When I saw that this month’s TBR Challenge category called on us to read a contemporary romance, I found almost an embarrassment of choices. Did I want to go mainstream or inspy? Small town or big city? Something serious or more chick lit in tone? In the end, the setting drew me into Return to Tomorrow, a 2010 re-release of a 1990 title.
The premise of this novel is definitely not run of the mill. The characters were all shaped by their experiences in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and even 20+ years on, the author shows how the war affected them. Rachel McKendrick spent years in a prison camp in Laos, and not surprisingly, has a lot of emotional issues to work through. After her rescue, she never intended to return to the region but a promise made to a priest she respected deeply brings her to a refugee camp.
There she meets Brett “Tiger” Jackson, a man with a dangerous reputation. Tiger fought in the war and has stayed behind working a variety of shadowy jobs and living among a trusted group of expats who, like him, never could quite return home after the war. Rachel’s brother back home knew and trusted him, but on the ground in Thailand, he has a reputation as a dangerous drug smuggler. There is obviously more to him than meets the eye, but readers are only slightly ahead of Rachel in learning this.
On the plus side, the backstory in this book is fantastic. Rachel and Tiger navigate through a difficult world of warlords, refugees, sex trafficking, and the heroin industry, and the author made that world come alive. I found the plotting interesting and I also learned a lot about the effects of the Vietnam War on that region of the world. Unfortunately, the romance was a bit less successful. A lot of feeling seems to be assumed rather than shown,and there was a bit too much insta-love going on for me. I think the author tried to cram a lot into her page count, and some of the emotional side of things tended to get lost. Still, I found the book interesting and enjoyed it while I read it. B-
– Lynn Spencer
This month’s prompt for the Multi-Blog reading challenge was to read a contemporary romance which isn’t a sub-genre I read much any more – I’m pretty hooked on historicals (romance and fiction) and there are more than enough of those around to keep me going. Initially, I was just going to pick a book at random, or ask one of my esteemed AAR colleagues for a recommendation, but I read Lynn’s review of Jessica Hart’s Mr (Not Quite) Perfect and decided that it sounded like the very book for me.
Friends-to-lovers is a trope of which I’m particularly fond, and while the outcome is predictable, this particular story was made into something a bit special by the quality of the writing and characterizations.
Allegra Fielding is a junior feature writer for a fashion magazine called Glitz and is longing for the opportunity to prove herself to her fearsome editor (and equally fearsome journalist mother) and earn herself a promotion – and at the beginning of the book, she thinks she has come up with the way to do just that. Given that many women bemoan the fact that the men in their lives are lacking in some way (they don’t dress well, don’t cook, aren’t romantic enough…) Allegra hits on the idea of turning a “Mr Average” into a “Mr Perfect” and writing an article about it. In order to do that, of course, she has to find herself a willing guinea pig – who takes the form of Max, her best friend’s brother.
Allegra and Max have known each other for years; she thinks of him as her friend’s straitlaced, boring brother, and he sees her as his sister’s ditsy, frivolous friend. Allegra tells Max this is her big chance, her breakthrough article – and mentions that it will involve him going out with a famous underwear model, which is certainly an added inducement, but Max can also see how important this is to Allegra and he agrees to help her.
Of course, this throws them more into each other’s company, which they both believe accounts for the fact that they are beginning to look at one another differently and to feel a pull between them of something other than friendship. The relationship between Max and Allegra is extremely well written, the dialogue feels very natural and much of it is very funny. The sexual tension between them builds beautifully, and when they finally do give into their urges and hit the sheets, the language is far from explicit but the scene is hot enough to blister paint. A.
In addition to this, I managed two books for the “Days of the Week Challenge” this month, too, both of them relating to Monday:
– associated with Luna, the goddess of the moon, one of the agricultural guardian gods and another representation of light
I finished Jo Beverley’s Secrets of the Night, which I read in response to the following prompt:
– Read a book that has in its title the word “Monday”, “Moon”, “dark”, “shade”, or “night”, or any variation of these words, or a word you think might have a similar connotation
The main plotline in this reminded me a little of Grace Burrowes’ Darius and Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened, in that the heroine needs to conceive a child in order to prevent her home and lands being inherited by someone who would not do well by the estate’s dependants. Because her husband is impotent (or dead or dying!), she has to call upon the services of another man to do the deed and complications ensue.
Rosamunde Overton has exactly that problem. But when push comes to shove she finds herself repulsed by the idea of picking up some random guy at a masquerade ball and heads home, berating herself for her stupidity and cowardice. On the journey, she stops her coach when she sees something lying to the side of the road. The something turns out to be a someone, a man who has clearly suffered some sort of injury, so she has him carried aboard and continues her journey.
