Category: Contemporary Fiction

Stiletto, by Daniel O’Malley

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Another fantastic book about the British secret agency, The Checquy. Author O’Malley delights with his insight into government bureaucracy, his unexpected monsters, and the wonderful female friendship that is at the heart of the book. The Checquy is attempting to merge with its arch-enemies, and when one of its female soldiers is assigned to bodyguard one of the visiting Grafters, their mutual hostility is at war with their innate politeness to amusing results. You don’t have to have read book 1 to follow Stiletto, but it helps. I love this series with a fiery passion. For 18 and up, due to violence and disturbing supernatural manifestations.

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Dirty Trick, by Christine Bell

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I’m not usually a contemporary romance fan, but this one was okay. Trick (see what she did with the title?) has crushed on Grace since he first met her, but she has rightly seen him as a player, so has kept him in the friend zone. When a costume party comes up, Trick decides to see if he can get her attention in disguise and break through her walls. There are some super-steamy scenes in this one, but I’m not invested enough in these characters to continue on. For 18 and up.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling

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NO SPOILERS. Wow, I have missed Rowling’s twisty mind. This wonderful play (in four acts) is more intricate than any return to Potter I could possibly imagine. It takes the established canon for the books and deepens it so that you won’t read the original novels the same way again. Simply lovely. We get to spend time with familiar characters (welcome and unwelcome), and we get to know wonderful new characters that I fell slowly in love with.

Without giving anything away, this play is just as plot-driven as the original books, and it’s steeped in the magic we expect from Rowling. As a theatre person, I had fun trying to figure out how the original production could have created some of the special effects required. I’d also like to say how wonderful it is for Rowling’s work to expose people to reading plays for pleasure. This one is a joy.

The Evolution of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

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his YA series has grown much darker in this second novel in the series. 17-year-old heroine Mara Dyer remains an unreliable narrator as her life seems to crumble around her. With this novel, the series takes a leap into suspense, almost into horror.

Mara and her boyfriend Noah are part of the “kids against the world” trope, but it’s made much more realistic than usual, since none of the adults in her world believe her because she’s mentally ill. Is she really hallucinating? Has she made it all up? Or is she being gaslighted by parties unknown? Since the narrative is first person, we don’t know those answers either, and we feel the tension and fear along with Maya. For age 17 and up, due to sex, violence and the fear factor.

The Angels’ Share, by J.R. Ward

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Part two of Ward’s Bourbon Kings saga brings our bourbon-making Kentucky family little reprieve from their troubles. Son Lane is trying desperately to keep his family company alive in the wake of his late father diverting hundreds of millions of dollars; son Edward is trying to find his way out of bitterness after his father tried to have him killed; daughter Gin is prepared to marry a man she despises, and son Max is still God knows where. Lane’s girlfriend Lizzie is trying to hold down her job at the family’s enormous estate and chef Miss Aurora, the moral center in a dysfunctional world, is mortally ill.

Ward’s clipped and distinctive prose yanks us through the pages as scandals continue to unravel. All families are unhappy in their own way, indeed. A scorcher, for 18 and up.

Smooth-Talking Stranger, by Lisa Kleypas

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Other than the first one, I’ve really enjoyed the Kleypas’ contemporary series on Texas oil barons, The Travises. In this third one, brother Jack stumbles across Ella when she arrives in his office to demand he take a paternity test for her sister’s newborn. The dimension of the unwanted infant that Ella takes on adds a poignancy to this romance, as does Ella’s desperately unhappy mother. I liked both our leads very much and their steamy scenes together are terrific. For 18 and up.

My Favorite Mistake, by Chelsea M. Cameron

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I wanted to like this romance, and I did enjoy its hero, somewhat, but it was awkwardly written in many places, and the heroine, who punches the hero almost on sight, changes the usual meet-cute into a reason to press charges. There’s also a bigoted riff on why girl-on-girl romance is hot for guys, and the heroine’s insistence that she hates the hero because she knows his type seems ridiculous in the face of his kindness to her. I didn’t ship these two at all, and that’s fatal for a romance novel. Yuck.

Blue-Eyed Devil, by Lisa Kleypas

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I enjoyed this much more than the first one in the series, which spent so much time setting up this hero book’s hero that the hero for the first book got short shrift. I also like that this book opens at the wedding of the prior two characters. All that said, you can read this one with no knowledge of the prior book, so it works well as a stand-alone.

As for the novel itself, we not only get told that our heroine has psychological baggage, we get to see how she acquires it, which is a nice change from other stories, although somewhat harrowing. It also makes us much more invested in seeing how she tries to break through her trauma to have a healthy relationship.

I also love the hero, who has had troubles of his own, but still works to be there for the heroine. Terrific and steamy contemporary romance for 18 and up.