Thursday, August 11, 2022

Bibliojunkies News

Hi Everyone!

Bel here and I wanted to let you know of some changes here at Bibliojunkies HQ.

Over the last two years, the three of us - Shel, Bel and Nat - have experienced some significant life changes that have required our attention elsewhere. We still love to read but blogging has not been something all three of us could sustain regularly.

So with that being said, I have decided to continue reading and reviewing books, and to continue working with publishers and promotional organizations on releases, cover reveals, sales promos, etc. I have transitioned to Instagram and Twitter; find me at @lvndrgms3 on both platforms.

This is both exciting and bittersweet. Bibliojunkies has been a great platform for us to showcase our love of books, and to meet other avid readers and fantastic authors. We've attended book cons, book signings, and met some amazing folks along the way. We will forever be grateful for the opportunities book blogging has given us, and how it helped to expand our worldview.

Much love to Nat and Shel as they continue on with their pursuits. In the meantime, I hope you'll stick around and join me as I take on my next phase.  

~ Bel

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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

A Lady for A Duke by Alexis Hall

* * * * *

A lush, sweeping queer historical romance from the bestselling author of Boyfriend Material—perfect for fans of Netflix’s Bridgerton, Evie Dunmore, and Manda Collins!

When Viola Caroll was presumed dead at Waterloo she took the opportunity to live, at last, as herself. But freedom does not come without a price, and Viola paid for hers with the loss of her wealth, her title, and her closest companion, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood.

Only when their families reconnect, years after the war, does Viola learn how deep that loss truly was. Shattered without her, Gracewood has retreated so far into grief that Viola barely recognises her old friend in the lonely, brooding man he has become.

As Viola strives to bring Gracewood back to himself, fresh desires give new names to old feelings. Feelings that would have been impossible once and may be impossible still, but which Viola cannot deny. Even if they cost her everything, all over again.

Source: NetGalley; ARC generously provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

It's always so interesting to read one of your favorite authors when they're switching up genres and in Alexis Hall fashion, he's delivered a queer historical romance featuring a trans heroine which I was excited about, and seriously how awesome is it that we can be reading something like this?!

Viola, in her former life when she was known as Marleigh, had been unhappy in his body and the world his body inhabited.  When Marleigh was severely injured during the Battle of Waterloo, he took advantage of being presumed dead to disappear for a while and eventually rebuild her life in a way that finally felt true to herself.  Now as Viola and reunited with her former best friend Gracewood, she sees what the loss of Marleigh's presence and their friendship has done to him.  Gracewood has thought all along that Marleigh was dead.  In a way, yes, the Marleigh he knew no longer exists.  But meeting Viola, and sensing a connection he hasn't felt in a long time, pulls him from the deepest recesses of his grief and addiction back into the light. 

The story is heartbreaking but also so, so sweet.  There's so much pain and doubt and some regret yet so much to love as Viola is determined to live her life without apologies.  I felt all her fears as well because as much as she feels free in one sense, she's also bound herself to a life and a role that limits women, something she's getting used to.  And she's nervous about being recognized, outed and shunned.  It becomes more complicated with Gracewood as she wants to, on the one hand, reveal herself to him to ease his pain and because she loves him.  She misses their camaraderie as much as Gracewood does, and can't help but slowly fall in love with him.  On the other hand, she wants him to live a happy life free of any trouble, with a beautiful wife and children, and that would certainly not happen should they give in to their feelings. 

Y'all, my heart broke for them so many times!  I think that's the grueling part of this story - seeing how much their pain and trauma have consumed them, and how society would never accept or condone Viola's choice over her own body or Gracewood's choice to love whom he chooses. Then there are the most spectacular moments of the most intimate connection between two people and all I could do was swoon and want to rail against the world and remake it just so that they could exist as they'd like. You know that's some good writing when you feel that way!

Now I am not LGBTQIA+  so I can only review this story from my perspective as a reader who enjoys a good story and wants to grow and gain a better understanding of the world.  It gets a bit slow in the middle but picks back up with the help of some entertaining side characters the way only Hall can create them. As a romance it hits the markers of drama, the great love of your life, second chance, redemption, and of course, the happily ever after.  But I defer to folks within the LGBTQIA+ community to comment on the rest. For me, A Lady for a Duke is breathtaking and romantic and I'd definitely recommend it.

~ Bel

CW: grief, abusive father (memories), addiction, panic attacks, PTSD (war), bullying (side character), kidnapping (side character)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Our Last Days in Barcelona by Chanel Cleeton

* * * * *

When Isabel Perez travels to Barcelona to save her sister Beatriz, she discovers a shocking family secret in New York Times bestselling author Chanel Cleeton’s new novel.

