Review: In Black & White by Nia Forrester

Nia Forrester never fails to create realistic portrayals of love that I always find so beautifully written. She never disappoints. And this is definitely true in her latest, In Black & White

Set in a leafy suburb of Philadelphia, we’re immediate dropped into what is every parent’s nightmare–the disappearance of a child. In this case, it’s the disappearance of 18-month-old Samara, the daughter of interracial couple Noah and Dana. Samara’s abduction and the subsequent fallout around it mark the beginning of a fascinating story that is in parts mystery and a thoroughly modern story of a love on the rocks. 

Forrester is a master at crafting three-dimensional characters. Dana and Noah are no different. From the first chapter when we learn the status of their marriage, we are given a very realistic, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes frustrating portrayal of a couple who come from different worlds. Noah is the product of privileged, old Pennsylvania money. Dana is his polar opposite–raised in a working-class neighbourhood in Baltimore by her grandmother and her older sister, she has struggled to get used to the life of privilege being Noah’s wife affords, especially since her skin color will always mark her as out of place in the world that Noah comes from. One of the aspects I loved about In Black & White is how Forrester deftly takes us through the couple’s history and its relevance to their separation. These snippets of their shared past help the reader understand who Dana and Noah were when they first met and what attracted them to one another as well as what has driven them apart. 

This is not a sugar-coated, fantasy-laden love story, so if that’s what you’re looking for, then this isn’t going to be the book for you. But if you’re in the mood for a very realistic look at a modern love and marriage, racial and socioeconomic differences (and how it can make or break a couple), and how the disappearance of a child can unveil secrets, then you’re going to love In Black & White.

Highly recommended! 5 stars.

Review: The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that I’ll receive a commission–at no additional cost to you–if you click on them and make a purchase. 

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The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

Release Date: 9 May 2017

Synopsis

He was the first person to inspire her, to move her, to truly understand her. Was he meant to be the last?

Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story–their story–at the very beginning.

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated–perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.

This devastatingly romantic debut novel about the enduring power of first love, with a shocking, unforgettable ending, is Love Story for a new generation.

Review

Some books tell stories that are bound to make you a little (or, okay, extremely) emotional. And you have to simply accept that it will happen. You’ll re-read passages, feel completely immersed in the scenes and wonder if everyone else who’s read it experienced the same thing. For me, this was the case with Jill Santopolo’s The Light We Lost. I’d heard a lot about the book, I’d even 1-clicked it for my Kindle but never got around to reading it until last week.

Wow. I loved following Lucy and Gabe’s story. Theirs is not a conventional love story. There is no HEA. I’m putting it out there for you now. If that’s what you want, this is not the story for you, but it is a heart wrenching portrayal of love found, love lost and what happens in between as these two lovers find themselves separated by distance, by principles and sometimes by other people.

What I especially liked with The Light We Lost was how flawed both Lucy and Gabe are as characters. Yes, they are both selfish sometimes and they will do things that will often leave you wondering why you even empathise with them, but ultimately they stand by the choices they make and, for me as a reader, I could completely understand their reactions and decisions, even when I could not imagine myself doing the same.

I just read that The Light We Lost is in development to be a movie. It will be interesting to see who they cast to play Lucy and Gabe.

Anyway, I loved The Light We Lost. I will probably re-read it in a few weeks just because. Do I recommend it? Absolutely. But bear in mind that, even those this is a romance, it’s more in the lines of One Day or Me Before You. And if you’ve read either of those, you know exactly what I mean.

My rating?

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Disclaimer: The links included in this review are affiliate links.

Review: Royal Heir by Ruth Cardello

Royal Heir (Westerly Billionaire, #3)Royal Heir by Ruth Cardello

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love royal romances. Always have. When I had the opportunity to read and review Royal Heir by Ruth Cardello, I jumped at it.

