Review, TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Location, Location, Location

April’s theme prompt for Super Wendy’s #TBRChallenge 2022 was “Location, Location, Location.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.

Erin Read: Star Dust by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner (2015)

Fly Me to the Moon, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

After I attended an event on the National Mall commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, I started to wonder about romance set in that period, so when I found this series, I added the whole thing to my TBR.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

Outer space is a pretty unique location, right?

What are your thoughts on the book?

This book was exactly what I expected and wanted it to be. Score! Anne-Marie is a divorcee whose parents buy her and her children a new house in the neighborhood where all the astronauts live. And wouldn’t you know it? There’s a very sexy astronaut living right next door. While they don’t get off to a great start, sparks are flying before you can say “ignition.”

This book played right into my mental imagery of the traditional American mid-century household, but that’s it’s strength; it’s working within that frame of reference to remind the reader that divorce was still extremely uncommon (fun fact, in the course of doing a school project in South Dakota, I learned that people moved there because it was easier to get a divorce than in other states), still scandalous, and women were scorned for it because they were expected to overlook a husband’s wandering…everything. The era feels more present than most histrom, so Anne-Marie’s attitudes toward being with a partner she truly desired felt both outrageous when viewed through a Regency histrom lens and also perfectly right when viewed through a contemporary lens (at least for the contemporaries I read). Then, too, my generation is so accustomed to astronauts that they’re not the celebrities they were during the space race, so it was interesting to have a unique celebrity hero.

Anne-Marie’s social position during this book might lick the flames of one’s “burn down the patriarchy” rage, but she’s also in an extremely privileged position because her parents’ wealth paid for her divorce and for her new house. Their connections got her a job. Her early interactions with Kit made the other astronauts’ wives sympathetic to her while the rest of her circle was gossiping and making judgments about her, so she didn’t have much social power of her own, but she was accepted into a group with a lot of clout. At the end of the day, she’s worked really hard to reboot her life…but then we don’t know what will happen to her with Kit – will she stop working outside the home again? As an astronaut’s SO, she’d be under a lot of media scrutiny, but we get no sense of how that pans out for her. It’s an interesting balancing act.

Once I finally started reading, I powered through this book. It was supremely interesting to me. But I can acknowledge that there were some curious choices on the part of the authors specifically to avoid tension in moments where the drama would have been quite natural – like when Kit’s in space, for example. Or, as I mentioned above, where the media was concerned. So while I was fully engaged, some readers might find it perhaps a bit too calm.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

Holly Read: Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin (2014)

Gunpowder Chronicles, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

It’s a steampunk book set during the Opium Wars. Also, I’ve liked the other books I’ve read by Jeannie Lin.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

Uh, it’s a steampunk book set during the Opium Wars.

What are your thoughts on the book?

This is one of those books where the plot is one damn thing after another. Poor Soling gets kidnapped no less than three times (by different people!). So the first thing to know is that you have to be prepared for a rollicking adventure story. And when the book ends, you know it’s going to be another damn thing after another, because the story is nowhere near done—this is not a standalone HEA, but rather just the beginning of Soling’s adventures.

There is a bit of bait and switch in the middle: for a while, it seems like Lin is setting up a love triangle, with Soing caught between two former young acolytes of her father’s who have taken opposing paths (obviously symbolic of the different paths Soling herself might take), but Yang Hanzhu quickly exits stage left, and then it’s nothing but Chen Chang-wei. This is unfortunate, because I found “Uncle Yang” (pirate, alchemist, outlaw) a much more appealing love interest than dutiful Chang-wei. I know that Lin can write great pining, but in this case, the very slow burn was overshadowed by all the adventures Soling was having.

The best part of the book is Lin’s imagining of what Chinese steampunk would look like—without a steam engine. For example, several characters have mechanical prosthetics that integrate with their bodies using wires attached to acupuncture needles. 

Overall, this was a fun read, if not a great romance. Recommended for those who love steampunk and want to read about something besides dirigibles in London.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

Ingrid Read: All Rhodes Lead Here by Mariana Zapata

Why was this book on your TBR? 

Well, I’ve read everything else by Mariana Zapata so I figured I had to!

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

I pored over my options and initially figured I’d do something in a fresher, lesser done locale, but I chose this one because so much of the plot revolved around place. The heroine went back to her roots to be where her mother loved to be and ultimately went missing. And so it seemed like an interesting twist on “location”.

What are your thoughts on the book?

I honestly thought Mariana Zapata had a ghostwriter for the first chunk of this book. Traditionally, MZ heroines are pretty cookie cutter—tough as nails but ultimately very naive and innocent. They usually need a rescue, and the hero tends to be someone who can’t seem to stop saving the day…because he’s secretly gripped by deep feelings he can’t resist.

In this one, I clocked Aurora as being a full-grown woman who is making independent decisions for herself and doesn’t really need rescuing. (Except for when she hikes and makes errors in judgment, but lots of inexperienced hikers do this, so.) After a post divorce road trip, she ends up renting a room online from who she THINKS is an adult but is actually Rhodes’ son in the town she grew up in. After begging, she’s allowed to stay temporarily and she gets a job at the local outdoors store working for a childhood friend. 

The basic plot revolves around Aurora working through the loss of her marriage, her mother’s disappearance, and the loss of her work as a songwriter. Rhodes is learning how to be a hands-on parent after being away in the Navy for most of his son’s life, and works as a forest ranger. Essentially, what we’re looking at here is extreme capability porn mixed with grumpy/sunshine. My kryptonite. 

A lot of people dislike MZ’s slow burn, and if that’s a hold up for some readers I highly recommend they give this one a go simply because it makes sense. There’s a kid involved and living on the premises…and there’s a lot of other things going on. It’s not just nonstop smut dangling and then a bait and switch. 

I have no idea if MZ used a ghostwriter (not my business, really) but after finishing, I felt like it was just a more mature storyline written by perhaps a more mature author. And the threads of “where” are threaded throughout the plot beautifully–where is her mother? Where will Aurora settle down? Where did her prior relationship go wrong? And where did her songwriting ability go?

It’s a great (if not flexible) example of location, location, location and I highly recommend it.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

Want to join us in tackling your TBR? May’s prompt is Tales of Old.

6 thoughts on “TBR Challenge: Location, Location, Location”

    1. It was really fun. I thought about buying the next book and starting it, but I managed to restrain myself and get through some other stuff that’s been languishing in my “to do” pile first. But I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I wondered if someone was going to pick space for this one! I read A Midnight Clear in the Fly Me to the Moon series and loved it, I’ve always meant to go back to the series.

    I read a Lin, too! I did The Lotus Palace but I think I have this one Kindle. Steampunk has some of those fantasy elements that also give you a lot of story. The setting takes a little longer to establish, then fitting in the plot, and romance, the first in the series has a lot of heavy lifting.

    I like slow burn so MZ is recc’d to me a lot. I read Under Locke and thinking that it had a whiff of Kristen Ashley but toned down. You saying this sounded more mature has me pretty curious about the story now, I think I’d like it more. Bumped up tbr!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I loooooooooooved The Lotus Palace! I liked this one less (probably because there was so much plot and less romance), but Lin is a great author. Her Harlequins are also excellent, if you haven’t read them.


    2. I’ve also read the MZ, and I agree with you, but Ingrid’s right – this one has a much more mature voice. There’s not the emotional drama of her younger heroines combined with the (sometimes questionable) displays of possessiveness of her heroes, but I felt like there was still enough drama both in her story and their romance to keep things interesting. Let us know what you think if you end up reading it!

      (Also I am very much looking forward to reading A Midnight Clear. What a fun series!)

      Liked by 1 person

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