Thursday, 18 July 2019

#CBR11 Book 43: "Red, White & Royal Blue" by Casey McQuiston

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 5 stars

#CBR11 Bingo: I Love This

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

What DIDN'T I love about this book? I honestly can't think of a thing. It's been a month and a half since I finished it, and I still think about it ALL the time. I've sent it to several of my friends to make them read it too, just so I'd have someone to gush about its awesomeness with. I know at least two of them have gifted friends and/or family members with copies of the book as well, so at least Casey McQuiston is doing good business out of my enthusiasm. Without a shadow of a doubt, this will be on my "Best of the Year" list come December. It would not surprise me if it ends up in the top three. There was no other book I had in my review backlog that more perfectly fit in the "I Love This" square than this book.

This book is funny, romantic and so affirming. Set in a slightly alternate world I think we all wish was real right now, Ellen Claremont from Texas won the Presidential election after Obama's final term. Her two half-Mexican kids are social media superstars. In the UK, there is still a Queen, but her name is Mary. There's no Prince Charles, only her daughter (who married a famous actor, who played James Bond in the 80s and tragically died of cancer a while back). The queen's eldest grandson is the heir to the throne. There is also Princess Beatrice, who wanted to become a rock star and got a little bit too carried away with cocaine. Then there's everyone's idea of Prince Charming, Henry, the youngest son. If Alex is the most eligible bachelor in the US, Henry is probably the most sought after in all of Europe. Except he has a secret - Henry is extremely and decidedly gay, and has been in love with Alex Claremont-Diaz since they first met at the Rio Olympics when they were in their early teens.

Alex both obsesses over and hates Henry at first, but after a rather monumental New Year's Eve at the White House and a very steamy kiss in the gardens, he's forced to re-evaluate everything he thought he knew about himself and his very confused feelings towards Henry.

Alex and Henry are both great protagonists. If there was one thing that could make this book EVEN better, it's if there had been POV chapters for Henry as well, especially because what we did get to see from his perspective (in his texts and e-mails) was lovely.

There is also a great supporting cast - Alex' sister June, his best friend Nora (the Vice President's brilliant granddaughter), Henry's sister Bea and his best friend Pez are all great. Alex is lucky enough to have three supportive parents. I liked how non-dramatic his parents divorce was and how well they deal with all his revelations (his Mum's powerpoint was both amazing and incredibly cringe-worthy ("Planned Parenthood sent leaflets! They used a bike messenger"). Nora might be the best friend a guy can have. Not sure if she was supposed to be on the spectrum, but her intense fascination for numbers possibly suggested it. Her reaction to Alex' big dramatic "Am I bi?" was hilarious and absolutely amazing and I cannot deny having re-read the scene and snickered several times.

I am frankly blown away by the fact that this is Casey McQuiston's first novel. As far as I can tell, this book is stand-alone, which I'm both relieved with, because I want it to exist as a perfect little nugget of its own, but also conflicted about because I want to see who end up being June, Nora, Bea and/or Pez' happy endings. Suffice to say, I'm going to internet stalk Ms. McQuiston and await her next book with bated breath.

Judging a book by its cover: See, I'm torn between thinking that the pepto bismol pink cover is a cute touch, and being worried that it's virulent pinkness is going to scare off potential readers who may miss out on this amazing reading experience just because they don't want to read something with a cover that colour. The little cartoon dudes seem like pretty good representations of Alex and Henry, though, that's good.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR11 Book 42: "The Bride Test" by Helen Hoang

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars

From Goodreads:
Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love. 

This novel has an unusual and interesting concept for a story. There is the autistic hero - which you don't see too often in romance. The only book I can remember reading with one was The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, which I really didn't like much at all. Obviously, in Helen Hoang's previous novel, The Kiss Quotient, the heroine is on the autism spectrum. Khai, the hero of this book, is the cousin of Michael (the hero of The Kiss Quotient). 

It's very difficult for me to say how authentic Khai is as an example of someone on the autism spectrum, but since this is an #Ownvoices story, and the author became really huge with The Kiss Quotient, I cannot imagine she hasn't done her research properly. While Khai frequently struggles with social interaction, he's clearly not someone to really be pitied and he's clearly doing excellently business wise. One of the things I like about the book is that we never actually have it confirmed just how wealthy and successful Khai is, it's all just hinted at.

