Book Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics

lady's guide to celestial mechanicsThe Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics
by Olivia Waite
Historical Romance / LGBT
322 pages
Published June 2019

This was one of two sweet, lighthearted romances I read to prepare myself for Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments – and it definitely helped. HEAs always lift my mood.

I was a little afraid, with the title, that we were going to be talking about astrology, but nope. Astronomy. Just from a Victorian point of view. Well. Slightly earlier, actually, as the book opens in 1816. It’s a true Regency romance, set twenty years before Victoria becomes Queen.

Lucy Muchelney, one of our two main characters, is left somewhat at loose ends after her father dies and her lover marries a man. She had been serving as her father’s assistant in astronomy calculations, but her brother, now in control of their finances, tells her she should get married and leave silly thoughts of science behind her. Then she finds a letter from one of her father’s patrons, the Countess of Moth, and runs off to London, hoping to convince the Countess she’s as good as her father.

The Countess, recently widowed, is intrigued by Lucy, and takes her on. Together they face the sexism of the exclusively male Polite Science Society, and privately struggle with a romance that can never be publicly acknowledged.

I really enjoyed this romance. I think it was actually less explicit than most of the adult romances I read, but I know LGBT romances in particular have to walk a fine line because people are all-too-ready to call them bad names as it is. It absolutely had sex scenes, just…not as dirty and detailed and prevalent as many romances I’ve read.

I liked that it dealt with issues surrounding the need to keep the relationship a secret. In that era, being gay was a crime, though usually only prosecuted against men. But it meant it couldn’t be publicly acknowledged; they couldn’t marry. So there’s a worry that there’s nothing legally binding them together, and if, say, the Countess were to get tired of Lucy, Lucy could be out on the street. The imbalance of power with no safety net puts Lucy on shaky ground, and that’s something the two women have to work out.

The bulk of the plotline outside of the romance deals with the sexism of the scientific society at the time; my Friday 56 this week quoted a particularly damning scene. Lucy gets her revenge eventually, and it’s a delight.

Fun little regency romance. There are a few authors writing diverse historical romance, and I’d love to see more!

From the cover of The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics:

As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St. Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

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Book Review: There’s Something About Sweetie

there's something about sweetieThere’s Something About Sweetie
by Sandhya Menon
Young Adult Romance
378 pages
Published May 2019

There is so much to love about this book. I read When Dimple Met Rishi a while back, and fell in love with Rishi like I VERY rarely do with fictional characters. This book is about Rishi’s brother, Ashish. I don’t care for Ashish as much as I liked Rishi, but Sweetie – oh, girl.

See, Sweetie is fat. But despite how all the traditionalists around her would have her feel, she’s okay with that. She’s still the fastest runner on the track team, an amazing singer, and has a close group of loyal friends.

So when she’s approached by Ashish’s mother to arrange dating him, and it’s turned down flatly by her own mother because she’s “not at his level” – she makes the decision to show her mother she CAN be happy, and have the things her mother wants for her, WHILE BEING FAT. And so is born the “Sassy Sweetie Project,” which is adorable.

I love Sweetie, and being a fat person myself (who also snagged a hottie, not gonna lie) I identify SO MUCH with her struggles here. Snide remarks from family friends, the constant “if you’d just lose weight” from the people close to you, the expectation that you can’t be happy while fat – Sweetie faces all of that, tells it to sod off, and proves you can be fat and healthy and happy.

One thing I really like about the Menon’s arranged relationships – the Patels, at least, treat it as “we’ll arrange this, but it’s up to you to follow through. If you don’t like each other, we won’t force you to go through with this.” Which is a nice thing to see. It’s probably just an American stereotype that says arranged marriages are forced relationships; not knowing the culture first hand, I can’t say which one is closer to the truth. BUT it challenges American assumptions about arranged marriages, and that’s a great thing, and another reason to read diversely. (I’m willing to bet Menon’s version of it is closer to the modern norm for arranged marriages, at least.)

