This year has brought a lot of good and necessary changes to my reading life. Prior to this year, I approached reading like an endurance athlete, with ever-increasing expectations of how much I was reading, how new or important the books I was reading were, and how quickly I could move on to the next one. I felt compelled to write lengthy reviews about every book I found even remotely adequate. I chose my next book based on publication dates, not what grabbed my interest in the moment. 

I slowly realized that all that striving was creating an unsatisfying reading life. So this year has been a gradual relaxing of all those restrictions and rules I was putting on myself. I allow myself to read all the romance I want (which turns out to be a lot!) because knowing I can count on a happy ending is soothing to my highly anxious mind. I stopped requesting advance copies because I didn’t want to feel beholden to publishers or the publication cycle. If I finish a book that’s just mediocre, I don’t bother writing anything about it. 

All these changes have been great for me--I’ve read a TON of books this year because I’m reading what I want, when I want. But they’ve resulted in a major slowdown in my presence here on the blog. However, in the end it’s been good for the blog too, because now when I take the time to feature a book, you’ll know I REALLY like it. :) And just know that there’s more in the works--I’ve been making an effort in recent weeks to put down my credit card and pick up my library card, so a library haul post is coming your way soon. Oh--and we went to Ireland (!) and you know your girl had to read some Irish books for the occasion, so that post is also in the offing.

In the meantime, and in the spirit of keeping things simple, here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed lately, with no unifying theme beyond just that. I hope your reading life is low on pressure and high on satisfaction!

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

I’d had this book on my shelf since my birthday two summers ago. Part of me feels guilty for waiting so long to read it, but a bigger part of me knows I have to be in the right headspace for dystopian lit or it will drag me right down to Bummersville. Ory and Max live in a world stricken by a strange phenomenon--victims lose their shadows, and then they lose their memories. When Max loses her shadow, their careful existence collapses around them. This book has the feel of a quest, with a long, perilous journey and no guarantee of success at the end of the road, but it’s also a testament to love and an exploration of its limits. And I’m still thinking about that ending.

When I Was White by Sarah Valentine

At age 27, Sarah Valentine discovered that her biological father was not the white man who had raised her, but was actually a black man, and her mother had been keeping the secret of Valentine’s racial identity her entire life. While fascinating, this book might be frustrating if you don’t go into it with the right expectations. Right off the bat, you should know Valentine doesn't meet or even conclusively identify her biological father, so if you’re looking for a solve to that mystery, you’ll be disappointed.

This memoir is at its best when the author is recounting and analyzing the many conversations she had with her mother over the years, trying to get at the truth of how she was conceived. Her mother is a deeply flawed but totally fascinating person--I was analyzing every word out of her mouth right along with Valentine, putting on my deerstalker cap and going all armchair detective. Valentine has clearly done a lot of emotional work to process her own feelings, and while she can't forgive or excuse her mother's actions, she also seems to understand her mother surprisingly well. Valentine also reflects meaningfully on her experience of "coming out as black," growing to understand her biracial identity, and the privilege inherent in white people's ignoring race or pretending it doesn't matter. 

Super Fun Sexy Times by Meredith McClaren

I don’t have a ton to offer about this one because I’m still a graphic novel noob, but I had never seen a graphic novel + romance mashup and I could not pass it up. And it’s delightful! The volume is made up of several short-ish vignettes with various diverse romantic pairings...of superheroes (and supervillains)! Warm, sweet, inclusive--and very aptly titled.

In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish

This was my first read by Roan Parrish, and omg I am in luhrve. This is my favorite kind of romance, where two people who have been knocked around by life meet, fall in love, and are just...good to each other. Daniel is a professor, a bookworm who muscled his way into intellectual circles from a blue collar upbringing, raised with a houseful of brothers by a single dad. His new job is at a college in a small town in Michigan, and it’s a far cry from the busy city life he’s used to. He’s not sure how long he’ll want to stay until he meets Rex, and I can’t blame him for the change of heart because Rex is THE BEST. He lives in a cabin he built himself. He’s a woodworker who makes custom furniture. He is a self-taught gourmet cook. He is a big tender-hearted softie who just wants to take care of Daniel and I am so here for it. Can’t wait to read more of Parrish’s work!

Playing House by Ruby Lang

A short and sweet novella about two urban planners who pretend to be a married couple while attending open houses in Harlem. So cute! And so many closets and balconies for sexy shenanigans! 

