Review: Helen Hoang – The Bride Test

The Bride Test
Helen Hoang

Khai doesn’t need relationships – he’s not lonely. Esme doesn’t think she needs to get married, since she has her daughter already. But both of them could be happier if they had someone in their lives. Esme can stay in the USA if she can marry him – but can she love him as well?

Ah, I wouldn’t have called this The Bride Test. Is Esme really tested? Or is it Khai who has to decide what he really wants? I loved reading their different perspectives and how the times almost overlapped, and that arg! How could they both think such different things about the same interactions? Well, since Khai identifies as having Autism, yes, it’s clear how that can be the case. It’s nice to see a non-neurotypical writer commenting and writing on a topic that she is surely intimately familiar with.

This novel has some HOT sex scenes that surprisingly didn’t make me cringe too much! Khai’s first time is adorable. There’s a lot of time spent thinking about penises because Khai is sexually frustrated, so if that’s not your thing, perhaps don’t pick this novel up. Esme is so comfortable with her body that it’s really freeing to read about.

GoodReads has this tagged as ‘The Kiss Quotient #2′ but it has NOTHING to do with Helen Hoang’s other novel. Yes, they both have autistic protagonists and are hot romances, but that’s it. They don’t contain any of the same characters.

You know, I read this the moment it got inside my front door like a ravaging maniac. Then I didn’t review it because I went on holidays. So then, oh, poor me, I had to read it again! And so I’ll give it 5 stars. I can’t wait for Helen Hoang’s next novel.

Allen & Unwin | 1st July 2019 | $33.99 | paperback

Review: Paige Toon – Five Years From Now

Five Years From Now
Paige Toon

Nell wants to sleep on the bottom bunk when she visits her dad – there’s no way she’s giving up ‘her spot’ for Vian. But Vian’s mum is really nice too – and Vian and Nell have the beginning of a great friendship, or maybe more than just friends. But is there actually a spark? And what does it mean that they are as good as brother and sister?

No, I don’t care about your relationship, Nell and Van. Yes, I think you’re pathetic. Move on already. It might be a ground breaking romance but that doesn’t mean that without it you’re worthless. It could be ‘one true love’ or it could just be you poking a sore because you’re too afraid to move on. Oh, and not to mention that the cheeky Piskies just seemed to be a complete setup.

I hated the perspective in this novel. The novel starts out with Nell telling her son Luke a story, but then somehow at the end jumps into the future. It’s not clear where Nell’s memories begin and end. This novel reminded me of City of Girls, where the main character just seems to float around in her own mind and already knows the outcome and takes foreshadowing shots into the dark to confuse the reader. Except that at least in City of Girls the main character had a spine. I’m not sure Van does.

What I enjoyed about this novel was that it showed the hardships on divorced parents, not just their children. No, just because you’re having a baby doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to get married (or offer to get married). What about an abortion? It didn’t seem to cross any of their minds. Sometimes there isn’t a one right path – and that’s ok too.

I started and finished this novel reluctantly – my phone battery was dying and I couldn’t be bothered getting a different book from my suitcase to read. 2 stars from me. Don’t bother with it.

Penguin Random House | 30th April 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Rebecca Serle – The Dinner List

The Dinner List
Rebecca Serle

Sabrina has invited one person to her 30th birthday dinner, yet when she arrives there are five people at the table. One is her best friend and another her college professor, but also three dead people. Over wine and conversation, Sabrina is invited to reflect on her life so far, and what she wants to do next.

I hated this novel. I finished it, but I completely skimmed the last half of it because I was impatient with the slow action and boring protagonist. Passing between the present dinner and past memories could have added some momentum, but instead just served to push me out of the narrative, and wonder why the dinner table format had been used if the novel was going to contain flashbacks anyway.

I get that this could have been a sort of thought experiment, but honestly why was Audrey Hepburn there? I could understand her ex being there, and her dead father, but ugh, the rest could have been the waiter talking for all I cared, interjecting with random suggestions of how to think about ideas.

How is that ending useful? I didn’t experience any closure, or any sense of why the ending was logical. I’ve tagged this novel under ‘romance’ because that’s what GoodReads advised me, but I don’t think it’s a romance. It’s a tragedy of a novel that had potential but failed to perform. 1 star from me.

Allen & Unwin | 29th August 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Uzma Jalaluddin – Ayesha at Last

Ayesha at Last
Uzma Jalaluddin

When does Ayesha get to choose her own path? As a high-school substitute teacher with little interest in getting married, she feels pressure to meet her extended family’s expectations. This includes looking after her cousin Hafsa, who is determined to have 100 marriage proposals before settling down. When her path intersects with Khalid, the two must decide for themselves how much they are willing to sacrifice – and gain.

You can tell that this novel is written by someone who actually understands Muslim culture, and isn’t just writing a novel in the ‘genre’ because it’s ‘popular’. Often I find in novels that there is a lot of going on about hijabs, when really most of the time it’s not anything out of the ordinary for the woman in question. Ayesha is comfortable with her faith even as she rebels against some of the requirements and expectations of her family.

