Love Her or Lose Her (2020)

by Tessa Bailey
ASIN/ISBN: B07QN8SRR3
Publication: January 14, 2020
Series: Hot & Hammered #2

I liked the premise of the story, and it is immediately engaging as the book begins with Rosie miserable while on the job. When a customer attempts to hit on her, it’s the catalyst to a life-altering decision to leave her husband–something that has been a long time coming. What are you supposed to do when your relationship ceases to be what it used to be, nor does it seem to be growing in a positive direction? What do you do when communication halts? Rosie sees this as her only choice while Dominic feels blindsided even though it hasn’t escaped his notice that their relationship isn’t how it used to be or how it should be.

With dual points of view, Rosie describes a relationship where she’s lost herself and her dreams. Her life is monotonous, which isn’t something she necessarily seems to mind, except that the person she loves is closed off and doesn’t make her feel loved anymore. From Dominic’s perspective, Rosie is the only woman he’s ever loved, but he is withdrawn and can’t seem to fulfill the role he thinks he should be doing. Like Rosie, he is aware their relationship is different but doesn’t know how to break the cycle. In each of their chapters, it is exceedingly clear that 1) the sex remains fantastic and 2) love for the other person has never ceased. The true culprit? A lack of communication contributed to the breakdown of the relationship. Unfulfilled dreams and somewhat unwarranted self-expectations place further strains in a once passionate relationship. Being that it’s a romance novel, the question isn’t whether there will be a HEA but how they will arrive there. It’s heartbreaking on multiple levels to see a relationship break down but there’s always hope when individuals are willing to try. And that’s what Rosie and Dominic do, they try.

While I wanted to lay all the blame on Dominic, I appreciated the realistic portrayal of the relationship where the fault is not one-sided; it takes two. Because individuals become too preoccupied with their own needs, they may forget their partner’s needs. Rosie and Dominic are receptive to each other and put in the effort once they are allowed to share how they feel. The book emphasizes the theme that love can serve as a foundation, but it needs to be nurtured to remain structurally sound. I’m not sure exactly how I felt about how their relationship problems were resolved. I was disappointed with how some of their problems were resolved and how quickly they were resolved, especially their last problem and its resolution, which seemed to sweep things under the rug more than anything else.

Love Her or Lose Her is the type of story that encourages readers to reflect on their relationships and examine if they’re doing enough for their relationship and their partner. Or, it could just be me because I certainly did a lot of thinking. I like when romance novels provide me with these moments of contemplation. Bailey effectively presents a story that addresses the essential role communication plays in a relationship and how crucial it is to try to understand a relationship from the other person’s perspective. While the first half was engaging, the second half started to slip with the relationship problems solved almost too easily.

The Last Fallen Star (2021)

by Graci Kim
ASIN/ISBN: 9781368059633
Publication: May 4, 2021
Series: Gifted Clans #1

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Witches and other magical beings coexist with humans (saram), although the latter are none the wiser about it. Riley/Rye, however, is an exception. She is a human girl adopted by a witch family.  While her family loves her, it’s difficult being the odd one out, so Rye and her sister Hattie devise a plan to allow Rye temporary access to Hattie’s powers. Unfortunately, their plan backfires and puts the family in harm’s way. Now, Rye must race against time to save them.

With the abundance of books containing the magical school trope and overlapping realms, I wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about reading The Last Fallen Star. It was the promise of POC representation and the infusion of Korean myths that drew me in. I enjoyed it so much! It’s magical, full of surprises, and filled with heart warming messages. It’s a middle grade adventure that highlights the strength of familial bonds and the sacrifices we make to save those we love.  Rye and Hattie demonstrate this through their efforts to support each other in the face of adversity including the witch clans’ unwillingness to allow Rye to prove herself as well as when Hattie endangers her life to protect the family. In trying to save Hattie, Rye learns that it’s not about the blood coursing through your veins but the values you hold that determine who you are.

Rye’s journey illustrates how isolation and belonging can be powerful motivators. Despite her family’s insistence that they love her, it’s difficult for Rye to overcome these feelings when she is the odd one out. She is often taunted for being different, so the extreme actions she and Hattie take are understandable. At one point or other, many of us have done something to try to fit in. It was easy to sympathize with both Hattie and Rye even as I wanted to yell at them not to do it. Kim successfully weaves multiple life lessons into Rye’s growth without feeling preachy. For younger readers, and adults alike, these lessons will resonate well, serving as reminders to value our families and friendships as well as to have faith in ourselves.

