BOOK REVIEW: Waiting For Tom Hanks, by Kerry Winfrey

BOOK REVIEW: Waiting For Tom Hanks, by Kerry WinfreyTitle: Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey
Published by Berkley
Published: June 11, 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Goodreads

Can a romcom-obssessed romantic finally experience the meet-cute she always dreamed of or will reality never compare to fiction, in this charming debut adult novel from Kerry Winfrey.

Annie is twenty-seven years old, single, and obsessed with romantic comedies (she and her mother watched them religiously, before her mom died). Her dating life is limited by the expectations she’s formed from these movies. She is not as open to new experiences as she might be, because she’s waiting for her Tom Hanks–i.e., a guy she’ll find in the perfect, meet-cute romantic comedy way. When Annie does finally meet her perfect match, it’s not quite in the way she expected, and she’s forced to reckon with the walls she’s built around herself over the years.

“It doesn’t matter how someone in a romantic comedy affords their absurdly nice house, or whether or not their profession makes sense, or if technically they’re sort of stalking someone they heard on a call-in radio show. What matters is that they have hope. Sure, they find love, but it’s not even about love. It’s the hope that you deserve happiness, and that you won’t be sad forever, and that things will get better. It’s hope that life doesn’t always have to be a miserable slog, that you can find someone to love who understands you and accepts you just as you are.”

I’ve been reading a lot of romance this year, and it’s helped a lot through the more stressful and difficult times of this year. It’s light, fluffy, and a perfect escape from reality for a little bit. I do tend to gravitate toward historical romance, but some of the contemporary romances I’ve read this year have been super cute. I really enjoyed Kerry Winfrey’s Waiting For Tom Hanks because it ties in those Nora Ephron romantic movies with someone who has modeled their expectations around the characters Tom Hanks portrays in the romantic movies in which he’s starred.

The story explores Annie’s expectations versus reality and how she comes to terms with meeting her “Tom Hanks” and how he differs from and goes beyond her expectations throughout the course of the story. Drew is the good-looking Hollywood star who has come to film a romantic comedy in the town in which Annie lives, and they have their own movie-perfect meet-cute, but she has self-doubts that Drew actually is interested in her for real reasons rather than whatever she has concocted in her mind. As she and Drew get to know each other and sparks develop, Annie begins to learn more about herself and her past that shatter everything she’s ever known and reveal truths with which she must come to terms and make adjustments in order to grow and be who she needs to be rather than who she wants to be.

I loved the romantic comedy references sprinkled throughout the story, and the cast of characters is so much fun. I loved her friend Chloe, and I can’t wait to read the forthcoming book about her! Annie’s Dungeons & Dragons playing uncle, Don, was such an amazing character to include, and I don’t know if I’ve seen many nerdy characters like these portrayed positively in contemporary fiction like this (though my pool of reference is fairly small, so correct me if I’m wrong), and I hope to see more of him in the upcoming sequel and beyond!

This is a breezy, cute romantic story that I read in two sittings because I couldn’t put it down, so if you like Nora Ephron comedies and contemporary romance in general, definitely look into this one.

BOOK REVIEW: The Dragon Lady, by Louisa Treger

BOOK REVIEW: The Dragon Lady, by Louisa TregerTitle: The Dragon Lady by Louisa Treger
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Published: August 13th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 320
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

'A daring blend of romance, crime and history, and an intelligent exposé of the inherent injustice and consequences of all forms of oppression' Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions

Opening with the shooting of Lady Virginia 'Ginie' Courtauld in her tranquil garden in 1950s Rhodesia, The Dragon Lady tells Ginie's extraordinary story, so called for the exotic tattoo snaking up her leg. From the glamorous Italian Riviera before the Great War to the Art Deco glory of Eltham Palace in the thirties, and from the secluded Scottish Highlands to segregated Rhodesia in the fifties, the narrative spans enormous cultural and social change. Lady Virginia Courtauld was a boundary-breaking, colourful and unconventional person who rejected the submissive role women were expected to play.

