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review 2020-06-11 02:00
Fluffy by Julia Kent Narrated by Erin Mallon
Fluffy - Erin Mallon,Julia Kent

Another laugh out loud, fun filled fest by Julia Kent. Erin Mallon does another good narration, I think the audio allows more of Mallory’s inner double awesomeness to shine through. I loved this book and laughed through most of it. The romance, slapstick comedy and interactions abound with the author’s signature snark and wit. Have fun with this one, well worth the read and listen.

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review 2020-06-08 18:04
'Beach Read' by Emily Henry
Beach Read - Emily Henry,Julia Whalen

'Beach Read' lived up to its title. It's exactly the kind of book that I want to read on holiday.

It made me laugh, cry, think, grin at its impudence, cheer for the good bits and fast-forward through the sex bits. Most of all, it made me happy.



A clever structure


I picked up 'Beach Read' after reading Deborah Kehoe's review which positioned the book as much more than just another romance. She was absolutely right. 'Beach Read' is one of those rare books that manages to be accessible and engaging while also being clever and insightful. 


Think of 'Beach Read' as having a double helix structure, like DNA.


One helix is a straight RomCom about two writers, January, a writer of 'women's fiction' and Gus, a Lit Fic writer. both struggling to write their next novel, who discover that they are neighbours for the summer and overcome some initial hostility to dance all the usual romance steps.


The other helix is about the process of writing, about overcoming writer's block and about challenging the artificial genre boundaries imposed by publishing houses to make books easier to market. Each helix would be fin on its own but together they make something much more powerful and original.


The RomCom helix: like a romance only with real people


I'm not normally a fan of romance but this romance I loved. I loved how knowing and yet how believable this book was. The structure is self-referentially that of a romance novel, from Meet Cute to Happy Ever After with all the steps in between labelled as we go along. 


Yet it's neither groan-worthily glub nor mechanically formulaic because the characters KNOW the framework that they're in and any romance that occurs is created by a consensual collaboration. The characters aren't plot-devices, they have histories and personalities and problems that determine how they behave within this romantic construct. The story is backlit by a playful examination of the process of writing a novel and the nature of the genres that are imposed on them, which is used to reveal more about the characters themselves.


Together, these things make for a novel that's like a romance but with real people who aren't blinded or glamoured by the magic of romance but instead are able to see themselves and each other more clearly.


The Writing Helix: challenging genres and throwing words like knives.


I am a fan of clever trope-twisting and witty analysis and 'Beach Read' delivers both. Take this excerpt from a discussion between Gus, the male lit-fic writer and January the female romance writer. January says that her books aren't shelved as Romance but as Women's Fiction. Gus says:

'I don't understand why there'd need to be a full genre that's just books for women.' 

January replies:

'Yeh, well you're not the only one who doesn't understand it.' I said.  'I know how to tell a story, Gus and I know how to string a sentence together. If you swapped out all my Jessicas for Johns, do you know what you'd get? Fiction. Just fiction. Ready and willing to be read by anyone but somehow, being a woman who writes about women, I've eliminated half the world's population from my potential readers and you know what? I feel ashamed of that. I feel pissed that people like you will assume my books couldn't possibly be worth your time while, meanswhile, you could shart on live TV and the New York Times would praise your bold display of humanity.'

Given that I wouldn't have picked up this book if I hadn't been told that it was more than a romance, this made me grin sheepishly.


Writing and what it means to be a writer is at the heart of the book which means that what these two say to each other and write to each other are important. For writers, words have sharp edges. I thought one of the joys of this book was the way the two writers traded pen sketches. It displayed how their imaginations worked and revealed the kind of judgements that they make, Here's an example where Gus, having asked January what 'baby January' was like and having been told, 'She was a lot' spontaneously spins this:

'Let me guess. Loud. Precocious. Room full of books organised in a way that only you understood. Close with your family and a couple of tight-knit friends, all of who you probably still talk to regularly, but casual friends with anyone else with a pulse. A secret over-achiever who had to be the best at something, even if no one else knew. Oh and prone to juggling or tap dancing for attention in any crowd.' 

Here's January's response:

'Wow,' I said, a little stunned. 'You both nailed and roasted me.'

I could hear the joy and the danger in that Gus' kind of statement, where things come out of your mouth unedited, partly playful, partly true, partly catching you by surprise even as you hear yourself say them. It sparkles. Then January's response grounded it, without rebutting it, making it clear that words have edges and need to be thrown with care.


I also like how Emily Henry plays with the form while still delivering something satisfying. You know how there's likely to be a chapter in a romance book where the girl dreams of the boy or vis versa and suddenly understands the depth of their attraction? Well, this book has that chapter. The fun thing is that it's called 'The Dream' and it's one sentence long.

'I dreamed about Gus Everett and woke up needing a shower.'

That made me laugh.


The disappointing sex scene


The only thing that disappointed me in 'Beach Read' was the sex. I knew that had to be sex, I just wanted the sex to be as real as the people having it.