Trashed by Mia Hopkins

I absolutely loved Thirsty, the first book in the Eastside Brewery series, and Trashed was a worthy follow-up. I really recommend the audio versions of both books because the narrators each do a fabulous job with the different accents and Spanish pronunciations. This book is about Eddie, the brother of Sal from the first book. Eddie has recently been released from prison and gets a job as a dishwasher in a fancy restaurant, where he meets Carmen, the chef. Except they already know each other from a steamy one night stand they had back when Eddie was first released. Dun dun DUN! How will they handle their new boss/subordinate relationship, and how will they resist the simmering tension between them? And beyond all those complications, Eddie is trying to find his father, who they thought was dead but now he believes is alive. What?! It’s more drama than you can shake a stick at, and it’s so good! And Chancla the evil wiener dog makes an appearance!

A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian

I love Cat Sebastian’s historicals because they don’t abide by the usual strictures of the genre. The characters aren’t all straight, rich, or members of the nobility, and the women aren’t all virgins who have to be taught everything by men. (I am SO OVER quivering virgins.) It’s just so refreshing to read a historical romance that doesn’t erase queer people, working class people, and women who lived full lives outside of ballrooms and drawing rooms. Verity is a radical bookseller and publisher, and Ash is her longtime childhood friend who discovers he may (surprise!) be the heir to a dukedom. Verity is used to taking care of her own shit, doesn’t think she’s cut out for love, and never planned to marry. Ash is a beautiful principled cinnamon roll who doesn’t want Verity to compromise anything about herself to be with him. But...they also reach a point where they can’t deny their attraction to each other, REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” plays in the background, and things move apace. That might be an anachronism, but that’s the way I remember it anyway.

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AuthorTaryn
CategoriesRecommendations

This summer has been a great season of reading for me. I read 26 books in July alone! I’ve had to admit in the past that a big quantity of books read doesn’t always equal a quality reading life, but this summer the fast pace has really been working for me. It’ll be interesting to see if I maintain the breakneck pace or if it slows down some with the arrival of fall in the coming months.

Here are the books that have made my summer all-star list so far. I’ve got an adult fantasy trilogy, romance set at the CERN supercollider, lady scientists traveling through time, hilarious historical romance, and more!

Captive Prince Trilogy by C.S. Pacat

This trilogy came out several years ago, and my impression is that it created quite a stir. Some of the reviews I read led me to expect sexual assault and violence on every page, but that is not what these books are about. This trilogy is ultimately a love story between two men who never should have become allies, let alone anything more personal. Damen is a prince, in line to inherit his father’s throne, who is betrayed by his older half-brother, reported dead and sold as an anonymous slave to an enemy country. Damen knows he can’t reveal his true identity to anyone--instead, he bides his time until he can escape back home and retake control of his kingdom. But when he’s given as a gift to Laurent, the enigmatic prince of the rival nation whose brother Damen killed in battle, the question of who to trust becomes a whole lot murkier. 

Rarely is the first book in a trilogy the weakest--it seems like more often, authors start with a great premise and then fizzle out as they try to stretch their story into three volumes. However, each book in this trilogy is better than the one before it, and each one has a clear narrative purpose. It was refreshing to read a story so intentionally structured. You’ll definitely want to binge these one after the other. I also liked how these are unapologetically adult fantasy--there’s so much YA fantasy out there, and it’s great for that audience, but I personally love fantasy about grown-up people doing grown-up things, with a level of darkness and high stakes that you just don’t get with YA. 

Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

I was not sure I was going to like Top Secret--it’s set at a frat house, after all, and frat boys are not and never have been my jam. But I have to admit I was curious about the premise--a romance between two frat brothers, I mean come on! I also love it when romance audio books have two different narrators playing the lead roles, so I went for it. And it was so good! Keaton and Luke live in adjacent rooms at the frat house, but they don’t know each other well and actually find each other pretty annoying. Through some slightly goofy plot wrangling, they end up chatting anonymously on a dating app and falling for each other You’ve Got Mail-style, but then of course things get complicated when they realize each other’s true identity. 

Love and Gravity by Rebel Carter

My favorite part of this book was the setting--I have never read a book set at the CERN supercollider! Grace is a lab assistant who loves taking care of her science nerds--she’s always anticipating everyone’s needs and her job gives her a sense of purpose. Her orderly world is thrown for a loop when Anton, a scientist she hasn’t met in person but has developed a bit of a crush on over the course of many email and phone exchanges, shows up in Geneva in the flesh to work with her research team. Unfortunately, before they can be introduced, Anton orders her to fetch him coffee and is generally a self-important jerk. I loved this initial conflict because as someone who works in an assistant role, I place a high value on how people treat others, especially people like secretaries, receptionists, waitstaff, etc. who are perceived as “the help.” I was very curious to see how Grace and Anton would be able to move past their disastrous first meeting.

