Stuff and Nonsense: contemporary romance

Showing posts with label contemporary romance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label contemporary romance. Show all posts


Hooked on You

While Anna's life is a busy one, she feels a bit bored with it. On her daughter's advice she decides to take up a new hobby and begins attending a group crochet class at a local craft shop. There she finds herself feeling all sorts of confusing things about the shop owner, Ollie. Ollie is aware of Anna's feelings, but not looking for a relationship, tries to be her friend. This works, for a time, but their unrequited mutual attraction is always quietly simmering in the background and ... well, you can guess.

Hooked On You is a sweet, slow burning romance as much about friendship and family as it is about love. While the chemistry is great and the sex scenes have a tender honesty about them that made me a bit swoony, it's the little kisses, glances, and touches shared between Anna and Ollie that made my heart grow two sizes. Matthews has written her protagonists as real, ordinary people who care deeply about each other and show it, not in grand gestures, but with small, every day intimacies that in the end mean so much more.

I love that Anna and Ollie are in their 50s with ex-husbands and adult children. I don't see a lot of that in romance and it felt refreshing to see older women with full, established lives falling in love. Anna and Ollie's relationship does not exist in a bubble, but touches the lives of everyone around them, reinforcing existing family bonds and forging new connections with others.

Imho, if you are looking for a tender feel-good romance, give Hooked On You a read.

Hooked on You by Jenn Matthews. Ylva Publishing, 2019. Kindle edition.


Cream of the Crop by Alice Clayton

Cream of the Crop is the second book in Clayton's Hudson Valley Series and is set not too long after Nuts. One of Roxie's BFFs, Natalie Grayson, takes on an advertising campaign for the small Hudson Valley town of Bailey Falls. Like many twee New England towns, it is struggling to attract and keep tourists and the locals hope Natalie's hot advertising firm can give it the boost it needs. Meanwhile, Natalie hopes to get closer to The Hot Dairy Farmer who makes her favorite brie ... and who reduces her to a blushing, stammering, lust-maddened wreck whenever she sees him.

Unfortunately, I couldn't quite get into Cream of the Crop. Mostly, I never really felt I connected well enough with Oscar Mendoza to care about him. He's frequently monosyllabic, boorish, rude -- indeed, there's a scene toward the end where Oscar's behavior is utterly reprehensible (and no good explanation/excuse for it is supplied). I get that he's meant to be Natalie's sexy "caveman," but I needed something more from his storyline to fully embrace Oscar as Natalie's romantic interest. Maybe, more about his family -- they're all still alive, footballing and farming in Wisconsin, after all -- or friends he might have other than Leo or the ex-wife, Missy (who he consistently prioritized over Natalie -- it's admirable when people can be friends their exes, but that doesn't feel like what's going on between Oscar and Missy). I get that Natalie finds Oscar totally hot and loves fucking him, but ... why does she love him? Why does he love her? Does he? Does she? Is this even a romance?

Also, I felt uncomfortable with Natalie's description of Oscar's looks and her general fixation on his sheer beefcakeness. Every rich white girl needs a little caramel macchiato pick-me-up, ammirite? Oscar Mendoza is Natalie's Jason Momoa fantasy?? I don't know. It felt like, maybe, we didn't need an Oscar backstory because Natalie just needed an Oscar-shaped sex machine who growled "Pinup" and "great, big ass" and fucked her six ways to Sunday. That there was no need for Oscar to ever be a fully-fleshed human being. But, again, how then could this be a romance?

In general, Natalie herself left me conflicted. I enjoyed watching her work her advertising magic for Bailey Falls while slowly realizing that she could have it all -- a job she loved, a man she adored fucking, the city, the country, and the fromage. Also, Natalie's near constant internal monologue was both hilariously witty and delightfully dirty. She was clearly a woman who had figured out what she liked, how to get it with regularity, and made no apologies for any of it. But. In addition to the objectification of Oscar, she did sometimes come across as a self-centered rich girl and the whole "I'll make sure the ad campaign includes Chad and Logan (The Token Gays) so everyone knows how truly family-friendly Bailey Falls is" just made me go UGH a lot.

In the end, while I have mixed feelings about Cream of the Crop, I still look forward to reading the next book in Clayton's Hudson Valley Series, Buns, featuring Clara and the new owner of the Bryant Mountain House.