Up until the sex scene, the book had sidestepped clichés and toyed with tropes with skill and a little humour, keeping the focus on making January and Gus real. Yet the sex scenes didn't seem real at all. They lacked the focus of previous scenes. They were a muddle of sanitised descriptions of who does what to whom, hyperbolic descriptions of how good it all felt, and a few muttered attempts at humour. It was a long scene, cutting across a chapter break (why do that?) yet all I got was euphemisms that were so soft-focus that the sex wasn't really described. I was also supposed to accept that two people, having sex with each other for the first time managed a flawless choreography with no communication and rapidly achieved a level of mutual satisfaction that was explosive, exhausting. 


My main problem with the scene was that it was so generic. It was a generic description of two beautiful, highly aroused people having frantic but deeply satisfying sex. Nothing in the scene links specifically to the characters in the book. You could drop this scene into another novel and only have to edit the names.


Earlier in the book, the two writers discuss how you make things real by paying attention to the small details that matter to people: how they dress, what they're anxious about, what unconscious ticks they have and so on. None of that thinking translated into the scene. January had neither anxiety or curiosity. There was no uncertainty, no hesitation, no real interaction beyond two bodies getting off in perfect soft-focus harmony.


This was very disappointing. Write a real sex scene for the real people in the book or write, 'the sex was great' and leave it at that but don't drop in a soft porn photomontage that would work well if you never saw the participants faces.


Try the audiobook


I listened to the audiobook version of 'Beach Read' and I recommend it. Julia Whelan did a great job on the narration. 

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review 2020-06-05 23:00
Short and sweet listen.
Little Miss Perfect - Erin Mallon,Julia Kent

This is a prequel to Fluffy. Erin Mallon,the narrator does an excellent job with this fun short. Loved this series and the audio brings a great listen for a book I enjoyed previously in hard copy. Start here and go for the whole series.

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review 2020-05-10 22:41
First Comes Scandal by Julia Quinn
First Comes Scandal - Julia Quinn

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Georgiana was kidnapped by a fortune hunter but even though she managed to save herself, her reputation is in tatters.
Nicholas is called down from medical school in Edinburgh by his father who orders him to marry their neighbor and Nicholas' childhood friend, Georgiana.
It's a marriage of convenience but a close quarters carriage ride with a grumpy cat might turn it into a marriage of love.

“There is only one thing to be done,” his father said. “You must marry her.”

First Comes a Scandal is fourth in the Rokebys series but I think you could jump into the series here, it would probably be even better to read the Bridgerton series before this. Rokebys is a prequel to Briderstons and heroes from the first couple books in the Bridgerton series make an almost center stage showing in this. As much as I enjoyed seeing the heroes as little kids, it was too much. Instead of focusing on the leads of this story, the little Bridgertons got too much of the spotlight; it started to feel like a cheap trick to get readers to like this book, trading on the Bridgerton love. If you haven't read the Bridgerton series, you'd probably be bored and think a good chunk of the first half was filler.

“She doesn’t need your time. She needs your name.”

I'm a sucker for little sister/big brother's friend trope but this was a little different with neither having a hidden or long standing crush on the other and we don't get much of Nicholas and Edmund (Georigana's brother) friendship. Not getting much, unfortunately, was a problem I had for the majority of the story. I had a problem with feeling Nicholas and Georgiana were strangers, to me and to each other. It wasn't until after the 50% mark that our two get married and then it is a carriage ride to Edinburgh. However, instead of scenes of these two bonding and dialogue to provide emotional and relationship building blocks, we get pointless cat drama, medical dramas needing Nicholas, and the story just seemed to want to focus on everything but Nicholas and Georgiana.

He’d been married a day and he’d barely even kissed her. He was going to have to do something about that.

The sentence structure had a tendency to veer to shorter and this made a good amount feel choppy but even though I didn't feel engaged with the story or characters, the pace did ping pong through pretty quickly. There was also a couple times where Nicholas or Georgiana expressed themselves a certain way that felt too casual of verbiage, not creating the historical feel I tend to look for when reading this sub-genre. This was also set in the late 1700s and besides some talk of hoop skirts to visit the Queen, it was indistinguishable from Regency set romances.

She liked being near him. She liked his quiet strength, his sense of purpose. And when his hands had been on her hips, even just to help her down from the saddle, she’d liked the way it had made her feel like she was his.

Georgiana and Nicholas felt like strangers to me and therefore, I wasn't invested or felt any emotional attachment to the conclusion of their romance. If you like some slapstick humor, there were a couple scenes when they take their carriage ride that might help drawn you into the story more than I. There were couple moments where I felt a hint of the chemistry between Georgiana and Nicholas but they were so buried in the numerous insignificant scenes the author decided to add, that it couldn't save the story for me. I went into this anticipating more of a focus on exploring their marriage of convenience and instead got a grumpy cat in a hammock.

I buddy read this, for more quotes and comments while I read: First Comes Scandal buddy read

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review 2020-05-02 20:25
Once and Always
Once and Always - Elizabeth Hoyt writing as Julia Harper

This was a fun read. Maisa had a habit of speeding when she's driving through Coot Lake MN to visit her uncle. Sam is the one who always pulls her over. This worked because Sam and Maisa had a bit of a prior relationship before the book started. This doesn't rate higher because there were a few continuity errors, Maisa takes some time to warm up to (and she had a TSTL moment). The secondary characters were hilarious too.
I read this for Romance-opoly Lady Lane moon track square.

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