Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Review: Her Las Vegas Wedding by Andrea Bolter (Mills & Boon)

Title: Her Las Vegas Wedding
Author: Andrea Bolter
Publisher: Mills and Boon (March 2018)

To an inconvenient attraction! 
When hotel heiress Audrey Girard's safe, convenient wedding to a business partner is called off, she's left to contend with her ex-fiance's brother--wild, brooding chef Shane Murphy. And there's certainly nothing safe about Audrey's attraction to Shane--every day they work together is even more dangerously tempting! Could there be a Las Vegas wedding in the cards after all?

Jonathan Ball Publishers kindly sent me a stack of brand-new Mills and Boons for review, which I was so pleased about. Thank you so much Nkanyezi and the team!

Her Las Vegas Wedding was the first one I decided to read. My edition is part of a 2-book bind-up which includes A Proposal For The Officer.

I enjoyed this story, which I felt could easily have been a film starring a younger Gerard Butler. It has a lot of humour and feel-good vibes.

Audrey Girard is a fun, likable character who has a lot on her shoulders as the heiress to a successful Hotel chain. I appreciated that, in spite of her heritage, she was without airs and graces. I loved she was independent and not some pampered princess sitting by the poolside waiting on some shirtless assistant to mop the sweat from her brow.

Shane Murphy is completely swoon-worthy as the leading man. I really enjoyed the culinary details as well, as a lot of this book has to do with the food Shane is preparing for his first cookbook. I actually felt hungry when I was reading this!

I loved how the romance played out and that it wasn't insta-love by chapter two. The characters actually got to know each other and spend time together before passion flared in their loins.

The writing was tight and the plot flowed easily, meaning I read this in one sitting because time just flew by.

If you want some light, easy reading over Easter, this is a good bet, as the second novel in the bind-up is just as enjoyable. It is just R79 at selected CNA's.

Stay tuned for my review of A Proposal for the Officer!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Review: The Eulalie Park Mysteries by Fiona Snyckers

Series: The Eulalie Park Mysteries
Author: Fiona Snyckers
Publisher: KDP / Self
Marcel Faberge is not a popular man. When he turns up dead, there is no shortage of suspects. Unfortunately, one of them is Fleur, the best friend of private investigator, Eulalie Park. 
Fleur was last seen threatening Faberge in front of dozens of witnesses. A knife from her coffee shop is the murder weapon. 
Will Eulalie be able to prove her friend's innocence before she is arrested for murder by Prince William Island's newest chief of police, Donal Macgregor? In a world where Russian mobsters rub shoulders with crooked racehorse owners and shady businessmen, Eulalie will need all her skills to unravel this mystery. 
But Eulalie Park is no ordinary PI and Prince William Island is no ordinary place. Anything can happen here, and probably will.
And so begins the first of an exciting, new series reminiscent of Nancy Drew by South African author, Fiona Snyckers.

When I saw the first book, Hooked, was launched, I was drawn in first by the cover and then by the promise of  the unexpected. Unfortunately, I am notorious for collecting books on my Kindle and didn't get around to reading it right away. This didn't stop me from getting the second and then third books and then beginning a Eulalie bingefest.

Some of the things that really stood of for me with the first two books were:

  • A unique, fictional setting that is as well-rounded as any real place would be.
  • A strong, spunky main character who can handle herself and doesn't need a man to rescue her.
  • A supporting cast of characters who honestly feel like real people.
  • These books would make a great TV show as they feels if they are structured in a similar way with character continuity from one book to the next and opportunities to get to know Eulalie better.
  • There is a touch of romance that doesn't dominate the story and is also interesting to read because of the interactions between two very different people.

Each book in the series offers a stand-alone mystery building on the context from the previous books. So, you really do need to read them in order! There is also an interesting twist which I am not going to reveal but I can promise makes this series even more fun and compelling!

Both Hacked and Hooked were quick, addictive reads and will be perfect for the upcoming Easter weekend. The third book, Haunted, is also out and I really do suggest you get all three on your eReader as you will be as eager to keep going as I was. Eulalie is basically Nancy Drew for an older audience and I am loving it.

Thoughts:The Legacy of Mills and Boon

When I mention that I am reading a Mills & Boon novel, people generally react with a sneer and some disparaging remark. I honestly don't get it and I think it ties in nicely with my chain of thought lately around why people won't just let other people read what they want.

Firstly, any negativity towards Mills & Boon as a franchise is not founded on anything other than pure disdain.

Some fast facts about Mills & Boon to put you into perspective:
  • The company was founded by Gerald Mills and Charles Boon in 1908. This means that, in its various incarnations, Mills & Boon has been around for 110 years!
  • The brand grew to such an iconic status that a Mills & Boon title was added to a time capsule in 1982 to mark the 60th anniversary of the BBC.
  • Mills & Boon was added to the Oxford English Dictionary and is defined as a "romantic story book" in 1997.
  • They are the world's leading publisher of romance fiction.
  • Each month, Mills and Boon publish 120 titles and currently represent an author base of 1500.
  • Every five seconds, there is a new Mills & Boon purchased in the UK.
  • Presently, Mills & Boon / Harlequin is owned by and run as an imprint of HarperCollins. 

What baffles me that, in spite of Romance being the top-selling genre in the world, how many people react so negatively towards it. Personally, I think this is why it does particularly well on eReaders. Because those who love it don't have to make it obvious what they are reading and can happily sit in public and pretend they are reading the latest Dan Brown or something even more pompous.

Random Stranger: What are you reading?
Romance Reader: Oh, ah... Waiting for Godot.

