Right after I finished Wicked as They Come, Twitter informed me that this book was free on XOXO After Dark until the end of the month. It's a super shRight after I finished Wicked as They Come, Twitter informed me that this book was free on XOXO After Dark until the end of the month. It's a super short story (all of 39 pages), and although it's technically the prequel to the first Blud book, I'm not sure much it would be appreciated if you weren't already invested in the series? As with WATC, the world-building is fantastic and lyrical, and you really feel like you're there, at the carnival. The romance is pretty unexciting, since Lydia and Charlie fall for each other immediately. There's a fair bit of action, and Lydia experiences a lot of violence for such a short story, but I did appreciate the continuity with the details in WATC, like explaining why the wolfman was no longer part of the carnival when Tish arrived, etc. I was going to rate this book 3*, until the twist at the end. It's incredibly dark and unexpected, but I loved it. I'm generally not a big fan of short stories, unless they do something surprising like that, so this is getting bumped up to a 4* purely because of the ending. ...more
ZOMG. Don't be put off by the cheesy half-naked guy on the front cover. I realise this looks kind of like vampire erotica and you're probably thinkingZOMG. Don't be put off by the cheesy half-naked guy on the front cover. I realise this looks kind of like vampire erotica and you're probably thinking, "Um, Rachel, you run a Christian book review website that explicitly states that you don't review this sort of thing. Plus, you're friends with your mum on social media. What's going on? Why are you publicly admitting to reading this book?" I'm not going to lie, steampunk Fabio did almost put me off reading this on public transport, but I'm going to urge you to look beyond the cover, because this book is awesome.
As you know, romance is kind of my thing, and I do find vampires pretty interesting even if I don't read a lot of novels about them, but I've never delved into the steampunk genre prior to this. This book was on my radar for a good few years before I actually read it, mostly because I wasn't sure if it was too far out of my comfort zone for me to properly enjoy. You see, I've kind of been fangirling over Delilah S. Dawson for a couple of years. I discovered her when she live-tweeted Nora Roberts' key-note speech at RAW back in 2013 and I've stalked her social media pages ever since. She's written some fantastic stuff about writing and motherhood and generally given me the confidence to keep going with this thing. Simon and I roared with laughter when we discovered her tumblr devoted to ridiculous things her son said (plus, the knowledge that she also let her preschooler watch Adventure Time made me feel more normal about my parenting decisions). Apparently I'm not the only crazy woman who has managed to write a novel while literally nursing a baby. Basically, I want to grow up to be a cool mum who talks to the internet about my quirky romance novels with long-haired heroes.
So, yeah, I was worried that I would hate this book and it would feel disloyal as I've loved Delilah Dawson as a person and didn't want to not like her novels. It was a silly worry, but well, that's the kind of thing I think about. Thankfully, this wasn't the case, and I ADORED this book. If the second instalment in the series wasn't inexplicably £16 (!?) on Amazon UK right now I would have already ordered it. I've had a bit of a reading block over the last couple of months and it's sometimes taking me weeks at a time to finish a single book, but I sped through this one in three days. I was entirely immersed in the world of Sang and although I was eager to get to the conclusion of the story and know that Criminy and Tish had saved the day and figured out a solution to all of their problems, I also really didn't want to leave their world. It was utterly fascinating, but not overwhelming for someone who doesn't know the first thing about steampunk.
Because of the entirely immersive world, I didn't mind not getting inside Criminy's head, or the fact that he was basically in love with Tish at first sight. This isn't really a straight romance, but I still appreciated the sections of the story that were devoted to Tish figuring out which world she wanted to stay in, and how she really felt about Criminy. Unlike some romance novels where the heroine unexpectedly plops into the hero's world and is entirely at his mercy and has to go along with everything he says, Tish doesn't immediately fall for Criminy or agree to his wishes or resign herself to having to marry him in order to get by in the world. She's awesome at insisting on making her own boundaries, taking their relationship at a comfortable pace, and generally making it into a fantastically consensual, respectful romance. I'd like more of these, please! Tish wasn't afraid to tell Criminy to back off, and this book didn't have any of the annoying "Oh, he's so attractive when he's basically forcing himself on me!" stuff that makes me want to throw up.
