Review: A Girl Like Her

(Amazon | Indiebound)

♥♥♥♥♥

This book. THIS BOOK, Y’ALL. Seriously. Why are you even still reading this review? Or really even thinking about buying this this book? Shoo. Scram. Go buy it. And the rest of the series, while you’re at it. They are THAT good. Which is not a surprise, considering who wrote it.

Talia Hibbert is a British author who writes scorchingly hot (and ridiculously good) romances with curvy Black heroines and wonderful men who love them exactly as they are. A Girl Like Her is the first full-length novel of hers I’ve read, and guys? I am KICKING myself for not having started it sooner, because it is amazing on so many levels. I sacrificed a badly-needed afternoon nap for it and I have no regrets. #BadDecisionsBookClub.

Here’s the blurb, from Talia’s website:

SHE’S THE TOWN PARIAH. HE DOESN’T GIVE A DAMN.

In Ruth Kabbah’s world, comic books are king, silence is golden, and human contact is a pesky distraction. She doesn’t like people, which works out just fine, because the people in this small town don’t like her. The exception to that rule? Evan Miller, her way-too-charming next-door neighbour…

Ex-military man Evan is all tattooed muscle on the outside—and a big, cuddly teddy bear beneath. He’s used to coaxing prickly people from their shells, but he’s never met a woman quite like Ruth. Blunt, sarcastic, and secretly sad, she’s his exact opposite. She’s also his deepest desire.

Soon, Evan’s steady patience and smouldering smiles are melting Ruth’s reserve. But when small-town gossip from her past begins to poison her future, she’s forced to make a choice. Should she trust Evan completely? Or is her heart safest alone?

Doesn’t that sound just absolutely amazing? And from Talia’s twitter (which is a hoot, you should follow her) I knew that Ruth was autistic, and I was excited to see #ActuallyAutistic rep, since I knew Talia would hit it out of the park. And I was right.

Honestly, I bought A Girl Like Her aaaages ago half because of the old cover – the heroine reminded me strongly of Kelly Rowland, who (no shade to Queen B) has always been my favourite Destiny’s Child, what with the short hair, gorgeous dark skin, and the not being married to Jay-Z. But the new cover? Is even better, even if Evan’s beard, is, sadly, nowhere to be found. (It’s a testament to Talia’s skill that she can make beards sexy to my vastly-clean-shave-preferring-self.)

But enough judging this book by its cover, let’s get to the story, which is an absolute delight, on so many levels.

SPOILER:

Ruth is in a secret (unhealthy, abusive) relationship with Daniel Burne, the aforementioned golden boy, for seven years. Not only does he tell her on the afternoon of his engagement party that he expects things to go on as they are even post his wedding, he lies to the town about what really happened, painting Ruth as a manipulative Jezebel and pretty much ruining her sister’s life for the completely deserved revenge she enacted.

Two years later, Evan moves to Ravenswood to work for Burne & Co. as a metalsmith, and runs – literally – into Ruth in a parking lot… and that’s when the book starts.

END SPOILER

We’re not told why Ruth is a pariah, just that she is – the story comes out in dribs and drabs, and I really liked how well it was paced. And having had experience of small, close-knit communities like Ravenswood… I can both believe that the townspeople rallied around the town’s golden boy (ugh!) and that Ruth had more friends than she believed she deserved. The little cameos from the townspeople, like the gossipy plumber and the town librarian, were delightful and really added to that authentic small-town vibe.

As for the characters… I legitimately cannot pick a favourite, because I adored every one. I love how complex they were, even the side characters, in just 300-odd pages.

Ruth. Oh, Ruth. I love that Talia allowed her heroine to be not just prickly but rude and unlikeable – how often do we see that, rather than a heroine who’s supposedly prickly but really doesn’t ask how high when the hero says jump? And I loved, loved, loved seeing how her mind worked – this is an #ownvoices book and it was a delight to see how beautifully Ruth’s autism was handled. And her growth over the course of her book as she moves from crushing guilt to acceptance of her own worth is just wonderful.