Lying with Lions (2021)

by Annabel Fielding
ASIN/ISBN: B095J8D5XC
Publication: June 21, 2021

Goodreads | Amazon


DESCRIPTiON

Edwardian England. Agnes Ashford knows that her duty is threefold: she needs to work on cataloguing the archive of the titled Bryant family, she needs to keep the wounds of her past tightly under wraps, and she needs to be quietly grateful to her employers for taking her up in her hour of need. However, a dark secret she uncovers due to her work thrusts her into the Bryants’ brilliant orbit – and into the clutch of their ambitions.

They are prepared to take the new century head-on and fight for their preeminent position and political survival tooth and nail – and not just to the first blood. With a mix of loyalty, competence, and well-judged silence Agnes rises to the position of a right-hand woman to the family matriarch – the cunning and glamorous Lady Helen. But Lady Helen’s plans to hold on to power through her son are as bold as they are cynical, and one day Agnes is going to face an impossible choice…


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Annabel Fielding, having graduated from the University of Arts London with an MA in Public Relations, is a PR assistant by day and a novelist by night. Being a self-professed history geek, she dedicates her free time to obscure biographies, solo travel and tea. Her special areas of interest are Edwardian age and Late Middle Agnes/Renaissance, but sometimes veers into other directions, too, when distracted by a shiny thing.  She is the author of A Pearl for My Mistress (2017).

Website | Twitter | Goodreads


REViEW

**I was provided a copy of the book by the author through NetGalley as a Tour Participant. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Lying with Lions is not the typical book I read but on occasion I am willing to venture out and try new genres.  I found an intricate character-driven plot and knew immediately this was my type of movie as opposed to my type of book. As I read, the thought that I would enjoy this on the big screen accompanied was often on my mind.

The story is written in present tense, which was a bit jarring at first.  Eventually I settled into it along with the feeling that I was watching the events unfold as an omniscient narrator allowed me a glimpse into the machinations of high society through Agnes.  From a humble background, Agnes is hired by the Bryant family to serve as their archivist to compile and organize the family history.  Eventually she becomes more than just a bystander, becoming Lady Bryant’s secretary.  Rather than an observer, she becomes a willing participant in the political maneuvers of those she comes to be associated with.

Agnes was often an enigma to me, making it hard to figure out her motives. Is she being genuine? Does she have something planned? Is she a “good” person? Part of me wanted to skip to the end because I wanted to know the why behind Agnes’s actions. My urge to spoil the ending was further spurred on by the novel’s slow build.  It was not until about a fifth of the way when the pieces started to fall into place, and I recognized with some amount of certainty where the book was heading. The pace was slow, but it was the deliberate kind that encourages readers to be immersed in the plot and observe as well as question the decisions of characters, what will those in power do to remain in power? I had to exercise a fair amount of self-control but the ending was worth it as revelations are made. 

Luck of the Titanic (2021)

by Stacey Lee
ASIN/ISBN: 9781524740986
Publication: May 4, 2021

Valora Luck has dreamt of reuniting with her twin Jamie since he ventured off on his own, leaving her to take care of their father. After finding out Jamie will be on board the Titanic, she stowaways on it, intent on convincing him that it’s time they pursue their lifelong dreams of becoming acrobats.

The fate of the Titanic is well known but not all survivors’ stories are. Lee centers the story around the relatively unknown fact there were Chinese passengers also on board the Titanic. She sets the tone of the novel with a simple line: “Of the eight Chinese passengers aboard the Titanic, six survived.” I went into the book with a wall built around my heart but cracks still formed to topple it down. Lee carves out a piece of history and makes it her own with a bittersweet tale.

With Lee at the helm, I should have known it was a lost cause to protect myself from the fates of the characters. Who was going to live? Who was going to die? I tried to stay as disconnected as I could, but still found myself drawn into Valora’s story as she tried to convince her brother to pursue their dreams while trying to escape notice of the crew as well as other passengers. I was still able to laugh and I cheer all the while knowing tragedy was only pages away. Then, I cried.

Valora is a dreamer like her father, chasing down her dream of becoming an acrobat. Smart and determined, she’s always prepared to make her own luck, refusing to allow fate to stand in her way. While I liked Valora and appreciated her daring nature, I was slightly irritated with her constantly pushing her brother to see things her way, insistent he drop everything for their childhood dreams too. Her unwillingness to see beyond her own desires and to to try to understand who Jamie is now prevented me from fully supporting her efforts. It’s always difficult when the person you remember is both the same and different from who they have become, and throughout the novel Valora struggles with this.