And that is the point where Romance Reader sends a small prayer that the Random Stranger hasn't actually read the book mentioned and won't ask any further questions.

Not that I am that reader, of course. I openly read 50 Shades of Grey while eating my sushi dinner.

There really should be nothing shameful in enjoying some fun romance. Mills and Boon, especially. They are designed to have happy endings. The reader knows that, no matter what strife the couple may encounter, at the end of 200 pages, the couple are either wed or soon to be anyway. You are guaranteed that, even if nothing else in life works out, a Mills and Boon always will.

So I can see you skeptics out there asking me about them then being predictable. Well... yes. They are. But that is not why people love them. It's all about the journey you take with these two characters and experiencing how their relationship blossoms. Their first kiss and their first night together.

It doesn't matter if someone is single or in a happy relationship, either. There is a simple, comforting joy in picking up a Mills & Boon and escaping for a few hours. Some say that this can be problematic as it places unrealistic expectations on real relationships, but I disagree. It's escapism, pure and simple. It just gets critiqued far more than other forms of it.

My first experience with Mills & Boon was picking up a pile of second-hand books from a charity store and binge-reading them over summer holidays. Admittedly, this was  a good 15 years ago and the books were significantly less racy, however my teenaged self still got flutters!

There is also a Mills & Boon for every kind of reader, with specialized imprints so you know right anyway what to expect from the story.

These imprints have changed over the years, but the ones currently found are:

  • Modern - classic themes featuring strong, alpha-male heroes. This is the line to check out for millionaires, playboys, secret babies and more.
  • True Love - focusing on the heroine, these books feature feel-good themes with sweet and captivating romances.
  • Medical - relatable characters in a medical setting, these feature Doctors, drama and, of course, romance!
  • Historical - including anything from ancient civilizations up to and including World War II, this imprint offer longer reads with sweeping stories.
  • Dare - steamy reads with a strong connection between the characters.
  • Heroes - crime and mystery provide the backdrop to romance in these action-filled books.
If I have given you an urge to try out the new, revamped Mills & Boons, they are available at select CNA and Pick and Pay stores or via subscription on www.millsandboonbookclub.co.za.

Stay tuned to the blog for reviews of some of the latest titles!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Thoughts: Writing Reviews, Their Impact and Online Bitchiness - Zenith and Sasha Alsberg

I have been thinking a lot lately about bloggers, BookTubers and other people who review books. I was already in a conflicted space when Zenith, the hyped debut novel of prominent BookTuber Sasha Alsberg and her more established co-author, Lindsay Cummings, was released.

Zenith, having tasted the NYT bestseller list in its self-published form, debuted at number 7 in its first week of release under publishing house Harlequin Teen. The book has, since then, fallen completely off the list.

So what does this mean? Why has such an anticipated book basically fallen off the bestseller radar?

This is going to be a long post so grab some tea and let's unpack everything and take a critical look at the online book community and the impact it has on selling books.

Sasha Alsberg - Author Photo

Sasha Alsberg is pretty much a celebrity in bookish spheres. She started her channel, abookutopia, in 2013 and was literally one of the pioneers in the BookTube space. At the time of this post, she has 366 000 subscribers, putting her at number two on the list of most popular YouTubers (Number one is the insane Christine Riccio of polandbananasBOOKS). Obviously, her signing a book deal was a huge thing and was often talked about on her channel well before Zenith was published.

What people seem to forget though, is that Sasha is only 20. A young age to have already spent 5 years of her life in the public eye with the pressures of creating content and keeping her thousands of subscribers happy. Up until the release of Zenith, she was BookTube's golden girl, running a massive content creation regime and making public appearances at all the Cons and major book launches. Readers across the globe looked up to her and trusted her opinions on books.

Surely, that amount of pressure is quite a load to bear as it is. Now, with the hype around Zenith, fans had even bigger expectations and doubters were waiting in the wings, hoping that her book would fail.

Let's face it. Fame is a raging asshole (I went there. If you don't get the reference, just watch any scathing review of Zenith). There was bitterness by the truckload when she landed the book deal that only escalated when the book was released. Disgruntled people felt that Sasha had used her existing celebrity status to get published and that she didn't have to work very hard for the opportunity. I think this influenced a large number of reviews.

All you have to do is a search for Zenith reviews on YouTube and probably 90% of them are of the rant variety. Some are pretty fucking mean about it too. Yeah, I see all those YouTubers who are also writing books of their own jumping on the Zenith-bashing bandwagon. Because it's cool and probably fuelled by bitterness.

You have to question people's motives behind leaving rant reviews. A lot of them had not even finished the book and were basing their opinion on other opinions because they wanted the views while they were hot.

And this, dear readers, is why Zenith is suddenly not the hyped book it was made out to be.

Does this then mean Zenith is really a bad book? And how much stock can we really put on these reviews? Should you read it?

It was co-authored by a 20-year old. Who is going to write a masterpiece at that age? Sure, some have been successful, but they have had time to edit and were away from the pressures of a hyped-up fanbase. Especially when they are writing to please fans and trying to create a world and universe they hope they will love.

I am reading Zenith now and I regret seeing all those bad reviews before I had been able to form my own opinion of the book. Huge regret, as I honestly feel Zenith is not all that bad, but my judgment remains clouded.

I feel bad for Sasha and the vitriol she has gone through and I really urge everyone to read the books that they find compelling and not just because people are hyping it. Because sometimes, the hype is also a lie.

Stay tuned for a full review in the next few weeks! I promise to be 100% honest and fair, as always.