Another delightful thing about Ruth? While she does, like any good character in a book, have some growing to do, she’s already confident in her own body and sexuality. This bit made me laugh out loud, and then grin like a fool at Ruth.

She wondered if she should do this lying down, to minimise the roll situation, but then decided that rolls were fine. If they were going to do anything interesting, rolls would eventually occur. She couldn’t lie down constantly whenever they were naked.

Plus, Evan didn’t seem to have any complaints.

Usually, I read books for the heroines, but Evan stole my heart in this one, to the point where I’m really, really sad he’s neither real nor my next-door neighbour. More than his looks or his build (a bearded ex-military metalsmith… Talia knows her audience’s catnip) what made me fall in love with Ethan was his kindness. And how easily he accepts everything about Ruth, from her pyjamas to her prickliness. It’s no secret that I love beta heroes and emotionally fluent men, and Ethan scores on both counts. And he cooks!

Evan could have been a Nice Guy (ugh!) but it’s clear that he’s just a good egg period, the kind of guy who helps you with your groceries and walks little old ladies across the street and rescues treed kittens. He cooks for Ruth, yes, but it’s because he wants to take care of her and be her friend, independent of anything else. He’s committed to earning her trust and while he does misstep a couple of times, seeing their bond slowly deepen and blossom is just delightful.

Sometimes, with romance novels, although the main couple are superbly written, everyone else is a cardboard cut-out, a stereotype, or both. Not so with A Girl Like Her; even the minor characters in Ravenswood felt rich and real, from Ruth’s sister Hannah (who both loves and is deeply frustrated by her sister), to the town’s other inhabitants and Daniel’s father and his wife. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting either of them to have the complexity and depth they did and it made an already stellar book even better. Laura, especially, is the heroine of the next book and I can’t wait to see what Talia does with her story.

As for Ruth’s ex (and Laura’s current husband) Daniel? All I’ll say about him is that he deserves to die in a fire and not from smoke inhalation. I’m glad that he was only minimally in the book, which is centred on Ruth and Evan, as it should be.

Right, I’ve babbled on quite long enough. If you want to read a brilliantly written love story with hot-like-burning super-consensual sex, laugh-out-loud snark, and minor characters that leave you chomping at the bit for their stories even as you wouldn’t mind a further 300 pages of this one? A Girl Like Her is the book for you. 

Five hearts.

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Review: Tempest

(Amazon | Indiebound)

♥♥♥♥

After slogging my way through the Tenderness of Wolves, I was in desperate need of the book equivalent of a chocolate milkshake – delicious, comforting, and just plain fun.

As I said to someone at my book club, I’m a simple woman with simple needs. All I want from a book is for the experience to be pleasant, the protagonists people I would like to spend time with, and for me to end the book happier than when I started.

Tempest delivers on all three counts – it’s a low-angst love story with fun characters, both main and side, and an ending that for the most part left me satisfied.

What kind of mail-order bride greets her intended with a bullet instead of a kiss? One like Regan Carmichael—an independent spirit equally at home in denims and dresses. Shooting Dr. Colton Lee in the shoulder is an honest error, but soon Regan wonders if her entire plan to marry a man she’s never met is a mistake. Colton, who buried his heart along with his first wife, insists he only wants someone to care for his daughter. Yet Regan is drawn to the unmistakable desire in his gaze.

Regan’s far from the docile bride Colton was expecting. Still, few women would brave the wilds of Wyoming Territory for an uncertain future with a widower and his child. The thought of having a bold, forthright woman like Regan in his life—and in his arms—begins to inspire a new dream. And despite his family’s disapproval and an unseen enemy, he’ll risk all to make this match a real union of body and soul.

I was pretty much guaranteed to love Regan right from that introductory line, and the book just deepened my affection. I love that Regan is feisty and independent, that she comes from money and doesn’t allow anyone to shame her for it, that she’s got an open, loving heart and a can-do attitude in addition to her steadfast refusal to take any shit whatsoever. In fact, reading Tempest left me with the burning desire for a YA series centred around Regan and her sister and all the awesome adventures they must have had.

