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.


Saturday Smutty Six: Women Athletes

Our Smashdown can’t be limited to only 8 duels and a few other reviews! In order to showcase some more lovely sports romance, we need listicles! 

They might not all play sportsball, but they’re all definitely athletes. This week, let’s talk about some professionally athletic women:

The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller

Don’t you even dare say that ballerinas aren’t athletes. As the Prima Ballerina of the Palais Garnier in 1870s Paris, Amelie works her butt off—and there are the requisite sports romance scenes of training and injury, as well as some really wonderful scenes of the chaos of backstage during a performance. The main story arc, however, centers on Amelie’s sudden ability to communicate with ghosts, and the healing from collective trauma that she and her ghostly companions work through. Benedict is mainly along for the ride and supports Amelie every step of the way.

Love. Set. Match. by Taylor Lunsford

Hey, it’s tennis! Emerson is out to win a Grand Slam, but there are so many distractions! She’s had a knee injury, she’s still grieving the death of her grandfather, her tennis all-star ex has cast her as the villain of their relationship, and photos of her wearing sexy lingerie are all over the internet. She does not need the man who dumped her seven years ago distracting her on top of everything. But then Rob becomes her staunch supporter. And he’s realized he was foolish for listening to his dad all those years ago. There’s a lot of personal growth in this book.

Only When It’s Us by Chloe Liese

Sometimes people say they want a grumpy/grumpy book instead of a grumpy/sunshine book, and this probably fits the bill. Willa and Ryder are college juniors (and they act like it) who are managing a lot of baggage as they figure out how to adult. Willa’s only family is her mother, who is dying of cancer, which is more than enough for a college junior to manage, except that she’s also worried about making the grades to stay on the soccer team so she can have a shot at playing pro soccer. She’s absolutely terrible at managing stress and communicating, which makes her first interactions with Ryder extremely negative, but eventually they befriend each other, grump to grump, in that playful antagonism way that people do. Be warned: this story will probably make you cry.

Kulti by Mariana Zapata

It had to make an appearance on at least one sports romance list, right? The title is the name of the hero soccer superstar, but fear not: this is all about Sal Casillas as she enters a new soccer season with her childhood crush as a coach. Awkward. On top of that, Kulti broke Sal’s brother’s leg during a game and he’s just a surly jerk. At first. Then they become friends, which puts Sal’s position on the team in jeopardy. It’s a really slow burn but YOWZA, when everything comes to the point, it knocks me right down every time.

From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata

Mariana Zapata has written several sports romances, but for hard-working women athletes, I couldn’t miss Jasmine Santos. Competitive figure skating is the only thing she’s wanted since she first touched the ice at 9, but after her last partner dumped her she’s facing a forced retirement. Until her childhood nemesis and best friend’s older brother (and an Olympic medalist) offers her the position of his partner – but only for one year. If you liked The Cutting Edge and want more pairs skating slow burn romance energy, this is a solid pick.

Roller Girl by Vanessa North

Tina’s a retired wakeboarder turned personal trainer who feels like a bad adult after her divorce. How do you even find a plumber? Enter Joe, who inherited her dad’s plumbing business and coaches roller derby on the side. Tina has her old wakeboarding friends, but since she’s transitioned and divorced and is kind of in a funk, she really wants to make new friends in a welcoming space for women. Luckily, the wild world of roller derby is just the community Tina needed. If only she doesn’t jeopardize it all by fooling around with the coach in secret.

Bonus Points: Fire on the Ice by Tamsen Parker

While we were researching for this month, I found this F/F romance featuring a demure Canadian figure skater and a brash American speed skater. Sounds lit!

Dueling Review, Rant

Dueling Review: Luna and the Lie by Mariana Zapata (2018)

Erin really wanted to rant about this book, but while Ingrid might not enthusiastically recommend it, she isn’t about to agree with Erin that it’s rant-worthy. Clearly, we needed to review this book together. 

Welcome to Dueling Reviews

Moderated by Holly, who had no interest in reading this book but still asked a gazillion questions.

Erin’s Take:

Heat Factor: Not much heat. Mostly yearning.

Character Chemistry: I both like and hate their chemistry at once 

Plot: Luna has a really weird relationship with both of her bosses, but one’s like her dad and the other she has a crush on

Overall: I’ve read this more than once because I really like the idea of it, but every time I get into it I am totally enraged

Ingrid’s Take:

Heat Factor: Zapata starts fires with sticks, really

Character Chemistry: It makes sense. I stand by that.

Plot: Luna spends her life making everyone happy except her boss, Rip

Overall: I mean, it’s a classic Mariana Zapata–so it’s messy, sure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t satisfying.

Continue reading “Dueling Review: Luna and the Lie by Mariana Zapata (2018)”

Review: The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata (2016)

Heat Factor: Pretty standard Zapata slow burn

Character Chemistry: It kinda wasn’t there and then all of a sudden it was?

Plot: Let’s have a marriage of convenience because of reasons

Overall: I liked it but I kinda don’t know why

Continue reading “Review: The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata (2016)”

Review: Rhythm, Chord & Malykhin by Mariana Zapata (2015)

Heat Factor: Not completely, but pretty chaste

Character Chemistry: “OMG! Does he like me?!?!” “Girl, he’s so into you!”

Plot: Please see Character Chemistry

Overall: This book is high school. 

Continue reading “Review: Rhythm, Chord & Malykhin by Mariana Zapata (2015)”