I think I'd probably rate this book 4.5 rather than 5 (if that were an option, ahem, GoodReads), simply because I felt like some plot progressions were made too convenient by the revelations Tish got through her "glances". Occasionally we got major info dumps that helped the characters to move forward at a rapid pace, and the reader was expected to just accept this new piece of information and run with it. The pacing towards the end was fantastic, but around the time that Criminy and Tish set off on their investigation, there were a few times when things seemed to move unrealistically fast, or they ran into someone who coincidentally had a major part to play in revealing part of the puzzle they needed to solve in order to save the day. Otherwise, I don't really have any complaints.
All in all, this was a fantastically quirky book. I have zero experience of this genre (and it appears that vampire steampunk romances ARE actually a thing, and not just a one off?) so I don't have anything to compare it to specifically, but the world-building was amazing, the details were fascinating, Tish's dilemma was compelling, the adventure was suspenseful, and the romance developed at a comfortable pace. Basically, IT WAS ALL AWESOME AND YOU SHOULD READ IT. I'm kind of hoping that Criminy and Tish reappear in later books in the series as I got rather attached to them....more
This story seemed pretty standard to begin with and then PIRATES struck and everything changed. I swear, this series just keeps getting better and betThis story seemed pretty standard to begin with and then PIRATES struck and everything changed. I swear, this series just keeps getting better and better. I'll admit this book had more sex scenes than I'd like, but the tension between the characters and their internal struggles were perfect. Excited to read Cicero's story! He should make a nice change from all the stereotypically macho heroes in Eternity Springs. 4.5*...more
Zach was a bit too arrogant and alpha for my liking, but I loved Savannah's character arc (and her nephew!) and the rest of the story. I'm really starZach was a bit too arrogant and alpha for my liking, but I loved Savannah's character arc (and her nephew!) and the rest of the story. I'm really starting to get attached to this town and this series. Off to request the next book from the library! 4.5*...more
The Hobbit is my grandfather's favourite book of all time, but in spite of my many attempts to read it over the years, I'm not such a big fan. My failThe Hobbit is my grandfather's favourite book of all time, but in spite of my many attempts to read it over the years, I'm not such a big fan. My failed efforts to appreciate Tolkein's writing almost caused me to miss out on watching the films, although my husband thankfully insisted that I watch them last year. I'm glad I finally gave them a shot as the story was amazing, even if I'm not usually a fantasy lover. I'm not about to go out and learn Elvish or even read the original books (that might sound like heresy from someone who runs a book review website, but have you seen the length of my to-read list?), but I did get totally wrapped up in the adventure and wonderful depiction of friendship and bravery in the movies. That's about the only requirement you need in order to enjoy Close to You. This is not a niche novel for die-hard fans. As long as you have a vague understanding of Lord of the Rings, and a love for great romantic stories, you're good to go.
I did not expect to fall head over heels in love with this novel. First and most obviously, I'm not obsessed with all things Tolkein. Second, smarmy businessmen don't usually do it for me in romance novels—I'm far more of a Beta hero kind of girl. While this book sounded like a quirky, fun read, it didn't immediately look like my ideal match, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Close to You far exceeded my expectations! From the moment that Allie called Jackson out for his poor coffee taste and ordered him a flat white (my drink of choice—why hasn't it become more popular in the US? You guys are missing out!) I knew that I was going to like this book. I love contemporary romances, but even I will admit that sometimes the plots feel a little recycled, especially in the Christian market. Kara Isaac's voice is a wonderfully refreshing addition to the genre, and while the trope of the rich guy whose girlfriend ran off with his money/business ideas has been done before, having the heroine dressed as a Hobbit tour guide for most of the novel definitely mixed things up a little.
