Solid Tale Of Parent/ Child Issues Later In Life. This is one of those tales I’m starting to see more of, and we admittedly probably need more of in general – that of older people (in this case, the mom is near 80 and the daughter near 50) and their own struggles and issues. Here, Bromke plays it with both humor and heart, and in the end pulls out a tale most anyone of any age can relate to at some level. Yes, there is some romance here and it does in fact technically meet every RWA rule I am aware of, but this one is more about both of these women finding themselves again and finding each other again in the process, after decades of things left unsaid. The Alaskan Cruise elements are great, including a couple of scenes that will get the blood pumping in different ways. Overall a truly solid tale that works quite well. Very much recommended.
This review of The Last Port Of Call by Elizabeth Bromke was originally written on March 19, 2023.
Solid Women’s Fiction, Too Reliant On COVID, Unnecessary Element In Epilogue. This is the penultimate entry in the Sail Away “series” where several authors have come together to craft their own unique stories all centered around cruising, with each taking a different bent to it. The cruise Sands uses here is more of a luxury yacht / WindStar type ship sailing the Mediterranean, and the cruising elements here are absolutely breathtaking – particularly for anyone who is even remotely familiar (even from other pop culture sources/ YouTube) with the waters and coasts of the region, from Spain to France to Italy.
Something like a solid 70% of this tale is more women’s fiction based, with a woman trying to rediscover her passion after years of COVID burnout, and through this section, it absolutely works as a women’s fiction tale. The star deduction is because it *is* so heavily focused on COVID and related topics, and any such talk for me is an automatic star deduction because I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID. (This noted, it *is* in the description that this will be discussed to some extent or another, but in my defense here… I pre-ordered this entire series months before publication, just on the strength of the authors and my love of cruising generally.)
The romance here, such as it is, feels a bit tacked on and rushed, even in a shorter sub-200 page novel/ longer novella. It works within the story being told to that point, just don’t expect the entire tale here to be the romance. 🙂 Note that no other element of this tale feels so rushed as this particular element.
And the epilogue. It works. It is what one would expect from a women’s fiction/ romance. But why oh why does seemingly every romance author out there (not *all* of them, but *many*) feel the need to tack in a baby/ pregnancy in these epilogues? Completely unnecessary, and leaves a bitter aftertaste to the tale for those who are childfree (such as myself) or childless (others I know). Yes, there is a difference between the two – childfree largely are happy not having children, childless want them and don’t have them. (A touch of a simplification, but one that works for purposes of *brief* explanation.) Something to look at for authors who may not be aware that these particular groups exist – and thus the inclusion of the pregnancy here in the epilogue wasn’t star-deduction worthy so much as discussion-within-the-review worthy.
Still, overall this book really was quite good, and a solid entry into a fun series. Very much recommended.
This review of Lost At Sea by Patricia Sands was originally written on February 24, 2023.
Perfect Series Starter. This is one of those short novellas that is specifically designed to introduce a new series and its backstory so that these setup details all reside in a common point and the author can simply continue each individual story without having to rehash every word here within them – and as such, works absolutely perfectly. Quite a bit happens in these 72 pages, but every bit of it serves to show the world in which this new series will be set and set the basics of what to expect in each of the remaining books – specifically, it is rather obvious that each future book will be about one of the children and the match they are given, likely while continuing other elements found here (specifically involving the murder mystery and other secrets the children may or may not be aware of) as a form of connective tissue throughout.
Ultimately the entire point of an entry novella such as this is to whet the reader’s appetite for the series and induce them to auto-buy the entire damn thing, and the only true weakness to Thompson’s strategy there is that only the next book in the series is currently available for pre-order. 😉 Otherwise, this novella does its job spectacularly. Very much recommended.
This review of The Making Of A Matchmaker by Tess Thompson was originally written on February 23, 2023.
Dark. Real. Short. This book is interesting in that it has almost two separate storylines entirely, using at least some of the same characters… and then… stuff happens.
The one storyline is a genuine romance, where our lead is troubled by accusations from her recent past but is trying to move on both professionally and personally. This storyline is dark, but meets every “rule” of the “romance genre”. It is also very *real*, almost viscerally so, in how it portrays and handles the particular situation.
Sadly, the other storyline, where someone else is simply troubled and which leads to the accusations in question (yes, this is a slight dual-timeline approach), is *so much darker*, with violent fantasies of both shooting people and raping people. (To be clear, little is ever shown “on screen” other than the character discussing a *desire* to do these things. That alone could be too disturbing for some readers though, so worthy of noting.) But here again, Banks does a truly phenomenal job of making this character and storyline so very *real*, even as this particular character is truly so *dark* and disturbed.
That Banks manages to create such divergent storylines, using some of the same characters, and manages to do so in such a short amount of space (clocking in at not far over 200 pages), *and then manages to combine them so superbly*… this is a master storyteller at work, yall. Very much recommended.
This review of Everything We Never Said by Sarah Banks was originally written on February 10, 2023.