Game of Hearts by Cathy Yardley

I’m still happily chugging my way through the Fandom Hearts series, and Game of Hearts is so good it rivals the first book and still my favorite, Level Up. Kyla wants to be a costume designer but spends most of her time working as a mechanic at her family’s garage. When her brother breaks his arm and can’t help out around the shop for several weeks, out of desperation Kyla calls their old friend Jericho to ask if he can fill in. When Jericho shows up, it’s super awkward because he hasn’t been in town in years and Kyla has--ahem--grown up quite a bit in the meantime. They fight their attraction for a while because of age difference, brother’s best friend bullshit reasons, but of course eventually they wise up and get naked. This whole series is like a warm hug, I just love it.

Locked Box by Eve Dangerfield

Super steamy romance set in Australia! Julia’s dream is to be a game designer, but she’s currently working in an IT role for the local police station. She’s had a crush on Max ever since she started working with him--maybe even before that--but has never acted on it because he’s married (although unbeknownst to Julia, he’s separated from his wife). When Julia gets locked in the evidence room late on a Friday, she thinks her luck couldn’t get any worse--until Max, in coming to her rescue, inadvertently gets locked in there with her. *scandalous eyebrow* Fair warning, this gets a little angsty as Max takes an annoyingly long time to decide whether he can date Julia openly or not, but overall it’s a fresh take on the forbidden workplace romance trope.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

This is one of those twisty, many-tentacled novels that eventually come together in the end in surprising ways. It all starts in 1967, when a group of four women scientists invent a time machine. The machine only allows travel to time periods after the machine was invented, and time travelers aren’t able to substantially change events. Some sections of the story take place back in the ‘60s, some take place roughly in present day, and of course some characters exist in multiple timelines at different ages. 

When I describe the nitty-gritty details, the book sounds dense and confusing, but the reading experience isn’t like that at all. It feels like you’re unraveling a mystery like a tightly wound ball of yarn. Barbara, one of the scientists who suffers a mental breakdown after time travel, and her granddaughter Ruby are incredibly compelling characters, and I was completely sucked into their lives. Intense, brilliant but callous Margaret was fascinating in an entirely different (scary) way. I think this would appeal to readers of both literary fiction and speculative fiction--it’s very smart but doesn’t get bogged down in the scientific minutiae. It’s more concerned with the effects of time travel on people and what power like that could do to change a person.

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

Alisha Rai is an auto-buy author for me. I don’t care what she writes, I just know I want to read it. And The Right Swipe is really good--I won’t be surprised if this is the book that catapults her fully into romance author stardom. It’s different in tone from her previous Forbidden Hearts trilogy--while it still deals with realistic issues, in this case workplace harassment and brain injury in NFL players, there’s less of an edge. Which admittedly will likely make it more palatable for a wide audience, although I have to admit I really enjoy the thread of darkness that some of her earlier work has. 

In this book, Rhiannon is CEO of a dating app company, and Samson is a former professional football player and current public face of one of Rhiannon’s competitors. When they see each other professionally, it’s a little awkward because they hooked up one night a while back and afterwards, he ghosted her. I didn’t 100% feel the chemistry between Rhiannon and Samson, unfortunately, maybe because there was so much external conflict going on for both of them? It was a little disappointing because chemistry between the leads is something I thought Rai got so perfectly right in the Forbidden Hearts series. Anyway, this one doesn’t go to the top of my personal favorites list, but I hope it leads to lots of commercial success for the author because I really want her to keep writing. 

The Governess Game by Tessa Dare

This is only my second Tessa Dare novel, but I’m already a big fan of her light-hearted, humorous take on historical romance. She has these great one-liners that remind me of Oscar Wilde. Such as: “I have never been wistful a day in my life. I am entirely devoid of wist.” That kind of joke just hits me right on my funny bone. In The Governess Game, Alexandra is not of the aristocracy (yay!) but has to make her own living setting clocks in rich people’s homes. Through a series of slightly goofy events, she ends up unwittingly being hired as a governess for the two young wards of Chase Reynaud, the heir to a dukedom and, by all accounts, an incorrigible rake. Chase has baggage with a capital B and is convinced he’s not fit to be anyone’s guardian, much less anyone’s husband or father, and therefore has sworn off anything other than casual, one-night flings. Alex is smitten with him but heard him loud and clear when he said he’d never consider seducing her, so she throws herself into governessing as best she can--and that’s not easy, either, because Chase’s two wards are quite the hilarious handful. I’m looking forward to the next in the series, The Wallflower Wager, which comes out this week.

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AuthorTaryn
CategoriesRecommendations