What did I love? It’s a fast-paced story with just enough of the royal fairytale to keep me going until Harry and Megan tie the knot in a few weeks. The story of the American commoner (who just happens to be an heiress in her own right, even if she doesn’t have access to her fortune yet) and the arrogant prince with a heart of gold is charming and has enough sexy moments to keep you wanting to turn the pages. I enjoyed the build up of Rachelle and Prince Magnus’s love story and the subplot of Rachelle trying to reunite family ties with her brother. It worked well and made for good tension throughout the story.

What was missing for me? I didn’t feel like I could get a sense of place when it came to the settings. There weren’t enough details to give me the feel of London or, once they were in Vandorra, I couldn’t picture it since the descriptions didn’t evoke the look or feel of the place. It also felt like the pacing was off as we closed in on the story’s denouement. The suspense subplot came off as a bit rushed and tied up a little too quickly for me.

But, all in all, I thought Royal Heir was an enjoyable read. It’s romantic, exciting and has enough spice to keep the story from being too sweet. Rachelle and Magnus had good chemistry and their sexual tension was fun to follow. So if you want a little royal romance for a weekend read, add Royal Heir to your TBR list.

NOTE: I received an ARC from Net Galley, which I chose to read and review.
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Review: Vienna Waltz by Mary Lancaster

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 17.03.03Synopsis:

Intrigue, suspicion and true love at the Congress of Vienna…

In 1814, with Napoleon finally defeated, the great and the good of Europe descend on Vienna to plan a lasting peace – and to dance.

Ejected from her home on the death of her father, Lizzie Gaunt – along with her gaggle of siblings and a large, unruly dog – finds herself in Vienna with her diplomat uncle. But Lizzie is determined not to remain dependent upon her aunt and uncle for long. After witnessing a daring theft, she recruits the unusual thief to carry out her plan – which should hurt no one except her father’s heir, the vile Russian cousin she’s dubbed Ivan the Terrible.

However, Lizzie’s simple scheme is soon complicated by a wounded Austrian spy, a formidable English matron, a masked Russian rakehell from the Emperor’s masquerade ball, and a mysterious villain selling information that could ruin the Congress before it properly begins. And then there’s Cousin Minerva’s romantic difficulties, and Cousin James’ gambling debts to sort out.

While Vienna dances, Lizzie tries to solve everyone’s problems, and ends by falling disastrously and dangerously in love.

 

Review:

I stumbled upon Mary Lancaster’s Vienna Waltz while doing research for a historical romance I would like to write. Since I love Vienna (it’s one of my favorite places to visit) and I’ve always been fascinated by the Austro-Hungarian empire, this was the perfect historical romance for me to read.

Vienna Waltz starts with a theft. Our heroine, Lizzie, is at the opera with her aunt and cousins when she witnesses a thief snatch a woman’s necklace. This act leads to a case of mistaken identities and romantic intrigues that in the heart of the Austrian capital.

This lighthearted and romantic novel does a fantastic job of capturing the grandeur and the intrigues around the Congress of Vienna, when heads of state gathered to negotiate long-term peace following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Lancaster does a wonderful job of weaving fact with fiction, peppering her story with historical figures and a charming Russian hero, Vanya, who is not at all what he appears to be. In Lizzie, we get a headstrong heroine who is determined to do what she can for her orphaned sisters and brothers, even if it means putting her own life on a shelf.

If you love reading historical romances set during the regency era, but would love to read something other than stories set in England, then give Mary Lancaster’s Vienna Waltz, the first book in her Imperial Season series, a try. It’s exciting, well written and such a delight to read. I fell in love with Vanya and Lizzie and I think you will too.

My rating?

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Review: Still Me by Jojo Moyes

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Title: Still Me (Me Before You, #3)

Author: Jojo Moyes

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Release Date: 25 January 2018

SYNOPSIS

Lou Clark is back in the BRAND NEW Jojo Moyes novel Still Me, follow-up to the Number One international bestsellers Me Before You and After You.