Barcelona, 1964. Exiled from Cuba after the revolution, Isabel Perez has learned to guard her heart and protect her family at all costs. After Isabel’s sister Beatriz disappears in Barcelona, Isabel goes to Spain in search of her. Joining forces with an unlikely ally thrusts Isabel into her sister’s dangerous world of espionage, but it’s an unearthed piece of family history that transforms Isabel’s life.

Barcelona, 1936. Alicia Perez arrives in Barcelona after a difficult voyage from Cuba, her marriage in jeopardy and her young daughter Isabel in tow. Violence brews in Spain, the country on the brink of civil war, the rise of fascism threatening the world. When Cubans journey to Spain to join the International Brigades, Alicia’s past comes back to haunt her as she is unexpectedly reunited with the man who once held her heart.

Alicia and Isabel’s lives intertwine, and the past and present collide, as a mother and daughter are forced to choose between their family’s expectations and following their hearts.

Source: NetGalley; advance copy provided by Berkley in exchange for an honest review

What can I say about Chanel Cleeton's Perez Sisters series that hasn't been said already? These books have absolutely captivated me, swept me away and taught me so much history as well. Our Last Days in Barcelona is gorgeous, a little suspenseful and delivers on the happily ever after.

I adore the dual timeline format that Cleeton adopted for these books, even more so as I'm so keen to see how all the dots connect. This time we also get a glimpse of the matriarch of the Perez family, Alicia, and I was surprised by the less than perfect start to her marriage. It's this mystery that ties into Beatriz's disappearance that has Isabel worried, flying from Florida to Barcelona to locate her whereabouts. While on this mission, she learns other family secrets that unsettle her.

Our Last Days in Barcelona highlights the strained, complex relationship Cuba has with Spain. With Alicia's timeline set in the late 1930's, there's a heightened sense of trepidation in Spain with the threat of pending civil war. I know that Spain's political history is complicated, but Cleeton keeps the focus zeroed in on this specific moment and the terrifying impact it was having on its citizens. 

I so appreciate this series for all that it has introduced me to Cuba's rich multi-cultural heritage and the turbulent decades that these books have spanned. The Perez family with all of their ups and downs and uncertainties, have become real to me and I feel grateful for being included on this journey.

~ Bel

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Emma Project (The Rajes #4) by Sonali Dev

* * * * *

Emma gets a fresh Indian-American twist from award-winning author Sonali Dev in her heartwarmingly irresistible Jane Austen inspired rom com series.

No one can call Vansh Raje’s life anything but charmed. Handsome—Vogue has declared him California’s hottest single—and rich enough to spend all his time on missions to make the world a better place. Add to that a doting family and a contagiously sunny disposition and Vansh has made it halfway through his twenties without ever facing anything to throw him off his admittedly spectacular game.

A couple years from turning forty, Knightlina (Naina) Kohli has just gotten out of a ten-year-long fake relationship with Vansh’s brother and wants only one thing from her life…fine, two things. One, to have nothing to do with the unfairly blessed Raje family ever again. Two, to bring economic independence to millions of women in South Asia through her microfinance foundation and prove her father wrong about, well, everything.

Just when Naina’s dream is about to come to fruition, Vansh Raje shows up with his misguided Emma Project... And suddenly she’s fighting him for funding and wondering if a friends-with-benefits arrangement that’s as toe-curlingly hot as it is fun is worth risking her life’s work for.

Source: NetGalley; advance copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

I am declaring this fourth installment in The Rajes series as my favorite! Why? Because Vansh and Naina make excellent adversaries-turned-something-more in The Emma Project

Yes, Vansh has a magnetic personality that attracts people but he also makes them feel safe and heard. When you look past the Raje family legacy and the looks, there is an authentic soul in that body. He's someone who's strived to prove himself beyond the Raje name to find his life's purpose. Naina is not quite charismatic nor does she care to be. At the moment she's still dealing with the fallout from the revelation of her fake relationship with Yash. The press feels sorry for her, the Raje family are all but giving her the cold shoulder thinking that it was she who manipulated Yash all these years. None of those problems compare to what is currently her biggest problem which is working with a finicky benefactor who revels in power trips. Naina's had to deal with difficult men all her life, her father being the worst of all. She has a strained relationship with her parents, especially her father who's disappointed he never had a son, and who is only ever worried about his status in the community. He's essentially a bully to her and her mother, and her mother has never fought back. Now she's facing another man who wishes the pull the strings as far as her life's work is concerned. The last thing Naina wants to do is allow even an inch of space for Vansh to step in and take away her access to funding. But when it looks like there's no other option, she grudgingly agrees to work with Vansh to share the funding and hopefully out-maneuver their patron. 

