Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling by Emer McLysaght & Sarah Breen




Aisling #1
293 pages
Book Club Selection
Irish

Just a small-town girl living in a notions world

Blurb (from GoodReads)

Everyone knows an Aisling:

Loves going Out Out, but secretly scared of liquid eyeliner.
Happy to drink the bar dry, but will bring her own coaster if necessary.
Would rather die than miss a cooked hotel breakfast, but can calculate the Points in a Snickers at fifty paces.

Aisling's the girl with a heart of gold, but a boyfriend who still hasn't made a peep about their Big Day even after seven years.

But then a disastrous romantic getaway shows Aisling that it's time to stop waiting around and leave John behind for the bright lights of Dublin. After she's wailed her way through Adele's Greatest Hits, that is.

Between glamorous new flatmates, a scandal at work and finding herself in a weird love square, Aisling is ready to take on the big city. So long as she has her umbrella with her.


Review

I guess I’d better place this book under the heading ‘Too Irish for Me’. It happens occasionally that I pick up a book and have to conclude that despite having lived in Ireland for over 21 years, there’s still a lot I just don’t get. And considering the numerous five-star reviews and the rhapsodic peer write-ups it’s hard not to think this is a case of ‘it’s not you; it’s me’.

And I’m still not sure what exactly an ‘Aisling’ is. Unless it defines a woman in her twenties acting as if she’s not a day older than seventeen. In fact, I’m almost tempted to call this a coming of age story, if coming of age is something you do in your late twenties after having commuted to and from Dublin for years and with a seven-year relationship under your belt. I’ve lived in Dublin and have been calling the Irish countryside home for the past 15 years or so, but if anyone challenged me to identify an ‘Aisling’ and contrast her with a ‘non-Aisling’, I’d be lost.

Then again, maybe Aisling’s belated awakening is the point of this story. Maybe, without me being aware of it, the dream of finding a partner, getting the church-hotel wedding, buying a house, and settling only minutes away from the mammy is still considered the be all and end all by numerous girls growing up in rural Ireland. If that’s the case it is a symptom I’ve been blissfully unaware of until reading this book.

This is very obviously an Irish book aimed at Irish readers. There are too many terms, expressions, and habits mentioned that wouldn’t make any sense to someone who hasn’t spent a significant amount of time on the Emerald Isle. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it seems a shame to limit the audience for what is obviously a very popular series in such a way.

But, having said all of the above, and before anybody gets the impression I actively disliked this book, I also have to state that Oh My God is a very easy and comfortable read and that it’s impossible not to like Aisling, regardless of how often she managed to make me roll my eyes. While there was very little in this story to excite me, there wasn’t a single boring moment either. The story moves forward like a high-speed train, rarely allowing either the characters or the reader a moment to catch their breath. It also manages to dive into several heftier subjects without making the story either preachy or pondering, which I’m all in favour of.

So, all in all my reaction to this book is rather two-sided. I probably won’t read the later books in this series but I’m glad I read this title. If only because it is such a hit in Ireland. I’m also looking forward to discussing the book with my reading group. I can’t wait to discover whether I really am totally oblivious to what’s going on around me.



Thursday, 30 January 2020

Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson




244 pages
Book club read

Blurb

I have come to think of all the metal in my body as artificial stars, glistening beneath the skin, a constellation of old and new metal. A map, a tracing of connections and a guide to looking at things from different angles.

How do you tell the story of life that is no one thing? How do you tell the story of a life in a body, as it goes through sickness, health, motherhood? And how do you tell that story when you are not just a woman but a woman in Ireland? In these powerful and daring essays, Sinéad Gleeson does that very thing. In doing so she delves into a range of subjects: art, illness, ghosts, grief, and our very ways of seeing. In writing that is in tradition of some of our finest writers such as Olivia Laing, Maggie O'Farrell, and Maggie Nelson, and yet still in her own spirited, warm voice, Gleeson takes us on a journey that is both personal and yet universal in its resonance.

Review

…and then there are those times when I feel totally unprepared and even less equipped to write a ‘worthy’ review. Never mind that I’ve been sharing my thoughts about the books I read for at least fifteen years. Maybe fiction is easier because it gives you a linear story to follow, but I think that’s not really the issue here.

For starters, Constellations and Sinéad Gleeson are in a league of their own when it comes to language—beautiful language, fluent language, descriptive language, emotive language, efficient language… I could go on, but you get my  drift. Every single word on these 244 pages has a purpose, and most of them left me in awe. The book as a whole left me in no doubt that my ‘second language’ English is just not up to the task of doing Constellations justice.

