The Ruin of a Rake (CBR12 #26)

The Ruin of a Rake (The Turner Series, #3)

I should have read this one much closer to the previous two in the series, The Soldier’s Scoundrel and The Lawrence Brown Affair because so many of our previous characters reappear here and are woven into the plot. As a reader you can tell that Sebastian was getting more comfortable in her writing, overall, this book is stronger than the previous two, even if Sebastian shortchanges the plot a smidge in the final third. I continue to really like how Cat Sebastian builds her stories: they are steamy, upbeat historical romances where the worlds of each character are brought to light and the characters help heal or fill in the weaknesses in their partners, or in this case how the world around them sees them.

Cat Sebastian’s Turner Series are queer historical romances – her books feature complex and exceedingly lovable gay, bisexual, nonbinary, and otherwise diverse characters. The Ruin of a Rake is the story of Julian Medlock and Lord Courtenay. Lord Courtenay is the titular rake and has never much cared. But after the publication of a salacious novel which looks to be based on his exploits, he finds himself unable to see his nephew, and is willing to do anything to improve his reputation. Enter Julian Medlock, possibly the most proper man in al of London who has spent years becoming the epitome of correct behavior. when Julian’s sister asks him to rehabilitate Courtenay’s image, Julian is forced to spend time with the man he loathes, and lusts after, most. With time spent in each other’s company their mutual interest grows and eventually Courtenay begins to yearn for a love he fears he doesn’t deserve; and Julian starts to understand how desire can drive a man to abandon all sense of propriety.

There are several back and forths between the pair and the associated characters in each of their backstories as the figure out what life could look like if they can sort out what kind of life it is that they want. I’ll leave you with an answer that Sebastian gave in an interview said about writing to reflect identity “History is filled with disabled and neurodivergent people and people of color. Historical fiction that doesn’t reflect that reality is a tool of oppression. I know that sounds dramatic, but when you repeatedly see a version of reality that’s overwhelmingly white, abled, rich, cis, and straight, you start to accept that as the default identity of human beings, even if logically you know better! When I’m writing outside my identity, I either hire a sensitivity reader or ask someone who shares the character’s identity to do a sensitivity read. Every time […], the reader has found things I never in a million years would have considered problematic.”

The Ultimate Pi Day Party (CBR12 #21)

The Ultimate Pi Day Party (Baldwin Village, #1)

Apparently incoming global pandemics make concentrating on reading tough for your friendly book club maven. Other than Station Eleven I didn’t finish another book for three weeks. But now that we’re in the “ordered to stay home by my governor” phase I’ve apparently settled in and am ready to return to a semi-normal schedule. So, as the anxiety fog begins to thin, I remembered that I had intended to read and review The Ultimate Pi Day Party by Jackie Lau for Pi Day on the 14th. I missed that goal, but its still March so I’m claiming the win.

This is my first full length Lau, having previously read her novella series Holidays with the Wongs. This one reminds me most of A Second Chance Road Trip for Christmas which while really good was my least favorite of the four novellas. Lau sets up her leads with emotional baggage that is relatable to the reader and also matched to each other.

Sarah has defied her mother’s hopes and moved to the big city of Toronto (it was strange to read another book namedropping the same streets as Station Eleven so soon) and opened her own pie shop, Happy as Pie, in the Baldwin Street neighborhood. The store is doing well, and she’s hoping to expand into catering and possibly a second location down the line. Into her store walks Josh, CEO of a tech company his father sees no value in and number 19 on a list of Toronto’s 35 most eligible bachelors under 35. There are sparks which must be navigated with the fact that Josh has hired Sarah to cater a party at his house. Lau handles this all so well, Sarah and Josh each have a history of not dating, each has professional goals and focuses, each has a parent they are struggling with. The parts of Pi Day that worked best for me were the parts where Sarah and Josh were being dumb about their feelings, figuring out how to maneuver wanting to be in a relationship with no practical skills other than kindness.

