Tuesday, 26 September 2023
Total page count: 733 pages
Rating both books: 4 stars
In Men at Arms, there's a series of mysterious deaths in Ankh-Morpork, and the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, strictly forbids Sam Vimes, the head of the City Watch to investigate, thus ensuring that he will do the exact opposite. Vimes, Carrot, Nobbs and Colon, who used to be the whole of the Watch have been joined by new recruits to diversify the Watch, Cuddy (a dwarf), Detritus (a troll) and Angua (a werewolf, although Carrot believes it to be because she's a woman). As the ragtag group of individuals learn to work together (trolls and dwarfs are sworn enemies), it turns out that the murder is part of a plot to replace Vetinari with a king, since the plotters have discovered who is the rightful heir. As well as 'disobeying' Vetinari and investigating the string of murders, Vimes is also super stressed about his upcoming wedding to Lady Sybil Vimes, the richest woman in Ankh-Morpork (who insists on being traditional and transferring all of her money and assets to Vimes upon their marriage).
Obviously, in each of the books, the rather complicated central mysteries are eventually sold, and at the end of each book, poor Samuel Vimes seems to end up promoted into an even higher social sphere as a reward for his loyal service. The Watch keeps expanding, in Feet of Clay, Cheery Littlebottom, a dwarf from Uberwald (think the location of every Hammer horror movie ever) joins the team as a forensic expert and comes to several conclusions about their identity over the course of the book.
A perusal of my blog shows that back in 2010 I read and reviewed quite a few Pratchett novels. I also reviewed my re-read of Soul Music in 2015 and my revisit of Guards Guards in 2021. The meticulous records of my reading history (a lined notebook where I've written down everything I've read since back in 2007 - it'll survive even if technology fails!) show that while Pratchett is an incredibly important writer to me and his books have brought me so much joy over the years, I haven't really re-read many of his books in the last 10-15 years. My husband and my BFF Lydia have both warned me not to read Raising Steam (his penultimate Discworld novel and the book where it's the most clear that Alzheimers had stolen away too much of his brain) and although we have a lovely hardback copy of it on our bookshelf, I still am not emotionally ready enough to read The Shepard's Crown - his very last novel before he died. Especially not now that I lost my mother this winter. If I read his final book, it becomes irrevocable that he's gone.
Re-reading these books is absolutely nostalgic for me. I read a lot of them during my student years in St. Andrews in Scotland back in the late 1990s-early 2000s and because Pratchett has always been one of my husband's favourite authors, we had a lot of enjoyment reading the books together in the early years of our relationship. The great thing about Pratchett is how versatile he was as an author. He didn't just write police procedural novels with a fantastical twist like he does with the City Watch novels. Because his creativity and cleverness were so vast, he was able to write very funny, but also sharp, insightful, and frequently satirical books and make a lot of astute observations while doing so. Not to mention his mastery of language. There are so many puns - so many amazing turns of phrase. There really was no one entirely like him.
Judging the books by their covers: My Pratchett novels are the original paperback editions with cover art by Josh Kirby. I know they've been redesigned several times since. While I don't always agree with the way the various characters get depicted on the covers, it's always fun to see plot elements hinted at on each of the covers.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Monday, 18 September 2023
Rating, both stories: 4.5 stars
CBR15 Bingo: On the Road
On a moon (that seems quite like Earth in many respects) called Panga, people live peacefully together in harmonious small communities. There are remnants of a previous industrial age, and it's suggested that there was a near apocalypse way back when, but humanity improved and started thinking about what was better for their environment, possibly helped by the exodus of their robots. At some point, in the distant past, many generations ago, the robots that had been working in the factories and enabled humans to industrialise most everything, gained sentience and asked the humans for their freedom. This seems to have been managed without any major conflict - no Terminator-style rise of the machines on Panga. When offered an equal place in society as the humans themselves had, the robots instead chose to leave society entirely and go off into the untouched wilderness to observe it in all its glory.