We also have an immigrant heroine, from a very poor background, in a situation that veers closely towards the arranged marriage trope. Esme (this is the Westernised name our heroine gives herself, because her favourite Disney movie is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Her Vietnamese name is given as M. From now on I will refer to her as M/Esme.) works at a cleaner at a fancy hotel. She lives with her mother and grandmother, as well as her little girl, and everyone (except the child) has to work hard to make ends meet. The amount of money Khai's mother is willing to pay her, even if she never makes a match with her son, is staggering. M/Esme would be able to secure a much better life for her child and extended family, especially if she gets a job while in the States (which she insists on, as she doesn't want to be useless and a burden). M/Esme also has a vague hope of being able to track down her own father, who may or may not be connected with Stanford university in some way.

There are huge cultural and social differences between the main couple. The whole book is pretty much nothing but misunderstandings from either side. Yet while something like that could annoy the crap out of me in a different book, here it's entirely understandable, as the couple are separated by background, culture, language - one of them is neuro divergent, the other is desperately trying to rise above her lack of education and impoverished background. Early on, M/Esme lies and claims to have a background in accounting, because a successful, handsome man like Khai couldn't possibly come to love her if he knew she was just a hotel maid. She works diligently not just to learn English as perfectly as possible during her stay, but also starts taking evening classes to make the lie a reality.

M/Esme is the real star of this story, she's such a fierce, wonderful, determined heroine. Even when she's desperately poor, she has morals and while she keeps her daughter a secret from Khai's mother and Khai himself for much of the book, she feels so guilty about it. She also makes it clear early on that she is not a prostitute and that Khai needs to be a willing suitor, she's not going to lie and manipulate him, just because Khai's mother wants him to get married. It made me sad that M/Esme always took pretty much every misunderstanding between her and  Khai as criticism of her and her background, but also served to make her all the more determined to make something more of herself.

I would say that more important than the actual romance in this book is M/Esme's journey of self discovery. Her learning to appreciate her self worth, that even if she's a poor, uneducated single mother from a small Vietnamese village, she deserves respect, love and happiness. She works so hard to make herself something, setting an example for her daughter. The sections where she thinks about her little girl or talks to her over the phone, broke my heart a little bit.

Is it always going to be like this when I read or watch TV and movies now? Because I have a child of my own, I'm going to find stories of motherhood and especially mothers sacrificing for their children, so incredibly painful. M/Esme has recurring nightmares about her daughter's father (who has a rich wife) showing up and taking the little girl away from her. She really has no choice but to leave her daughter for a few months, but I still found it difficult to read about, in a way I can't remember feeling before I had a little boy of my own.

In the afterword, Ms. Hoang says this story is inspired by her mother, who came to America after the Vietnam war and worked tirelessly to create a future for herself, her family and her future children. I cannot imagine a better tribute to what sounds like a very impressive woman. Hoang also confesses that M/Esme wasn't initially meant to be the heroine, but the third in the love triangle who lost out, so to speak. I'm so glad she changed her mind and the story, because while Khai was perfectly fine, M/Esme is who made the entire book for me.

Of the two books Ms. Hoang has written so far, this is now my favourite. The next book in the series is going to be about Khai's non-neuro divergent brother, who plays an important supporting part in this one. I don't think Helen Hoang has proven herself worthy of my pre-order list yet, but if her third novel is as satisfying, she won't be far off.

Judging a book by its cover: There seems to be a trend at the moment for a lot of "mainstream" contemporary romance to be packaged with illustrated covers, which sometimes works better than others. It can sometimes come off as a bit too twee, but I really like this one. The warm yellow background, the woman intently studying. The whimsical aeroplanes and their trails across the page, with the most prominent making a heart-shape. It makes me happy to look at and that's not a bad thing at all.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

#CBR11 Book 41: "Serious Moonlight" by Jenn Bennett

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

From Goodreads:
Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where Birdie waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that the most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

Birdie has grown up on a small island outside Seattle, raised by her grandparents after her mother died. Her mother's best friend, an eccentric artist, has also acted as a sort of unofficial co-parent. Birdie also suffers from narcolepsy, but after her grandmother's death, she's managed to convince her grandfather to let her have a part-time job, working the night shift at one of the hotels in the city.

