Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick

We're excited to feature Playing the Palace, the newest release from Paul Rudnick. We have a special excerpt, too. You're just going to swoon all over this meet-cute between the Prince Edgar and Carter!


When a lonely American event planner starts dating the gay Prince of Wales, a royal uproar ensues: is it true love or the ultimate meme? Find out in this hilarious romantic comedy.

After having his heart trampled on by his cheating ex, Carter Ogden is afraid love just isn’t in the cards for him. He still holds out hope in a tiny corner of his heart, but even in his wildest dreams he never thought he’d meet the Crown Prince of England, much less do a lot more with him. Yes, growing up he’d fantasized about the handsome, openly gay Prince Edgar, but who hadn’t? When they meet by chance at an event Carter’s boss is organizing, Carter’s sure he imagined all that sizzling chemistry. Or was it mutual?

This unlikely but meant-to-be romance sets off media fireworks on both sides of the Atlantic. With everyone having an opinion on their relationship and the intense pressure of being constantly in the spotlight, Carter finds ferocious obstacles to his Happily Ever After, including the tenacious disapproval of the Queen of England. Carter and Prince Edgar fight for a happy ending to equal their glorious international beginning. It’s a match made on Valentine’s Day and in tabloid heaven.

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Edgar had a bit of that abashed schoolboy look, but the years were lending him a man’s seriousness. When he smiled, all this fell away, and he became pure joy, maybe because he didn’t do it that often, and he surprised himself. His smile had a recklessness to it, which was why he held it in check. I’d made him smile, which was maybe the sexiest thing ever. 

“Your Highness?” I asked, and as I was saying it, I felt like a cartoon mouse dressed as a footman in a Disney animated classic. 

“Yes?” he said, as I climbed the stairs and approached him. 

“May I?” I asked, reaching toward his head. “You look great, and even more adorable than in those pictures where you’re feeding a tiger cub at the London Zoo, which made the entire world go ‘Awww’ and then donate to Save the Tigers. But you’ve got a flyaway—you know, a few strands of hair that might catch the light and mess up the video. So if I could just . . .” 

I reached out and adjusted his naturally wavy, reddish brown hair, and while trying to stay professional, I thought, “I’m touching Prince Edgar’s hair and it feels like cashmere and he’s got a few freckles across the bridge of his nose and eyelashes for days and Carter, do not even look at his lips or you’ll be arrested.” 

“There. Much better. Media-ready.” 

As I said this, Prince Edgar was reaching toward my own hair, and I flinched. 

“I’m so sorry. I was just . . . you have very nice hair as well. But I had no right, I don’t know what came over me . . .” 

Our eyes locked and I couldn’t breathe and I wanted to die because my life was peaking, but on the other hand I couldn’t wait to see what might happen next. 

My phone pinged; I’d meant to silence it and now I was shoving my hand in my pocket to find it, which never looks graceful, but as I yanked the phone free, it rang. 

“Please, take it, it might be critical,” Edgar said, with genuine kindness. 

It was my sister, Abby, who’s about to get married and calls me thirty-eight times a day for monogrammed water bottle consultations and meltdown management, which I usually love doing, only now I told her, “Abbs? I can’t talk, can I call you in just a bit?” 

“But I just texted you,” Abby insisted, “and you didn’t text me back and I’m having an epic gift bag issue—” 

“Which we will totally discuss and examine in depth,” I assured her, “but right now—” 

Edgar was smiling at me, which almost made me drop my phone as Abby yelled, “WHAT? What are you doing that’s so important you can’t help me choose between miniature foil-wrapped chocolate champagne bottles and Lucite boxes of breath mints in my signature colors—” 

“I’m . . . I’m . . .” I sputtered, “I’m at work. I love you and I think you should go with both the bottles and the mints and think about temporary tattoos of the bride’s and groom’s faces but I have to go. I’m sorry!” 

I hung up and told Edgar, “My sister.” 

“Ah. I know the dilemma. I have a brother.” 

Oh my God. Oh my God. He wasn’t politely excusing himself or summoning a security guard. In fact, he kept going, asking, “Is it just the two of you?” 

“Yes. And I adore her, but sometimes she’s, you know, a lot.” 