I love that even in a sweet, lighthearted romance such as this one, reading diversely challenges American assumptions about other cultures. I feel like this is especially important in Young Adult lit – presenting other cultures to teens before opinions about them are fully formed. Because I’ll admit, I have a instinctual “ACK!” reaction to the thought of an arranged marriage – in my mind that infringes on all the independence and free will I’ve clawed so hard for – but it’s worthwhile to be reminded that sometimes it looks like this, and not “Hey, my 14-year-old daughter, you’re going to marry a 40-year-old man tomorrow, deal with it” (though that does certainly happen, but it happens in the US, too! Don’t believe me? Read here).

Both of Sandhya Menon’s books that I’ve read present arranged relationships in a much more positive light than typical American media. It’s important representation, and the characters and relationships are a joy to read to boot.

(Tagged LGBT for an adorable gay couple who are friends of Ashish’s and show up throughout the book.)

From the cover of There’s Something About Sweetie:

ASHISH PATEL didn’t know love could be so . . . sucky. After he’s dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they can find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up.

The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl – under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?

SWEETIE NAIR is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death. 

Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.

Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?

Book Review: If I’m Being Honest

if i'm being honestIf I’m Being Honest
by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
Young Adult / Shakespeare Retelling / Romance
359 pages
Published April 2019

So I either forgot or failed to notice that this book was written by the same pair of authors that wrote Always Never Yours, a book revolving around a stage production of Romeo and Juliet with a main character based on Rosaline. I LOVED that book, and I don’t think this one would have languished on my shelves as long as it did if I’d realized the connection! (They have two more books coming out, Time of Our Lives in 2020 and an unnamed book in 2021!) The plots of the books are completely unconnected, but the two main characters in Always Never Yours did make a cameo in the end of If I’m Being Honest!

So. This book! I got STRONG 10 Things I Hate About You vibes off this book, and I loved that movie, so that alone should tell you what I thought of this book! I’m just a sucker for Shakespeare in any form, though. What I like about these authors is they don’t really retell the plays – they take one character out of the play and tell a story about HER. In Always Never Yours, it was Rosaline. In If I’m Being Honest, it’s Katherine/Kate. I’m eager to see who Time of Our Lives will be based on!

heinous bitch
So Cameron, our heroine, is a bitch, but as the reader we see her home life and the things she’s struggling with and WHY she is the way she is, so I was rooting for her the whole way. Her otherwise absentee father pays for an expensive private school, so there’s a lot of student politics and status-waving going on. When Cameron yells at another student at a party, her crush sees and is turned off by it, so Cameron decides that in order to win him back, she needs to make him see that she’s a good person. How to do that? Fix the things she’s broken. She starts with apologies, but has to up her game to actual ACTIONS when the apologies aren’t enough.

Through the course of the book, she finds herself actually making friends with the people she’d wronged, and falling for Brendan, who reminds me strongly of – well:

10things
(oh man, I REALLY need to watch this movie again.)

Oh! And Brendan has Celiac’s Disease, which doesn’t play a big part in the present-day plotline of the book, but is a HUGE part of why he’s an outcast.

I like Cameron and Brendan a lot, and this book was another great read from this pair of authors.

From the cover of If I’m Being Honest:

Cameron Bright is gorgeous, popular, and – according to 99% of Beaumont Prep’s student body – a bitch. That doesn’t bother Cameron, who knows how important it is to be honest. But when her crush, Andrew, sees Cameron’s cruelty up close, it’s a major turn-off, and suddenly Cameron’s consumed with winning him back. So she devises a plan: she’ll “tame” herself like Shakespeare’s illustrious shrew, Katherine, and make amends with everyone she’s wronged. If she can reverse her reputation as a mean girl, Andrew will have to take notice.

Cameron’s apology tour begins with Brendan Rosenfeld, the guy whose social life she single-handedly destroyed in the sixth grade. But earning his forgiveness requires befriending the school’s geeky crowd – which isn’t as easy as it looks. Soon, though, Cameron begins to see that her new friends bring out the best in her, especially Brendan, who views her honesty as an asset. Now Cameron’s left wondering if maybe she doesn’t have to compromise who she is for the kind of love she deserves.