Birdie is taken aback to discover that one of her new co-workers is Daniel, the handsome young man she met and had an impulsive one-night-stand with, assuming she'd never see him again. Instead, he seems very interested in becoming friends (and possibly more) and when he discovers that she's a mystery aficionado, he tempts her with a mystery in the very hotel they work. He's pretty sure he's discovered the real identity of an elusive crime writer, who seems to have secretive meetings regularly at the hotel. He enlists Birdie's help to try to figure out who the writer really is, and what the meetings at the hotel are all about.

Alex, Approximately, the first novel I'd read by this author, ended up on my best of 2017 list. While Serious Moonlight was sweet and I liked it well enough when I read it, it's once again proven that with a little time passing, I barely remember what the book was about and books that can't stay in my memory after two months, are probably not full four star books. I really do need to get better about taking notes while, or certainly straight after I finish a book, to help me review them when I inevitably fall behind, like I have ALL year. I'd like to be able to say that the second half of the year will be different and I will be better, but we all know that's a big fat lie.

This was a sweet book, and both Birdie and Daniel were likable protagonists. Birdie has suffered some pretty tragic losses in her life, and because she's been home schooled and kept very sheltered by her grandparents, she has some difficulty socialising with new people and she certainly seems terrified of actually making a real and lasting connection with anyone. While she's clearly eager to get out into the world to experience new things, she also seems terrified of real change.

This is a nice little YA romance, but unless 2019 turns out to be a pretty sad reading year, I doubt this book is going to end up on my "Best of the Year" list.

Judging a book by its cover: Jenn Bennett's publisher seems to be very good about finding cozy and inviting looking covers for her books. As several of the important scenes in this book take place in a diner, this seems like a very appropriate choice. The cover models they've chosen look pretty much like the protagonists of the novel, too, which is always nice.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 15 July 2019

#CBR11 Book 40: "A Prince on Paper" by Alyssa Cole

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

#CBR11 Bingo: Birthday (Alyssa Cole's birthday is August 12th)

From Goodreads:
Nya Jerami fled Thesolo for the glitz and glamour of NYC but discovered that her Prince Charming only exists in her virtual dating games. When Nya returns home for a royal wedding, she accidentally finds herself up close and personal—in bed—with the real-life celebrity prince who she loves to hate.

For Johan von Braustein, the red-headed step-prince of Liechtienbourg, acting as paparazzi bait is a ruse that protects his brother—the heir to the throne—and his own heart. When a royal referendum threatens his brother’s future, a fake engagement is the perfect way to keep the cameras on him.

Nya and Johan both have good reasons to avoid love, but as desires are laid bare behind palace doors, they must decide if their fake romance will lead to a happily-ever-after.

I keep reading such effusive reviews about Alyssa Cole's Reluctant Royals series, and I really do want to like the book. At it turns out I like this better than A Duke by Default, but it still took me nearly a week to read it, which is an really unforgivably long time, considering the book has fewer than 400 pages, and shows that the book just isn't capturing my attention all that much.

The heroine of this book is Nya, who is very sweet and possibly a bit too perfect. She is inexperienced and has grown up very sheltered, because her father would actually secretly poison her every time she showed any signs of independence. She'd get ill and feel insecure, and only after her father was arrested after some sort of nefarious plot in book one (which I still haven't read) did Nya realise the truth and come to see that she needed to expand her horizons. Due to her sheltered upbringing, she doesn't really want to put herself out there, and plays a number of fantasy romance games on her phone instead of talking to, you know, real men. While Nya was clearly very kind, and open minded, and altruistic and understanding and so forth,  I wanted her to maybe be a bit more flawed, and have more of a personality. She was just a bit dull, if I'm completely honest.

Oh, the thing that annoyed me the most about her - while we're not quite in the realms of Anastasia Steele, who can't even think about her lady parts except as "down there", Nya is apparently so "charmingly innocent" that she seriously refers to sexual organs as aubergine and peach emoji. This would MAYBE be ok if it had happened once, but nope, it's a recurring thing throughout the book, and completely took me out of the scene every time. Not sexy in the slightest.