Colton Lee isn’t quite as well developed as Regan is, but he’s a solidly written character and generally a good man, with only occasional bouts of masculine stupidity, to paraphrase a comment from Regan. I really appreciated that while he’s not sure what to make of Regan, especially with how different she is from his beloved first wife Adele, his comments and behaviour never veer into the misogynistic. In fact, once he’s had a bit to adjust, he’s quick to fall in love with her for who she is rather than in spite of it.

Anna, Colton’s daughter and the reason he advertised for a mail-order bride in the first place, was a pleasant surprise – she’s not a plot moppet, and how she blossoms under Regan’s care is a joy to read. I also loved that Ms. Jenkins portrayed Colton as a loving father determined to do what was best for his daughter, even if he was sometimes at a loss for how to do so.

Although Regan and Colton’s marriage begins as one of convenience, they quickly realise that their feelings run deeper than that. I loved that their relationship is founded on friendship and respect from the beginning, and that Regan is happy to call Colton on his bullshit, and that Colton – despite the occasional bouts of orneriness – doesn’t spend half the book getting his knickers in a twist about that he’s suddenly discovered he has Feelings.

While Colton and Regan’s romance is pretty smooth, that doesn’t mean there’s no conflict in the book. Among other things, Regan must deal with hostility from Minnie, Adele’s aunt, who is resentful of what she sees as Colton’s attempts to replace her and Adele. She also has to navigate town politics, and of course, prejudice. Regan isn’t allowed to testify at the trial of one of the men who attacked her coach because of her race, and the Rock Springs massacre (CW for violence and people being awful) is a minor plot point, as Colton is one of the doctors who goes to the aid of the Chinese mine workers.

I’m glad that while Ms. Jenkins doesn’t shy away from depicting the realities of racism, it’s never allowed to define her characters or their existence, or take away from the joy and hope and love that is also a part of their lives.

There’s just one thing I didn’t like about Tempest, and that’s the ending.

SPOILER:

The bad guy (the brother of the bandit Regan killed) is eaten by a leopard. While it was more than deserved, I couldn’t help but feel let down that it wasn’t Regan or Colt who got to put a bullet in him, or at least see him hauled off to jail for kidnapping and attempted murder.

END SPOILER

Recently, I’ve become more aware that wish fulfilment doesn’t look the same for Black women as it does for White women – Black women are so often cast as the strong ones, the caretakers, the people who give and give without a single word of complaint, that having them be delicate and fragile, the ones needing to be saved rather than the ones doing the saving, is ground-breaking, revolutionary, even. And while I would have loved to see that in this book, the bad guy eating the leopard didn’t feel like that. It felt like reading all the way to the end of a murder mystery only for Mr Poirot to conclude that the victim had expired of natural causes – a disappointing plot twist and one that took away from my enjoyment of the story a little.

That said, Tempest is still a wonderful book and one for the keeper shelf. I’ll be rereading it often, especially when I want a reminder that it’s possible to be both beautiful and bad-ass.

Four hearts.

Hunting for Happily Ever After: a massive pile of romance novel recs

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Image by Rowan Heuvel. Used under a CC0 license.

Yes, you read that right. Romance novels. I’m not going to defend my taste in reading material  when Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (check out the podcast!) does such an excellent job of it. There’s also Kelly Faircloth over at Jezebel with an examination of just why romance gets such an undeservedly terrible rap, not to mention this long (and eye-opening!) history of Harlequin. For a more intellectual perspective, here’s tenured academic Catherine M. Roach’s first experience at the Romance Writers’ of America’s annual convention.

While some people’s experience with romance might be limited to Georgette Heyer, or Mills and Boons with ridiculously over-the-top-titles (The Playboy Sheik’s Virgin Stable-Girl, anyone?) the genre is actually hugely diverse, with something for just about everyone. This post is just a small sampling of what’s out there, with the caveat that it’s pretty heavily influenced by what I like to read – in other words, Regency romances, and heroines with spine and spunk, and a little bit of action mixed in with the romance.

So, without further ado… a whole raft of dashing heroes, feisty heroines, and happily ever afters under the cut!

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