But it’s more than that. I recognised so very much in this book, despite the fact that my background couldn’t be more different from the authors. My (medical) history doesn’t compare to Gleeson’s but many of her thoughts and feelings about dealing with a chronic condition and its life-long consequences struck home. But despite all the ‘oh yes, me too’ moments, there were at least as many where my reaction was the almost exact opposite of what I found on the page.

I’m not sure I have ever taken as long to read 244-page book. Nor did I ever stick as many sticky notes between two covers or fill as many pages with quote after quote after quote. You’d think that those notes would make writing a review easier but most of those ‘highlighted’ paragraphs and quotes are strictly personal to me, food for thought that will keep me thinking for days, weeks, months to come and may even encourage me to write that book I’ve been thinking about for the past twenty-odd years. All of them are fascinating, while none are helpful when it comes to giving an objective overview of this breath-taking book.

January hasn’t quite ended yet, but I think that with Constellations I may have finished the best book I’m going to read this year. Thought-provoking, enlightening, and touching this deeply personal memoir resonated with me in a way other people’s experiences rarely do. I have no doubt others will go through the same process of recognition and reflection—about being female, about life and death, and about learning to live with a chronic medical condition—I experienced and for that reason alone I’ll probably never stop talking about this book and recommending it to anyone who asks for my opinion.




Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Alpha Home by Sue Brown – Release Day Review





J.T.’s Bar #3

Buy links: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Blurb

Si Raines thought his plans were set for the future. He’d marry his fiancé, the bar-owner Howie Gray, continue with his covert ops career, and when he was ready to retire from that, find a new job and settle down to life together. But a text from Howie throws all the plans into a maelstrom of chaos and hurt, and Si swears he’ll never return to J.T’s Bar again.

Two years later, when an injury ends his covert ops job against his will, he finds himself back at the bar, only to discover Howie is still around, and in danger from a stalker. When Howie begs him for help, Si has to decide if he’s willing to get involved. Apart from doubting whether he can protect anyone with his injury, is he really prepared to be around Howie again? The attraction between them is still electric, and Howie seems willing to explain his behaviour. But can Si forgive him? Faced with the resurrection of old wounds and imminent danger to them both, can Si find it in his heart to rebuild his relationship with Howie and take a second chance on love?

Review

Alpha Home starts with a bang and breaks the readers’ as well as Si’s heart, before settling down to fix the mess created on the initial pages. It’s impossible not to have your heart break for Si. He may come across as and be proud of his image as a hard man, but no amount of tough attitude can protect him from the heartbreak he experiences when Howie, the man he thought he would marry, breaks up with him.

Two years apart have failed to repair Si’s shattered hard and when an injury puts an end to the only career he’s ever known and loved, he returns to J.T.’s Bar and the man who rejected him, hoping to salvage at least one part of his life.

I loved that, from the start, it is clear that Howie is no happier to apart from Si, even if he did create the distance between them. Howie is such a good man. All he ever wanted was to look after those he loves. When caring for his (homophobic) mother proves incompatible with loving Si, he made the decision that shattered both Si’s and his own heart. Now, with Si back and his mother no longer alive, Howie and Si have a chance again, provided they can overcome the bruised feelings between them and figure out who is trying to hurt Howie before the attacks end up killing him.

Alpha Home was a wonderful combination of tension and romance with a smidgen of angst thrown in for good measure although, thankfully, the separation part of the story wasn’t lingered on. The journey Howie and Si make back to each other is a thing of beauty. Wonderfully paced, it never feels rushed or drawn out while feelings of betrayal aren’t glossed over either. The image of these two big, powerful men, who are so perfect for each other is painted with such clarity it is now imprinted on my mind. The interactions between the various covert-ops team members is delightful, riveting, and heartwarming and the mystery as to who is out to get Howie keeps the tension high and the pages turning themselves. 😊

I somehow managed to miss reading the second book in this series, and while I have no doubt prior knowledge of that story would have clarified some minor plot points in this book, I can’t say I ever regretted rushing in to reading Alpha Home.

Long review short: Alpha Home is a wonderful combination of romance and suspense; a perfect choice if you’re looking for a quick and smooth read to lose yourself in.

Related Review: Alpha Barman


Monday, 30 December 2019

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory




295 pages

Blurb

Vivian Forest has been out of the country a grand total of one time, so when she gets the chance to tag along on her daughter Maddie’s work trip to England to style a royal family member, she can’t refuse. She’s excited to spend the holidays taking in the magnificent British sights, but what she doesn’t expect is to become instantly attracted to a certain private secretary, his charming accent, and unyielding formality.