Cream of the Crop by Alice Clayton (Simon & Schuster, 2016)


Nuts by Alice Clayton

Many years ago Roxie Callahan escaped her tiny Hudson Valley town years ago to study at the CIA California. After graduation, she became a private chef and, after years of hard work, has become modestly successful. No need to ever go back to suffocatingly twee Bailey Falls, right?

But then Roxie abruptly finds herself jobless and very short on cash. When her mother calls up, asking Roxie to take care of the family diner for her while she goes off on a grand adventure, Roxie really has no choice but to go home. Happily, Bailey Falls is not without its charms ... not least of which is hot organic farmer (very rich in old New York money, btw) Leo Maxwell.

I really enjoyed Nuts. From beginning to end, it is a lighthearted romp set in a sweet fantasy confection of a small New England town. Roxie and Leo's romance is consistently hot and fun -- they clearly genuinely like each other from the get-go and take enjoyment in each other's company as much outside of the bedroom as in it. There are a few dramatic moments toward the end, when a "secret" Leo has been keeping is revealed, but it is handled in a realistic, adult way that makes sense for the characters and the story. I liked that Clayton did not give Roxie and Leo a Happy Ever After, but a Happy Enough Right Now. A HEA would have felt unconvincing, moving their story ahead too fast. I loved that Roxie retained her autonomy and space while still being clearly and completely entangled with Leo.

The large supporting cast of characters was well fleshed out and entertaining. I did, however, wonder where the other queer folk were (Chad Bowman and Logan, while extremely charming, felt like tokens) and whether Bailey Falls had any non-white people, but I always wonder that. There was lots of talk about food and loving descriptions of cooking, which left me famished -- as did the ohmygodsohot sex.

If you enjoy cooking (or just reading about cooking) and have ever fantasized about living in an idealized Smalltown USA, nibbling luscious local produce whilst being rigorously seen to by a hot farmer, Nuts is for you. It certainly felt like it was written for me, anyway. I've read a lot of romance and erotica, but never before something that came so near to ticking all the boxes.

Nuts is the first book in Clayton's Hudson Valley Series, of which there are currently three. I certainly look forward to reading the next book, Cream of the Crop, featuring one of Roxie's BFFs and the beautiful dairy farmer next door.

Nuts by Alice Clayton (Simon & Schuster, 2015)


Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

After the company she co-owns goes bankrupt, the bank takes her flat, and her lover goes home to his mother, Polly finds herself living in poky little flat over a decrepit-looking bakery on the tidal island of Mount Polbearne off the Cornish coast. There she returns to her old hobby of bread-baking and slowly begins to supply bread to the island’s inhabitants, befriending some of them along the way. Of course, as is to be expected, Polly becomes quite a successful baker, regains the security and confidence she lost in the bankruptcy, and falls in love with a total hottie.

While Colgan does not skirt around the difficulties of life in a dwindling British fishing community and the book can be quite heartbreakingly sad at points, it is still an overwhelmingly warm and pleasant book, full of lovely carbs, honey, and puffins. Oh my cake, the puffins. THE PUFFIN. Neil is the best puffin sidekick a reader could wish for and I am so pleased to see Colgan has written an entire children’s series about Polly and her Puffin.

As with Colgan’s other foodie romances, there are several recipes at the end of Little Beach Street Bakery. The cheese straw recipe looks like something to serve with tomato soup and the focaccia is definitely a yeast bread I could handle ... not so sure about the cinnamon buns or the bagels, though!

There are two more books in the Little Beach Street series, Summer at the Little Beach Street Bakery and Christmas at the Little Beach Street Bakery, and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on them as soon as possible.

With light in my head
You in my arms

(Did I mention the book quotes the Water Boys extensively? No? Well, it does. I know. I know. References to the Water Boys and lots of good bread? Heaven).

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan (HarperCollins, 2014)


Far From Home by Lorelie Brown

Rachel is a nice seems-to-be straight girl struggling with student loan debt, under-employment, and an eating disorder. On a whim (almost), she agrees to marry Pari, an equally nice lesbian who, while in the country legally, can't do the work she most desires under her current visa. Two years of marriage will help Pari get her green card and, in return, she will take care of Rachel's debts.

Okay. That sounds kind of improbable. And horrible. And dangerous. And, in the real world, Rachel and Pari's relationship would not work out, the USCIS would have no problem spotting marital fraud, Rachel would go to jail, and Pari would be deported.