“As is my brother.” 

“Can I tell you something?” I said, my event-savvy instincts returning. “The way you’re talking to me right now, it’s so easy and appealing, and that’s how you should give your speech. In fact, let’s not call it a speech at all. Just make it a conversation, and pretend the audience is just a batch of friends, hanging out in your . . . castle. And remember to smile. Because your smile, oh my God . . .” 

“What?” Prince Edgar asked. “What about my smile? I think it comes across as mechanical, like I’m pretending to be attentive and fulfill my duties while really I’m just activating a royal reflex or downloading my official mindless smile function. I hate my smile.” 

He hates his smile? Is he out of his mind? If I could smile like that, I’d spend all day looking in the mirror, smiling and sending myself selfies and begging for a date. 


About the Author

Source: Goodreads

Paul M. Rudnick is an American playwright, screenwriter and novelist. His plays include I Hate Hamlet, Jeffrey, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, Valhalla and The New Century. He also wrote for Premiere magazine under the pseudonym Libby Gelman-Waxner. He is openly gay.

(Source: Goodreads bio)


Monday, May 24, 2021

Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey

* * * 3/4

Two people. Infinite lifetimes. One impossible choice.

Thora and Santi are strangers in a foreign city when a chance encounter intertwines their fates. At once, they recognize in each other a kindred spirit—someone who shares their insatiable curiosity, who is longing for more in life than the cards they’ve been dealt. Only days later, though, a tragic accident cuts their story short.

But this is only one of the many connections they share. Like satellites trapped in orbit around each other, Thora and Santi are destined to meet again: as a teacher and prodigy student; a caretaker and dying patient; a cynic and a believer. In numerous lives they become friends, colleagues, lovers, and enemies. But as blurred memories and strange patterns compound, Thora and Santi come to a shocking revelation—they must discover the truth of their mysterious attachment before their many lives come to one, final end.

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

I have so many feelings about this book. It's a unique concept and once things make sense you realize it's a race to the finish.

Thora and Santi meet at college for the first time and their brief encounter leaves a lasting impression. When Thora decides she wants to see him again she finds out it's too late. He's dead and she can only guess how it happened. And this is how the rest of Part I goes - a series of what feels like short stories where Thora and Santi meet over and over again at various stages of their lives. Each encounter is a different experience with different outcomes. Part I requires some patience because there's no explanation, just these moments that either give us a new side of these characters or reinforce their personality traits. Part II is where things start coming together and they try to find meaning in what's happening. Sometimes they get close, others they're simply not capable of getting their acts together. We're not told how or when precisely they figured out they're reliving multiple lives (I would've like to have been clued in on that) but by Part III it gets intense and they finally discover what exactly is going on. It was at this point that I thought the author was genius because she did hide clues in plain sight in Part I. The clues and patterns make sense now.

Here's the thing: when I requested Meet Me in Another Life it came after I saw someone recommend it and I thought it sounded like something totally up my alley. The problem is that certain plot points which wouldn't have bothered me in the past became so after I made my request.  As well done as it was, some of it was just too emotionally raw for me. I've never been one who absolutely needed content/trigger warnings, and I've always respected other readers that do, therefore I have tried to include anything I see as potentially disturbing to a fellow reader in my reviews. This marks the first time ever I wished that I had the benefit of knowing those in advance. I would like to stress that this isn't the author's fault; it's just bad timing and I had a hard time with parts of the story. 

Would I recommend this book? Yes. If you like fantasy, sci-fi, endless do-over opportunities, mysteries and riddles, endless talk about stars, space and existentialism, a literal life or death situation that needs to be resolved ...they're all in this. Like I said earlier, it's pretty genius. I'd just caution you that the sad elements happen repeatedly - even if they're reliving their lives a little differently, those elements almost always make an appearance, and I've included them at the end of my review.

~ Bel

Content Warning/Triggers:
Cancer, brain tumor, deaths, accidents, 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

* * * * *

Eve, Justin, Susie, and Ed have been friends since they were teenagers. Now in their thirties, the four are as close as ever, Thursday night bar trivia is sacred, and Eve is still secretly in love with Ed. Maybe she should have moved on by now, but she can’t stop thinking about what could have been. And she knows Ed still thinks about it, too.