As I’ve mentioned before I am often dumb about my emotions, so those plots and characterizations almost always ring true for me. I enjoyed reading along as two people were dumb about their feelings, got less dumb about those feelings but at different rates, and then finally stopped being completely dumb about their feelings for each other.But that isn’t all that’s happening in this book as Lau unpacks some bigger emotional problems. In Pi Day its parental issues, specifically parents who have either intentionally or unintentionally withheld approval to their kids. Josh’s dad is the one intentionally withholding from his son following a mistake in his teenage years and its damaged him emotionally in ways he is only just beginning to reckon with. Josh’s personal history opens the book up to important conversations about consent, safe sex, and abortion. Unfortunately, I had trouble with Lau’s pacing around Josh’s backstory – I wish she had given herself some additional real estate in the time immediately before and after the titular Pi Party. Or that literally anyone had mentioned Josh’s mom to him as a counterpoint to his father. But this is still a good book, and you should be reading Lau.

Hearts on Hold (CBR12 #18)

Hearts on Hold: A Librarian Romance

In my many years of reading and reviewing I have paid little to no attention to Publishers. I pre-ordered Charish Reid’s newest book Hearts on Hold based on emmalita’s review of the ARC. I knew nothing else about the book, its author, or the publishing house. When I opened my nook and found that this was a Carina Press book, home of Cannonball favorite Lucy Parker, I was downright delighted.

Hearts on Hold is the story of Dr. Victoria Reese, English professor at Pembroke University and John Donovan, Children’s Librarian of the town ibrary. Their meet cute is John attending a meeting set up by his boss with Dr. Reese in order to work out an internship program for her University. There are sparks, and when Victoria starts shadowing John at the Library in order to get a handle on what would be entailed in the internship program they also decide to have themselves a sordid affair, except that they each have different definitions and expectations of that phrase.

Victoria and John are great characters existing in an interesting world. Victoria is one of a handful of black professors at her University and is constantly fighting with her Department Head for respect for herself, her female coworkers, and their courses which are not the stodgy courses preferred by the Department Head. She is also wound tighter than a top and in constant battle with her mother’s expectations and interferences in her life and dealing with hinted at but not named Anxiety. John is the sexy, long-haired, tattooed Children’s Librarian who is used to a certain amount of lowered expectations but knows the importance of his work and how to cope with his ADD. He is temporarily in custody of his niece while his sister travels to Sweden for work for two months and is having to adjust from being the fun uncle to the guardian. They each have their own network of friends and family who know them well and engage in the kinds and types of conversations that feel real, and often made me laugh along. I seriously loved John’s Moms (biological and step), their friendship, and their co-parenting of the very much adult John. They handled his broken heart the way that any adult in their late thirties would hope to be treated.  

The ways in which each carry their baggage into their burgeoning relationship shows Reid’s writing strengths. Victoria is using strict rules, schedules, and tamping down her emotions to get through the difficulties in life and as she and John become closer she is slowly letting the masks fall – partly because he recognizes that they are in fact just that. John struggles with feelings of inadequacy as he must work twice as hard often to accomplish basic, expected tasks due to his mental wiring. He is also naturally open and warm, quick with honest terms of endearment and finds himself wanting Victoria to meet him halfway, to be the mask-less version he sees when they are alone and simply be with him, no planned affair. Victoria has things she hasn’t dealt with yet and ends up hurting him, but as this is a Romance, we know that they’ll piece it back together.

Reid deftly handles this complicated web of emotions, at no point does any of the action feel ill-timed or misplaced. Character motivations are crystal clear. With any new to me romance author I had to get used to how Reid writes her sexy scenes, certain vocabulary caught me off-guard and pulled me out, but that’s just because I don’t use that terminology, but I quickly caught on to Reid’s style and enjoyed it greatly.  I hope very much that she has books planned for the side characters whose potential relationships are hinted at (Chris and Jessi especially) but whatever she writes next I’m in, and planning on going back and reading her first novel The Write Escape.

I’ll leave you with Reid discussing her own writing, “I think I said something self-deprecating about finding joy in writing stuff that wasn’t considered “high-brow.” Looking back on it, I regret being so sheepish and insecure. Love stories, if told right, can be magical and transcendent. There’s nothing “low-brow” about falling in love.”

Teach Me (CBR12 #16)

Teach Me (There's Something About Marysburg, #1)

In the gift that keeps on giving, my moving romance authors who were vocal during the RWA’s (continuing) implosion to the top of my TBR has led to some solidly stellar reading. Its always nice to remember that smart, bitchy ladies who get mouthy at oppression and racism just write better books. Olivia Dade has been coming after the gatekeepers vocally since at least early 2019 (probably longer, but I’ve only been following her on Twitter about that long) and is just seriously funny. I was sold on her as an author before ever picking up one of her books.