But Lorelie Brown's Far From Home is a sweet, hopelessly upbeat and romantic work of fiction. Of course, Rachel and Pari fall in love and happily-ever-after the fuck out of the story. Yes, some readers will probably have to suspend a ridiculous amount of disbelief to enjoy Far From Home ... but I had no problem with it. It's a fictitious romance in a fictitious California in a fictitious America where Everything Will Turn Out All Right and, considering the very real and horrific deportation stories I keep reading, that's exactly what I needed.

Also, I should point out I have a great weakness for marriage-of-convenience HEA stories and I'm always on the look for sweet, tender LBTQ romance. Really, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I gobbled up Far From Home over the course of a rainy afternoon and then immediately went looking for more. Far From Home is a Belladonna Ink novel, sharing the same universe and a few characters as Brown's Take Me Home, but it is not necessary to read one in order to enjoy the other. However ... having read one, how could you not read the other? And wish then spend fruitless night wishing there were more?

Truly, I enjoyed this Far From Home so veryVERY much. While not without flaws, the story is still so sweet, poignant, and delicious that it is definitely going on my "Books To Reread When It Feels Like The End of The World" (wait that's every day, now, isn't it?) list.

Far From Home by Lorelie Brown (Riptide Publishing, 2016). Kindle Edition, Riptide Publishing, 2016.


Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe

When Issy Randall's London employer makes her redundant -- no matter she's be sleeping with her boss and you'd think he'd might have given her fair warning (the jerk)-- she is justifiably despondent and at a loss as to what to do next. While she takes "retraining" classes, she finds herself dreaming of owning a bakery. Issy grew up in her granddad's bakery and, as her roommate and ex-coworkers will attest, certainly knows her way around a kitchen. In pursuing her dream of owning a bakery, Issy meets many interesting secondary characters -- everyone from future employees, to possible love interests, to quirky new neighbors. Of course, her ex-boss (now her ex-boyfriend, too) can't stay out of the picture for long ...

Issy's relationship with her nursing home-bound grandfather and her fond memories of his shop are warm and endearing, and add extra charm to a novel already bursting with it. I also enjoyed Issy's friendship with her roommate Helena, which feels very authentic. And, really, you cans feel that kind of "authenticity" throughout the book -- the secondary characters (aside from, maybe, The Dreadful Ex) are all full-fleshed and functioning "real" people. That's quite a feat and one of the reasons I really enjoy Colgan's books.

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan (Sphere, 2011)


Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

Sherbet lemons. Pear drops. Nougats. Rock. Humbugs. If these words don't thrill you or fill your heart with nostalgia-tinted joy, Sweet Shop of Dreams is probably not for you. Oh, ostensibly this is a romance novel about a woman who goes to take care of an ailing elderly relation in a twee rural English village, becomes entangled in the daily lives of the townsfolk, and finds True Love quite unexpectedly. And it is that kind of story. But it's also very much a love song to sweetshops with each chapter prefaced by an excerpt or recipe from Lilian's sweets book.

This is the first novel I've read by Colgan since I read Talking to Addison and Amanda's Wedding over a decade ago. I don't understand the gap as I really enjoyed those two novels and had every intention of reading more. And yet here it is many years later, Colgan has written many more of books, and I've read none of them. Clearly, I need an app that will track the authors I enjoy and regularly remind me that it has been X many months since I read anything by them. (I DO NOT need it to tell me about forthcoming books. Dear heaven, I am buried in forthcoming titles).

So. The book. You want to hear about the book. It's a sweet little confection. Light and airy like meringue with just a hint of bittersweet feels running through it to keep it from treacle-sweetness. Great Aunt Lilian is a delightful character, but her story is -- unlike Rosie's -- not so clearly a happy one and her end-of-life circumstances lend a poignancy to the novel that it would otherwise lack.

Unfortunately, while Colgan has done such a great job bringing her primary and secondary characters to life, her "bad" characters are surprisingly undeveloped. Yes, the dentist hates sugar and wants to turn the sweetshop into a carpark. I understand. I don't need to be reminded of that every time he walks across the page. What else is there to him? Nothing. The same with Hester and CeeCee.