Out of all the Rajes novels, I consider The Emma Project to be most like a rom-com and it's definitely due to Vansh's personality and Naina's often biting retorts to his attempts at charming his way through things. He's irresistible and is quick with the one-liners as well. I think I enjoyed this best of all because their chemistry ignites from the word "go", which made me realize that it's been a while since I've felt that kind of spark in the characters I've read recently. This is friends-to-lovers or better yet, frenemies-to-lovers with Naina obviously viewing Vansh as her competition in acquiring the financing she needs for her project.

Romance aside, there's also a good amount of time spent on how women are viewed and how Naina's had to overcome both her father's disappointment in not having a son, and his ambitious desire to have his daughter married off to a family that can elevate his standing, and specifically his ego. She has grown up in a household where women are torn down and stripped of their own desires. She saw the maltreatment her mother silently accepted. Naina has refused to be that kind of person. She wants to be a stronger woman who doesn't need a man at her side because a man would only demand she give up what she loves. But her father has also demonstrated how men behave and she's learned her lesson well, using that to work around her oftentimes misogynistic benefactor.

It was an absolute joy to read The Emma Project and I'm still smiling about it. Sonali Dev gives you heart and soul in her storytelling and it's been a privilege getting to know The Rajes. I'm glad this series is ending on such a high note!

~ Bel

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Sari, Not Sari by Sonya Singh

* * *

This delightful debut rom-com follows the adventures of a woman trying to connect with her South Asian roots and introduces readers to a memorable cast of characters in a veritable feast of food, family traditions, and fun.

Manny Dogra is the beautiful young CEO of Breakup, a highly successful company that helps people manage their relationship breakups. As preoccupied as she is with her business, she’s also planning her wedding to handsome architect Adam Jamieson while dealing with the loss of her beloved parents.

For reasons Manny has never understood, her mother and father, who were both born in India, always wanted her to become an “All-American” girl. So that’s what she did. She knows next to nothing about her South Asian heritage, and that’s never been a problem—until her parents are no longer around, and an image of Manny that’s been Photoshopped to make her skin look more white appears on a major magazine cover. Suddenly, the woman who built an empire encouraging people to be true to themselves is having her own identity crisis.

But when an irritating client named Sammy Patel approaches Manny with an odd breakup request, the perfect solution presents itself: If they both agree to certain terms, he’ll give her a crash course in being “Indian” at his brother’s wedding.

What follows is days of dancing and dal, masala and mehndi as Manny meets the lovable, if endlessly interfering, aunties and uncles of the Patel family, and, along the way, discovers much more than she could ever have anticipated.

Source: NetGalley; ARC provided by publisher in exchange for a honest review

As a South Asian who grew up outside of the community and looking to learn about her own roots, Sari, Not Sari's premise spoke to me on a deeply personal level, but that's about as far as it went.

Manny is a successful CEO of Breakup, a company that she built from the ground up. Her expertise is in relationships and specifically how to help people end relationships cordially with minimal damage when those relationships come to the end of the road. It's a lucrative business and people are noticing as evidenced by articles and tv interviews. A recent write up in a high-profile magazine is supposed to catapult the company into the stratosphere, but the excitement is dimmed when Manny sees that they've photoshopped her cover to make her lighter-skinned. Being that her darker skin tone is one of the few things she feels ties her to her Indian heritage, it sends her into a frenzy, and now she wants to find out more about the culture she comes from.

You know, I get all of this because I feel it, too. It's just that I found the way Manny goes about it to be a head scratcher. She agrees to help Sammy, a client and fellow South Indian, with a temporary breakup on the condition that she accompany him to his family's wedding so she can learn all about everything Indian. I have two reactions to this. One, the idea that attending a weeklong wedding celebration is enough to learn all about a culture that's as diverse as the number of dialects within the Indian subcontinent is a faulty one. Two, one of her best friends and colleague, Anjali is Indian so it makes no sense to me that she'd never sought to connect to the culture through their longtime friendship. But going to a wedding with someone she barely knows will solve her identity crisis problem. See? Head scratcher.