Hence no one has seen any robots for a very, very long time, until one of our protagonists, Sibling Dex (they/them), a restless monk, encounters the other of our protagonists, the robot Mosscap, during his possibly inadvisable trek through the wilderness. Sibling Dex, initially a monk working in a monastic society in the city started yearning for the sound of crickets, something they certainly would never experience living and working where they were. So they retrained and became a tea monk, an individual who travels around to all the far-flung human settlements in a little wagon supplied with teas and tisanes and on their stops along the way offer up tea and a little oasis of calm to anyone who feels like joining them. Sibling Dex works diligently to make their various blends and brews and after some false starts, becomes a sympathetic and caring listener to those who wish to unburden themselves while enjoying a cup of tea in their presence.
After some time of travelling to the various small communities, Sibling Dex is forced to acknowledge that not even becoming a tea monk has managed to soothe the unease inside them, and they still haven't been able to find any crickets to listen to. So they somewhat rashly decide to leave settled human society and venture into the wilderness in search of a rumoured ruined monastery, where there may still be crickets. Sibling Dex is rather taken aback at encountering Mosscap (full name Splendid Speckled Mosscap - the robots take their name from the first thing they see when they first wake up). Mosscap, on the other hand, is delighted to meet Sibling Dex. Being wild-built, a robot created by some of the descendants of the first robots to achieve sentience, Mosscap has proposed to venture into the human world to find out how humanity is now doing and discover what they need. Sibling Dex tries to explain that this is a very large task, which might even be impossible, considering how many different humans there are and how many dreams and wishes exist among them.
After some back and forth, Mosscap decides to accompany Sibling Dex through the wilderness in search of crickets, while Sibling Dex agrees to be the robot's guide to humanity. On their continuing journey, they have many lovely and meaningful conversations and begin to become unlikely friends.
In A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, Sibling Dex and Mosscap's friendship and mutual understanding deepen, as Sibling Dex takes Mosscap around to villages and cities on Panga, so Mosscap can try to answer their question of what humans want. Among the places they visit is Sibling Dex's own home, and large and boisterous family.
These lovely novellas, which came to be during the deeply depressing years of the Covid pandemic are relatively short (I wish I'd gotten to spend more time with Sibling Dex and Mosscap) and very gentle, philosophical reads. They are apparently classified as solarpunk - an optimistic vision of a more sustainable future, where there are close connections between nature and community. This certainly seems to fit the bill here. Everything seems carefully crafted, sustainable, and solar-powered, and people live with an awareness of and respect for nature, making sure not to make too serious a footprint while building their settlements. Considering the world we currently live in, it's a wonderful fantasy.
Chambers is a talented writer, whose characterisation and world-building in the previous novels I've read, are all excellent. These novellas are no different and like the people who sit by Sibling Dex's tea wagon for a spell, unburdening themselves about various troubles and receiving kind-hearted advice in return, these books felt like a balm for my soul, containing a lot of philosophy and musings on what makes us happy, what makes for a satisfying life and so forth, but also just cozy, low-peril plots that nevertheless entertained. Chambers has been nominated for a lot of awards for these stories and won the Hugo Award for Best Novella 2022 for A Psalm for the Wild-Built and the Locus Award for Best Novella 2022 for A Prayer for the Crown-Shy.
I don't know if there are more novellas planned about Sibling Dex and Mosscap, since these seem to have come out in 2021 and 2022, and there has been nothing since. Checking her blog, it seems as if she's on hiatus from writing for an undisclosed period of time because of bereavement, so it may be a while before we see anything at all from her, not just about Monk and Robot.
Judging the books by their covers: I don't really have much to say, except that these covers are so very lovely and give tiny hints of what the books contain. I especially like the windy roads on the cover of A Psalm for the Wild-Built and the lovely combination of colours on A Prayer for the Crown-Shy. There's something about the images that just feels soothing. They make me feel calmer and happier just looking at them.
