Jane in Love (2020)

by Rachel Givney
ISBN: 9780063019089
Publication date: October 27, 2020


**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**
(Did I mention I was an Austen fan…)

Jane Austen finds herself in modern-day England after being promised that a spell will lead her to true love. She befriends Sofia Wentworth, who coincidentally is starring in a movie adaptation of Northanger Abbey, and finds a potential love interest in Sofia’s brother Fred. Just as she finally has love within her grasp, time travel deals her a harsh blow: staying means her literary works will disappear from history but returning home means she will lose a love that doesn’t exist in her time.

The beginning is a bit slow but picks up once Jane has been in the present for a while. There are multiple storylines, making it difficult for the author to allot enough time for each to appropriately play out. There’s Jane and Fred falling in love. There’s Sofia trying to figure out how to get Jane back home. Then, there’s Sofia trying to get back with her husband. At first, the latter story seems a bit out of place but Givney does successfully connect it all in the end.

With so many moving parts, I sometimes did not know what I was getting in the next chapter. A lot of time was spent on Jane’s marveling at the new world and trying to get around that I don’t think enough was spent on establishing Fred and Jane’s relationship. They do have some cute moments but I’m not sure if I could add it up to love so quickly. Their relationship felt rushed. But, that could just be the skeptic in me. Sometimes when you know, you just know I guess.

The other story I wanted more time with was that of Sofia and her ex-husband. Sofia initially came across snobbish but she quickly became a favorite character. Her personality grew on me, and she had some of the funniest lines in here. One of my favorites is probably at the hospital, and she’s talking to the doctor: “ ‘What’s the prognosis, Doc?’ Sofia asked. ‘Don’t dumb it down. I did a three-episode special-guest run on ER where I played a beautiful but troubled neurosurgeon.’” I couldn’t stop laughing. I think Sofia’s story could have been a book of its own. I would definitely pick that one up.

There doesn’t seem to be any rules with the time traveling. Jane travels through time and items travel with Jane. How does it work exactly? I’m not really sure but if you just take it as is and not ask a lot of questions, then you’ll be fine. The book is somewhat predictable as well but it doesn’t necessarily take away from being able to enjoy the book. If anything, you just have to stick through Jane seeing the modern world and once you do that, the rest is a good read (much closer to a 4 star).

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was slow to begin but once friendships were formed and love was found, I was fully immersed in the novel and invested in the relationships. The ending was expected, albeit bittersweet. Givney does an excellent job of tying everything in but it nevertheless left me a bit dejected, making me wonder if Austen’s true ending was still a happy one… because I like her and I want people I like to have happy endings.

Pride and Papercuts (2020)

by Staci Hart
ISBN: 9798695274769
Publication: October 13, 2020
Series: The Austens #5 (also connected to series The Bennet Brothers)

**I received a copy of the book from the publisher and author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

You don’t have to be a Pride and Prejudice (P&P) fan to enjoy Pride and Papercuts.  In fact, not reading P&P might even be beneficial because if you’ve read (or watched) the former, you might end up making too many comparisons and forget to enjoy Hart’s retelling on its own merit. Overall, Pride and Papercuts is better than average at 3.5 stars. 

The book tracks the original well, integrating new elements into the original plot quite nicely.  There were points when I wondered how an incident would fit in, but Hart managed it seamlessly.  In particular, Lydia is now Luke and married (see Coming Up Roses) so I wondered what would happen to Wickham but this was resolved satisfactorily.  Hart infuses enough of her flair to make the story her own. Like many of her other novels, the imagery and the evocation of emotions is present (these are largely why I am a fan of Staci Hart and continue to read her novels even if I haven’t loved all of them).  While I came here for the romance between Liam (Darcy) and Laney (Lizzy), it was the bonds between siblings and the commitment to family that I truly took away from the novel. Of course, this isn’t to say that readers will be disappointed in the romance.  This is an enemies-to-lovers novel after all, and it checks all the right boxes: bickering, angst, and desire.

***The remaining is the comparison I couldn’t help but make.***

I found the elements outside Liam and Laney’s relationship to be the real standouts of the novel.  Hart’s Georgie is the most welcomed change. Georgie is a combination of two characters, Bingley (Darcy’s best friend) and Georgiana (Darcy’s sister).  I always felt Georgiana was a missed opportunity in Austen’s novel. She was treated delicately with nothing much to do but this iteration of Georgiana is one I like much better. Georgie still loves her brother but she isn’t so fragile that something like seeing Wickham again could break her.  While Georgie still listens to Liam, they are at least on a more equal footing than they were in P&P. 