Malcolm Hudson has worked for the Queen for years and has never given a personal, private tour—until now. He is intrigued by Vivian the moment he meets her and finds himself making excuses just to spend time with her. When flirtatious banter turns into a kiss under the mistletoe, things snowball into a full-on fling.

Despite a ticking timer on their holiday romance, they are completely fine with ending their short, steamy affair come New Year’s Day. . .or are they?

Review

This is such a delightful and heartwarming romance. I think I read it from start to finish (more or less in one sitting) with a smile on my face.

Vivian is a wonderful romantic lead. Full of charm, with a great sense of humour, and an easy laugh she manages to charm everyone she meets and put them at ease. Malcolm is a bit stiffer, more set in his ways, and very recognizable as a ‘typical’ British male in that for the longest time he doesn’t ‘do’ feelings and, ignores whatever emotions he might be experiencing when it comes to Vivian.

Their coming together was smooth and natural, and the progression of their holiday fling was fluent and made perfect sense. In fact, even the aftermath, when they’re on different continents again with, as far as they can tell, no practical way to continue what they started, was logical. Yes, everything happened very fast but I really didn’t have an issue with that. I mean, why would two adults, both more or less at the midway point in their lives, waste time on silly games when they’re face to face with the opportunity to spend time with an attractive person who is obviously interested in them too?

The royal references and Vivian’s awe at everything she encounters were charming and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about two persons of colour falling for each other for a (much needed and very timely) change. It’s not that I actively avoid books about characters who don’t look just like me, it’s more that they are nowhere near as easy to find. Which makes me all the happier that this book found its way to the shelves of my library and I have no doubt I’ll recommend it to those borrowers who enjoy romantic reads.

In summary, I would call Royal Holiday a delightful and light-hearted romance with a bit of a fairy-tale feel to the story. Almost angst-free and filled with witty conversations, this book is bound to make you smile and leave you happy. Just one warning: Don’t read this book while hungry; the descriptions of the mouth-watering food Vivian gets to sample while in England made my stomach growl. 😊



Thursday, 26 December 2019

Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell & Faith Erin Hicks




Graphic Novel
Juvenile Fiction

Blurb

Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends.

Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1.
But this Halloween is different? Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye.

Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if instead of moping they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he’s been mooning over for three years . . .

Review

“It’s about being the flipper not the pinball.”

Pumpkin Heads, or rather Deja’s life philosophy was exactly what I needed to pick me up today. I absolutely adored this story about friendship, loyalty, honesty, and embracing life.

This book literally has everything going for it. It’s a delightful, charming, funny, and uplifting story featuring diverse characters and filled with body-positivity. Which is not to say the book is either boring, preachy, or bland. In their quest to get Josiah to introduce himself to the girl he’s been admiring from a distance for three years, Deja and he learn about friendship while Deja shows Josiah that life needs to be lived rather than endured and that sometimes rules are meant to be broken. And while it may seem as if Deja has it all worked out and knows exactly where she’s at, it turns out that even she still has a lesson to learn about appreciating what you have rather than speculating about what might be.

Deja is, without a doubt, one of the best female characters I’ve read in recent times. She embraces life and shares her happiness and kindness with anybody willing to receive it. She’s also a fount of wisdom, as the quote I started this review with shows, just as this one does:

People all sort of look the same until I talk to them.
That’s when they start to get interesting. That’s when they start to…shimmer.

As I said, this story is very body positive. Deja isn’t your usual skinny (or white) heroine. Here we have a well-formed girl with brown skin who loves food and isn’t afraid to indulge. What’s more, the story makes it clear that not only is she very popular, the people she works with are also attracted to her. She’s the one with a string of past flings, not Josiah.

I have to admit that I have nothing with Halloween and that a lot of the food and activities mentioned in this story were new to me. And that didn’t matter at all. I laughed, smiled, and grinned my way through this book, delighted to spend time with Deja and Joshua as they cemented their friendship and discovered that sometimes what you think you’re looking for is something you already have.

I’m not much of a graphic novel reader either, because I usually prefer to paint my own pictures in my head rather than rely on somebody else’s interpretation of a character, but the artwork in Pumpkin Heads was inspired. Even my own, very vivid, imagination couldn’t have improved on the pictures of either the characters or the pumpkin patch.



If you’re looking for something to lift your mood and leave you smiling, I highly recommend Pumpkin Heads.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Last Place in the Chalet by Sue Brown - Release Day Review





Blurb

Noel Garrett leaves for his Christmas vacation with an engagement ring in his pocket. But he boards the plane alone and with a broken heart when his boyfriend dumps him in the airport.