Book Review: Well Met

well metWell Met
by Jen DeLuca
Contemporary Romance
319 pages
Publishing September 3, 2019

I received Well Met through Book of the Month, so I was able to read it before the general release date. I actually read it on the second day of the Maryland Renaissance Festival, while my husband was out working at a friend’s booth. That turned out to be a bad idea, as the book perfectly captures the feeling of Fair and made me miss my husband and friends at Fair even more! I’m looking forward to Monday, when we’ll both be working the booth on Labor Day!

BUT THIS BOOK.

Well Met is an adorable, hilarious enemies-to-lovers romance. Emily has dropped her entire life (which wasn’t much, after her boyfriend dumped her and kicked her out of the apartment) to move to Willow Creek and help her sister, who was recently in a severe car accident. When she takes her niece to sign up as a volunteer for the local Ren Faire, she discovers minors can only volunteer if they have an adult volunteering with them. Given that her sister is in no shape to leave the house, let alone be at a Ren Faire, she volunteers so her niece can participate. Which brings us to Simon.

Simon is the head of the Faire. It was started by his brother, but the responsibility has fallen to him, and he takes it…a little too seriously. Through a series of misunderstandings (because that’s always the case in romances!) the two butt heads, argue, and generally think each other unpleasant, but everything changes when the costumes go on and Faire begins.

I adored Emily. I thought Simon was a little obtuse, and both of them a little too stubborn, and everything moved a little too fast, but when everything needs to be crammed into 300 pages, that’s going to happen. The book perfectly captures the spirit of Faire; from the jubilation, fun, and adrenaline at the start of a Faire day to the utter exhaustion at the end of the day and the relief of washing the Faire dirt off.

I was greatly amused to see MY home Fair mentioned, while discussing the size of the Willow Creek Fair:

“It’s a fund-raiser, sure, but it’s grown over the years into a pretty big event. We have talent coming from all over the country to perform. It’s not one of the big Faires by any means – we certainly have nothing on the Maryland Renaissance Festival.”

Aside from the romance feeling a little rushed (which may just be my demisexuality coming through) this book was an absolute delight, from start to finish. If you enjoy Ren Faires and Shakespeare, you should pick this up when it comes out. It’s great. (And if you’re local, come out to the Maryland Renaissance Festival!)

From the cover of Well Met:

A laugh-out-loud romantic comedy debut where a little flirtation between sworn enemies proves that all is faire in love and war.

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, to help her sister, but who could have anticipated getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance faire? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The Faire is Simon’s family legacy, and he makes it clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the Faire grounds he  becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only supposed to be a pit stop for Emily, but now she can’t shake the fantasy of calling Willow Creek – and Simon – home.

Book Review: Love from A to Z

love from a to zLove from A to Z
by S. K. Ali
Young Adult / Romance
342 pages
Published April 2019

I read S. K. Ali’s first book, Saints and Misfits, and quite enjoyed it, so I knew I’d be picking this one up eventually. I finally did – and this just solidifies S. K. Ali as a MUST READ author for me. Because this was excellent.

I complained in my last review that while the book was good, it was fluffy contemporary fiction, which is not where my current tastes lie. THIS is a much better book for me. While it’s still contemporary fiction, it has a heavier romance line, and it deals with issues of racism, islamophobia, chronic illness, and casualties of war.

It’s written in journal form, alternating between the journals of Adam and Zayneb. (The A to Z of the title!) Both of them were inspired to keep journals of “Marvels” and “Oddities,” individually, when they ran across The Marvels of Creation and the Oddities of Existence, an ancient manuscript in an Islamic museum. Adam sees Zayneb’s journal when they’re sitting near each other in an airport, which is what prompts their first meeting.

I really loved this book, and I adore Zayneb. She’s passionate and angry about injustice. Her ongoing feud with an islamophobic teacher drives her and her friends to take action, and I loved how her aunt encouraged her, but also encouraged her to be smart about it.

Zayneb wears a hijab, and the book actually goes into some detail on her feelings about it – who’s allowed to see her without it, what she does to make a makeshift hijab if she needs one unexpectedly, her daydreams about the special man who will get to see her hair. It was pretty special to get an inside look at hijab wearing; it’s such a personal thing.