All and all, though, I really enjoyed Sweetshop of Dreams and look forward to reading Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop if I can find a copy of it stateside. While Colgan is a prolific writer and seems popular enough in the US, some of her works are not available here. Weirdly, in the UK Sweetshop of Dreams was published as Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop of Dreams. American publishers, what gives? Why change a perfectly good title? And the British edition has a much more attractive cover with proper sweets jars on it and everything! Why?!

And here's Jenny Colgan in a proper sweetshop talking about Sweetshop of Dreams:

Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan (Sourcebooks, 2014)


Taken With You by Shannon Stacey

So I seem to be reading Stacey’s Kowalski Family series backwards, having started with Book 9, Falling for Max, and the progressed to Book 8, Taken With You. I don’t think reading the series backwards has ruined any surprises or caused any confusion and, to be fair, if I hadn’t started with Falling for Max then I probably wouldn’t have read any. Falling for Max was the perfect quirky, vaguely nerdy romance I needed.

Taken With You was a bit more traditional -- small town librarian and the new game warden can’t resist pushing each other’s buttons even though they “know” the other is the wrong person for them (meaning they ARE, of course, the right one) -- but still plenty quirky and fun. I thought for sure Hailey in her role of small town librarian would make me cringe, but she actually seemed pretty believable. The attraction between the two characters is good, smolder-y fun and while I obviously knew Hailey and Matt where destined for a Happily Ever After, I didn’t begrudge the time it took to get there.

Indeed, Hailey and Matt were extremely enjoyable characters. While they each came to the relationship with all sorts of preconceived ideas about what they want, they were each aware of when they’d being jerks and were willing to do better. I mean, there was very little in the way of angst or drama in this romance and I LOVED it for that. I wasn’t interested in watching either of them dramatically change who they were to be The One (impossible nonsense) or get all angsty and throw unreasonable hurdles in each other’s way. Hailey and Matt seemed like real people with normal amounts of “real people relationship issues” and they solved them like reasonable adults. Reasonable adults full of snark and sass, that is.

Basically, I thought Taken With You was delicious. I was, dare I say, completely taken with it?

Taken With You (The Kowalski Family, Book 8) by Shannon Stacey (Carina Press, 2014)


Falling For Max by Shannon Stacey

Tori's parents went through a terribly acrimonious divorce a few years back and, ever since, she's sworn of romance and stuck with (completely satisfying) hookups. And then she meets the town serial killer, discovers he's trying to find a wife, and decides to help him become a more datable person.

Officially, this is Book Nine Stacey's The Kowalski Family series but don't let that deter you. I haven't read the other books in the series (tried the first book, Exclusively Yours, after meeting Stacey at the Big Book Getaway but DNF) and that didn't make Falling For Max any less enjoyable. Being friends of Max and Tori, the Kowalskis flit through, but this isn't their story and it isn't necessary to know or care about them. Instead it's about two "romance misfits" who fall in love while not trying to fall in love. It's quite cute (without being overly twee) and very funny in places. Really, I'd love to read more about Tori and Max. I enjoy romances with unconventional romantic leads and Exclusively Yours certainly had that!

Falling For Max by Shannon Stacey (Carina Press, 2014)


Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight

Just want to come straight out and say Since You’ve Been Gone was a Did Not Finish. Maybe my expectations were too high or it was the wrong genre/day when I picked it up, but I couldn’t make myself care about Holly or her bakery or dead husband or her new love interest.

I picked up Since You’ve Been Gone expecting a sweet story about a woman, still recovering from the loss of her husband, learning to love again. And I (kind of) got that, I guess? Certainly, the novel starts off pretty heavy with loss and longing, but then it darts off into the realms of the most tropish romance novels and I just couldn’t make myself care about any of it.

Also, and I know this will sound completely ridiculous, but Since You’ve Been Gone never felt particularly British. Yes, the Sexy Scottish Man’s name was the super Scottishy-sounding Ciaran Argyll. Yes, Holly drove an old Morris. Yes, the novel won ITV's Lorraine’s Racy Reads competition, judged by Jackie Collins and a team from Mills and Boon. It’s clearly a UK product. It just didn’t feel that way to me. Holly could just as easily have owned a struggling bakeshop in Mystic, Connecticut with Ciaran as the playboy son of a wealthy magnate who summered in the area. Or whatever.

It’s just ... I think I was looking for something like Jill Mansell’s sweetly satisfying To the Moon and Back and Since You’ve Been Gone might actually be fine, but it can’t measure up to Mansell’s book. (Also, still not "British" enough).