Teach Me seemed the perfect book to dive in with. It’s a romance about two high school history teachers in their 40s who are each carrying some deep emotional scars and are also falling for each other against at least one of their better judgement (they trade off who is thinking it is or isn’t a good idea). This book gave me the warm feeling inside of seeing yourself (or a close enough version of yourself) on page. Representation of all kinds matters and seeing a positive representation of an overweight heroine appreciated for her curves, fashion sense, and strength lit up several happy receptors in my brain.

The book sets up many places for conflict between the characters, but it also focuses heavily on the kindness each of our incredibly competent leads brings. Rose is not nice to Martin, and she isn’t expected to be. She is however considerate and kind, and he is in return. They fall for each other based on their professional abilities and the depths of their care for their students, and the fact that they find each other irresistibly attractive. This book could play Rose’s closed off way of dealing with the world for laughs, or done it with Martin’s being devalued by those who should have loved him in the past, instead it infuses those areas with a sense of honesty that makes the characters ring true. Dade instead brings the funny in other areas, in other ways, and it is all wonderfully executed. I was so very glad to have read this book when I was done.

Headliners (CBR12 #12)

Headliners (London Celebrities, #5)

I love Lucy Parker, its really as simple as that. I love the kind of book she writes, I love the world she has built in this series and the characters she chooses to populate it with. I’m rating this one five stars, as I did with its immediate predecessor The Austen Playbook mostly because of how it made me feel while I was reading it. That isn’t to say that Parker isn’t using her craft well – she absolutely is – but that craft sunk deep inside me and made me feel this story and recognize these characters, all while giving that little bit of wish fulfillment that romance novels give us and never once does Parker look down on her audience or write down to them. She is writing up.

Parker’s authorial voice is open and friendly, my fondness for the way she builds her world is grounded in its crispness. The plot and setting are laid out in the quick, quiet, strokes of a deft hand. Her word choice and well-chosen details build out the world and its people so that you know what you are reading and where they are, without being bogged down. Which is all for the best in Headliners because Parker set herself an enormous hill to climb for this books pairing of Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport at the end of The Austen Playbook.

For years, Sabrina and Nick have been rival TV presenters trading barbs on their respective shows. Things escalate however after Nick airs Sabrina’s family scandals to all of Britain. With both their reputations on the rocks (hers for the fallout of her father’s dishonesty and grandmother’s artistic theft, his for how h broke the story and getting caught on tape railing against his studio head) Sabrina and Nick have one chance to save their careers – resurrect the network’s morning show. But with ratings at an all-time low and a Christmas Eve deadline just weeks away to increase viewership, the clock is ticking—and someone on their staff doesn’t want them to succeed. As small mishaps on set start adding up, Sabrina and Nick work together to hunt down the saboteur. All the while their antagonistic relationship starts to change and when a fiery encounter is caught on camera, the public is convinced that the reluctant cohosts are secretly lusting after one another. The public might not be wrong.

Parker plays with the tropes here, but not as aggressively as in other works. She’s tweaking the hate to love trope to suit a relatable and believable history – two people pitted against each other are going to have a naturally cantankerous relationship and Nick did break the trust of many, many people. But, Parker as her characters name all the issues, and then face them. It isn’t easy, it isn’t quick, and it isn’t universal, but healing and the resolution of issues is part and parcel of the love story.

What I’ve noticed along the way is that Parker picks deliberately at different cultural commentary arenas with her books. Perhaps the clearest example is in Making Up where so much of the story focused on the arena of abusive relationshipsand the slow and sometimes incomplete nature of healing. This one doesn’t hold back either, in this case Parker is unpacking distant fathers. I feel like a lot of the media I’m consuming lately outside of books is rife with bad male authority figures (Star Wars, a Lost rewatch…) but the way Parker framed Sabrina and Nick’s relationships with their respective fathers stood out to me and hopefully stood out to other readers who might need the nudge to know that just because its your parent doesn’t make them universally and unreservedly right – particularly if they don’t put in the work to know you.