But then, in an instant, their lives are changed forever.

In the aftermath, Eve’s world is upended. As stunning secrets are revealed, she begins to wonder if she really knew her friends as well as she thought. And when someone from the past comes back into her life, Eve’s future veers in a surprising new direction...

They say every love story starts with a single moment. What if it was just last night?

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

Having read a couple of Mhairi McFarlane books already and liking them I expected to have the same reaction to Just Last Night. I did not expect how much I would be bowled over by it, though! I was engaged from the first page, the first sentence, even and after that I was reluctant to put it down, especially when I got into a perfect reading groove. 

Eve has a close-knit friend group. Eve, Susie, Ed and Justin are a foursome that go way back to their school days. Overnight, the foursome is dealt a horrific loss and everything turns upside down from there. In the aftermath, Eve accidentally comes across a secret that shatters her and her trust in her friends. Add to that, the Susie's long-absent brother reappears at this time of tragedy. His disconcerting presence brings new problems and only makes her wonder who exactly is trustworthy anymore. In all this anguish that's consuming her, Eve questions everything that she had taken at face value up until recently, including her friendship with her best friend, Susie, and the betrayal that's blindsided her.

I liked how the direction of the story kept changing ever so slightly so I din't know where exactly it was headed. Not only did it bring surprises but it added dimension to the characters. I'm thinking specifically of Eve, Finlay and Susie as Eve's relationship with each of them got curiously complicated. It became so intriguing how much more there was to their history, and Eve's own dawning realization that everything she knows is really one-sided. I was tempted to bring out the popcorn and anticipate the fireworks. It wasn't pretty when all the secrets were eventually forced out to the open but there's Eve, facing them head on. I also liked Finlay's humored responses to whatever Eve threw out. Even if they butted heads at first, there's something inherent that they perceive about each other. What's most striking for me is how impeccably McFarlane describes loss, misery and the loneliness of being on the outside during an emotionally turbulent time in Eve's life. I just felt that she got those feelings so right and they provoked immediate and strong reactions of me.  I especially got that way during conversations between Eve and Finlay. I loved their repartee which was both amusing and insightful. Eve's banter with her friends were also fun and I am always about the banter. Another thing that impressed me was Eve's growing self-awareness. The advantage of Finlay being an outsider means that he sees things from a different angle and guides Eve to recognize her patterns and choices. It's touching how in the short amount of time they're forced to spend together, Finlay and Eve are able to draw each other out of these confined spaces they'd built for themselves, or even allowed for others to define them by those spaces. 

Just Last Night showcases McFarlane 's brilliance at writing about deeply emotional life events, bringing  perceptivity and levity while also respecting the characters' sorrow.  All the messy complicated feelings felt authentic and I was glued to every page of it. (I should add here that there are some disturbing elements/trauma to the story for which I've listed content/trigger warnings below.) I also greatly appreciated the various pop culture references and songs she threw in which aside from being entertaining for me, helped to enhance the nostalgic aspect of the story. As for the ending, I loved it! I thought it did justice to all the characters and I was honestly sad when it was over. I don't get to reread books often but Just Last Night will be on that short list. In only three books, McFarlane has become a go-to, comfort read author for me and I will gladly make my way through her catalog.

~ Bel

Content/Trigger Warning:
sudden death of best friend, infidelity, panic attack (Finlay, on page), dementia (on page, Finlay and Susie's father), physical abuse (memory; Finlay's recalls their dad did to him), gaslighting (their father convinced family that Finlay was the problem)

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Here With Me (Adair Family #1) by Samantha Young

* * * 3/4

Settled in the tranquil remoteness of the Scottish Highlands, Ardnoch Estate caters to the rich and famous. It is as unattainable and as mysterious as its owner —ex-Hollywood leading man Lachlan Adair—and it's poised on the edge of a dark scandal.