Johan, is the playboy prince with a bunch of emotional baggage because of unresolved issues after his Mum died. He as a very public persona that he uses to keep the press attention away from his younger brother, but doesn't actually speak with said brother all that much anymore and as a result, they've grown apart. Johan spends most of his free time working with charities (but doesn't want public to know he's actually a super good guy, because that would interfere with his shallow himbo image). In truth, Johan is really very private and dealing with a lot of anxiety - he's terrified to properly love ever again because the loss of his mother still affects him so much. He should clearly desperately see a therapist. Of course, for all that he is terrified of attachment, he clearly cares deeply about his brother and is upset about their estrangement, and he's a very caring and considerate fake boyfriend to Nya, letting her set the pace and making sure he has her enthusiastic consent for every new step of their relationship.

This book is pretty much the contemporary equivalent of the rake and the wallflower (to the point where Johan calls Nya "wallflower" for part of the book), but it was a lot less interesting to me than most historicals with the same trope.

Johan's stepfather is the king of the little fictional European country of Lichtenbourg. The country is about to have a big referendum about whether to abolish the monarchy once and for all, and one of the primary reasons given for Nya and Johan to have their big, public pretend relationship is so the Royal family gets positive press. There is a subplot involving  figuring out who's been working to sabotage the referendum, with anti-Royal graffiti and a number of negative and hostile posts on social media. I don't even want to call it a mystery, as it's really extremely obvious who the responsible individual is.

I don't really want to spoil the nature of the identity crisis that Johan's younger brother is experiencing. Suffice to say, he feels that Johan and his dad, the king, have unrealistic expectations of him, and doesn't feel like he can talk to his brother. Because of this, he is acting out in creative and pretty typical teenage ways, but when the fate of the future monarchy is at stake, having a public temper tantrum may not be the best idea.

Nothing in A Prince on Paper evoked anything like the stabbing rage I felt when reading the previous book in the series, but there were things that made me roll my eyes a lot. Nya's aforementioned inability to refer to human sexual organs by their actual names; the fact that "Lichtenbourgian" was really just a hodge podge of French and German (although this is actually jokingly acknowledged in the book) and Johan's weird tendency to go Oh la la (sometimes with a lot more las). Also, I just super hate the nickname Jo Jo for Johan. It's the opposite of sexy.

I should probably just accept that when it comes to Alyssa Cole, her historical romances are more my jam than her contemporaries. She's not on the "stay away at all costs" list, like Bella Andre and Sonali Dev (they know what they did). I still own the first book in the series, though, so will probably end up reading it at some point. My expectations will not be swayed by gushing internet reviews anymore, though.

Judging a book by its cover: For all that I seem incapable of feeling anything but fairly lukewarm towards these novels, I cannot deny that the covers for this series are excellent. Ginger romance heroes aren't exactly the norm, so it's always nice to see an attractive redheaded dude on a cover (and in a book). The dress that the female cover model is wearing is utterly gorgeous (and I love that Alyssa Cole wore it for at least one of her promotional appearances for this book).

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR11 Book 39: "Someone Like You" by Lauren Layne

Page count: 249 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

From Goodreads:
Lincoln Mathis doesn’t hide his reputation as Manhattan’s ultimate playboy. In fact, he cultivates it. But behind every flirtatious smile, each provocative quip, there’s a secret that Lincoln’s hiding from even his closest friends—a tragedy from his past that holds his heart quietly captive. Lincoln knows what he wants: someone like Daisy Sinclair, the sassy, off-limits bridesmaid he can’t take his eyes off at his best friend’s wedding. He also knows that she’s everything he can never have.

After a devastating divorce, Daisy doesn’t need anyone to warn her off the charming best man at her sister’s wedding. One look at the breathtakingly hot Lincoln Mathis and she knows that he’s exactly the type of man she should avoid. But when Daisy stumbles upon Lincoln’s secret, she realizes there’s more to the charming playboy than meets the eye. And suddenly Daisy and Lincoln find their lives helplessly entwined in a journey that will either heal their damaged souls . . . or destroy them forever.

Lincoln Mathis is the best man at his friend Alex's wedding. The bride, Emma, specifically asks Lincoln, who has a reputation as a bit of a man ho to stay away from the maid of honour, Emma's twin sister Daisy. Daisy finds it amusing that she's being told to stay away from Lincoln, so of course the two of them end up running away from the reception and getting drunk together. When Daisy wakes up in Lincoln's bed the next day, she puzzles over his Lothario reputation, as during their whole evening together, he talked to a number of women, but was never once anything but respectful, and nothing about his apartment suggests that he has frequent female visitors. In fact, he seems to be covering for something.