Since You’ve Been Gone by Anouska Knight (HQN, 2013)


My One And Only by Kristan Higgins

"You asked why I couldn't forgive you," Nick said, very quietly, and I jumped a little. "It was because you were the love of my life, Harper. And you didn't want to be. That's hard to let go."

Harper has spent years telling herself that her brief marriage to Nick had been a youthful mistake and that she was completely over him (and better off without him), but when she sees Nick at her sister's destination wedding (to his brother, no less!) she admits she might have been wrong about being over him. When circumstances leave Harper driving cross country with Nick they are forced to face their shared past.

My One And Only packs no surprises and that's a-okay because the character development and story-telling is pretty darn fine and Higgins is always guaranteed to deliver a fantastic HEA. Harper and Nick are well-wrought (if not completely likable) protagonists and the many secondary characters are just as real. Seriously, I was just as interested in the relationship between Harper and her parents and Nick and his dad as I was with Harper and Nick's.

Anyway, I picked up My One And Only because Higgins had mentioned it during at the Big Book Getaway when the panelists were asked about protagonists readers disliked. Apparently, a lot of readers didn't like Harper and that piqued my interest. A romantic heroine most romance readers didn't like? Well, maybe I'd like her?

And I did. Harper's a professional woman in her mid-thirties who has been badly hurt by love and she protects herself accordingly by cultivating a cynical and unromantic attitude toward relationships. This doesn't make her a bad person, just a thoroughly human one. That she open herself up to love again (and with the person who hurt her) just made me love her more. Unfortunately, I liked and empathized with Harper so much that I had difficulty accepting Nick as a romantic hero. He was so domineering and made so many assumptions about the changes Harper would make to her life to accommodate their romance that I spent a lot of the novel wanting to sign him up for relationship therapy.

My One And Only by Kristan Higgins (Harlequin, 2011)


The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins

The Next Best Thing is a sweet and tender romance about second love (and pastry). Lucy and Ethan have been friends since culinary school and live in the same small town on the same tiny island. Lucy even married Ethan's brother -- a (seemingly) perfect paragon of manhood who died eight months after their wedding. After five years of mourning, Lucy is ready to start a relationship and have children with a nice, healthy man who isn't a risk-taker. And who won't give her butterflies. And who isn't Ethan.

I sometimes have a hard time with first person POV, but I liked its usage in The Next Best Thing as I really enjoyed being in Lucy's head. It felt comfortable and familiar. Does that sound a little creepy? I don't mean it to be. It was if Lucy was a good friend -- I felt her pain, sympathized with her grief over the loss of her husband, and understood her reluctance to risk her heart again with someone like Ethan.

The Next Best Thing was my first Kristan Higgins book. I heard her speak at the Big Book Getaway and was so smitten I checked out three of her books from my library on the following Monday. The Next Best Thing links with Somebody to Love but neither seem to link with My One and Only so I may have just created a problem for myself? Higgins doesn't seem to have written any series (at least not any labeled as such), but many of the books seem linked by character or place.

The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins (Harlequin, 2010)


The Builders by Maeve Binchy

Jo, Bobby and Pat would never understand how comforting it was to sit and talk to Derek at the end of the day, and how much it had brightened up her life.

Up to now Nan had not wanted to go anywhere, meet anyone, or try anything new. In the year since she had left work she had got out of the habit of going out. She stayed in Number Fourteen waiting there in case the children called in.

The Builders tells the story of a lonely woman named Nan, long separated from her husband, with three grown up children who seem either to take advantage of her or condescend to her. Nan strikes up a friendship with one of the builders rehabbing the house next store and as their friendship begins to change into something more, so does her relationship with her children evolve.

The Builders is another of Gemma Media's Open Door Series' short low-literacy novellas. For something so slim, there's a lot going on and some of the character-development and plot twists felt a bit rushed. Indeed, it felt almost as if The Builders was meant to be the outline of a proper novel. While The Builders' a pleasant enough read, it left me wanting and I cannot honestly recommend it. Not the lunchtime read I hoped it would be.

The Builders by Maeve Binchy (Gemma Media, 2009)


Mrs Whippy by Cecelia Ahern

I find that the rules of ice-cream tasting are the same for most things in life. To experience true flavours and true feelings you need to pay attention to your senses. How do things look? How do things smells? How do things feel when you touch them or they touch you? How do they taste? And, very importantly, what memories do they leave you with?