I will fully admit that Jackson did not impress me to begin with, which fits perfectly given that Allie is equally underwhelmed by him. I probably warmed up to Jackson at exactly the same rate that Allie did, which is definitely the sign of a well-written romance novel. Normally I fall for the hero much earlier than the heroine, and spend chapters wishing she'd change her tune, but Jackson was perfectly flawed enough that he annoyed me for just as long as he did Allie. While Jackson initially appears to be a smug, manipulative man who only cares about his business enterprises, it gradually becomes apparent that he has deeper motivations that explain his somewhat ethically dubious actions. By the end of the book I really hurt for Jackson, and empathised with his desire to help his family, and the regrets about his past that weighed upon him. He ended up being a wonderfully well-rounded hero that I could root for.
Allie has a lot more baggage than Jackson, but in spite of this, I felt like she was a much stronger character than Jackson, at least initially. I admire any woman who can feel confident while wearing Hobbit feet, especially if she can manage a crew of demanding Tolkein fans for three weeks. Allie's job is about as stressful as her relationship baggage, and I was a fan of her as soon as she shot down Jackson's taste in coffee. While she initially amused me, she quickly felt like a close friend, and I genuinely hurt for her as she dealt with the drama surrounding her marriage to Derek and her feelings towards Jackson. The situation with Derek isn't one I've previously come across in a romance novel, but I felt like it was dealt with delicately and realistically. I did get a bit fed up with Allie's martyrish behaviour towards the end of the novel, but that situation worked out believably, and didn't drag on too long.
I had a few ideas about how Jackson and Allie's personal conflicts would resolve themselves, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong on all accounts. As nice as it is when a hero or heroine can solve each other's problems, it's actually even more refreshing when they can figure things out on their own, while still managing to make things work out between them. Neither Allie or Jackson needed the other to rescue them, but their time spent together did help them to come to some great realisations about their own personal issues. The conclusion to the novel had the perfect balance of self-actualization for both of the characters, and a wonderfully swoon-worthy declaration of love.
There are so many others things I loved about this novel—the wisdom that Jackson's uncle bestows upon both of the protagonists, the ridiculous antics of the other members of the tour group, the way that the author gently weaves Tolkein facts throughout the story without overwhelming the reader, Allie's best friend Kat who doesn't shy away from telling Allie exactly how she feels, Jackson's awkward attempts to convince everyone that he's really a giant Tolkein fan, the gently woven but terribly authentic spiritual thread—but I would definitely go over my word limit. I'll admit, I usually go over my word limit, but this time I would really be pushing it. So I'll just tell you that if anything about this book intrigues you in the slightest, you should probably read it. It's an honest, refreshing romance between two incredibly flawed, broken people, and I simply loved it. I hope you do too.
I tend to go through phases with novels, consuming anything and everything in a genre until I get just a little bit burned out and have to move on toI tend to go through phases with novels, consuming anything and everything in a genre until I get just a little bit burned out and have to move on to something new. A few years ago I was consumed with Amish fiction, before getting enamoured with historical romances. In the last couple of years I've turned my attentions to contemporary romances. While a lot of the novels I read are from the general market, I'm always on the look out for something new and refreshing from a Christian perspective. I'm a big fan of Robyn Carr and Kristan Higgins, and have yet to find a Christian author who writes contemporary romances that hit the spot the way these ladies do, but I've not given up hope! Liz Johnson's novel didn't quite meet all my requirements for an Absolutely Perfect Romance, but it was still an excellent story.
“Forced to work together on a project” romances are among of my favourites. There's just something so appealing about stories where the hero and heroine would never otherwise meet each other, especially if they don't exactly hit it off and are still forced to cooperate for some greater good. The Red Door Inn had the added bonus of having a lot of realistic details about the immense amount of work needed to turn a house into a functioning B&B. I'm not one of those girls who gets excited over picking out paint colours—my idea of “decorating” involves chucking a few pillows on the couch and sticking a scented candle on an end table—but I did find the details in this novel really interesting. I now have a lot more respect for people who have the energy to completely redo a property!
