I must confess that my list of books is an avalanche, rather than a list at the moment. I have a long list of books from NetGalley pending reviews (and quite a few independent as well, and I intend to read them all) and I am grateful for reminders of the dates of publication of books. And as both romances are from the same publisher, I thought I’d share both of them together.
No Place Like You: A Cloud Bay Novel by Emma Douglas
In Emma Douglas’ new novel, No Place Like You, home—the island village of Cloud Bay—is where the heart is. . .
Leah Santelli always knew that Zach Harper, son of a rock legend and her best friend’s brother, was painfully out of reach. Then, on the night of her eighteenth birthday, Leah shocked herself by asking for—and receiving—the gift she wanted: one night of passion with Zach before he left town to pursue his rock star dreams. Now, years later, Zach is back in Cloud Bay to record his first solo album. His return could also be Leah’s big chance to step up her own music career. But getting the producing credit she needs means spending long hours with Zach in the recording studio…and falling back into the habit of longing for him, for better or worse.
Zach used to believe that a man must put his past behind him. But coming back home for Cloud Bay’s famed music festival has allowed him to finally make amends with his family and, much to his surprise, reunite with Leah. He might have left her once but now it seems he can’t stay away. Trouble is, even though the heat between them burns hotter than ever, Leah has old wounds in need of healing before she can give Zach a real chance. Can he find a way to convince her that they can make more than just great music together—and that she’s the one that he wants for all time?
About the author:
Emma Douglas has read like a wild thing since she was small. She discovered romance novels at an age that way probably way too young but she survived unscathed. When she realized you could make up stories as well as read them, she started taking notes about what the characters wandering through her head were telling her and then, eventually, books happened. Before the books happened she did the usual things (was a band geek (and a geek generally), had crushes on rock stars and fictional characters, spent chunks of her summers on an island beach, got a degree in something sensible that doesn’t involve writing about kissing, became a black belt in internet procrastination, fell down the rabbit-hole of craft, traveled a bit, indulged her love of baked goods, got bossed around by cats, began a quest for the perfect margarita, and napped to recover from all of the above. She still does most of that plus the writing thing from a tiny house in Melbourne Australia which her feline overlords have kindly agreed to share with her.
Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
Although I am not a big reader of romance, this novel is an example of what I think is a subgenre of it, the romance that takes place in the world of music and musicians. The setting of the novel is a small imaginary American island called Cloud Bay, off the coast of California, best known for a music festival and for being home to the musicians of a well-known band and their families. Grey Harper, the singer and leader of the band, passed away a few years back, and his family members and associates have been keeping the music festival and the studio going, quite successfully, but although the business is going well, their personal lives have seen a fair amount of turmoil.
The story centres on the second generation of the family, on Zach, Grey’s son, and Leah, a good friend of his sister Faith, and daughter of the sound engineer of the band. She also does sound engineering and producing now, and has had a crush on Zach since they were teenagers, and they have a bit of a history together. Their professional and personal lives get entangled in a way that seems impossible to avoid in Cloud Bay, and no matter how determined they are not to allow things to get complicated, they do.
The author manages to create a good sense of place and of the strange and slightly incestuous relationships that happen in such a setting, where everybody knows everybody and nobody can step outside of the house without somebody knowing about it. Nothing is private and the actions of one person have far-reaching consequences. I particularly enjoyed the exchanges between the female friends (Faith and Leah in particular) and the wedding preparations (Leah is due to get married after the festival, at the end of the summer), as their friendship is portrayed in an easy and natural way and the way they support and care for each other is heart-warming and feels real. Those and other elements of the novel reminded me of a chick-flick (there are plenty of cakes, pastry, and ice-creams as well) but the fact that half of the story is told from the point of view of Zach gives it a different emphasis.
As for the romance, although both of the characters are gorgeous, as is to be expected, this is not a love-at-first-sight story, as Leah and Zach know each other and have a bit of a history (however brief) together. I found it interesting that their behaviour at times goes counter to the traditionally expected male and female roles, as Leah is the one to initiate their relationship (both in the past and now), and she is the one to suggest a no-strings-attached sexual relationship, while he initially resists (although his resistance doesn’t last long). I don’t think you need to be an eager reader of romance novels to suspect how things are going to go from the beginning, and although there are some twists and turns, there are no major surprises. There is sex, but it is not very explicit (described in a lyrical and poetic manner), and although I do not like erotica or sex scenes, as I feel they slow the action, I don’t think many readers would feel offended by it (but I would not class it as “sweet” or “clean” either). The ending… I think romance readers will enjoy it, and there is a hook to keep people coming to read the next novel, although it is a side-story not directly related to the romance.