Like Lee’s other novels, there is a bit of romance sprinkled in but it doesn’t overpower the central story. It left a lasting impression that hit me harder than many romance novels I’ve read. I don’t know how Lee does it because I felt this way about most of the romances that appeared in her other books too. In this particular novel, it’s likely I felt this way because it only just scratches the surface of the potential relationship so the promise of what’s to come left me wanting more. There are additional subplots included that make the story interesting, each weaving well into the other and supporting the overall story rather than feeling disjointed.

As the Titanic’s demise neared, it was difficult to keep my anxiety at bay. I wasn’t sure what would happen to the characters. It was never a matter of whether Lee would stick close to history and allow only six Chinese passengers to survive even as I tried to convince myself she would find some way around it. I knew it was always going to be who would be part of the six. Luck of the Titanic demonstrates once again Lee’s ability to give faces and names to the past, connecting me with people and stories across time. She took me down a journey that only lasted a few hours but left me heartsick for days.

Love at First (2021)

by Kate Clayborn
ASN/ISBN: 9781496725196
Publication: February 23, 2021


**I was provided a copy of the book the publisher through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

After inheriting his estranged uncle’s apartment, Will returns to the apartment and unexpectedly meets Nora, the girl he saw only once but never stopped thinking about. Will doesn’t understand why his uncle would leave him the apartment and immediately makes it clear that he has no plans to live there, instead opting to turn it into a vacation rental. Nora and the rest of the building residents are vehemently against this, so Will finds himself at odds with the girl he never forgot. Despite their feud, Nora and Will are constantly thinking about the other as well as hoping to catch a glimpse of the other.

I’d been reading so many books where things between the leads get hot and heavy fast, where emotions (and limbs) just fling off the pages, that I’d forgotten what a slow, subtle romance could do, what it could feel like. It didn’t immediately take hold of me, and my interest may have waned a bit in the beginning, but then I began to fall into its rhythm–slow and steady. Rather than an onslaught of passion, it was whispers of attraction. It was the little things Will and Nora noticed about one another–a thumb silently rubbing a palm, the pink indentations from wearing glasses–that slowly seeped its way in. Before I knew it, I was smiling, and then there were flutters, the zings appearing and multiplying as Will and Nora gravitated toward one another despite their current predicament. The book left a lasting impression, one filled with a long sigh of contentment.

This is a slow read, but one that is so good. If you have the patience and the time, you’ll be rewarded with a quiet romance filled with quirky side characters–Dr. Gerald Abraham was my absolute favorite. The story alternates between Will and Nora so you know exactly how they feel about one another, how each struggles with their feelings, and why the problem isn’t necessarily one easily contributed to just communication. They’re both still processing grief in their own ways. Nora is protective of her found family but also resistant to change. Will hides his wounds and is hesitant to start a relationship despite how attracted he is to Nora. There are things each has to work through before they can decide what the next step is. Clayborn’s beautiful prose provides us a snapshot into their lives and I am so glad got to read it.

Loathe at First Sight (2020)

by Suzanne Park
ISBN: 9780062990693
Publication: August 18, 2020

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Melody Joo is a newly hired video game producer and finds herself in a toxic work environment, one that is both misogynistic and racist. This is in stark contrast to her prior workplace where her words alone garnered respect. To make matters worse, her new boss is also prone to tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.

Under pressure from the company’s board, her boss ends up pitching a new game meant to cater to female gamers, and it gets easily approved. The problem is the game is an idea Melody only meant as a joke–male strippers saving the world with female warriors guiding them. This catapults Melody into an unexpected position, much to the chagrin of her colleagues who do not believe she’s earned the position. As lead, she is in charge of the game’s development, and she also has to prove to those inside and outside of the company that she is capable of completing the task before her. Of course, she has to juggle this with her growing attraction to a member of her team–the new intern who is also the boss’ nephew–and trying to maintain a social life.

Loathe at First Sight is set in an industry I have not typically seen in romance/women’s fiction novels. It gives us a glimpse of the gaming industry from the perspective of a female lead character who goes against classic stereotypes. Melody is an assertive Asian woman who is more soft than bone, likes food more than dieting, and is truly comfortable in her skin. She’s funny. She’s straight forward. She sticks up for herself when necessary. Being assertive can also have its downsides. Having to stick up for herself and having to push back when her abilities are called into question also means she doesn’t typically ask for help nearly as much as she could or should. (Is there room for character growth? Yes, there is.) Melody is a likable main character and easily kept me entertained.