Sunday, 10 September 2023
Rating: 4 stars
CBR15 Bingo: Relation"ship" (A book about sisterly love, romantic love and featuring large fishing boats)
Apparently, our heroine, Piper Bellinger, is strongly inspired by Alexis Rose in Schitt's Creek, Tessa Bailey wanted her to have her own happy ending. First of all, I'm not really sure I think Alexis was too badly off at the end of the show, just because she wasn't shacked up with a man. Her ending seemed perfectly happy to me - not all HEAs need to involve a romantic partner. No matter what provided the initial inspiration, I'm glad Tessa Bailey wrote this book. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it's a really fun read.
The Piper we meet at the start of the book really hasn't ever had to face any kind of financial hardship, but she also doesn't really have anyone she's close to, except her sister Hannah. The men she dates see her as a vacuous bimbo and she's never really had a romantic relationship last very long. Apart from her sister, she doesn't really have anyone to talk to or confide in, and she seems to move from party to party, with her rich stepfather's money bailing her out of any problem she might encounter. She documents her rather empty life on social media, being very conscious of her public image, and when her latest boyfriend dumps her, she wants to feel relevant, breaks into a hotel's rooftop pool (where she is joined by hundreds of people) and causes a scandal big enough that her stepfather might actually end up losing backers on his current project. He decides that enough is enough, she needs to learn how to live in the real world.
Piper's real dad was a fisherman from the Pacific Northwest, who drowned in a storm when she was only a toddler and her sister was a baby. Their mother has never really told them much about that time, as the memories are very painful to her. It turns out that their dad, as well as being a fisherman, owned a bar in his hometown, and Piper's stepdad is sending her there for three months to see if she can survive in the real world, with a limited budget, having to do her own cooking, cleaning and chores. Hannah, who actually has a job and mostly stays out of the limelight, refuses to let her sister be sent into exile by herself, and insists on coming with her.
The two women are woefully unprepared for what they find in the small town of Westport, Washington. Their father's bar turns out to be more of a shack, where the locals hang out and get drunk between fishing trips. The tiny apartment at the top where they're supposed to live is utterly filthy, full of dust, dirt, and vermin and there isn't even a separate bedroom, just a bunk bed in a corner of the main space.
Brendan Taggert is a successful crab fisherman in Westport. His wife died seven years ago, but he still wears his wedding ring, as he feels her memory deserves it. Like the other locals, he's absolutely baffled when he sees the Bellinger sisters arrive, especially Piper, in her couture outfits, looking as out of place as a peacock would in a muddy field. Initially, Brendan underestimates Piper and her sister, not believing for a second that they'll be able to survive in the rough quarters available to them, and an incident where Piper causes a fire on one of her first nights, trying to cook for Hannah, seems to prove him right.
Piper and Hannah are determined to prove their stepfather wrong, however, and since they're stuck in Westport, they do their best to make their run-down apartment cozy and livable. They also emerge on a project to turn the run-down shack into an actual bar, in part to prove to their stepdad that they can achieve something concrete, but later as a way to make a proper memorial for their dad. In Westport, they meet their grandmother for the first time, and their openness and kindness make them a lot of unlikely friends. Before he knows it, Brendan is completely smitten with Piper, who clearly returns his attraction. However, Piper isn't really intending to stay in Westport any longer than the three months her stepdad has demanded and is also very aware of her mother's warnings about falling for fishermen. Their mother never got over the heartbreak of losing their father and admonished her daughters before they left that fishermen are frequently very handsome and charismatic, but live very dangerous lives and might have much shorter life expectancies than other men.
It won't surprise anyone that obviously Piper and Brendan find a way to make their relationship work, but the road there is paved with storms, misunderstandings, ultimatums, and some pretty spectacular "take me back" groveling. It also has a section that brought to mind one of my favourite articles from the much-missed The Toast ever: Things I've Learned About Heterosexual Female Desire from Decades of Reading. Brendan isn't stupid, and he doesn't quite build Piper a bed of oak and devotion, but he certainly takes on a major construction project for her, showing off his impressive muscles while building.
There's clearly a follow-up romance teased between Hannah, Piper's music-loving sister, and Fox, Brendan's first mate, who clearly sleeps around a lot but I have no doubt will become staunchly monogamous if Hannah just gets over her very unrequited crush on the film director she works for (who is deeply unworthy of her, obviously). Based on this book, I'm already looking forward to the sequel.