Even if I wasn't a contemporary romance junkie, I probably would have picked up The Red Door Inn for the simple fact that it's set on Prince Edward Island. Squee! I am such an L. M. Montgomery fangirl. As a preteen, I frequently reminded people that my middle name is Anne with an E. I have often bemoaned the fact that my hair is boring brown and not red (even now, at twenty-four). I've still hung on to all my Anne of Green Gables VHS tapes, even though I don't actually own a tape player. I have an entire bookshelf devoted to Montgomery's novels, including some interesting early editions that may have definitely seen better days. And the most embarrassing confession? Once, when I was twelve, I pretended to have a boyfriend named Gilbert. Yep. This is definitely my kind of book.
So, let's address the L. M. Montgomery connection. Can you enjoy this book even if you've never read Anne of Green Gables? Absolutely! The tricky part about writing a novel that's influenced by a classic work is the accessibility to readers who aren't familiar with the original. Liz Johnson does a good job of letting the reader know about the connection—references to the fact that Marie herself is a Montgomery fan, brief mentions of quotes from novels or things about the island that remind Marie of the author and her books—but the references are never “in” jokes that newbies wouldn't understand. The reader isn't overloaded with information about the novel's inspiration, nor does this inspiration overshadow the story of Marie and the Red Door Inn. That said, as a self-confessed Montgomery fangirl, there were some parallels to her work that I read into the story. In all honesty, I'm not sure if they were intentional or if I was reading too much into it? Jack—Seth's uncle and the owner of the inn—really reminded me of Matthew Cuthbert, in the way that he takes Marie—practically an orphan like Anne—under his wing and gently guides her into her new life on the island. Caden felt a bit like Diana—a local girl who immediately connects with the protagonist, and is self-conscious about her appearance. Aretha could even be Rachel Lynde, without some of the sourness, in the way that she always knows what everyone was doing and isn't scared to speak her mind. Liz also captured the small-town feel that's reminiscent of Montgomery's novels, but none of these elements felt forced in any way. It was a fantastic homage to the writer.
Aside from the PEI setting, one of the things that initially appealed to me about The Red Door Inn was the amount of baggage that the hero and heroine appeared to be carrying. I'm not big on squeaky clean heroes and heroines—stories are a whole lot more interesting when our protagonists are battling past hurts and figuring out how to love again. Marie's backstory was fantastically written. I don't want to give too much away, but Liz perfectly captured the fear and anxiety that hung over Marie because of the way she'd been abused, and showed just how terrifying it was to open up to someone new, even just a friend like Jack. I'm not going to lie, Marie's story is incredibly sad, and it's easy to get dragged into her struggles and find yourself feeling a bit down, but the whole situation was perfectly depicted. I was so pleased for Marie when she finally began reaching out to Seth. I mentally cheered her on as if she were a real-life friend, not a character in a book.
Seth's story has definitely been done before. Not that this is always a bad thing—I love when authors put a new spin on an old story—but I did find myself getting a bit annoyed at the way he treated Marie. He was hurt and betrayed by his fiance, therefore he assumes all women are out to hurt men, therefore he doesn't trust Marie. Even though she's blatantly suffering from PTSD and actually having full-blown panic attacks right in front of him, he still thinks she's a gold-digger trying to get her hands on Jack's non-existent money? Ugh. His initial hesitance seemed realistic enough, but after a while I got a bit tired of his refusal to trust Marie. It felt like he spent the whole book edging closer to her and then immediately regressing to his previous fearful, skeptical attitude. I also wasn't entirely convinced by the issues they had at the inn—I could see why everything had to go wrong so that Marie would feel that she had to step in and help, but it also felt a bit unbelievable that so many things went wrong, one after the other. Jack's issues with loans and the bank also felt a little bit drawn out. None of these are major issues that I had with the story, just little things that niggled at me while I read.
Unless you consider mixing up the wrong shade of paint to be a major point of tension, this isn't a terribly suspenseful story. No major external hurdles appear that prevent Marie and Seth from getting together, but that doesn't mean that their romance isn't satisfying when it does come to its conclusion. Their journey is slow-moving at times, but realistic given the struggles they're working to overcome. This is a beautiful story of two people learning to trust again, and the community that surrounds them and supports them as they grow together. I thoroughly look forward to revisiting The Red Door Inn and seeing the restoration and healing that it brings to future characters.