While the book is entertaining, where it might trip up readers is in the romance department. The title suggests this is an enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy but the romance actually takes a back seat. This might explain why I felt the initial attraction to be a bit abrupt. She hated him one minute–their first interaction was not very good–and then from across the room she suddenly felt jealous. I didn’t expect that to occur but I guess that’s how feelings can be sometimes, and it might make sense for the enemies-to-lovers trope. I did eventually ease into the attraction, but it also never became a full-blown romance. Those expecting romance might be turned off by this aspect of the book.

One aspect of the attraction that I did appreciate was Melody being conscious of the positions they inhabited in the workplace. With Noah being an intern and part of her team, he is a subordinate and any kind of romantic relationship could be misconstrued as an abuse of power. While the book doesn’t dig deep into this, Melody often ponders this when she’s thinking about Noah. It wasn’t written off as unimportant, and caution isn’t necessarily thrown to the wind because Melody believes love conquers all. (I know…I am being a bit dramatic.) Just because she keeps thinking about the power differential doesn’t mean that the message is that you cannot have both a career and love. It’s that the decisions you make have repercussions so you have to be mindful of what you’re doing, especially as it relates to a potential workplace romance where power dynamics can play a role.

Even though the romance is not central to the story, the book and Melody are compelling enough to read it to the end. To be honest, I forgot about the romance until I was more than half-way through the book. I was immersed in Melody’s story, the story of a woman trying to navigate her way in an industry that doesn’t expect her to succeed. There might be a push for diversity and inclusion but the existing culture–at least at the company she works in–doesn’t take it seriously, refusing to embrace the need for change. (See? Still completely interesting even without the romance in play.) It could even be viewed as an underdog story about how Melody is going to do such a great job that she changes the minds of those she works with that women kick ass, even in the gaming industry. She might be able to do that. It certainly is possible. You’ll have to read to find out.

Initially, I didn’t think the title was fitting because the romance was not central to the story, but I think it’s possible to reframe the title differently. Sure, it was likely meant as a play on the romance but with the romance relegated to the background, the title presents itself as a reflection of what Melody is experiencing in the workplace. She is a new hire and the initial disrespect she receives is not because of a lack of experience or talent, but her colleagues appear to loathe her on first sight for simply being female. But, first impressions aren’t always what they’re cracked out to be so things can get better in the six months she has to develop the game. Loathing at first sight might grow into respect in the workplace.

FURTHER REFLECTIONS

Melody’s parents and her interactions with them are the highlights of the novel. Her parents are utilized as comedic relief, and they hit the mark every time. It’s certainly possible to see her parents as unpleasant and rude, but I was able to enjoy this largely because I saw Melody’s mom as nearly a reflection of my mom. I love my mom to death but some of the things she says make me want to slam my head against the wall. WHY???? Comments about double chins, the insistence on eating but not too much, and then Melody’s mom constantly hanging up the phone because she is done talking while Melody is left in the middle of a sentence are all things that have made multiple appearances in my conversations with my mom. Like Melody, it’s the understanding that moms/parents generally mean well so you try not to let it get to you–key word is TRY. I have to admit that it is a bit pleasing to see others share my frustration. Misery does love company…even if it’s the company of a fictional character.

There are memes floating around out there that say Asian parents do not typically say, “I love you.” Instead, they ask, “Did you eat today?” It’s a generalization that might not accurately depict all Asian parents, but for me, this rings true. And, sometimes it can get confusing too! My mom would ask if I’d eaten but also remind me to not eat too much. Does this mean she loves me?? Or, does it mean she doesn’t love me?? Which is it??? Harharhar. Melody’s relationship with her parents very much reflects this. I loved it.

Overall, Loathe at First Sight is an enjoyable read. I was so busy enjoying myself I didn’t do much highlighting and reviewing like I usually do. There was something every few pages that would just set me off, and I would laugh despite myself. Although it is categorized as a romantic comedy, the romance is not central to the story. If readers are looking for a way to satisfy their enemies-to-lovers bias, they will be disappointed that Melody’s interactions with enemy Noah are scattered in bits throughout the book as opposed to being the main attraction. And, it never really develops into a romance. While that may be the initial draw, Melody’s story should be more than enough to push readers to finish the book. She’s assertive; she’s hard-working; she’s funny; she has the most entertaining parents. I enjoyed it so much, I purchased a physical copy.