Judging a book by its cover: Another animated cover, but at least the little drawn people look mostly like the characters they're supposed to be. Romantic heroes with beards exist in romance, but seem to be few and far between, and you certainly don't see their beards frequently on the covers. So kudos for that, I guess.
Saturday, 2 September 2023
Rating: 3 stars
CBR15 Bingo: Hold Steady (Wren is in quite a rut at the start of the book)
Official book description:
Wren Roland has never been kissed, but he wants that movie-perfect ending more than anything. Feeling nostalgic on the eve of his birthday, he sends emails to all the boys he (ahem) loved before he came out. Morning brings the inevitable Oh God What Did I Do?, but he brushes that panic aside. Why stress about it? None of his could-have-beens are actually going to read the emails, much less respond. Right?
Enter Derick Haverford, Wren's #1 pre-coming-out-crush and his drive-in theater's new social media intern. Everyone claims he's coasting on cinematic good looks and his father's connections, but Wren has always known there's much more to Derick than meets the eye. Too bad he doesn't feel the same way about the infamous almost-kiss that once rocked Wren's world.
Whatever. Wren's no longer a closeted teenager; he can survive this. But as their hazy summer becomes consumed with a special project that may just save the struggling drive-in for good, Wren and Derick are drawn ever closer...and maybe, finally, Wren's dream of a perfect-kiss-before-the-credits is within reach.
A feel-good summer LGBTQIA+ New Adult RomCom, perfect for fans of Red White & Royal Blue, Boyfriend Material, and What If It's Us.
I feel quite bad for authors whose publishers keep trying to sell their books based on what's been popular and sold lots already. Now, I haven't read What If It's Us yet, so I can't speak for this one, but pretty much the ONLY similarity between this book and Red, White & Royal Blue or Boyfriend Material is that it features a romance between two men. I adore the aforementioned books, they are both five-star comfort re-reads for me. I'm sorry to say that this book is nowhere near as witty, heart-warming, or entertaining as those books. Had I read the wildly misleading publisher boast before I picked up this book? No, because I tend to ignore stuff like that (cause it's ALWAYS lies) - but if I had, I would have been even more disappointed.
I'm making it sound like this book was awful, it was not. The fourth of our Hot Fun in the Summertime Book Club selection for June, I finished this a few hours before the Zoom chat was about to start. I had never heard of the author or title before I picked up the book, but one of my favourite things about book clubs, both the Cannonball one, and my RL fantasy/sci-fi/speculative fiction book club is that I am challenged to read books I wouldn't necessarily choose myself, and I have frequently found myself really enjoying books I would otherwise probably never have picked up, and discovering new authors. For the Cannon Book Club in June, I really liked two of the books (the ones I read way before the selection was even made, Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute and Georgie, All Along). This, and our cozy mystery, Arsenic and Adobo, were both fine, but I'm not exactly feeling motivated to run out and seek out more books by the authors.
Our protagonist, Wren, is a bit of a sadsack at the start of the book, honestly. He seems insecure and aimless, the only thing he cares about is the drive-in where he works during the summer. He's been promoted to assistant manager but keeps letting his personal life distract him from his duties, and letting both his crush on Derick and his friendship with his room-mate cause problems for him, and his boss. Wren doesn't seem to know what he wants to do with his life, and until he gets very drunk one evening, he has never had the courage to confess his feelings for any of his crushes. Then he impulsively sends out the e-mails he once wrote to each of the people he fancied (so far, so very To All the Boys I've Loved Before, except Derrick Haverford sure ain't no Peter Kavinsky). Because it wouldn't be much of a book if it ended there, of course, the universe conspires to have Derrick working at the drive-in with Wren all summer.
I didn't really engage with either Wren or Derrick or care much about their romance. My favourite character was the cranky old lady whose cult movie Wren was obsessed with. Do I remember her name? Nope. Can I be bothered to look it up? Also nope.
This book was fine, but in no way knocked my socks off, and now, months later, I remember very little of it. I don't rule out other Timothy Janovsky books in the future, though.