I'd wanted to read Cecelia Ahern’s Mrs. Whippy for a while now, but couldn't find it at a library near me ... but then my public library started developing an ESL/literacy collection and one of the first volumes added was Mrs. Whippy! Mrs. Whippy is part of Gemma Media's Open Door Series of low-literacy novellas. Each novella, written by "known" Irish authors, is less than a hundred pages long, making them perfectly bite-sized reads.

In the case of Mrs. Whippy, delicious bite-sized reads.

Recently separated from her husband, who left her for "a twenty-three-year-old Russian lap dancer the size of a broomstick," middle-aged mum Emelda feels trapped in a downward spiral. Her sons, taking cues from their heel of a dad, act up and ignore her. Her best friend is too wrapped up in the affair she's having to offer Emelda any support. The only bright spot in her life comes from ice cream so it should be no surprise that thee arrival, one fated Monday, of Mr. Whippy's ice cream van into Emelda's neighborhood should herald great change.

The back cover blurb would suggest Mrs. Whippy is a romance and, while I admit there is a distinct possibility Emelda and Mr. Whippy will have a relationship, I would say this novel is much more about suffrage and self-empowerment. Emelda learns to put herself forward, to defend herself against the slights and condescension of others, to see the future as a thing of wonderful possibility ... and maybe that will lead her to romance.

Mrs. Whippy by Cecelia Ahern (Gemma Media, 2010)


Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

I am weary from all the carnal exertions of the last day and from the complete and utter dilemma that I'm faced with. I sit on my bed and gingerly extract the manila envelope from my bag, turning it over and over with my hands. Do I really want to know the extent of Christian's depravity? It's so daunting. I take a deep breath, and with my heart in my throat, I rip open the envelope.

Awkward virginal girl meets an extremely wealthy and powerful man. Said man becomes fixated with her and offers to make her his Submissive. Girl agrees. Light BDSM ensues. Etc.

Clearly, I've read too much erotica, because Fifty Shades of Grey is just not salacious or kinky enough for me. Here's a man, a powerful dominant man, with a room devoted to the pleasure of pain and the best he can do is whip his new girlfriend with a belt? FFS.

The sexytimes are always about Ana being naive and not knowing what to expect while Christian's all masterful and I get it, already. Now let's have some proper Kink. None of this spanking or whathaveyou and then the foil packets and the vanilla penis-vagina sex.

But, I suspect, the sex isn't actually the point. The point is that Ana's fallen in love with Christian and maybe he's falling in love with her and her Magical Love Vagina will heal his 50 Shades of Fucked Up and make him whole and they'll live happy ever after. Huzzah?

Also, am I the only one expecting Ana to end up pregnant at some point soon, because that girl cannot remember to take her contraceptive pill. Why is she on the pill, anyway? Wouldn't an IUD or implant make more sense?

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage Books, 2011)


Staying at Daisy’s by Jill Mansell

'I like this hotel.' Dev was openly grinning at her now. 'You're handy for the motorway. Although I'd prefer it if your chambermaid didn't seduce my guests.'

'I'll make a special note of it. Nooo sed...uct...ions.' Daisy slowly repeated as she wrote it down. 'How's your friend Dominic, by the way?' She raised her eyebrows, feigning interest. 'Still married?'

Daisy MacLean very capably runs her father’s country hotel, Colworth Manor, while he boozes up with the quests and generally carries on. Matters start to slip from Daisy’s control when her best friend, Tara the Chambermaid, is discovered in a compromising position with one of her exes on his wedding day at the hotel and Daisy locks horns with his dangerously sexy Best Man …

And I really can’t say much more about the actual story, because there’s too much going on and I would spoil your fun. Seriously, there’s a lot going on in this book. Most of the characters -- even the secondary and tertiary ones -- are quite colorful and nearly all have their own storylines, so the action never stops. And, yes, sometimes the storyline gets a little over the top (the transplant-baby mama-fire arc, for example), but it’s all good fun. Buckets of fun.

(I do feel I should warn you that reading Staying at Daisy's will make you want to rush to the nearest animal shelter and adopt a Clarissa or Clive of your own. I'm not inordinately fond of dogs, but I'd like a Clarissa).