The story is told in the third-person from the alternating points of view of Leah and Zach. This is not always separated into chapters, but the transitions are clear and not confusing. As mentioned above, the division between the characters is not down to standard gender roles, and they both seem to behave more in keeping with their characters and their history (that we get snippets of thanks to their conversations and memories throughout the book) than with traditional male or female roles. There is a moment of crisis towards the end of the book, and I felt that the novel’s pace grew faster at that point, while until then it had moved steadily. I realised later that this is the third book in the series (for some reason I thought it was the first) so I am not sure how well it fits in with the whole series, although I had no difficulty following the novel (but I imagine the background story would increase the expectations and enjoyment). I must admit that I did not think there was much depth to the characters and they seemed to act younger than they were (Leah had been married, and Mina, Zach and Leah’s sister, is a widow), but perhaps they have developed slowly and it is unfair to judge them by the events in a single book. Leah is a fairly rounded and sympathetic character, and I felt she behaved in a consistent manner, although I was not as convinced about Zach, who has much to atone for.
The music business background will be of interest to those who enjoy that genre, and the descriptions of the way the characters feel about music are inspiring, but it is not as detailed or technical as to interfere with the enjoyment of readers of other types of romance.
In sum, a romance set in the background of the rock music business and in a lovely setting, which will be enjoyed by lovers of the genre and followers of the series, but with few surprises for the rest of readers.
A Wedding At Two Love Lane by Kieran Kramer
Never say never when it comes to love.
Greer Jones has made a real name for herself at the elegant matchmaking agency Two Love Lane. For a lot of reasons―including a past engagement she broke off―practical tech expert Greer is more interested in the business of love than the experience of it, but she can’t help but covet a gorgeous wedding gown that’s the prize in an upcoming cocktail-party contest. In a moment of brazen inspiration, Greer asks a handsome Brit she’s only just met to accompany her to the party. He agrees―and Greer believes her date is a starving artist. Little does she know the truth. . .
Ford Smith, as he calls himself, is actually Stanford Elliott Wentworth Smythe, the Eighth Baron of Wickshire. Fresh off a breakup with a money-grubbing siren who deceived him all the way to the altar, Ford has no desire to fall in love―especially with Greer who, like the desired wedding gown, is beautiful but only skin-deep. But soon Ford realizes that there’s more to Greer than meets the eye. Her professionalism is matched only by her passion for life and love. .and, best of all, she has no idea that he’s to the manor born. Could it be that true love is priceless after all?
About the author:
USA Today bestselling author Kieran Kramer is a former journalist and English teacher who lives in the Lowcountry of South Carolina with her family. She’s a game show veteran, karaoke enthusiast, and general adventurer.
UNUSUAL FACTS (From the author’s blog)
~I’m a $34,000 winner on The Wheel of Fortune. A decade before that, I won on Family Feud. Yes, I kissed Richard Dawson. He was a real sweetheart!
~I ran with the bulls at Pamplona in Spain, one of the craziest and most exciting things I’ve ever done.
~I scooped The New York Times from my computer at home as a freelance journalist for The Charlotte Observer by accidentally inciting a feud between John Rosemond, family psychologist, and parenting expert, and the renowned pediatrician Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, over the topic of potty training; the story was picked up by The New York Times and Dr. Dean Edell of talk radio fame.
~I spent my entire junior year in college at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, where I pulled pints of ale as a barmaid at the university pub and listened to bagpipes a lot from my dorm window.
~I grew up one of seven kids on Johns Island, a rural sea island near Charleston, SC, and helped build my family’s log home. I also played in the pluff mud, sat on docks daydreaming, rode below the bowsprit on my parents’ sailboat and watched dolphins swim mere feet away, and in general, lived an idyllic Lowcountry life.