Lou Clark knows too many things . . .

She knows how many miles lie between her new home in New York and her new boyfriend Sam in London.

She knows her employer is a good man and she knows his wife is keeping a secret from him.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to meet someone who’s going to turn her whole life upside down.

Because Josh will remind her so much of a man she used to know that it’ll hurt.

Lou won’t know what to do next, but she knows that whatever she chooses is going to change everything.

REVIEW

I was such a huge fan of Me Before You, so I felt compelled to read Still Me, even if After You (Me Before You, #2) was not really my favourite. I am so glad I went ahead and pre-ordered it for my Kindle.

For those of you who read and loved Me Before You, you’ll remember that one of the things that Will told Lou to do was to live boldly and to leave her hometown behind her and see the world. Well, now Lou’s in New York, working as a personal assistant to an über wealthy woman and trying to figure out what she really wants out of life. Will her year in the Big Apple open her eyes to new adventures or will she return home to her old life?

Well, I for one can say that I loved reading Still Me almost as much as I loved reading Me Before You. Lou is such a relatable character and her relationship with her new boyfriend, Sam, feels so real–even down to the the misunderstandings brought on by social media and text messages.

Don’t read Still Me expecting the major ugly cry moments of Me Before You. This is a completely different story, but it does have its emotional bits that will make you smile or wish you could grab Lou by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. 😉 You will definitely leave this book shaking your head and realising that F. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he said the rich are different. 😉

Highly recommended!

My rating?

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Review: Strings of Subversion by K. Victoria Chase

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Title: Strings of Subversion

Author: K. Victoria Chase

Genre: Historical Fiction, IR/Multicultural Historical Fiction

Release Date: 30 April 2017

 

SYNOPSIS

Based on true events.

Berlin 1935

On the eve of the Olympics, musician Willie Cooper is banned from performing her beloved jazz. With her half-German niece and nephew in need of food and shelter, she turns to the music underground to earn money. Each illegal gig brings the feared SD closer to her people, who are needed for an experiment only spoken of in feared whispers on the streets.

British Intelligence Agent Klaus Hummer’s mission is to observe and report as a journalist for Das Schwarze Korps, the Nazi’s premiere newspaper. The immersion into Nazi propaganda and culture reveals an alarming agenda that will put him on a path to sacrifice the life of a beautiful jazz singer for an assignment that cannot fail.

REVIEW

I love historical romance, so when a friend recommended K. Victoria Chase’s Strings of Subversion, I was intrigued.

You could say that Strings of Subversion is a forbidden love story: it’s set in Nazi Germany in 1936, just prior to World War II, with Germany preparing for the Berlin Olympics. Willie, an African-American jazz singer and violinist is living in Berlin with Margot, the German common-law wife of her uncle John, and their two children, Johannes and Dorotea. Though the Nazis are making life ever more difficult for all who are not “aryan” enough, Willie doesn’t want to leave Margo and her children on their own–especially with John out of the country performing and funds being low. So Willie and her musician friends do what they can to make ends meet, performing jazz (which has recently been forbidden by the Nazis) in underground clubs as well as German classical music in clubs that will still allow black and Jewish musicians to perform. Into the fold walks Klaus Reithoffer–handsome, charming…and possibly a Nazi. Or is he…? One thing is certain: sparks fly between Willie and Klaus, even when both have good reason for keeping their distance.

What I enjoyed about Strings of Subversion was how Chase weaves so many layers of intrigue into the story. Chase does a very good job of sketching her characters so that you can picture them and understand most of the motivation for their actions. I thought she did an especially good job of clueing us into Klaus, who proves that looks can be deceiving. I also loved the slow burn between Willie and Klaus and how not everything was as it appeared to be. I could easily see this story as a movie.