I envy them their faith. I hope that people who do not understand or do not want to understand Muslim culture can read this novel and have their views changed. The sad fact is that many people are like Sheila the Shark – out to tarnish everyone of a religion/culture/group/minority with the sins of one person. This novel hopefully starts poking holes in those assumptions. Ayesha is a believable character that I found it easy to relate to.

Now, given the hassle of organising my own wedding lately, you’d expect that I felt indifferent or fearful of this novel. But my own life is far removed from this one. My parents certainly have never considered arranging a marriage for me (and I’d be pretty surprised if they did). Many people see arranged marriages as old fashioned and stuffy, but others of my friends who are older and having trouble finding a life partner feel differently. I guess it also depends how close you are to your parents.

Um, this is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice? Ugh, suddenly my star rating wants to go down a bit… No, I think this novel stands fine on its own and shouldn’t be compared to a stodgy Jane Austin novel. It’s a clean, touching romance novel that still had some bite and edge to it. I’m giving it 4 well deserved stars because I found it really difficult to put down, and I found myself second-guessing the story right up until the last 3 pages.

Allen & Unwin | 4th February 2019 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Victoria Schade – Life on the Leash

Life on the Leash
Victoria Schade

Cora is a successful dog trainer who thrives on organisation. Her rescue pit bull counts as the man of her life, and she’s content writing a blog about best-practice training techniques. However a run in with an incredibly sexy client who she just can’t seem to say no to, as well as a dog-in-need with a cute guy in tow means that Cora is starting to rethink her priorities.

This is a lighthearted romance with a spot of dog-loving thrown in! Cora’s a likable enough character who creates laughter with her descriptions of dogs-gone-wrong. There are sad parts to the novel too, but nothing particularly cry worthy. If you’re looking for a beach-side read, this novel could be it. This novel is decidedly chaste, so don’t go looking for sex scenes.

From the blurb, I expected that this novel would be all about how Cora copes with being a dog trainer on TV, but it’s not that at all. Most of the novel is taken up by her escapades with her clients and her friendship with the irrepressible Maggie. When I tried to explain the plot to my fiancee I found myself struggling for relevant details of the plot – because normally I wouldn’t go for a romance that doesn’t have a unique protagonist (eg. The Kiss Quotient).

Go into this novel expecting a light read that will take you around 2-3 hours. You might even get some dog training tricks out of it – the author is a well known dog health expert, so you can trust what is written here. I’m giving this 3 stars.

Allen & Unwin | 1st December 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Janet Evanovich – Stephanie Plum series

Stephanie Plum series
Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum is a terrible daughter, neighbour and employee. Most of these qualities are due to the fact that she’s employed as a bounty hunter for bail jumpers – but leaves her cell phone flat and her gun in the cookie jar. This lovable/hateable unlikely heroine regularly finds herself being shot at but with the help of her love interests Morelli the cop and Ranger the sexy beast, and her ex-ho friend Lula she’ll live to fight another day.

You don’t need to have read the first novel in the series. You don’t need to have read any of the series in the middle to the novel you’ve gotten your hands on! Evanovich sets the scene of Stephanie very simply at the beginning of every novel. In the past, I read Turbo Twenty-Three without having touched the novels before! I read 5 or so of these in a row before I couldn’t take anymore.

Steph is so clueless, and the jokes so stupid and the badguys so unbelievable it just makes you laugh the whole way through. The novels are set up in such a way that the reader can predict the ending but Steph is left wandering around in the dark (literally, half the time). When she got the dog, Bob, the funniest moments were when he ate too much and she took him to poop on her arch-nemesis’ front lawn. So I’m not immune to toilet humour, sue me. I can’t believe they made this into a movie! I fear for my eyeballs.

This is just like the Mercedes Thompson novels I just read! A cruisy light read that encourages your brain to switch off for vacation time. However, the plot and execution of the Mercedes Thompson series is more my style in the end (also, there is 25+ novels in that series!).

I’ll be giving three stars to this harmless crime-romance series. Just don’t read too many in a row or your brain may fall out from Steph’s sheer stupidity.

Review: Beth Harbison – When in Doubt, Add Butter

When in Doubt, Add Butter
Beth Harbinson

Gemma Craig (no relative of Jenny Craig) is a private chef to a different household each night of the week. She’s sick of romance and has been warned off getting married by a teacher fortune teller in her childhood. When her jobs suddenly start falling out from under her and a one-night-stand has unexpected complications, Gemma is going to have to grow up.

This was a lighthearted romance that didn’t even vaguely begin to address the deep-seated problems that Gemma professed not to have. But! If you are just looking for a casual read that will carry your tired brain through two spare hours this novel is going to tick boxes for you. It didn’t ask me to think and it didn’t teach me anything either – sometimes that’s just what you need.

What upset/irritated me about this novel was the inclusion of the fortune teller. Honestly I wasn’t sure why the element was there, and it didn’t add any depth to the novel. I have not read any of the other novels by this author and perhaps the use of a mystic is a common theme. For me though, I would have rather heard more about the ingredients going into cooking.

