Tuesday, February 16, 2021

First Comes Like (Modern Love #3) by Alisha Rai

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The author of The Right Swipe and Girl Gone Viral returns with a story about finding love in all the wrong inboxes...

Beauty expert and influencer Jia Ahmed has her eye on the prize: conquering the internet today, the entire makeup industry tomorrow, and finally, finally proving herself to her big opinionated family. She has little time for love, and even less time for the men in her private messages—until the day a certain international superstar slides into her DMs, and she falls hard and fast.

There’s just one wrinkle: he has no idea who she is.

The son of a powerful Bollywood family, soap opera star Dev Dixit is used to drama, but a strange woman who accuses him of wooing her online, well, that’s a new one. As much as he’d like to focus on his Hollywood fresh start, he can’t get Jia out of his head. Especially once he starts to suspect who might have used his famous name to catfish her…

When paparazzi blast their private business into the public eye, Dev is happy to engage in some friendly fake dating to calm the gossips and to dazzle her family. But as the whole world swoons over their relationship, Jia can’t help but wonder: Can an online romance-turned-offline-fauxmance ever become love in real life? 

Source: digital ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

In her third book in the Modern Love series, Alisha Rai opts out of insta-lust and instead goes for a bit of a slowburn romance that perfectly fits the natures of Jia and Dev.

It all starts with an unfortunate case of catfishing. Jia was convinced that she'd been exchanging those sweet texts with Bollywood star, Dev. She decides to make the bold move to meet him in person when he's in LA to film a new show. Their interaction is the stuff of nightmares because Dev is caught off guard and has no idea who she is. Humiliated and angry, she runs off leaving a perplexed Dev to fight out what just happened. Sure enough he does and feels this immense responsibility to make things right with her. Right there, THAT is what sets Dev apart immediately. He's so super conscientious about things and people, he can't let go of what happened so he reaches out to Jia. She initially wants nothing to do with him ever but when being seen with him might get her parents and family off her back for her career choices, she offers up a different way for him to make it up to her. A fauxmance could serve them both well.

First Comes Like has a different tone to it. It's not flashy and as I said earlier, it's not insta-lust. It's a gradual progression to romance based on becoming friends first and then leading to more. Dev has always maintained a low profile opposite to that of the rest of the men in his family. It's like his goal is to be under the radar and not be embroiled in scandals. What's most wonderful about this story is how much their different cultural backgrounds play in to their relationship for which there's a deep mutual respect. There's no deep conversation about it just that it's something they get about each other. Which reminds me, can we please take a moment to adore this cover and acknowledge how monumental it is that there is a brown, hijab-wearing Muslim woman on the cover of a romance novel? This means the world to so many women looking for representation. And on the same level, Dev is a huge supporter of Jia's career. Being an influencer is still a suspect choice in the eyes of some families, but he sees her remarkable skills and encourages her. He's seriously a sweetheart.

The hardest time I had with this was when the families became involved. I'm just so uncomfortable with families in general pushing for marriage before the parties involved even know how they feel or have any feelings for each other in the first place. I felt their presence only rushed matters and I guess it didn't feel quite as romantic to me because it wasn't an outcome that happened in its own due time. It also seems that Jia and Dev become weird around each other after that, like they've suddenly forgotten how to communicate. They had such a good rhythm going and then it was all thrown off. 

I enjoyed First Comes Like because of its different approach to a romance based on the personalities and cultures of its hero and heroine. I'm glad for the change of pace and it just fed my soul to read two genuinely lovely, decent people become closer. Alisha Rai is a supberb writer and I'll go on reading this series as long as she keeps churning them out.

~ Bel

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

A Lady's Formula for Love (The Secret Scientists of London #1) by Elizabeth Everett

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What is a Victorian lady's formula for love? Mix one brilliant noblewoman and her enigmatic protection officer. Add in a measure of danger and attraction. Heat over the warmth of humor and friendship, and the result is more than simple chemistry—it's elemental.

Lady Violet Hughes is keeping secrets. First, she founded a clandestine sanctuary for England's most brilliant female scientists. Second, she is using her genius on a confidential mission for the Crown. But the biggest secret of all? Her feelings for protection officer Arthur Kneland.