Full disclosure - I started Sari, Not Sari with the sincere hope of finding something meaningful for myself through Manny's experience, but it all fell flat from the beginning. I wasn't into their romance, either. I would've liked to see Manny learn about her family's roots and culture through genuine connection outside of a wedding celebration. Instead, she only saw the showy parts, the ostentatious celebratory stuff that's all surface level and part of what she's seeking. It's a small fraction of a rich culture and that's all she takes from it to feel fully Indian. It didn't jibe with me in the least.

What I was hoping for and what I read were two completely different things. Upon reflection, I think I wanted the content of Sari, Not Sari to be more women's fiction, and in a rom-com format there's only so much deep-diving that can happen into a question as loaded as "What does being Indian mean?". I'm disappointed this didn't work out for me but I think this story works for a reader who wants to get lost in the joyful experience of an Indian wedding.

~ Bel

Friday, April 8, 2022

Something Fabulous by Alexis Hall

* * * 1/2

From the acclaimed author of Boyfriend Material comes a delightfully witty romance featuring a reserved duke who’s betrothed to one twin and hopelessly enamoured of the other.

Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, has twin problems: literally.

It was always his father’s hope that Valentine would marry Miss Arabella Tarleton. But, unfortunately, too many novels at an impressionable age have caused her to grow up…romantic. So romantic that a marriage of convenience will not do and after Valentine’s proposal she flees into the night determined never to set eyes on him again.

Arabella’s twin brother, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton, has also grown up…romantic. And fully expects Valentine to ride out after Arabella and prove to her that he’s not the cold-hearted cad he seems to be.

Despite copious misgivings, Valentine finds himself on a pell-mell chase to Dover with Bonny by his side. Bonny is unreasonable, overdramatic, annoying, and…beautiful? And being with him makes Valentine question everything he thought he knew. About himself. About love. Even about which Tarleton he should be pursuing.

*Source: purchased copy

Since I read my first Alexis Hall book a few years ago I've felt that I can never really go wrong reading his novels. He makes me laugh, snicker, look up words in the dictionary...I just always enjoy them. Something Fabulous somewhat rested that for me.

I loved Valentine right off the bat. Yes, he's a bit clueless about matters of the heart but his clueless heart is sincere. And he believes in duty which is why he proposes marriage to Arabella. Except Arabella is repulsed by this idea because he's doing this out of a sense of duty, and he has no genuine feeling for her. Neither does she have any for him. I commiserated with her up to this point because she shouldn't have to be in a loveless marriage. She wants romance and she should have that. It's just that she wants the drama, too. She runs off in the dead of night away from her family, from Valentine, and then her brother Bonny shows up the next morning to insist Valentine set everything right again. Bonny's worried for his twin sister since they've never been far from each other, and he knows that she was not the least bit impressed by Valentine's attempt at a marriage proposal. This is all fairly understandable. But what ensues can only be described as consistent bullying towards Valentine.

In truth, I enjoyed the story more than I was irritated by it. Arabella is a drama queen to the nth degree and I did not like any scene she was in. All her melodrama and machinations only served to torture Valentine - emotionally and physically - and put him in harm's way several times. She does this in the name of self-preservation and above all, adventure, and seems only too delighted to thrust Valentine into danger. Her behavior does not elicit sympathy in the least. Bonny messed with Valentine, too, but mostly in a teasing and crossing boundaries way. The thing is Valentine is not a bad guy. He's just oblivious, and part of that comes from the fact that he's never felt anything real before. All he has comprehended so far is that he's part of the upper class and with that comes responsibilities and expectations. He has tried to live up to them, but there's never been anything that has caused him to question his life until now. This bizarre traumatic series of events has disrupted his world so abruptly, and yet somehow, Bonny has squirreled his way into Valentine's ambivalent heart.

I want to say this was a fun read but it doesn't feel right to say that when the comedic aspect comes at the expense of Valentine's agony and abuse. A lot of it is repetitive, and while forced proximity can be an exciting trope, it feels so ... wrong here because of the other cast of characters involved. I mean, Bonny is not as terrible as his twin but it's not like he readily jumped to Valentine's defense. So I'm not particularly fond of Bonny, either, for playing along with Arabella's games.

It might sound like I'm dissing this story but I don't think Something Fabulous was a waste of time. I stuck around for Valentine and in the end I came around to Bonny, and the idea of them together. I wish their union wasn't borne out of all the chaos, but I'm certainly wishing them a happily ever after.