So why am I giving this story a 4-star review and not a 5-star review? Two things ate at me a bit while I was reading: Willie’s refusal to leave Berlin even when she understood how dangerous and inhospitable it was becoming, and the way the story ended. I know we need to have a strong-willed heroine, but I sometimes had a hard time believing that a sensible woman like Willie would remain in a country that was falling under the thrall of Hitler and the SS’s propaganda. Also, as the story came to a close, I’d expected that book #1 would tie up any loose ends and we’d get the rest of the story in the upcoming instalment. However, the ending came rather abruptly and was a cliffhanger. I’m not against cliffhangers, but this one took me by surprise.

Still, even with these two quibbles of mine, I really enjoyed reading Strings of Subversion and look forward to reading Book 2 in the series once it’s released.

Highly recommended!

My rating?

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Review: Faking Friends by Jane Fallon

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Title: Faking Friends

Author: Jane Fallon

Release Date: 11 January 2018

Synopsis:

Best friend, soulmate, confidante . . . backstabber.

Amy thought she knew everything there was to know about her best friend Melissa. Then again, Amy also thought she was on the verge of the wedding of her dreams to her long-distance fiancé.

Until she pays a surprise trip home to London. Jack is out, but it’s clear another woman has been making herself at home in their flat.

There’s something about her stuff that feels oddly familiar . . . and then it hits Amy. The Other Woman is Melissa.

Amy has lost her home, her fiancé and her best friend in one disastrous weekend – but instead of falling apart, she’s determined to get her own back.

Piecing her life back together won’t be half as fun as dismantling theirs, after all.

REVIEW

Jane Fallon’s Faking Friends is a great page turner of a read that had me hooked already from page one. I loved following Amy’s story as she comes to realise that the man she loves has not been faithful and the woman he’s been unfaithful with just happens to be Amy’s closest friend. What unfolds from then onwards is an addictive tale of frenemies, revenge and dreams (lost and found).

A fun read that shows us Amy’s past and present, and gives the reader a satisfying story that leaves us asking whether revenge is really worth it and what happens when a frenemy becomes a full-blown enemy.

Highly recommended!

My rating?

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Review: A Summer Affair by Janae Keyes

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 06.47.44I love short stories. I like the feeling of satisfaction I get when I can read a complete story while on my morning commute or during my lunch break. Not every short story succeeds in eliciting that satisfied sensation–the pacing may be too rushed or the characterisation flimsy, but Janae Keyes’s A Summer Affair most definitely succeeded.

With A Summer Affair, Janae gives us a very emotional and relatable story about unexpected love. We meet Ashlee, a wife and author who is dealing with a clingy child and a neglectful husband. We also have Kyle, the author who just happens to be as sexy as all get-out. Of course sparks fly. And we want them to–even when we know they shouldn’t.

I loved the emotional rollercoaster that Janae takes us on. I also loved how she depicted Ashlee and Kyle’s feelings for one another. It came across, for me, as believable and understandable. This was my first time reading a Janae Keyes book and it definitely will not be my last.

My rating?

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Review: Saints & Misfits by S.K. Ali

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 19.58.48When I stumbled upon S.K. Ali’s Saints and Misfits a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was such a delight to read that I wish there still more chapters to read. Saints and Misfits shares the story of Janna, a hijabi teen whose Indian father leads a secular life while her Egyptian mother continues to be a practicing Muslim. Janna is dealing with criticism from some of her Muslim friends for hanging out with non-Muslims, lack of understanding from some non-Muslim friends who don’t understand why she wears a hijabthe fear and frustration of being sexually assaulted by Farooq, the cousin of one of her closest friends and the sort of “perfect” boy that all parents adore. Farooq spends the better part of the novel stalking Janna and doing everything he can to make sure that he can have some influence over her. And then there is Janna’s crush on Jeremy, a non-Muslim boy at her school, her older brother moving back home and deciding to court Sarah–who’s just a little too perfect and has secrets of her own, Tats–one of Janna’s non-Muslim friends who is just a little boy-crazy and trying to play matchmaker between Janna and Jeremy, And Sausun, her badass niqab-wearing friend who is trying to change the way people think of niqab-wearing girls with her YouTube channel, Niqabi Ninjas.