Solitary and reserved, Arthur learned the hard way to put duty first. But the more time he spends in the company of Violet and the eccentric club members, the more his best intentions go up in flames. Literally.

When a shadowy threat infiltrates Violet's laboratories, endangering her life and her work, scientist and bodyguard will find all their theories put to the test—and learn that the most important discoveries are those of the heart.

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

Women in STEM is not a recent development. A Lady's Formula for Love, with its rousing and romantic story, is a marvelous ode to the women scientists who came before to pave the way for future generations.

Lady Violet, who has an enthusiastic passion for science, is a misfit in Victorian London society. She's in her element (pun intended) working in a lab or working out formulas than she is in any social situation that requires her squash her innate curiosity whilst making insufferable small talk. Realizing she wasn't the only lady to feel this way, she created Athena's Retreat, a community and safe haven for women to pursue their intellectual interests away from the prying eyes of judgmental husbands, parents and socialites alike. Because she's been working on a secret formula for the Crown, her stepson hires his friend Arthur, a former spy to be her bodyguard. Yes, folks, this is The Bodyguard Victorian-style and it is fantastic! 

From the onset, Lady Violet and Arthur feel an inexplicably strong attraction which is highly irregular for him because he's in the habit of disassociating himself emotionally from his charges. Lady Violet has become the rare exception. He falls for her extraordinary mind and beauty, and is amused when she's flustered leading her to make unintended inappropriate puns. (Those were so funny!) She also has the biggest heart and most trusting nature, the latter of which tends to make his task of keeping her safe that much harder. Lady Violet has never felt so comfortable with a man, not even with her deceased husband who used to frown upon her intellectual pursuits. Arthur sees her brilliance, and Lady Violet sees beyond his stoic manner to someone who carries a lot of pain and anguish. I guess you can describe their situation as a sort of instalust. There's some mutual recognition there that knows what they need from each other. They're both so well-suited, physically and emotionally.

The charm of reading about Athena's Retreat is down to the eccentric characters who frequent it. They're all committed to the pursuit of learning and carving a space for women to contribute to the world. Each interaction is almost an adventure in itself because of how their minds tend to roam, and I love how their individual personalities shine through. A heavy air of sinisterness hangs over it, though as Arthur attempts to uncover the identity of who's desperate to sabotage Lady Violet's work which is embroiled in controversy and a growing social movement looking to upend the ruling class. The possibility that the saboteur has potentially breached Athena's Retreat and that the next incident could be deadly makes finding the perpetrator a priority. I enjoyed the suspense of it, and of course, Lady Violet and Arthur's impassioned interludes. 

In her author's notes, Everett mentions the names of the pioneering women of science who inspired this story. In giving recognition to these remarkable and brave women, we are reclaiming our part in history, and I am so thankful to Everett for being a resource to learn about their contributions. A Lady's Formula for Love is inspiring because it encourages the beauty of having different interests and not fitting in to the social norms. It's a must-read for anyone who loves reading about women empowering themselves and finding romance in the Victorian age, and also The Bodyguard 😉

~ Bel

Friday, February 5, 2021

You Have A Match by Emma Lord



A new love, a secret sister, and a summer she'll never forget.

From the beloved author of Tweet Cute comes Emma Lord's You Have a Match, a hilarious and heartfelt novel of romance, sisterhood, and friendship...

When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie…although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.

But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.

When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents — especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.

The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby's growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.

But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones.

Source: borrowed audiobook via HooplaAudio

You Have A Match is an absolute charmer. I enjoyed every moment I spent listening to it. DNA services are so popular now but it's the unintended and unexpected discoveries that result from them that have captured our attention. Our curiosity is piqued when it comes to pulling back the curtains on family secrets, unveiling the truth about legends passed down. I mean, we're all hoping to find a rich relative or a remarkable connection, right?

Abby wasn't quite expecting anything out of the ordinary when she agreed to do a DNA test along with best friend and long-standing crush, Leo. For Leo who's adopted, it's a chance to discover family and cultural connections from the Philippines.  When her result comes back it shatters everything she knows about her own family. Finding out she has a 100% match with an older sister who lives in the area is one thing. Finding out Savannah aka Savvy is a pretty big deal on social media? That's just extra. Despite their physical resemblance, they're nothing alike which intimidates Abby. Savvy is put together, photogenic and outgoing whereas Abby is more sporty, all scuffed knees and very low key about her interests. Savvy suggests that Abby join her at a summer camp so they can get to know each other and get to the bottom of their parents secret. She agrees, though hesitantly, and without her parents' knowledge.