~ Bel

Monday, April 4, 2022

Witch Please (Fix-It Witches #1) by Ann Aguirre

* * 

Practical Magic meets Gilmore Girls in this adorable witchy rom-com with:

• A bisexual virgin baker with a curse
• A witch looking to avoid romantic entanglements
• And a chemistry between them that causes literal sparks

Danica Waterhouse is a fully modern witch—daughter, granddaughter, cousin, and co-owner of the Fix-It Witches, a magical tech repair shop. After a messy breakup that included way too much family “feedback,” Danica made a pact with her cousin: they’ll keep their hearts protected and have fun, without involving any of the overly opinionated Waterhouse matriarchs. Danica is more than a little exhausted navigating a long-standing family feud where Gram thinks the only good mundane is a dead one and Danica’s mother weaves floral crowns for anyone who crosses her path.

Three blocks down from the Fix-It Witches, Titus Winnaker, owner of Sugar Daddy’s bakery, has family trouble of his own. After a tragic loss, all he’s got left is his sister, the bakery, and a lifetime of terrible luck in love. Sure, business is sweet, but he can’t seem to shake the romantic curse that’s left him past thirty and still a virgin. He’s decided he’s doomed to be forever alone.

Until he meets Danica Waterhouse. The sparks are instant, their attraction irresistible. For him, she’s the one. To her, he’s a firebomb thrown in the middle of a family war. Can a modern witch find love with an old-fashioned mundane who refuses to settle for anything less than forever?

Source: borrowed from HooplaAudio

Witch Please started off well. It seemed to live up to its clever, cutesy title. Danica and Titus seemed like the classic rom-com couple that readers and viewers always adore, and it was all going swimmingly until...until several details popped up that made the story not so great overall.

As the blurb suggests, Danica and Titus are both looking for love, though they have differing requisites for their long-term relationships. Danica needs to end up with a fellow witch to appease her grandmother and continue their witchy legacy. Titus just wants to be with someone who actually wants to be with him wholeheartedly. Commitment has always eluded him and he has this debilitating tendency to fall head first for any person. It feels so right and so different with Danica, whereas all she wants is a quick fling with a non-witch before she agrees to her grandmother's terms. I was okay with this setup because forbidden love is kind of sexy, but then it veered into an unpleasant direction.

Danica's grandmother is distrustful of humans. History has treated woman and witches badly. However, her distrust is full on bigotry when you get further into the story, and she uses it to manipulate Danica and her cousin, Clem. She'd previously shut out Danica's mother because she married a non-witch, a big no-no, so she's willing to do the same to Danica. Clem also goes along with the grandmother and is outright hostile and unsupportive of Danica's relationship with Titus. The part that's frustrating is that Danica can see her grandmother's unreasonable and unfair behavior. She sees it towards non-witches, she see how her grandmother treats her mother, yet she doesn't say anything. She and her cousin are so indoctrinated that they simply accept their grandmother's bullying. Danica spends most of the story worrying about pissing off her grandmother instead of confronting her. It was incredibly annoying.

Another plot detail that was horrifying - and I'm sorry but this is a spoiler - is that Titus' unfortunate love life is because of a curse that was placed on him by Danica's mother. Her mother had simply arranged for Danica's true love to never be able to connect with anyone so that he'd only be available to Danica when the time was right. It was her way of providing a happy outcome for her and to counteract the  grandmother's meddlesome ways. WHAT??? NO!!!!! This is not romantic in the least. Instead it's manipulative and just so WRONG! Rather than up to her own mother, she took the coward's way out and effectively robbed Titus of his choice over his own fate. Not only was he not aware of it, he also thought that something was wrong with him. How is that remotely acceptable? This is not a fairytale of centuries past so we shouldn't have to deal in that kind of backwards scheming in a story in today's climate. Yet Danica accepts it with no qualms and reacts like it's a loving gesture. 

The one small bright spot in all this is Titus and his sister providing a home to their younger stepsister. Their parents are essentially clueless about how their kids feel left out and now shoved aside with a baby on the way.  Titus has a big heart and it was so sweet of him to create a safe, welcoming space for her. There's more involved in that bizarre family dynamic but this really was the one thing that warmed my heart in this story.

I can generally handle flawed characters and scenarios and wade through the storm with them. Do I expect my heroines to be perfect? No. But I expect some awareness or smarts. Danica's complete inaction to call out inappropriate behaviors were problematic. She didn't seem like an adult with her own mind but a child restrained and too afraid to venture outside the bubble. Even when she did finally stand up for herself she never addressed all the issues. And while she and Titus got together, I did not celebrate it because it was due to magical manipulation instead of free will. I did not find it endearing at all. Witch Please might conclude with a happy ending, it's the issues that weren't treated with any kind of gravity - the bigotry, manipulation and complacency - that make that ending unsatisfying. 

~ Bel