I did enjoy the way that Gemma talked about her cooking. Who knew that you could have a egg/bee/”moo”-free Parmesan substitute? I could have heard more about the steps and how it would take a whole afternoon to cook in Mr. Tuesday’s apartment. Also, I’d love to know what she was spending her profits on since she didn’t have any money in the bank but it seemed like she had no time to do anything outside her cooking!

This blurb wasn’t accurate! When the weekday members are introduced in the text of the novel, I kept flipping to the back cover to see which one was Willa. But none of them were – the blurb actually depicted the action half-way through the novel. Never mind. Pick up this novel for a lighthearted read that actually reminded me of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake or Caramel Hearts just for the title, not the actual storyline!

I picked up this cheeky cheapie from GoodWill while on vacation for the princely sum of 50c. It was well worth it, even if it’s not going to follow me home. 3 stars from me for giving me a pleasant way to pass time sitting in a lovely park outside. I will now release it on Book Crossing.

Review: Helen Hoang – The Kiss Quotient

The Kiss Quotient
Helen Hoang

Stella Lane can come up with a formula to unite very disparate data points and predict customer purchases. However, her mathematics skills have not equipped her for when one person becomes a relationship of two. Her critical analysis of the situation has only one answer – pay someone to train her in the language of love.

This was a HOT romance novel filled with unexpected touching moments of both kinds! I devoured it in one afternoon, eagerly voyeuring into Stella and Michael’s burgeoning relationship. Stella is developed as a fantastic non-typical character that is full of life and her own strong personality. Michael is not quite as well explored, but the author exposes enough of him (pun intended!) for the reader to properly appreciate him.

I can fully understand Stella’s point of view. Being touched by people (even your family) can be very intimate, and at times it can feel like there is an invisible, painful friction when you are interacting with them when you feel vulnerable or perhaps don’t like them.

I’m not normally a F/M romance reader as I’m more interested in F/F ones such as Something True (did I mention there is a new Karelia Stetz-Waters novel coming out????). But this novel was an excellent exception – I really enjoyed it and I think it deserves 4 stars. May everyone find their Michael who respects them and treats them like a God(dess).

Allen & Unwin | 13th June 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Robin Storey – An Affair with Danger

An Affair with Danger
Robin Storey

Will is held up in an armed robbery, and can no longer think straight. His life as a lawyer should have prepared for the court to stand witness, but instead he finds himself falling for the perp’s girlfriend, Frankie. What follows is an affair that is perhaps a little dangerous.

The author gets points for making the novel potentially race along, skipping years where necessary to make the plot move. What redeemed this novel a little was the writing style, and the gentle nature of the male protagonist. He wasn’t all macho, which made it a refreshing change from other romance novels. Not to mention it was a MALE protagonist, which is rare in this genre.

This was a throwaway novel. It’s nothing special, I’m sorry to say. Where it fails is that it didn’t leave me with a sense of having gained anything in reading it. I didn’t get attached enough to the characters, I didn’t learn anything particularly pertinent about being a lawyer. It left me feeling lukewarm, with the romance/affair not being ‘throbbing’ enough to keep my attention.

This author did send me this novel off her own bat, and has spent a very unfair amount of time waiting for this review. I also interviewed her back in 2016. It makes me wish I could have gotten more out of the novel and given it a more positive review. I’m going to give it a lower end of a 3 star review, because I did finish reading it.

Review: Liz Kessler – Haunt Me

Haunt Me
Liz Kessler

Erin has just moved house to get away from a horrific high school bullying situation which got out of control. When she goes into her bedroom, she is surprised to find it already occupied – by a ghost. Joe doesn’t remember how he died, or how he lived, but he knows that he wishes he was alive to be with Erin.

Ollie isn’t introduced until mid-way through the novel, and by then I was already too attached to the Erin-Joe relationship to give him any time. Ollie, you are boring and you can’t redeem yourself in my eyes. Self-centred bastard who can’t see past his own guilt.

I’m giving this novel points for dealing with difficult themes, including suicide as a product of bullying. However, I’m taking away points for the ending. Yay! A hopeful ending. Not. This is not what the rest of the novel was leading up to. I was very disappointed.

This captured the recovering depressed mind of a teenager beautifully. Erin’s ritual with the bottle, the cloud she refers to, and even the rushed moments at the end of the novel – everything is as it should be. Which is why, again, I have such an issue with the ending.

Inconsistencies with the character development and the stupidity of Erin were the death knells of this novel for me. For being an “intensely romantic” novel, Erin’s love for Joe felt cliched, while her feelings for Ollie were just as transperant. Another reviewer calls it “insta-love”, and that’s exactly how I felt about it too. I wanted more reality.

I enjoyed Read Me Like A Book and suspended disbelief for it. I was so excited for this novel, but it simply failed to deliver. I’ll be giving it 3 stars, but recommending that you go for perhaps By The Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead or Burn Journal if you are looking for some YA depression fiction.

Hachette | 13th December 2016 | AU $16.99 | Paperback