Parker is also taking on the “no holds barred” professional mindset that sees people trample one another on the way to the top. The series big bad (if it has one) is taken down in epic fashion as her own hubris finally gets the best of her. It, and checking in with characters from Act Like It and Pretty Face were the icing on this already delightful cake. I’m already missing these characters and I finished the book an hour ago. If you’ve made it this far in my review and aren’t reading these books – do it. They are worthy contemporary romances for anyone’s reading diet.

A Big Surprise for Valentine’s Day (CBR12 #11)

A Big Surprise for Valentine's Day (Holidays with the Wongs, #4)

In recent months Jackie Lau has jumped to the “read right away” position as her novellas in the Holidays with the Wongs series has been released. While I didn’t get an ARC this time, I have signed up to be considered in future. A Big Surprise for Valentine’s Day makes me feel that was a very good choice.

Picking up after the events of A Match Made for Thanksgiving and A Second Chance Road Trip for Christmas and running concurrently with A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year this one focuses on our fourth and final Wong sibling, sister Amber. She is the youngest of the four and after a rough few years getting herself settled into her career (her dream job at the Stratford Festival sounds pretty great to me too) and dating only terrible men she gives herself a moratorium – no dating for now. But she’s missing the physical connection if not the emotional one and a run-in with Sebastian Lam in the grocery store family planning aisle finds them both with a partner for some no strings attached sex. Sebastian is newly back in the area after moving home following medical school, is a childhood friend of Zach, and has a reputation for being the “good son” to Amber’s “wild child”.

I was rooting for this pair from their meet cute buying condoms. Lau is playing with some opposites attract, although we discover that they aren’t all that opposite, in addition to her other tropes of the aforementioned Older Brother’s Friend and Friends with Benefits. Amber is taking steps to correct missteps in her past, Sebastian is letting himself discover what he wants his life to be, and they are each working on healthy boundaries with their families while staying connected (something that can be difficult even under the best of circumstances). They are also hot for each other, and kind. These novellas have never wanted on the Steamy front, but Lau puts the peddle down on this one and keeps going for its crisp hundred pages.

My only niggling complaint and it isn’t even that really, is that I think I would have liked to see Lau combine this one with A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year and write one novel length work instead of two novellas… which is probably a good sign since I’m planning to read The Ultimate Pi Day Party next month. In the meantime, this one published on February 4th, and you should definitely treat yourself to it.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics (CBR12 #9)

The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics (Feminine Pursuits, #1)

Olivia Waite is an author I’ve been following on Twitter for a little while – she’s just the right kind of outspoken feminist romance author that I like to follow (they are a fun crowd, seriously, get into Romance Twitter it’s a good place to be even when things aren’t burning down). Her vocal and staunch support of #IStandWithCourtney and the ensuing fallout with the RWA meant that I bumped her novel that much further up my to read list because I will support the author’s doing good in the world in the small ways I can, and in this case it meant Library requests and Cannonball reviews.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics (a title shared with the book within the book) is a f/f Regency historical telling the story of Lucy Muchelney and Catherine St. Day, Countess of Moth. The book begins as Lucy watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding and fears that her brother is going to sell her telescope now that their father is dead – removing her primary tool in her occupation as an astronomer. She finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text and decides her best option is to travel to London and present herself as the best option for translator based on her previous work with her father. Catherine St Day expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is pissed off at the way Lucy is dismissed out of hand by the Society and withdraws her funding and promises to support Lucy in her endeavor to translate the work. Along the way the pair fall for each other.

Much of the book is spent as Catherine shows Lucy the type of support and care she desperately desires while Lucy helps Catherine discover what a happy and fulfilling romantic and sexual life can be. They overcome their fears and face the misogyny of early 1800s England together. That’s probably my favorite part of Waite’s work – she populates the book with a variety of characters who are being limited by and fighting against the power being wielded by cis white hetero men. The big bad of the book is motivated by paternalism, that’s all, but its aftereffects are devastating to generations of people whom he thinks he is protecting.

The book isn’t perfect, there’s about 40 pages of durm und strang that just makes no sense placed where it is in the narrative – the characters have grown past it and it feels out of place both in the timeline and in the book at all. But Waite is an accomplished writer and I’ve already put her next book in this series The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows on my to read list (its due to be published July 2020).