I liked that Emma Lord didn't make the getting to you aspect easy. Abby and Savvy don't get along immediately. There's so much underlying suspicion between these two opposing personalities, and maybe guilt about how they ended up where they are. There are also some ridiculous shenanigans thanks to some campers with rebellious streaks. Lord takes in to account how intense things can feel at this age. In Abby and Savvy's case, the slightest deviation from what has always been taken at face value as the truth can tilt their worlds off axis. For Abby and Leo, admitting love to their first crush can be the scariest thing. I liked the reminders that all the "firsts" can be felt so intensely.  The friends and other supporting characters are also loads of fun.

All in all, listening to You Have A Match was time well spent for me. I truly enjoyed both Abby and Savvy as individuals, and also as newfound sisters getting to know themselves and each other.

~ Bel

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Much Ado About You by Samantha Young

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The cozy comforts of an English village bookstore open up a world of new possibilities for Evie Starling in this charming new romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author Samantha Young.

At thirty-three-years old Evangeline Starling's life in Chicago is missing that special something. And when she's passed over for promotion at work, Evie realizes she needs to make a change. Some time away to regain perspective might be just the thing. In a burst of impulsivity, she plans a holiday in a quaint English village. The holiday package comes with a temporary position at Much Ado About Books, the bookstore located beneath her rental apartment. There's no better dream vacation for the bookish Evie, a life-long Shakespeare lover.

Not only is Evie swept up in running the delightful store as soon as she arrives, she's drawn into the lives, loves and drama of the friendly villagers. Including Roane Robson, the charismatic and sexy farmer who tempts Evie every day with his friendly flirtations. Evie is determined to keep him at bay because a holiday romance can only end in heartbreak, right? But Evie can't deny their connection and longs to trust in her handsome farmer that their whirlwind romance could turn in to the forever kind of love.

*Source: ARC provided in exchange for an honest review

There's always joy to be found in reading a Samantha Young book so this was an automatic request for me without even giving the premise a second thought. This is one of those instances I'm glad I didn't pay attention to it because the story unfolding in the first two chapters was all I needed to be swept up in Evie's journey.

Evie is an editor in her early thirties who's angling for a promotion at the magazine she works for and also venturing out into the world of online dating. The opening chapters see her hitting her rock bottom - her date the night before was a no-show, then next day she's passed up for a promotion that she has rightly earned. After being passed over so many times she abruptly quits. Since she's feeling spontaneous, she books a trip to Northumberland in the north of England to live above a bookstore and manage it for a month. This is the perfect soothing balm for her Shakespeare-loving soul. All this sounded like a dream and I was so ecstatic for Evie to live it. That's why we read, right? To live vicariously through these characters.

Evie assimilates to life in the small village of Alnster surprisingly fast. She's welcomed immediately by the locals and but for the few phone calls with her best friend back home, it seems like her life back in Chicago is firmly in the rear view mirror, even if it's supposedly temporary. It gets slightly complicated when she meets an attractive farmer, Roan who's just as quickly taken with her. She's committed to not dating or getting romantically involved so her attraction to him has to be bottled in. The longer she stays in Alnster, the more she falls in love with the village and becomes attached to her new friends.

It was amazing how easily I was able to picture this cute little village in my mind. I felt so at home there. And okay, while I did love the story but there was a tiny bit of something that troubled me. I did get a bit uneasy when I felt Evie got a bit too involved in other people's business. She's living her best life and she's happy so I suppose she wants that for everyone as well. In a way, she's like a modern day Emma in those instances. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work for me and anytime she started meddling I thought it was presumptive on her part. I fully recognize that this is simply my discomfort of Evie's behavior. The good news is that this didn't take away my love of this story because Evie has so many redeeming qualities, and hey, she's freaking badass for dropping everything to find her bliss!

I would recommend Much Ado About You in a heartbeat to anyone who's seeking adventure, self-discovery and a dream romance.

~ Bel