Because of the connection they seem to have formed over drinks, Lincoln reveals something to Daisy that he hasn't told anyone else about, the reason why he makes everyone around him think that he sleeps with pretty much any woman who crosses his path. Unlike Bruce Wayne, billionaire philanthropist, who does much the same, it's not because Lincoln is Batman - it's because he needs to stay completely unattached, as he's not exactly free to be in a relationship. I don't really want to spoil the full details of Lincoln's complicated secrets, though.

Daisy has secrets of her own and is trying to recover from both a difficult divorce and the reasons for why the marriage fell apart in the first place. While she certainly finds Lincoln attractive, she appreciates the honesty and vulnerability he shows her, that he's clearly not ready to share with any of his New York friends. The two build a friendship through texting and soon get very close, but since Daisy knows Lincoln's secret, she also knows not to get too attached.

Yet again, it feels like I'm just churning out generalities about a book I can only partially remember. At least I've caught up enough in my reviews to be reviewing books I read "only" TWO months ago, rather than three. Here we come to another romance that was perfectly fine at the time of me reading it, which I can only fuzzily remember details about now. This book is also the third book in a series, Oxford, about the men who work for a New York based men's magazine, in itself a spin-off of Lauren Layne's four-book Stiletto series, about the writers of Oxford's "sister" magazine. From the Goodreads reviews, I gather there are cameos from pretty much all of the previous couples in the books that have gone before, making the pages of this book rather crowded with characters who aren't all that necessary for the central story.

From what I can gather from other reviews on Goodreads, this was an anticipated book, and Lincoln has been a scene stealing supporting characters earlier in the series. Obviously, having no foreknowledge of the books that came before, I don't know if the secrets revealed about him come as a satisfying reveal or if it seems a bit forced. I liked his relationship with Daisy, and that they became friends before they fell in love. This book deals with different kinds of grief and trauma as well, and if I remember correctly, it was all sensitively handled.

I should probably read some other books in Layne's Stiletto and Oxford series, then this book may feel more meaningful to me.

Judging a book by its cover: Ah, a contemporary romance cover focusing on the chiseled face of a male model, heavily channeling Ben Stiller's Zoolander. Look at that face, so sensitive, so earnest. See his hidden man pain. I like to make my own mental images of the characters, so this cover does very little for me. The teal in the background is nice, though.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

#CBR11 Book 38: "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" by Judy Blume

Page count: 160 pages
Rating: 3 stars

#CBR11 Bingo: Banned/Challenged (has been on the list among the most banned/challenged books for several decades now)

Margaret Simon, almost twelve, has just moved from New York City to the suburbs, and she’s anxious to fit in with her new friends. When she’s asked to join a secret club she jumps at the chance. But when the girls start talking about boys, bras, and getting their first periods, Margaret starts to wonder if she’s normal. There are some things about growing up that are hard for her to about, even with her friends. Lucky for Margaret, she’s got someone else to confide in . . . someone who always listens.

Eleven-year-old Margaret moves to the New Jersey suburbs with her parents and is very worried about fitting in. She misses her colourful grandmother and the things she's used to in New York City. Nevertheless, she seems to make friends quickly enough, but is slightly worried when asked about what church she goes to. Margaret's parents don't believe in God. Her paternal grandmother is Jewish, her maternal grandparents (who the family is estranged from) are Christian, but Margaret's parents don't seem to hold with any religion, and it makes Margaret confused and questioning. She keeps talking to God, pretty much using her one-sided conversations like a sort of journal, and asking questions, not really sure if he's up there somewhere or not.

Margaret and three of her new friends form a secret club, where they are mostly concerned with talking about boys, chanting mantras to get their chests to grow and worry a lot about menstruation and what it will be like when one of them gets it. They have a lot of rules (like you can't wear socks with shoes - that way blisters lie) and gossip about other girls in their year (often very unfairly). It all seems pretty standard pre-teen stuff, especially in how much they talk about things they really know very little about.

Margaret spends much of the book questioning a lot of things and desperately wanting to start puberty. As someone who developed fairly early, I would probably have been more like some of the girls Margaret and her friends gossiped about (if I hadn't been so very nerdy and completely unnoticed by any boys). I do remember being super curious about having your period, and both wanting and dreading its arrival. It's really quite sad how much time and energy young women over the years seem to have expended on wishing for something that is a literal and figurative pain, when they should instead be thanking their lucky stars for as long as they can remain free of it.