Judging a book by its cover: A lot of the cartoony covers are getting rather generic, and I think this one is especially non-descript. The cars make sense since the plot is centred around a drive-in. I just don't think I'd ever have picked this book up if it hadn't been selected for book club.
Friday, 11 August 2023
Rating: 3 stars
CBR15 Bingo: Edibles (this book features both a lot of food and quite a few drugs)
Lila Macapagal used to live in Chicago and dreamed of opening her own restaurant, but both her business and relationship failed miserably. She's back in her hometown, helping to run her tita (aunt) Rosie run the family restaurant, where they serve Philipino food. Unfortunately, Lila's ex-boyfriend is a food critic and seems determined to come back, again and again, to sample the food and write scathing things about the food and service. Only this time, he collapses at the table and has to be rushed to hospital, where he dies sometime later. Shortly after, the police are at the restaurant and while searching the premises, they also find a bag in Lila's locker containing a large amount of drugs. Now she's not only the main suspect in the murder of her ex-boyfriend but the police think she's a drug kingpin.
Lila is determined to clear her name and with the help of her barista BFF, said bestie's lawyer brother, and the big network of aunties who seem to know everything about everyone in town, she begins to investigate. Her tita's restaurant will stay closed until her name is cleared, not to mention that Lila risks a long time in prison if she can't find the actual murderer.
The topic for this June's Cannon Book Club was Fun in the Summertime. Three romances and one cozy mystery were selected. This was the cozy mystery. I got it in an e-book sale in July 2022, so it seemed like a good choice to read since I'd already read two of the romances suggested earlier this year. Once upon a time, I used to read a lot of mysteries, cozy and otherwise, but now it seems like I only have the patience for historical mysteries with romantic subplots, featuring Victorian ladies. Sadly, this book didn't really tempt me into continuing the series (book 4 is out in October), as I found the book rather underwhelming, and comments from other members of the book club (who have read some of the sequels) suggest that the writing doesn't really improve. So this is probably my one and only Manansala book.
One of the problems with the book is that Lila, the protagonist, is rather insufferable, and she certainly seems terrible at investigating. She keeps ignoring clues and connections she discovers while investigating, and seems to finally find the culprit more through luck than anything else (I had figured out the guilty party at least three hints earlier, not that Lila seemed to notice any of them). She's completely oblivious to the wants and wishes of her loyal best friend (who wants her to stay in town and open an establishment together), and she's judgmental about her hometown (despite the fact that she didn't really hack it in Chicago either). She seems to love her aunt and her large extended family of "aunties" and cousins and kind of resent them. It's completely baffling to me that she attracts the romantic interest of not one, but two handsome and talented professional men. It doesn't help that I'm instantly wary of love triangles in mysteries, having stuck longer than I should have with Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series (just become a thruple already, or better yet, have Joe and Ranger settle down together and dump Stephanie entirely).
The book's redeeming feature is its focus on Philipino food and culture, which I really didn't know much about. There's a very helpful glossary (with a pronunciation guide) at the front of the book. The book certainly made me curious about Philipino food (there's a lot of cooking) and the author has helpfully included recipes at the back of the book (not sure I can get ube in Norway, though).
Judging a book by its cover: While the book was rather underwhelming, the cover is very cute. I like the bright colours and the presence of the tiny sausage dog (not that anyone working in food service would let a dog into the kitchen).
Rating: 4.5 stars
CBR15 Bingo: In the Wild (partly set in a big, spooky wood AND featuring shifters)
This short novel, which originally was planned as a novella (but the authors just couldn't fit all of the story into such a short format, for which their fans are grateful) is the second of the Wilmington Years stories, which could clearly also be called Kate and Curran spectacularly fail at a quiet and uneventful retirement.
In the previous story, Magic Tides, Kate has to rescue a bunch of people from a magical threat (so nothing new there), and despite her wish for anonymity becomes more noticeable in her newly adopted neighbourhood.