His seatmate, Angel Marinelli, takes care of him with gentle determination… whether Noel wants it or not, and Noel doesn't expect to see Angel again. But when an overbooking leaves Angel without a room and Noel is asked to host him, one night turns into the whole vacation and they settle into the chalet and mix with an eclectic group of guests, including the Wise Guys and a pregnant woman. As they ski and spend every moment together, Noel finds himself falling for Angel, and though his feelings are returned, Noel worries it’s just a rebound romance. It’ll mean taking a leap of faith, but Noel has to make a decision before he hurts Angel, and Christmas is fast approaching.

Review

Last Place in the Chalet is about as Christmassy as a story can possibly get. For starters, the tale is stuffed full of Christmas references. From the character’s names—Noel, Angel, Maria, Three Wise Men—, to the ‘no room in the inn’ confusion, the festive seasons sparkles from these pages.

This story starts with all the sads. Poor Noel, being dumped just before he was going to bring his partner on a skiing trip during which he wanted to propose. It’s hardly surprising Noel is devastated and short with others for the rest of the day, except that from the moment he boards his plane there’s Angel, who, although a stranger, manages to calm and comfort Noel with small acts of understanding and kindness. From that moment forward, coincidence, the weather, and their fellow-house guests conspire to push Angel and Noel together and, with the aid of a little seasonal magic, the two men fall hard and fast.

Yes, there’s definitely a strong insta-love theme to this story but given that it’s a Christmas tale I had no problems suspending disbelieve and just losing myself in the delightful descriptions of Angel and Noel’s coming together. Besides, Noel is well aware how fast his feelings are developing and initially very reluctant to trust the attraction.

Maybe this is more a fairytale than a romance in so far as everything that happens appears to be ordained, and meant to be. But what could be more magical and Christmassy than two men who are obviously made for each other coming together and finding each other while surrounded by seasonal magic.

Last place in the Chalet is the ultimate feel-good read and perfect for the holiday season. I challenge anyone to read it without a huge smile stretched across their face from start to finish.



Friday, 20 December 2019

The Longest Night by Z. Allora - Release Day Review





Blurb

The holiday season is lonely for construction worker Benjamin Morgan, a big muscular guy who just wants to submit, obey, and serve. But the men he’s attracted to usually don’t have a dominant bone in their bodies. He’s done seeking his BDSM dreams with someone who isn’t interested in putting him in his rightful place—on his knees at their feet.

When a friend sets up a meeting with Foster Ridgeway at the BDSM club, Entwined, Benjamin has his doubts. Of course he is attracted to bookish Foster, who works for the same construction company, but how will someone so small and delicate-looking master Benjamin? But when Foster—the tiny temple of dominance wielding a crop—heads toward Benjamin, he might get what he’s always wanted, just in time for Solstice.

Review

There are delightful stories and then there is The Longest Night. This is possibly the sweetest, cutest, and sexiest story I’ve read this year. If there is any ‘angst’ in this story it’s dealt with in the first few pages before we enter scene after scene describing how two men, who were obviously meant to be together, open up to each other and reach heights they’d previously only dreamed about.

When the story starts Benjamin fears he’ll never find a Dom able to accept that Benjamin doesn’t have a dominant bone in his body, despite being built like a house. Then a friend arranges a meeting between him and Foster, who may look delicate but is as Dominant as it is possible to be, as well as the personification of Benjamin’s every dream.

Benjamin’s subsequent journey into submission, going deeper with each encounter, is glorious, not to mention very enticing. And Foster is just about the perfect combination of Dominant verging on cruel and deeply caring. I loved every moment of their times together and read the story with a smile on my face from start to finish.

If I do have a reservation is that I would have loved to see Benjamin through Foster’s eyes. Benjamin’s submission, explored from his own perspective is glorious but I have no doubt it would have been even more magical if Foster’s emotional reactions had been described too. Since this whole story is told from Benjamin’s point of view we don’t get that and, given that this is a shortish story that’s entirely understandable, but I do feel it would have given their journey an extra edge.

There is no angst or conflict in this story and that delighted me. The connection between these two men, once they ‘recognize’ each other for who they are, is swift and the bond between them all but automatic. Given that Benjamin and Foster are perfect for each other, any form of conflict would have been contrived and I’m very happy it wasn’t shoe-horned in just for the sake of it.

Overall a wonderful story if you’re in the mood for a pagan holiday story featuring two adorable men and delicious sexiness.