Georgie and Liam’s relationship, one of respect and adoration, demonstrates Hart’s strength in writing strong familial bonds.  Like Georgie and Liam, Jett and Laney are quite close, likely even closer than P&P’s Jane and Lizzy. The lengths they’re willing to go to for one another made me root for their HEA even more.  I did wish more time was spent showcasing Mr. Bennet’s fondness for his daughter.

More difficult for me to enjoy or settle into was Liam and Laney’s relationship. I did like Laney and felt she was an accurate depiction of present-day Lizzy. I liked Liam as well–I really liked being able to see into his head– but I’m not exactly sure how I feel about them together. They verbally sparred so often it became difficult for me to believe they could be attracted to one another despite each repeatedly noting how they were attracted to the other.  While P&P has less interaction between the leads (as compared to Pride and Papercuts) it still creates this slow burn that makes hearts race when Darcy unexpectedly confesses, Pride and Papercuts’ leads, more often than not, left me frustrated. The consolation, however, was how much I liked them working together when they could overlook one another’s perceived faults. Of course, I’m also quite aware that I hold Lizzy and Darcy in a special vault in my heart.  I may have made Lizzy and Darcy too much to live up to.  But, it’s also possible I would still feel this way about the book even if I wasn’t a P&P devotee.

{teaser blast} Pride & Papercuts (2020)

Only one more week!! Staci Hart is heading back to her Austen series and bringing us Pride & Papercuts, a modern love story inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice!

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Hate is a strong word.

Depending on the company, loathe is a good substitute. Abhor might be a little fancy, but it gets the job done. But the word that really sums up how I feel about Liam Darcy is, without question, hate.

He doesn’t seem to think much of me either. The second he lays his fault-seeking eyes on me, he sets out to oppose me. Everything about him is imposing, as if he consumes the nearby air to power the rise and fall of his broad chest, and it’s clear he resents my presence on his advertising team. Every idea I have is shot down. Every olive branch I offer is set on fire by nothing more than the blistering coals he calls eyes.

In return, I light him up with my words.

It’s not as if he can dismiss me, since I work for his client, Wasted Words. Instead, he’s forced to tolerate me, which seems the closest we’ll ever be to friends. Fine by me.

I can be civil and still hate Liam Darcy.

But if there’s more to him than his exterior shows, I won’t be able to hate him at all. I might stumble over that line between love and hate and fall right into his arms.

Staci has been a lot of things up to this point in her life — a graphic designer, an entrepreneur, a seamstress, a clothing and handbag designer, a waitress. Can’t forget that. She’s also been a mom, with three little girls who are sure to grow up to break a number of hearts. She’s been a wife, though she’s certainly not the cleanest, or the best cook. She’s also super, duper fun at a party, especially if she’s been drinking whiskey. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, sleeping, gaming, or designing graphics.

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Coming Up Roses (2019)

by Staci Hart
ISBN: 9781082579479
Publication: August 1, 2019
Series: Bennet Brothers #1


I’m an Austen fan so you’ll probably see Austen-related titles here and there. If you’re a Pride and Prejudice fan, you may want to check out Hart’s Bennet Brothers series.  This isn’t a retelling of P&P—that’s a separate book called Pride and Papercuts—but a contemporary reimagining of the Bennet sisters as brothers, flipping genders with the exception of Elizabeth (Laney in the series).  Luke returns home after a whirlwind marriage and divorce to help revive the family business, Longbourne Flower Shop.  Luke is Lydia’s male counterpart, and this is the story of Lydia after her divorce to Wickham. 

Hart manages to remain true to Lydia’s original character.  Luke is fun, flirtatious, popular among the opposite sex, and a bit insufferable. (Sounds like Lydia, right?) Similar to Lydia, Luke is fickle in his emotions and jumps headfirst into situations without really thinking things through.  Luke is steady in his devotion once he realizes what or who he wants, and it could be argued that Lydia also has this quality—she did fall for Wickham and commit to him.  Luke puts his energy into winning over Tess, an employee of the flower shop and a former friend—yes, this is an enemies to lovers story. Unlike Lydia, Luke can recognize his foolishness and is more than willing to try to fix his wrongdoings. Luke is a more mature Lydia.

Luke is more likable than Lydia will ever be, but I never quite rooted for him—he was just okay. I would have liked a lot more bantering between Luke and Tess to build their chemistry with each other. It started to lose a bit of steam once our lead characters got together (this is both a spoiler and not a spoiler because it is a romance novel after all). I think what did it for me was that the problem that arises between our leads and its resolution is predictable.  

This is an interesting take on P&P, giving life to the other sisters, or brothers in this case. I liked the premise of the series but didn’t find this particular story to be compelling.  I liked it enough to finish reading it but it wasn’t a page-turner. If you’re a P&P fan, it is an acceptable book to pass the time, to see Hart’s take on Lydia and how Lydia potentially matures, but you’re not missing much if you pass it up.

