argh, I’m a day late. But the “short shorts” prompt for January is my friend. I meant to read all of Jeannie Lin’s newest release for this month but I ran out of time and only had time for the first story. Even this brief return was enough to remind me why I like Jeannie’s work so much.

“Big Trouble in Old Shanghai” is the first in a 3-story collection set in her Gunpowder Alchemy world, and the connection is made in the title of the collection: Tales From the Gunpowder Chronicles. I read the previous two novels and one of the short stories when they came out and really enjoyed them. They’re not straight romance, rather they are wuxia-inspired adventure tales with romantic elements, but they are written with the same careful attention to the historical context of all her stories.

I was halfway through the story before I realized that the title was a riff on Big Trouble in Little China, the 1986 adventure film directed by John Carpenter starring Kurt Russell as Jack Burton. Lin says in her author’s note that the American main character here, Dean Burton, is a tip of the hat more than a recreation of the movie Burton. The narrator and main protagonist is Ming-fen, a young woman who works in the Western concession zone of Shanghai. She has only her elder brother, Ren, after her parents were exiled as traitors by the Manchu Dynasty. Shanghai is roiling with rebels plotting to overthrow the Manchu, and Ren turns out to be smack in the middle of it. Ming-fen has no love for the Manchu rulers, but she doesn’t want to get caught up in rebellions that are bound to leave hundreds if not thousands of innocent people caught in the middle.

But when rebels stark attacking, she’s forced into running for her life. Ren has armed her with a red sash, which signals that she is sympathetic to them, and she is slowly trying to make her way back to her home and hopefully safety when she falls in with Dean Burton, an American businessman she knows from the Dragon’s Den bar where she works. She becomes embroiled in Dean’s furtive activities in ways I won’t detail because the story is best read without spoilers.

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SuperWendy's TBR Challenge for December: The Boys of Christmas by Jane Lovering

It’s the last TBR Challenge post of the year and I’m actually on time. Before I get to the review, though, I want to thank Wendy for organizing the challenge and encouraging us to participate in it in whatever way works for us. This is the first year I’ve managed to fulfill every month’s post (eventually) as well as stick to the categories for the most part. A few weeks ago Wendy was up in the air about whether she would continue, since the number of romance bloggers has dwindled considerably. I didn’t get a chance to weigh in but I am so glad and grateful that she has decided to keep going. Plans for the 2020 Challenge are posted at her blog and I’m absolutely in for the year. Even though I don’t read as much romance anymore, I still enjoy being on the fringes of the community and keeping contact with romance readers and old friends, and I won’t be running out of TBR possibilities any time soon. So thank you, Wendy, for continuing to center romance blogging and reviewing. And if you’re not blogging but you’re on social media, you can join and contribute through those platforms as well.

On to the book. I have a few Lovering titles in my TBR but they’re dwindling because they are the perfect reads when you want a book set in a charming place which features characters who feel down to earth and realistic. The Boys of Christmas is no exception. Mattie has left her controlling, psychologically abusive boyfriend Simon and is figuring out her next moves when she receives an inheritance from her great-aunt Millie. It’s a big, rundown, somewhat scary house in a Dorset village rejoicing in the name Christmas Steepleton (and if you think that’s unlikely, I suggest you look at a map and check out village names in England). And it’s Christmastime! She decides to down to check out her new acquisition, accompanied by her supportive friend Toby.

The weather is as forbidding as the house, and just as cold, but Mattie and Toby make do and set about planning a last-minute Christmas celebration. Mattie is also occupied with meeting the condition of her inheritance, which is to sprinkle Millie’s ashes over “the Boys of Christmas.” Now she just has to figure out who they are. Unraveling this mystery introduces her to a variety of village residents and visitors, and spending her days with Toby deepens their friendship. Toby gently chivvies Mattie into acknowledging and returning to the person she was before Simon drained her of her self-confidence and cheerfulness.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for November: The Memory Collector by Fiona Harper

I’m almost on time! Yeah, not really, but I was away for a week and mostly offline. This month’s challenge was sweet/spicy, i.e., you pick a TBR book that is at one of the ends of the explicitness spectrum. At least that’s how I interpret it. I went for sweet and chose a women’s fiction book by an author whose work I’ve enjoyed in both her Harlequin and single-title incarnations.

Memory Collector cover

The promo for this novel said that it was for fans of Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, a book that I had very mixed feelings about (my review is here). But I thought that Harper was likely to provide me with a good read, so I bought this last year soon after it came out. It’s women’s fiction with a romantic storyline, with a narrator who is 32, single, and struggling with issues. For those of you who have strong feelings about this, it’s told in 1st person present. I didn’t notice it right away but once I did I couldn’t stop noticing.