Adam has just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the disease that killed his mother, so there’s a lot of struggling to come to terms with that and what it means for his long-term health.

Some things, like hijab-wearing, get explained to the reader, but other things, like the three bits of Arabic script, the greetings, and a passage where Zayneb “takes a deep breath and says bismallah” are not. This is where I’m glad my husband was an Arabic linguist in the military, because they taught him a lot of the culture, as well. So now I know the Arabic script, repeated a few times in the book, all basically says “God Willing,” a standard Arabic phrase. I knew the greetings, but it was the bismallah that stumped me, so I asked him about it.

“Saying bismallah” is saying the name of God. It’s used as a beginning for many things, whether those are nice things, or difficult things, so in this case Zayneb was saying it before she started a difficult conversation with her mother. The book doesn’t explain it; it doesn’t need to, to understand the narrative, but I always enjoy learning the cultural underpinnings of things like this.

The afterword of the book is worth reading, as well. Ali explains that all of the discriminatory acts in the book were taken from real experiences; even the islamophobic teacher was taken from an incident three years ago in Toronto. Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me at all.

Final verdict – this book is great. It’s going on my Best of 2019 list. It covers all kinds of important topics and holds a wealth of diversity, all wrapped around a sweet romance. I’ll be watching for more books by S. K. Ali, because she is wildly talented.

From the cover of Love from A to Z:

A Marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes – because they make french fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An Oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break. Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam has stopped going to classes, intent instead on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister. 

Adam is also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals. 

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs . . . .

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting. 

Book Review: House of Salt and Sorrows

house of salt and sorrowsHouse of Salt and Sorrows
by Erin A. Craig
Young Adult / Fantasy
403 pages
Published August 2019

First off (and I know this is a minor quibble) I think the title should have simply been House of Salt. As is, it falls into the recent trend of “Noun of Noun and Noun.” Children of Blood and Bone, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Queen of Air and Darkness, Girls of Paper and Fire, Ship of Smoke and Steel – it’s a common trope in Young Adult titles, it feels like, and House of Salt would have been a perfectly good title for the book.

Salt plays a heavy role in this tale; Annaleigh and her sisters, along with their father and stepmother, live in a manor house overlooking the sea, on one of several small islands that form her father’s duchy. The world as a whole has a pantheon of gods that are recognized everywhere – and often show up and interact with the people – but the islands mostly revere Pontus, the god of the sea. They call themselves the People of the Salt; from salt they came, and to salt they eventually return. Their religious rites involve ocean creatures and seawater – even to drinking a small swallow of it on First Night to remind themselves what they’re made of.

Past that, there is a lot of mourning in this book, so salt, by way of tears, is important too. The book opens with the funeral of Annaleigh’s older sister, Eulalie. She slipped and fell off a seaside cliff to her death on the rocks below. Her death follows Elizabeth, (dead from a fall off a library ladder), Octavia (drowned in the bath), and Ava (dead of the plague at eighteen). All four of them preceded by their mother, who died in childbirth of the youngest daughter.

The deaths, and the setting, contribute to make this tale a very gothic one, which I loved. Mysterious deaths, questions of sanity, stormy seas, rocky cliffs, foreboding manor full of secrets – this is my JAM, and I was utterly entranced by it. The author does a fantastic job of creating the slow-building horror, the creeping feeling of doom, the questions of what is actually real, ramping up the pressure until the last few chapters come out in a rush of activity and reveals and consequences. It is EXCELLENT.

The book is loosely based on the fairy tale of the dancing princesses, where the princesses wear out their shoes each night, to the befuddlement of their parents, who offer a reward to anyone who can solve the mystery. (They’ve been escaping to the fairy realm each night to dance the night away.) Mix that tale with gothic horror, and you end up with this gem of a book.

This book absolutely belongs on my Best of 2019 list. If you like gothic tales, pick this one up. You won’t regret it!

From the cover of House of Salt and Sorrows:

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters and their father and stepmother. Once there were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last – the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge – and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that her sisters’ deaths were no accidents. The girls have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who – or what – are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family – before it claims her next.