Fun, Short, Delightfully Quirky. This is one of those romance novellas that is exactly what I said in the title – fun, short, and delightfully quirky. Great for a short break from reality, both in its brevity and in its fun relatability. A few scenes are almost literally laugh out loud funny (including the first pool scene), certain characters in particular are charmingly quirky (and all too ubiquitous on actual cruises), and again, the length here is just right for reading… on a cruise yourself, perhaps. Or maybe while the kids are splashing away at the local splash pad or running themselves ragged on the local playground as you daydream of stepping away from your current actual reality. There is a touch of seriousness here in that our lead has divorced her husband, who knocked up and married someone else, but the drama here never even really rises to Hallmarkie level. Instead, this is near pure romance with a healthy dose of comedy, mostly set during a cruise through the Mexican Riviera (which is one area I’ve yet to get to in my own cruising, but Puerto Vallarta in particular I know a good chef, should anyone need any recommendations there). Overall truly a fun book and a quick one. Very much recommended.
This review of A Not So Distant Shore by Ev Bishop was originally written on February 9, 2023.
Old. Not Dead. This is one of those nice women’s fiction/ romance blends where instead of one or the other or both friends going on similar journeys, we get one friend going on one journey and the other going on the other – which is a nice divergence from the norm. That Newton manages to pack so much into so few pages is a mark of a strong storyteller, and that she manages to break the norms means she is a storyteller I’ll be coming back to – as this was the first book I’d actually read from her (despite owning books under all of her names, in some cases for *years*). On the theming, this is more large luxury yacht maybe a *very* small cruise ship (such as the real-world WindStar cruise line) than a traditional cruise ship, but it works for the tale told here – and gives the author the timing she needed within story, as larger ships/ lines are not often at sea for this length of time (15 days at sea, iirc). The romance works well here, the women’s fiction side – dealing with a more recent widow and how she has coped – works so well it almost jumps off the page in its realism. Overall simply a great – and short – tale, one perfect as a quick getaway whether you’re at sea yourself or not. Very much recommended.
This review of The Sound Of The Sea by Jessie Newton was originally written on January 30, 2023.
Solid Romance – On A Cruise. For those unfamiliar with Keim’s various romance series, this is a great – and short, at roughly 150 pages – introduction to her style of beach/ coastal romance. A solid entry in this genre, you have some mild drama both with the titular contest/ winning tickets and later with one character in particular, but the focus really is on the friends (both old and new) and the pair of romances (one primary, one secondary in that it gets slightly less attention). As with every book in this series I’ve read so far, Keim manages to pack quite a bit into the short length here, including a full cruise and a decent amount of story before and after the cruise. Overall truly a solid tale, and one that makes me glad I’ll be able to see the forts at Old San Juan myself in just a few days (as I am getting on my own cruise tomorrow as I write this!). Very much recommended.
This review of The Winning Tickets by Judith Keim was originally written on January 14, 2023.
Small Town Shenanigans. This is a great example of one of those small town tales where everyone has secrets, and, to quote Tony Stark in The Avengers: their “secrets have secrets”. So when a murder happens as our hero here is trying to rebuild her life and save her career… of *course* she has to investigate it herself. Because, you know, secrets. But along the way we really do see the inner workings of very small towns quite well, and Banks also manages to keep enough of the romance there to balance out just how dark and creepy this town can feel at times. A definite break from this author’s norm (she is working under a new pseudonym here), but a solid effort in this particular type of space and one that manages to up the creepy factor while adding in quite a bit of tension and apprehension not generally found in her other works. Very much recommended.
This review of Small Town Girl by Sarah Banks was originally written on January 4, 2023.
Alaskan Gold. This is a tale of a teacher dealing with the first few months of retirement after a 30+ yr career who goes on the cruise she was gifted by her former colleagues and who meets a man dealing with his own issues as well. Other than the age issue specifically, I’ve actually witnessed similar “relation-*ships*” develop over my 15 years of cruising. Even in this novella, Grace manages to pack in a great deal of both drama and Alaskan Cruise details – even including the seemingly ubiquitous photographers. And yes, because this *is* a tale from Grace… there are dogs. 🙂
On a series structure side, know that each of these Sail Away novellas are a “series” only in that they all share a general common theme – in this case, that they mostly take place on cruises. Thus, any book in this “series” can be read in any order, and in fact I’ve now already read a couple of them “out of order” with no harm.
Ultimately yet again a tale with more drama than I’ve ever personally experienced on a cruise, but which has elements that I *have* observed with friends on cruises. Very much recommended.
This review of Uncharted Waters by Tammy L. Grace was originally written on January 2, 2023.
Center Strikes Again. This is another feel-good story from Center that takes an unusual situation and uses it to show how even suddenly-forced differences can be used to tremendous effect – without ever feeling like she is white-washing the difficulties of the given condition at hand. Indeed, Center goes into detail showing the various struggles here, but also how they can be overcome and adapted to. Along the way, we also get a strong and relatable tale of finding yourself and finding what truly matters to you… and some pretty hilarious sequences as well. 🙂 Overall a strong and interesting book that puts a more “real” spin on this particular condition than the *few* other books I’ve read that feature it (which tend to do into more paranormal/ thriller spaces). Very much recommended.
This review of Hello Stranger by Katherine Center was originally written on December 31, 2022.