ISO: Happily Ever After

At the end of July, I found that I had read over 60 novels since shelter-in-place was first instituted around March and continued reading even after things became more relaxed.  Interestingly, nearly half (26) have been in the past month alone.  There are two crazy things about this.  First, I haven’t read nearly this many books within a few months in probably never.  Second, the majority have been romance novels.  There’s nothing crazy about romance novels except that I have never consumed them in this quantity.  For the most part, they have always been scattered between fantasy novels, not one after the other or twice in a day.

This led me to wonder why I was reading romance novels in large doses.  I discovered that romance novels offered  me an escape from all the uncertainty in the world.  I was in search of a guaranteed happily ever after.  Who knew? Certainly not me! Most romance novels guarantee HEA/HFN (happily ever after/happy for now) endings—the keyword is most so please double-check reviews to make sure it does.  Any anxiety from the pandemic, and life in general, was muted because the endings were predictable.  I might not know what would happen tomorrow or even a few hours from now, but I did know there would be a rainbow at the end of what I was reading.

I also rediscovered how bad of a reputation romance novels have.  I hate the stigma surrounding romance novels and I’m ashamed to admit that I have—more than once—turned a cover over or shut down my reading app to avoid unsolicited assessments of my reading choices.  They don’t deserve this bad reputation.  Romance novels have proven to be therapeutic for me, reducing anxiety and providing introspection. The novels that have lingered long after the last page are those that allowed me to contemplate my life, my goals, my relationships, and a plethora of other things.  Here are three recommendations and just a glimpse of one of the many lasting impressions I pulled from each.

RECOMMENDATIONS

In Melt for You (2018; ISBN: 9781503902138), Joellen Bixby has been in love with her married boss for a long while. Things start looking up when she finds out he is in the middle of a divorce, and he suddenly starts showering her with attention. Because she is socially awkward and lacks dating experience, her new neighbor Cameron McGregor offers to help.  The beginning of the book is a bit slow but picks up quickly once the arrangement is made.  It sounds cookie-cutter but the appeal of this book comes from Cameron’s character.  Despite his ego, he is the most supportive and body-positive male lead I’ve met thus far.  I enjoyed the evolution of his relationship with Joellen and his influence on her because she goes from being insecure about her body to standing up for herself.

Hate to Want You (2017; ISBN: 978006256677) is full of longing, the kind that hurts in a sadistically good way. It’s a slow burn. The two main characters Livvy and Nicholas still love each other, but the bad blood that led to their break up has not relented even after a decade has passed. Since their break up, they’ve met up every year for her birthday–she sends coordinates and he goes, no matter where it is. The sex is passionate, it’s sensual, but, most of all, it is heartbreaking and the aftermath is worse because each time it’s supposed to be the last time, there just seems to always be that one time more…until there isn’t. Rai has become one of my go-to authors. I have come to appreciate the way she writes. In this particular novel, she doesn’t move onto the next scene until she’s wrenched all the emotion from the current one. If Rai is at the helm, I can also expect there will be diverse representation.

A Thousand Letters (2017; ISBN: 9781542772426) is part of Hart’s series inspired by Jane Austen novels.  A retelling of Persuasion, Elliot—like Anne Elliot–has regrets for not choosing to marry Wade—Captain Wentworth’s counterpart.  Neither have spoken for several years, but are forced to reunite when Wade’s father is suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer.  Because Elliot is very much part of the family, she’s best friends with Wade’s sister and Wade’s father was her mentor, they are unable to avoid one another. It is clear that neither has moved on from the other and neither is also willing to speak to one another about it.  Hart beautifully captures the longing between our leads and the impending loss of a parent.  The book brought me to tears on multiple occasions.  If you’re a fan of Persuasion, you will easily be able to identify plots from the original novel as well as what is all Hart. What I love about this retelling is that Elliot is portrayed as a lot stronger in character as compared to Anne Elliot in Austen’s original novel.  Hart does a good job of bringing Persuasion to the present day and making it her own. There is sex in the book but not nearly as explicit like in Hate to Want You and Melt for You.

Like any other genre, not every book is going to be great.  Romance novels will vary in plot as much as it will also maintain tropes.  Interestingly, I also discovered a trove of novels about athletes, billionaires, and all-around bad boys. This was newer to me on the book front but not so much when it came to Korean dramas (harharhar).  Romance novels vary in how explicit sex is as well.  It might be nothing at all—holding hands or a kiss—to erotica.  Take your pick! The beauty of this is that you get to choose what you’re comfortable with.  If you’ve never read a romance novel before, I’m urging you to give them a chance. My life is all the better because of them. And, if you have recommendations, please send them my way, whether romance novels or books that left deep impressions.