Ostracised by society for being a foreign divorcée at the time of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, Ginie and her second husband ,Stephen Courtauld, leave the confines of post-war Britain to forge a new life in Rhodesia, only to find that being progressive liberals during segregation proves mortally dangerous. Many people had reason to dislike Ginie, but who had reason enough to pull the trigger?

Deeply evocative of time and place, The Dragon Lady subtly blends fact and fiction to paint the portrait of an extraordinary woman in an era of great social and cultural change.

Louisa Treger’s The Dragon Lady is about the Ginie Courtald’s life as the “lady with the dragon tattoo.” Set in Rhodesia, current day Zimbabwe, in the early 20th century, Ginie and her husband Stephen find themselves to be find themselves to be relative social outcasts as they each think and behave differently than society deems acceptable. Ginie has a dragon tattooed the length of her body and creates varying stories about her tattoo, and she is also a divorcee with an annulled marriage that further adds to the speculation about her private life. Stephen is an advocate for the arts and advocates for improved treatment of the native population.

Even though as mentioned in the afterword that not many details about the Courtald’s life are known, Treger’s dedication to research and evoking the atmosphere of the era brought this novel and its characters to life. She touches on the claustrophobic racial tensions, the glitz and glamour of high society, and the struggles between wanting to be one’s own self and wanting to fit in with everyone else. Ginie is bright, vivacious, and carries a wonderful depth; and the rest of the characters add such dimension and life to the story.

When I started reading this, I was in the mood for some historical fiction that flowed and The Dragon Lady delivered. I fell into the story and got lost in it, and I came out of it wanting to know more about Rhodesia/Zimbabwe history.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for an advance copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Earl Next Door, by Amelia Grey

BOOK REVIEW: The Earl Next Door, by Amelia GreyTitle: The Earl Next Door by Amelia Grey
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks
Published: May 28th 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 294
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

What does a Wickedly Wonderful Widow really want? One noble suitor is about to find out. . .

Adeline, Dowager Countess of Wake, is all on her own after her husband’s sudden death. The good news? Losing him allowed her to find herself. Finally, Adeline is free to do, go, and be as she pleases. She cherishes her newfound independence and is not looking for another man to wed. But seeking out a new lover? Well, that is a whole ’nother story. . .

Lord Lyon, son of the two-timing Earl of Marksworth, wishes to have a respectable, loving wife someday. When he meets the beautiful and self-reliant Adeline, Lyon is instantly smitten. But Adeline would rather have the handsome suitor in her bed than to take his hand in marriage. It’s a scandalous proposal—and one that’s hard for Lyon to refuse. Unless the fire of his passion can melt Adeline’s resolve. . .and he can find a way to be the Wickedly Wonderful Widow’s lover for all time?

Only within the last year or so have I started reading romance, and I fully admit to having a lot of biases associated with the genre for the longest time until, you know, I actually started reading it and following some romance writers on Twitter and realizing there’s a lot more to the genre than I expected. Much in the same way I read fantasy to be delighted by magic systems and a subversive reality and science fiction to explore strange and familiar worlds, the romance I’ve read has offered a little swoon-worthy escape from the drudgery of every day. And since I tend to gravitate toward historical romance, I get to enjoy the commentary and dives into women’s spheres while escaping for a little bit.

Amelia Grey’s The Earl Next Door is about Adeline, Dowager Countess of Wake, who lost her husband at sea. Her two friends, also widows, have joined with her to open up a school for young girls who have also lost family members at sea. Her next door neighbor, Lord Lyon, Earl of Marksworth, first assumes she is running a house of ill-repute and then is later rudely awakened and frustrated by the house of school-aged girls disturbing his mid-morning sleep.This sets off the attraction, sparks, and tension between Adeline and Lyon that continues through the rest of the book.

I thought it was an easy, fun read, and perfect for a week that was more than a little stressful! To me, the ending was a little contrived, but ultimately it works with the story itself, and I’m curious to see how the rest of the series pans out because I loved Adeline’s two friends so much!

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press for an advance review copy! All opinions are my own!