I love how Ali makes sure that the reader understands that Janna’s situation isn’t very different from any other teenage girl: Janna is Every Girl, dealing with her own identity crisis, with wanting to fall in love, with worrying about if she is popular. And I loved how effortlessly this was conveyed to the reader. I also loved how Ali convey’s Janna’s struggles with her faith. This is handled so deftly, without ever veering into the heavy-handedness one often sees in stories that touch upon faith and any doubts related to it.

Another wonderful thing about Saints & Misfits is the characterization. Each character in the story is so well-portrayed and unique. You never have that foggy sensation of not knowing who is who. They all stand out. And I loved the portrayal of Janna’s relationship with Mr. Ram, whom she takes to the senior citizen center every week. Even when Janna sometimes took their friendship for granted, it was obvious that she cared about him and paid heed to the advice he gave her.

Would I recommend reading Saints & Misfits? You betcha! And not only would I recommend it–if I were still teaching, it would be required reading for my students *and* their parents. Definitely a 5-star read!

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Review: End of the World by Nesly Clerge

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 15.52.22Imagine a future where you are always connected and there is no need for TV or printed books or even the internet as we know it–the chip inside you knows everything, keeps track of your finances and even orders taxis for you. It knows when you need to order groceries, it knows when you are unwell. It knows *everything*–except what you’re thinking. This is the world scientist Gayle Conyers lives inhabits in Nesly Clerge’s End of the World: The Beginning with her two daughters and nanny/home help. In this world, those who are chipped are privileged. Those who are not are hunted down by the Order and “reformed” (or made into food a la Soylent Green, depending on who you ask).

Gayle is, for the most part, perfectly happy in this world. She likes her job, she doesn’t really question much the way things are, though she wishes she had more resources for her research into HIVm, a mutation of the HIV virus. After watching a debate between Dr. Armstrong, a renowned, agnostic scientist who claims he’s made a scientific breakthrough in successfully transplanting the brain intact to another body, and Dr. Kingsley who believes that the end of the world is coming and is being brought on by those in power (and those who are chipped) who are unwittingly worshipping at the altar of Lucifer when they think they are the enlightened ones. The next day, Gayle is contacted by Dr. Armstrong, who makes her an offer she cannot refuse. And then she is contacted by a rebel called Michael who wants her to spy on Dr. Armstrong and find out everything she can about his research.

Not a lot happens in the story–there are long discussions about religion and science with the rebels on the side of religion trying to convince Gayle that everything she knows and believes in is wrong or is part of a plan to deceive her and others–and this is what ultimately lead to a 3-star rating from me. I think the story has potential, but I wanted more of Gayle discovering whatever is the truth on her own rather than having two (actually three, counting Kingsley) men constantly telling her what they believe in and assuming she will bend to whatever it is that they’ve deemed the truth.

Since End of the World is billed as a sci-fi thriller, I was expecting more excitement and more things to happen. I also wanted Gayle to be more proactive in the story. And while I like the premise of the story, I felt like the religious aspects of it ended up taking up way too much of the story and bogging it down.

What worked for me was Gayle’s growing distrust of being under constant surveillance through the chip implanted in her and through the nanny who acts as a caregiver to her children. The more she learns (through Armstrong and Michael), the more she does not trust KATE (the system that watches over everyone and everything), but she must keep up a facade. I also liked how Gayle doesn’t feel she can trust any of the men trying to convince her to join their side–no matter which side seems to be more “right”.

End of the World is an interesting novel, but–if you’re looking for an action-packed story, it’s probably not the story for you. If you are interested in religion and discussions of good versus evil, then you’ll probably be pulled into the story. This is the first book in a series, so be forewarned that there is a cliffhanger-style ending.

My rating? 3 stars

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