The man is young, handsome – and unconscious – and while travelling, Rosa starts to think that perhaps she has found a way to carry out her plan after all. She takes her mystery man(who turns out to be Brand Mallroen) to the dower house on the nearby Arradale estate, which belongs to her cousin, Diana.
I admit to thinking at first that what Brand and Rosa were suffering from was a serious case of insta-love; but as I continued to read, Ms Beverley won me over with the way she developed their relationship in ways that didn’t relate to sex. They discovered common interests and shared a sense of humour, and the depth of feeling running between them became so intense that it was easy to believe that there was more to their liaison than lust and the need to conceive.
The first part of the novel worked really well, but as soon as Brand and Rosa were separated, the pacing flagged somewhat, until Brand reappeared and began his search for his mystery lady.
Secrets of the Night is an enjoyable romance featuring two sympathetic and honourable protagonists whose struggles to do the right thing and the heartbreak they suffer as a result make their HEA feel all the more justly deserved. My full review is at my blog. B-
My other choice for was Elizabeth Hoyt’s The Leopard Prince which I chose in response to this prompt: – read a book where the hero or heroine is a landowner, a farmer, a gardener, a botanist, or a book that has the words “garden” or “flower” in its title, or the book is set in the country side
I’ve read and/or listened to Ms Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, but haven’t so far read any of her other books, so when I saw this prompt, I thought it would be a good opportunity to do so. The Leopard Prince is a superb read, the story of an independent minded earl’s daughter who falls for her land steward. It’s an unusual pairing in the sense that the class divide is almost always the other way around – the wealthy aristocrat falls for the impoverished companion/governess – and the author explores the double standard in a way that feels realistic.
Lady Georgina (known as “George”) Maitland is the daughter of an earl who has spent most of her twenty-eight years in the thick of London society. Unusually for the time, she owns property in her own right, having recently been bequeathed an estate – Woldsly Manor – in Yorkshire, and when the book opens, is travelling there in the company of her land steward of six months, Mr Harry Pye. Soon after their arrival, they discover that all is not well, both on the Woldsly estate and others in the locality. Large numbers of sheep are being poisoned – and the local squire and magistrate, Silas Granville, who has a long-standing grudge against Harry, insists that he is responsible.
The romance runs alongside the Harry’s attempts to find out who is really responsible for the poisonings. There are plenty of twists and turns along the way as well as the odd red-herring, and it’s very well done. The romance is superb, too, with George and Harry tiptoeing around each other for a bit before finally succumbing to the overwhelming lust they feel for each other. The build-up of sexual tension between the pair is very skilfully done and the sex scenes are deliciously earthy and hot.
What makes this book a runaway success for me is the hero. Harry is not a gentleman; he’s not rich or well-educated, but he’s a man who is comfortable in his own skin, one whose confidence contributes greatly to his sexual appeal. He’s honourable, decent, hard-working and possessed of a very dry sense of humour, which is something I adore in a hero. George is similarly well-characterised. She’s unconventional but without the need to scream “look how unconventional I am!” at every opportunity; she’s the sort of progressive who makes progress through engineering quiet, subtle changes and who leads by example. The one false note in the book came near the end when George does something completely out of character – but all ends well. It’s a terrific book and I’m looking forward to reading the others in the series as soon as I can. A-
– Caz Owens
This month I moved several novels off the TBR which had been languishing on the pile for awhile. The first was The Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig. For me this was a light and quick read. Nothing unexpected happens and the snappy dialog set a brisk pace. My one disappointment is that while the book looked at the political situation in India, its look at the country and its culture was superficial at best. I enjoyed it but it didn’t make me want to race out and buy the next book in the series. That book had been on the pile for four years so it felt good to send it to the UBS.
The second book was An Eye for an Eye by Irene Hannon, an Inspirational which surprised me by looking at the negative side of certain Christian beliefs and interpretations of scripture. Ms. Hannon is hit or miss for me but this book was a hit, with a low key romance that was sweet and a mystery that was intriguing. I had let that novel sit on the pile for five years. Yikes!
A more recent novel, clocking in at only six months old, was Ilona Andrews’ Magic Rises. Normally an Andrews release doesn’t get to spend any time settling in but is devoured immediately. For some reason, the first pages of this one didn’t grab me at the time it came out and I allowed it to sit barely started on the shelf for awhile. Fortunately I picked it back up because the book proved you can’t judge anything by a first impression. By the end of chapter one I was completely hooked. It had it all – forward movement in the relationship between Curran and Kate, a wonderful step forward in Kate’s battle to keep her Big Secret and a change for the better in the shape shifter realm. I gave it DIK status and it has whetted my appetite for the August release of Magic Breaks.
– Maggie Boyd