~A certified English teacher, I subbed regularly at the local high school while writing my first book, When Harry Met Molly. I love teenagers because they’re so misunderstood.
~I’ve been married for twenty-eight years to a great guy named Chuck, a Commander in the US Navy Reserves, and we have three kind, musically-inclined kids, all of whom have been brought up on the Beatles as the family’s go-to band.
~I’m obsessed with almost every Real Housewives franchise, and of course, I love Southern Charm, even though almost no one on the show is from Charleston. I appeared with my daughter in one episode at a ball.
~I’m in my second year of a full-time, on-campus MFA in Creative Writing program at The College of Charleston. I’m loving being a student again with all the twenty-somethings! This semester, one of my classes is on Oscar Wilde–how I love that guy. It’s a true joy and privilege to be learning…don’t ever stop, ladies and gents! Keep challenging yourselves!
~I’ve occasionally rescued vulnerable cats and dogs and gotten them safely situated…I seem to stumble into those situations. It’s a never-ending problem, isn’t it? I think the most good I can do is take care of my own pets well. I love our two tabby cats, Benny and Joon, so much that my kids call me a crazy cat lady, and our sweet old black lab mix, Striker, is my constant companion.
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and to NetGalley for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
Although this is book two in The Two Love Lane series (a series about the owners of a matchmaking agency), I have not read the first one and can confirm it can be enjoyed as a standalone read, although I’m sure that knowing the set-up and the characters would add to the reading experience.
I don’t want to discuss in too much detail the plot, as the description introduces the main characters and some of the main themes. There is a contest for a wedding dress, that ends up becoming a reality show, an English baron (quite a few of the reviewers have commented that considering his father and his older brother are alive and well, that does not make sense), a nasty store owner and his side-kick who become the villains of the piece (well, perhaps), several side-plots (a designer with an interesting idea and a hidden love story, the background stories of both protagonists and their families, the stories of the other couples involved in the contest, and a big win at the TV quiz show The Price Is Right), and Charleston. The Charleston of the book is a genteel and lovely place, full of great restaurants, fascinating shops, and lively characters. It is also a welcoming place where people from all over are made to feel at home, and where everybody feels inspired.
Many of the usual tropes and themes of romantic novels are at play here, and also quite a few typical of chick-lit. Greer is alone and very good at finding love for others but not so good at getting finding her own. She is obsessed with creating the perfect wedding, not only for her clients but for herself, and has been collecting wedding scrapbooks since she was a child. Although she is supposed to be the logical one in charge of the technical side of things at the agency and the ever important algorithms, she plunges head first into crazy situations and keeps denying what is plain to see. We have an English nobleman, who is, of course, very attractive and also a talented painter, but needs a muse to find his true art. He’s been jilted at the altar but still offers to play Greer’s fake partner. We have pretend relationships, secrets, will they won’t they, not quite love-at-first-sight, but close enough, and a good cast of secondary characters that all sound interesting enough in their own right (Personally, I’d love to hear more about Miss Thing). Ah, and donuts, cakes, wonderful wedding dresses, intrigue, and misunderstandings galore. There are plenty of fun moments, some sad ones, and some inspiring ones (I was particularly interested in Ford’s struggle to connect with his art), and the book is an easy and light read, although I agree with some reviewers that it tries to pack so many things in that at times it feels too busy, and some of the side-stories deserve more time and development than what they get.
The characters are likable enough (I’ve never been obsessed about weddings, but quite liked Greer’s idea of entering the contest as a single participant), and although the novel stretches our suspension of disbelief on occasions, I don’t think it goes beyond genre expectations. The writing is fluid, with nice local touches and British expressions, and includes descriptions that put readers right in the middle of the action, without overdoing it.
After spending a fair amount of time with the characters, the ending felt a bit rushed, and I agree with reviewers that felt there should have been another chapter to clarify matters (I think we all felt as if they had banged the door on our faces), although perhaps the author has something up her sleeve and it has something to do with the next book. (Let me clarify. It does not end up on a cliff-hanger, but we miss the big event, perhaps because after talking about it so much, it could never have lived up to everyone’s expectations).
A light and fun read, recommended if you need an injection of sun and romance, in a great setting, with many secondary stories to keep you occupied if you easily get bored.
Thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press and both authors, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!