It's time to share reviews of the best ARCs I received this month. The following all received 3 stars or higher.
After reading Foolproof Love, I was curious about how Robert would bring Aubry and Quinn together and the result was completely satisfying. I believe banter is a love language and Aubry and Quinn have that in spades! Their chemistry was off the charts but the best part was seeing how they slowly became more vulnerable with one another and risked getting out of their comfort zones.
I have long loved food memoir but sadly, food fiction has been more miss than hit for me the last few years. I am relieved this fine novel exceeded all expectations. First, the food descriptions are incredible but I also really appreciated Olivia's approach in the kitchen and seeing the trajectory of her career. Even though she's earned major accolades, she wasn't showy about it and she concentrated more on the quality of whatever her ingredients were than anything else. Second, this allowed us to experience how much the kitchen has overtaken her personal life and therefore see what changes occur when she starts working at the Sugar Maple. Third, I loved getting to know the people in the town and how these relationships softened Olivia and allowed her to take some chances. Of course, she's not perfect and sometimes I marveled at how her best friend put up with her, as well as how men seemingly fell at her feet in spite of poor behavior. But this all allowed for some major character development and the way the novel twisted and turned through all of it had me enthralled. Plus: allow me to dreamily sigh over Martin. The way Miller built the relationship between Livvy and Martin is worth a good look, especially because of one particular choice she made with the characters. But what a payoff in the end! Absolutely lovely through and through.
This was my first MMA romance and I have to say I quite liked it. I've never been one to watch MMA or boxing or even much wrestling (aside from my guy friends in high school who loved the WWF) but I enjoy a good alpha male and Brody more than fit the bill. It was interesting to learn more about his MMA career and see him figure out the dynamics between him and his coach, as well as how this affected him in the cage. But more interesting than all that was to see Brody navigate his relationship from Scarlett after so many years of pining away for a woman he couldn't have. I loved seeing these two friends explore what they meant to each other, although I do wish Scarlett's split from her husband hadn't been so fresh. Even if their marriage was long over, she needs a chance to breathe and figure out why she stayed with such a douchecanoe for so long before getting together with someone else. On the other hand, it was nice to see her become more empowered and aware of her awesomeness, thanks to Brody. I really liked those two! Another interesting angle was how infertility played a role in the story, which isn't something I've encountered in other romance novels before. Several friends have walked that road and Niles approached it deftly and with care.
I first came across DL Mayfield on McSweeney's. Her essays about living among refugees were stunning and I swiftly followed her on Twitter, ready to read whatever she'd give us. A few years have since passed and it was a thrill to read her book. Some of those essays from McSweeney's make an appearance, although they seem to have been expanded. I was impressed with Danielle's vulnerability: the way she lays bear her old assumptions and how this impacted her relationship with her refugee friends, the way she discusses her struggles and her privilege, her honesty about her doubts. In Assimilate Or Go Home, she avoids the voyeurism that is so often present in missionary accounts and instead challenges us as readers to consider our own assumptions, judgments, and privilege in our day to day lives. Well worth reading.
If you asked me a month ago what the Tea Party and Black Lives Matter have in common, I would have said, "nothing." But after reading Necessary Trouble, I can now point to any number of post-2008 movements and see the common threads. Whether Walmart employees or environmental activists, Jaffe shows how the deep dissatisfaction with and anger over the present state of affairs has been channeled into action and change. It's no longer business as usual. People are risking arrest and starting movements to disrupt the system and it is often working. (Glory be!) Jaffe shows each movement's strengths and struggles and I was particularly impressed by how she delved into the racism of certain segments of the Tea Party. I also loved the emphasis on intersectionality and the way class was highlighted as a common bond. Well researched and incredibly engaging, I underlined and asterisked my way through this book. It's a game-changer and definitely going on my Favorite list for 2016. If you read it, let's discuss.
Before The O'Malleys series, I had no idea how much I loved mafia romance. It reminds me of how my friend Jamie describes herself as a feminist who likes to get pushed around. These books make me wish I could fall in love with some Boston Irish mobsters, although with less violence and killing, of course. Each book in this series gets better and better and An Indecent Proposal blew me away. First, I loved the "will they, won't they" nature of Cillian and Olivia. Olivia has valid reasons for not getting involved. (Sidenote: I normally don't like children in my romance novels but I really liked Olivia as a single mom trying to do right by her daughter and make sure she had a different childhood.) Second, consent plays a major role throughout the novel and it was handled so well. I loved how Cillian deferred to Olivia on everything, including what information he could give his family and whether he could approach her daughter. Third, the character growth and depiction of grief was just stellar and also laid some groundwork for the next couple of books. I cannot wait to see what Robert does next!
This series gets better and better! I was very much looking forward to Heather's story after reading To Have And To Hold and it more than met my expectations. Heather and her noisy neighbor Josh start off on the wrong foot and this leads to the most delicious banter. (This gets me every time.) After more than a few choice words to each other, they become reluctant friends and then, inevitably, something more. Josh is a cancer survivor, something he refuses to tell Heather about. He instead makes choices based on the tired maxim "live like you're dying." Except his choices don't make him very happy, something Heather keenly points out, even without knowing the underlying reason. On the other hand, Heather makes choices based on the life she wants to lead, almost a "name it and claim it." She's got a big promotion on the line and a celebrity client who won't behave. As Heather and Josh try to make sense of where their lives are headed, the juxtaposition leads in interesting directions. I really loved seeing how they began to give one another a chance and especially loved the lessons they taught each other. It wrapped up a bit too quickly at the end but I also appreciated how Layne avoided cliches and tired responses, especially when Heather learned about Josh's past cancer. A truly enjoyable read.
Disclosure: Affiliate links contained in this post. I received an ARC of Fool Me Once, Knocked Out By Love, The City Baker's Guide To Country Living, Necessary Trouble, For Better Or Worse, and An Indecent Proposal from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I received an ARC of Assimilate Or Go Home from HarperOne in exchange for an honest review.