This book is older than I am, and seems to have been controversial for a long time. It's appeared on the list of banned and challenged books for decades (I'm assuming both for its questions about religion, and its frank depiction of menstruation and how to deal with it) and I suspect that if I'd read it when I was closer to Margaret's age, rather than nearly forty years old, it would have made a lot more of an impact on me. As it was, I kept waiting for Margaret to get a clue about her judgy so-called friends an realise what a good thing she had with her supportive parents and cool paternal grandmother. I should probably read more Judy Blume, but I fear I'm far from the target audience anymore.

Judging a book by its cover: This isn't a particularly exciting cover, and it has very little to do with anything the book is actually about. Yes, Margaret is searching for answers and questioning things, but this isn't a romance, where she's risking her heart, so I'm not sure why the cover model is holding a paper one. A bit too generically YA here, and not great.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR11 Book 37: "Nobody But You" by Jill Shalvis

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is the third and final book in the Cedar Ridge series. I have reviewed the first two books in the series, Second Chance Summer and My Kind of Wonderful for previous Cannonballs. You don't have to have read these to get the book to make sense, but it has more emotional resonance if you've at least read book 2 (which is about this hero's twin brother).

Jacob and Hudson Kincaid's mother started getting dementia at an early age, and it became very difficult for the twins to manage the household with an absent father and a sick mother. As it turns out, they were not their father's only family, and Jacob and Hudson were pretty much adopted by the matriarch of the Kincaids at Cedar Ridge. She takes them, and their mother, in and the boys help out with the family business. Nevertheless, Jacob can't wait to get out of town when he's old enough, something his twin can't understand. They have a truly epic argument when they turn eighteen, and Jacob goes off to join the army, believing his brother (and extended family) want nothing to do with him ever again.

Jacob has not been completely off the grid, however. Unbeknownst to Hudson, and the rest of his family, he has been calling his mother once a week, visiting her in secret at her care home when he had leave, and has also been sending as much money as he can to help with her treatment and hospital stays. So while he hasn't seen any family members except his mum for the last decade or so, Cedar Ridge is the natural place for him to go when his partner is killed in a horrible accident and he's placed on extended bereavement leave.

Sophie fell in love with and married a rich and handsome man that her parents didn't approve of. She moved to Cedar Ridge with him and did everything she could to please him, only to discover that he became more and more consumed with his status and career, and less and less happy with Sophie. When she discovers that he's been using his precious boat to have affairs with not one, but several women, she is furious. In the divorce proceedings, she refuses to accept anything but her husband's precious boat, knowing that's the only thing that will really hurt him. Unfortunately, because her husband is very powerful, she's suddenly left without a job and a bad reputation in town, forced to live on a boat she hates, when she suffers from seasickness. Spite is all well and good, but it doesn't really pay the bills. She doesn't really have the money for docking fees, so keeps sailing the boat around and sneakily parking it where she thinks no one will catch her - like at the dock by the empty rental cottage - that turns out to be rented by Jacob Kincaid.

Jacob needs to grieve his best friend and try to reconnect with his family after far too many years away. Sophie needs to find a job, a permanent home and regain trust in men and relationships, after her ex-husband did a number on her. They are very attracted to each other, and quickly decide to act on their pants feelings, both assuring the other that it can't be anything but a fling, as they are incapable of feeling real love. I'm sure you can guess where the story goes from there.

This is an entertaining and fun read, and it finished off the story of the extended Kincaid clan (there is also a secondary romance in the book involving the wild Kincaid sister, which was very sweet). As I mentioned before, you can read the book as a stand alone, but the bigger story threads that are finished off, will be better if you've read the first two books as well.

Judging a book by its cover: The only thing I can say in favour of this cover is that it's still better than the twee pastel illustrated thing that they've chosen for the UK cover of this series. This just smacks of excessive photoshopping, and the cover designer throwing something together at the last minute. Um, we need some mountains and idyllic landscape in the background, a lake would be good too. Does it matter if the scenery looks like it's from three different pictures? Nah, I'm sure no one notice. Then just find some rugged dude to paste in front. Bonus if he has dog tags around his neck, since the hero of this book is in the armed forces. No, you don't need to make sure it's neat or seamless - it's perfectly adequate and that'll have to do.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.