In this follow-up (popularly known among fans as Magic Clams, because of frequent mis-typings of the title) Kate and Curran are approached by Edward Calloway, the great-uncle of one of the people Kate recently saved. He explains that much of their family still lives in the village of Penderton, which seems to have been more or less swallowed up by the surrounding forest. The residents there can no longer leave even if they want to, without risking death. Sinister magic users come once a year to demand a human sacrifice, and this year, they've decided to demand a rather large number of people to allow the rest of the residents to stay safe. The residents of Penderton desperately need help and are willing to pay a lot for assistance from stronger, more powerful forces than the evil in the woods (those forces being Kate and Curran). Remaining quiet and unobtrusive would mean sending a lot of people to their deaths. Our heroic couple doesn't need a lot more motivation than that.
In addition to this new threat nearby, Kate is also faced with the arrival of two powerful individuals who used to follow Roland, her father. Now that he is locked away in a separate realm, the men want to swear fealty to Kate, his powerful daughter, and very reluctant heir. To aid them, Kate and Curran also have a group of local shapeshifters, and of course their were-lion son, Conlan.
I never fail to be amazed at how well Ilona Andrews manages to balance action, fairly serious violence, super creepy magical threats, humour, and more quiet character moments so excellently. Having now been married for several years, it's nice to see some of Kate and Curran's domestic life and how completely comfortable they are with one another (and how proud and entirely non-threatened Curran is of his wife, an absolute powerhouse of magical talent). Kate and Curran have both been trying to do what they feel is the right thing, laying low, staying unobtrusive, and hiding their powers. When danger really threatens and they are the only ones who can help, it's quite clear that they thrive a lot more when they get to flex their unparalleled magic abilities or incredible shapeshifter fighting skills.
Since finishing all their existing publishing contracts, the husband and wife team who make up Ilona Andrews are now free to write whatever they want and publish it at their own leisure. They don't announce what they have been working on until they're getting close to publication. It's quite clear that after some years away from the world of Kate Daniels, they now have new ideas and find it creatively interesting to play in this figurative sandbox again. In various promo interviews they did via YouTube, the couple have made it clear that for the foreseeable future, they will be working on sequels or spin-offs in the Kate Daniels universe. There's going to be at least one more story about Kate and Curran and their family in the Wilmington Years, there will finally be a new book about Hugh D'Ambray (the first book, Iron and Magic, came out in 2018) and they will be writing a follow-up to Blood Heir (or the continuing adventures of Julie and Derek, as I like to think of it). They've dropped some serious hints of what will be coming, and I am very excited to see what they come up with next.
Judging a book by its cover: This cover is perfectly fine. Sassy-looking lady with a sword, a big ghostly lion in the background. Misty, spooky-looking woods. It fits with the themes of the previous books and is not a complete eye-sore. I'll take it.
Wednesday, 9 August 2023
Rating: 4.5 stars
CBR15 Bingo: Getaway (I don't see a good way to fill the South America square)
For this review, I resurrected Mrs. Julien's romance review template from way back in 2013. I've tweaked it, but the major framework is still there.
Love, Theoretically is a romance of the enemies to lovers AND I’m scared and unworthy of love: Hero meets heroine. He is the disapproving older brother of the man who is paying her to be his fake girlfriend. He thinks she’s a librarian, and later, when she shows up at MIT for a job interview, he believes she’s been scamming his younger brother in some way. She hates him because as a teenager he wrote an article that not only discredited her mentor but made the branch of theoretical physics (which she works in) seem less viable than experimental physics (which he works in). He is one of the professors on the panel who decides who gets the job and tells her from the outset that she’s clearly not going to get the job, no matter what. That doesn't exactly endear him further to her. Despite having gone through most of her life trying to tailor herself to be the perfect person to whomever she interacts with, she’s incapable of being anything but her rather sarcastic self with him. Once he realises that she is, in fact, not his brother’s girlfriend or some sort of grifter, he is delighted with her true self and spends most of his time trying to make her realise that her actual self is worthy and deserving of love. Hero and heroine eventually move forward together secure in their love and commitment.