BOOK REVIEW: The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan, by Caitlín R. Kiernan

BOOK REVIEW: The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan, by Caitlín R. KiernanTitle: The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: February 18th, 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 432
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

"One of our essential writers of dark fiction."―New York Times

Caitlín R. Kiernan is widely acknowledged as one of dark fantasy and horror’s most skilled and acclaimed short fiction writers. Here in this retrospective volume is her finest work, previously only collected in sold-out limited editions. Kiernan’s tales are visceral, sensual, devastating, and impossible to resist: a reporter is goaded by her girlfriend into watching people morphing into terrifying art; a critic interviews an elderly model from a series of famous mermaid paintings; a moviegoer watches a banned arthouse film only to discover exactly why it has been banned.

When I read “The Maltese Unicorn” in The Unicorn Anthology, I wanted to read more of Caitlín R. Kiernan’s work. Tachyon on Netgalley had The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan up for download, so I loaded it onto my kindle and started reading a story or three. I was really captivated by a lot of her work because it’s a little creepy, unsettling, and grotesque, but in a way that showcases truths that sometimes we’re afraid to face or don’t know how to face.

My favorite stories in the collection were as follows: “The Maltese Unicorn” (of course, because you really can’t go wrong with lesbian unicorn noir), “A Child’s Guide to Hollow Hills,” “The Ammonite Violin,” and “Hydrarguros”. “The Ammonite Violin” has such a masterfully and terrific thrill to it that I read it twice. I knew the story was leading up to something, and the revelation was perfectly executed.

I had never read any of her work before her story in The Unicorn Anthology, and I think it’s because I don’t often dabble in the “horror” genre. I am hesitate to label Kiernan as “horror” in the traditional sense because so many of her stories were a quiet, creeping sort of horror rather than a shock and scare sort of thing that I generally tend to associate with “horror.” Her work is more an examination of the human existence in all its forms, from light to dark, and I think this collection of her work shows the broad scope of her abilities.

Thank you to Tachyon Pub and Netgalley for a digital review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Unquiet Heart, by Kaite Welsh

BOOK REVIEW: The Unquiet Heart, by Kaite WelshTitle: The Unquiet Heart by Kaite Welsh
Series: Sarah Gilchrist #2
Published by Pegasus Books
Published: February 21st 2019
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Kaite Welsh's thrilling THE UNQUIET HEART is the second in the gothic Sarah Gilchrist series, following a medical student turned detective in Victorian Edinburgh.

Sarah Gilchrist has no intention of marrying her dull fiancé Miles, the man her family hope will restore her reputation and put an end to her dreams of becoming a doctor, but when he is arrested for a murder she is sure he didn't commit she finds herself his reluctant ally. Beneath the genteel façade of upper class Edinburgh lurks blackmail, adultery, poison and madness and Sarah must return to Edinburgh's slums, back alleys and asylums as she discovers the dark past about a family where no one is what they seem, even Miles himself. It also brings her back into the orbit of her mercurial professor, Gregory Merchiston - he sees Sarah as his protegee, but can he stave off his demons long enough to teach her the skills that will save her life?

I read the first Sarah Gilchrist book last year? The year before? And I fell in love with it. Sarah Gilchrist is a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, and in this second installment of the series, Sarah is trying not to marry her fiance Miles. In the midst of the drama surrounding her upcoming wedding, Miles is arrested for a murder Sarah is sure he didn’t commit, and she becomes his ally in trying to clear his name while maintaining the delicate balance of her own reputation.

I love Sarah’s voice. She’s a strong-willed individual who finds it difficult to balance what she wants in her life while trying to balance what’s expected of hers by others. She knows she’ll never be able to live up to those expectations, and her professor Gregory Merchiston encourages Sarah to find her own way. Welsh weaves in traditional mystery tropes with historical fiction and feminism, and the writing and the story is fresh, engaging, and wonderful. I also loved the weaving in of what happened in the first book without it feeling like an info dump, because there were some details I had forgotten or was glad to be reminded about. The hint of romance near the end is swoon-worthy, because who doesn’t love a quietly-pining, broody someone?

If you’re interested in feminist historical fiction with strong characters with a setting that feels like you’re completely immersed, definitely check out this series.

Thank you to Netgalley and Pegasus Books for the digital advance copy! All opinions are my own.