Staying at Daisy’s by Jill Mansell (Sourcebooks, 2011)


Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell

"Oh God, I'm so ashamed. How could I have gone out with someone for six months and not known they were a secret bell-ringer?"

"Come on." Erin's tone was consoling as she put the empty pudding bowls on the coffee table and stood up. "It's stopped raining. Let's go to the pub."

One fine day, Tilly Cole comes home to find that Gavin, her live-in boyfriend, has done a runner. Hurt, she visits her friend Erin in the tiny town of Roxborough for much needed cheering up. While there, she ends up applying for a job as a "Girl Friday" for a interior designer and his teenage daughter. Of course, Tilly gets the job and suddenly she has a new home and new life. Maybe even a new romantic interest in the form of Jack Lucas. Except Jack's a player with a tragically romantic (romantically tragic?) past. Will Tilly give her heart to a man who will break it or can she fix Jack's own broken heart?

Oh, I think we all know how this will end -- wedding bells and whatnot -- but, I promise, it's fun getting there! It's impossible not to like Tilly or root for her happiness and the abundance of secondary characters/subplots means the novel just roars along with never a dull moment. Some of it, especially the ending, borders on the ridiculous, but you just have to suspend your disbelief and say "I do believe in Romance! I do!"

Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell (Sourcebooks, 2010)


To the Moon & Back by Jill Mansell

Ellie wiped her eyes with the back of her hand; sometimes she didn't realize she'd been crying until the tears slid off her chin and dripped down her neck. She missed Jamie so much she sometimes wondered how she'd managed to carry on, but it had been fifteen months now, and one way or another she had. Maybe she was going a bit batty, conjuring Jamie up and having imaginary conversations with him, but it was her coping mechanism and she wasn't ready to give it up yet.

Jamie, Ellie's husband, is killed in an auto accident. Fifteen months later, Ellie still has not come to grips with his absence. Ellie’s father-in-law visits her and is horrified by how uninhabitable her flat has become (chavs and mildew) and persuades her to move to a much nicer flat in a much nicer neighborhood, Primrose Hill. One change begets many – Ellie quits her old job, starts a new one, makes a friend, reconnects with an old one, and (eventually) finds new love.

To the Moon and Back was a sweet, gentle novel and Mansell wrote Ellie’s loss and discovery of new love in a way that never felt maudlin or hackneyed. Indeed, while there were many relationships and many kinds of love depicted in To the Moon and Back, they all felt quite real and developed in ways which seemed quite natural. Zach might have felt a frisson of romance the first time he saw Ellie, but it took the entire length of the novel for that relationship to develop. (One couple does starts with a romance novel cliché -- they instantly fall in love and into bed, but they’re a nontraditional couple with a relationship that is anything but cliché and so I give them a pass).

I admit the last few chapters were bit too cutesy and rushed for me, but I was still charmed by To the Moon and Back and look forward to reading Rumor Has It and Staying at Daisy’s whenever they come back to my library.

To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell (Sourcebooks, 2011)


Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot

Every time I see you
I get a Sugar Rush
You're like candy
You give me a Sugar Rush
Don't tell me to stay on my diet
You have simply got to try it
Sugar Rush

Heather Wells used to be minor rock star, a tween sensation at sixteen. Then she lost her recording contract when she asked to record her own songs (dismissed by her label as "angry girl rocker shit"), lost her cheating rocker boyfriend to an up-and-coming sensation, and lost all her money to her mother who fled the country with it!

Thirteen years later, looking to build a life for herself that has nothing to do with her rock star past, Heather becomes one of New York College's assistant residence hall directors (free classes, natch). When her residents start dying in ways the police dismiss as mere college hijinks gone terribly wrong, Heather knows it must be murder and that it's up to her to discover the killer's identity before more girls die.

Size Twelve is Not Fat is fun, chatty, cute, and pretty darn ridiculous. I grinned the entire time I read it -- even when I was rolling my eye's at Heather's obsession with her hunky private investigator landlord (who just happens to be her ex-fiance's brother!) or the repetitive jokes.

I enjoyed it enough that I know I'll read the sequels, but not so much that I'd press this book on other readers. I guess I'm trying to say it's a fun and ridiculous read, but not an exactly memorable one. I finished Size Twelve is Not Fat two days ago and it's already fading from my memory, leaving nothing but a warm, fuzzy glow behind. And that's fine, you know.

Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot (William Morrow, 2005)