A contemporary romance focused on scientists, in this case, physicists, and written by Ali Hazelwood, Love, Theoretically is my third book by this author. I’ve liked her previous books, although she does seem to have certain hangups, and her second novel wasn’t as different from her first as I and a lot of other readers would have liked. Hazelwood is, most famously, the author of The Love Hypothesis, which started out as Reylo fan fic and has for years been beloved by BookTokers. I found Love, Theoretically very enjoyable, laugh-out-loud funny, and probably my favourite one of her books so far. I very much recommend it, even if you might have found one (or both) of her previous novels a bit annoying.
This book is a slow-burn romance and features some of the same tropes as Hazelwood’s previous two novels, but the complications keeping the couple apart are resolved much earlier in the plot, which the story benefits greatly from. Once our couple actually does the deed, so to speak, the sex scenes are very steamy and a lot less cringe-worthy than in many other romances. I only have Hazelwood's STEMinist novellas still on my TBR List and look forward to reading them while waiting for Hazelwood’s next foray into romance.
The main plot of Love, Theoretically focuses on the mistaken assumptions of both our hero and heroine and then the journey of acceptance that the heroine needs to go through to accept that her pathological people-pleasing to the point where she doesn’t really know who she really is or think what she actually wants is unnecessary. Jonathan “Jack” Smith-Turner is a respected (if not always well-liked) physics professor. Having discovered in his early adolescence that his stepmother is not, in fact, his real mother and that his real mother died when he was just a young child, he hates untruths and dissembling. At seventeen, he wrote an article aimed to uncover the lax editorial practices of a renowned science publication, which caused a significant stir in the physics community, and no one has allowed him to forget about it since. He pretty much only cares for his younger brother and his acerbic grandmother. Until he meets Elsie Hannaway. Jack is a protector, and once the truth comes out about his younger brother’s true relationship with her, Jack wants nothing more than to take care of Elsie, in every conceivable way.
Elsie is an adjunct professor working three different teaching jobs to make ends meet and is desperately hoping for a tenure-track position. As an additional source of income, Elsie works for Faux, a company that allows people to hire fake dates/partners. Elsie uses her powers of observation and strong social antennae to read anyone she meets and does her best to turn her into the ideal persona for that person for as long as they interact. She’s not even entirely truthful to her best friend and roommate of seven years. Her ability to be a social chameleon is why she’s so good at being a fake girlfriend. The employees of Faux aren’t really supposed to go on multiple dates, but Greg Smith is just so helpless and non-threatening that she keeps helping him, meaning she’s now been to several big family events with him and keeps running into his older brother Jack, who she is convinced hates her. Jack and Elsie start out as antagonists, at least in Elsie’s eyes, yet as is always the case in Hazelwood’s novels, the hero doesn’t hate the heroine at all – rather the opposite. Thankfully, once they traverse the challenges they face, they make an excellent team.
While Hazelwood seems to have a thing for large, brooding men who are nevertheless secretly tender and protective, paired with much smaller women, who probably have some sort of health issue (Elsie has type I diabetes, which makes her nearly faint in Jack’s presence more than once, Bee in Love on the Brain had that fainting thing). If she wants to explore a bold new direction in her next book, perhaps make the hero short and a bit timid? Maybe make the heroine taller than him? Just throwing it out there, Ms. Hazelwood.
Both Elsie and Jack have some wonderful and supportive friends, and Jack’s elderly and frightfully wealthy grandmother (who threatens to disown her offspring or grandchildren whenever the mood strikes her) is delightful and steals every scene she’s in. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I reveal that Elsie’s aging mentor is not as good for her career as she thinks he is, and Jack maybe wasn’t the cold-hearted villain he first appears for trying to discredit the man. This is one of my favourite contemporary romances so far this year, well worth your time.
Judging a book by its cover: Just as I'm pretty sure this is my favourite Hazelwood so far, this is absolutely the cover I like the best. Hazelwood's cover artist, @lilithsaur (on Twitter and Instagram) just seems to capture the essence of her books so well. I've loved this cover since I first saw it, and my heart leapt with joy when I saw it for real in the bookstore.