Heather Lucas looks to be getting along OK. She has a good job, albeit a contract one, as a documentarian and archivist for private collections, she lives in a flat she likes, and she gets along reasonably well with her sister Faith and loves her niece and nephew. But it’s clear from early on that Heather doesn’t have things under control. Her flat is unnaturally pristine except for a spare room which is packed to the ceiling with stuff. And she visits Mothercare a bit too often for someone who doesn’t have children who need what the store sells.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for October: Every Secret Thing by Susanna Kearsley

I know, I know, it’s November so I’m really late, but I did read it (late in October but still October!). So here you go.

Kearsley is one of my favorite authors, but shockingly, I haven’t read all of her available books yet. This one has been in my print and ebook TBR piles for years. TheHusband read it quite a while ago and liked it a lot, but I kept saving it for later. The theme of this month’s challenge is Paranormal/Romantic Suspense, and this novel is at the edge of RS, but Wendy is always saying readers don’t have to follow the categories. Anyway, it’s mysterious and somewhat suspenseful and while it deals with the past, it’s not a timeslip or two-era storyline.

Kate Murray is a Canadian journalist living in London. She is just finishing up covering a trial when an old man approaches her and says he has an important story. She brushes him off, politely but still a brushoff, and as he’s walking away he is hit by a car and dies. Her remorse leads her to try and find out more about the man, Arthur Deacon, and the story he wanted to tell her, which was about a long-ago murder. She has a couple of strange encounters in England which put her on her guard, but it’s when she goes back to Canada that the story really heats up. Her beloved grandmother turns out to have some tantalizing bits of information that fit into Kate’s puzzle, but there are any number of people who don’t want that information to come out.

Kate becomes determined to search for the truth of what Deacon was telling her, a search which takes her back to Europe and to sites of events during World War II. She learns much more about her grandmother’s wartime life as a young single woman, which includes a stint in New York City working for the Canadian version of MI-6, and she finds that she is connected to Arthur Deacon in ways she could never have anticipated. Along the way she meets a mysterious man who is also seeking information on Deacon and the events he described, and they keep running into each other while they are conducting their respective interviews and searches for documentary evidence. Is the man a threat or on her side? It takes a while to find out and I wasn’t sure at all what was going to happen.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for September: A Spanish Affair by Helen Brooks

I read this at the very beginning of the month and had planned to read something else for the challenge, but work keeps intervening and I’m way behind on all my non-required reading. Luckily, this entry on the Harlequin TBR fit September’s challenge, which is “Kicking It Old School,” i.e., a romance published ten or more years ago. A Spanish Affair was first published in 2001, so it definitely qualifies. I like Brooks’s Presents books as a rule; they mix sweet and steamy in a way that works for me. The heroes and heroines tend to fit the Presents formula but are not OTT. This particular novel falls on the sweeter side, by a lot, and it felt almost Burchell-like in terms of the plot, characters, and romance.

Cover of A Spanish Affair

Georgie has left her job to come and take care of her recently widowed elder brother Robert and his two young children. Robert’s business was neglected during his late wife’s final months and it’s now teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Georgie is combining PA and other office duties with childcare, and she’s in the office when a badly needed client comes in. The client, our hero, is Matt de Capistrano, who gets off to a bad start with Georgie when he overhears her disparaging him before she’s even met him. But to give him credit, he sets that aside and deals straightforwardly with Robert and the potential business deal they are considering. Matt makes some calls which enables Robert to continue taking on customers and Georgie swallows her initial reaction to help out her brother.

Matt finds Georgie charming despite her hostility, as one does when one is a Presents hero. He works with her and also pursues her, and she rebuffs him, as one does when one is a Presents heroine. But they continue to be thrown together, including by Robert, who befriends Matt, and by his children, who find him as charming as George eventually will admit he is.

The story cooks along in a workplace-romance, getting-to-know-you way. Then there is a sharp turn and acceleration to the romantic storyline, which is precipitated by Matt’s need to go to his family home in Spain (he is half Spanish, half English). Georgie learns more about his background and family, Matt deals with his feelings for Georgie, etc. etc. All too quickly they have their realization, retreat, return to each other, and HEA.

Overall I enjoyed this quite a bit. There’s nothing terribly unusual happening, Georgie is one of those sensible, pretty, and quietly competent heroines, and Matt’s Spanish-ness is quite dialed down from the usual “Latin Lover” approach, which I appreciated. It was just the timepass I needed when I read it, and it reminded me of how often Helen Brooks writes satisfying categories.

A Spanish Affair is #373 on the Harlequin TBR.