After narrowly escaping death, police officer Robyn Penhaligon leaves behind her life in Boston in search of some answers. Starting with Mac Galbraith, the Scottish father who abandoned her to pursue his career in private security. To re-connect with Mac, Robyn will finally meet a man she’s long resented. Lachlan Adair. Hostility instantly brews between Robyn and Lachlan. She thinks the head of the Adair family is high-handed and self-important. And finding closure with Mac is proving more difficult than she ever imagined. Robyn would sooner leave Ardnoch, but when she discovers Mac is embroiled in a threat against the Adairs and the exclusive members of the estate, she finds she’s not yet ready to give up on her father.

Determined to ensure Mac’s safety, Robyn investigates the disturbing crimes at Ardnoch, forcing her and Lachlan to spend time together. Soon it becomes clear a searing attraction exists beneath their animosity, and temptation leads them down a perilous path.

While they discover they are connected by something far more addictive than passion, Lachlan cannot let go of his grip on a painful past: a past that will destroy his future … if the insidious presence of an enemy lurking in the shadows of Ardnoch doesn’t do the job first.

*Source: ARC generously provided in exchange for an honest review

I'm a big Samantha Young fan, so of course, I had to read Here With Me, but this one actually threw me off a bit mostly because I wasn't expecting a mystery. That's because I didn't really bother to read the blurb because I saw Samantha Young's name and that was it for me. 

Robyn is an ex-cop from Boston who after recovering from an injury sustained on the job that almost cost her her life, decides that she's going to make things right with her estranged father who lives in Scotland. She hardly knows Mac who drifted out of her life in her early teens. He was a very young father and as far as she knew, he wasn't interested in being one anymore. She arrives at Ardnoch hoping to find answers and maybe reconnect. To be fair, she's not entirely sure what she wants. It's all just too emotional for her and it doesn't help that ex-Hollywood heartthrob Lachlan Adair is there. He is not only Mac's boss but also his best friend and she's cast him as the villain whom her father chose over her.  Also in the this-doesn't-help-anyone department is Lachlan's immediate animosity towards her. He means to protect Mac because he's aware of the real story behind Mac leaving Robyn, but he's going about it by being a broody, rude jerk. Anyway, Robyn and Lachlan are oil and water, and in the meantime, there's a stalker on the loose. When Mac ends up being attacked, Robyn insists on staying to help him find the perpetrator and put an end to the harassment.

This is an age-gap romance with Robyn being 28 and Lachlan being 10 years older but with the way they behave immaturely at the beginning you'd think they were 4 years old. Their tension had me feeling on edge. Obviously, there's building attraction and when they finally act upon their first kiss, it's in the heat of the moment, but then it's that way for the next few kisses and it felt so melodramatic to me. A thing I noticed this time that I don't normally notice is what kind of pov I'm reading. I don't usually have a preference, but I did happen to notice it here that Robin's POV was in 1st and Lachlan's in 3rd, and I didn't understand why. I liked that Robyn spent time off the estate, roaming the countryside. The descriptions and the mini-history lessons had me wanting to book a trip immediately! That's probably one of my favorite parts of the story. I did feel overwhelmed by the many characters and their subplots and mini subplots grappling for my attention in one book when I was most eager to get to Robyn and Mac's full reconciliation, and also find out who's been stalking Lachlan and attacked Mac. The mystery felt like it became so secondary to the plot at times because it seemed like it was only addressed when convenient so the characters could go be normal or something for a bit in between. The lack of urgency or caution felt off to me.

I liked Here With Me overall; it's just those few things that I found unsettling so I couldn't absolutely dive into it the way I have with Young's other books. Even though there was plenty of hostility between Robyn and Lachlan, I liked Robyn's defiance. She's so about self-reliance and strength, encouraging others to dig deep and find theirs. So yes, she has a massive chip on her shoulder but she also has your back in a major way once she's your friend. She's a complicated, emotional character who's tenacious but also has her vulnerabilities, just like the rest of us. Lachlan softens up later which makes him more attractive. As for the mystery, I was able to figure it out well before the end so it was anti-climactic for me. 

If there's one thing I admire about Samantha Young is that she does write stories that differ from whats she's previously written so there's always something interesting coming from her. Here With Me was good, and while not my favorite of all her books, I'm still very much in it to see where this series goes. Between Lachlan's large Adair family and Robyn's own family situation, Young has introduced a lot of personalities that are sure to be surprising, and going by the cliffhanger here, explosive!

~ Bel