Ever since reading “The Girl with the Stars in Her Eyes” I’ve been waiting for a new release from Axelrod, and behold! She is here and she is stunning! “Love on the Byline” follows former college classmates and secret crushes as they reconnect five years later. Now, Blake is a cub reporter at a gossip magazine that she hates, and Oliver is the best friend turned personal assistant to her latest celebrity assignment: the arrogant Brandon Cody, who, on first appearances, doesn’t look like he’s changed much from when she last saw him. But, much like Axelrod’s previous release, our main cast of characters are filled with a surprising amount of depth, accomplish huge growth amidst interpersonal mysteries and secrets, oh, and have palpable tension and steamy encounters, all packed into a very smooth contemporary romance. Seriously, Axelrod is quickly becoming one of my auto-buy authors!
“Two Rivers” is a slice-of-life antebellum story like no other. It offers an intimate look at the life of the enslaved on a rice plantation outside of their forced labor duties. But even describing it as such doesn’t quite capture the weight of this book. While the narrative follows many characters, the 84-year-old Uncle Posey is front and center for much of the story, experiencing loss, love, and the struggles of life. The author doesn’t need to show the horrors these men and women faced while in the fields. Instead, Rogers shows us the more domestic side of the enslaved lives when they are swapping stories and meals, with Posey—originally—merely wanting to keep grave robbers from stealing his sister’s body, and finding love and peace again after being a widower for so long. With his sons gone—sold after a failed rebellion—Posey knows too well that there is no such thing as a “good” master. Even if he is treated with kindness, he knows that such kindness is meaningless. With characters like Posey in the situation they’re in, the reader is shown the brutal and uncomfortable relationship between the enslaved and the enslavers on a “friendly” plantation. For a historical fiction, this book gave me hints of “Stamped from the Beginning” with its window into the origins of racism, as well as “Kindred” with the story’s more intimate look at the lives of the enslaved when they aren’t being forced to labor for another’s gain.
If you are a fan of slow burn, rock-and-roll romances in stand alone contemporary books, and also happen to be a big music aficionado, I cannot recommend “The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes” enough. We follow our FMC as she navigates the recording world, having finally left her middle of nowhere town and gotten away from her less than stellar home life, all after being abandoned by the boy who swore they’d escape together and make a name for themselves together. Toni is an incredible guitarist, but in a world that’s still very much sexist (and racist though the author focuses more on the sexist aspects) Toni, who prefers to work behind the scenes, is constantly passed up for her less talented, male counterparts. It’s after one such encounter where the boy who broke her teenage heart comes back unexpectedly into her life. What follows after that meeting is a sweet, sort of second chance romance that really dives deep into the characters, their emotions, and growth from who they were as teenagers, to who they are when the book starts, and beyond. It’s a well written character driven romance, even if the book does feel its length at times.
If you’ve been missing “Bridgerton”, as in the Shonda Rhymes show, then this book is 100% for you. I haven’t read the Julia Quinn books, so I can’t say on that front how closely “Aphrodite and the Duke” line up there, but the parallels to the Netflix show are easy to see. You have a tightly knit family traversing the “ton” as one daughter begins her season, the balls are colorful and over the top, the queen feels taken straight from the show with her attitude and massive wigs, even the title of this book is closely tied to that of Quinn’s. Plus, you have our main character who is so attractive she’s intimidating and thus has a hard time getting suitors, though the one she does want has broken her heart before and, due to his family trauma, doesn’t really want a wife though he is obsessed with Aphrodite. I could go on, but trust me when I say that if you want a fluffy romance steeped in the regency vibes of Julia Quinn and Shonda Rhymes, give this historical fiction romance a try!
“Whisper of the Lotus” is a little deceiving, but not in a bad way! The synopsis focuses heavily on this idea of the main character, Charlotte, needing excitement, fleeing a dead-end job to impulsively visit her childhood best friend (Roxy) who has been living and thriving in Cambodia for the past 3 years after leaving London. In reality, the book is much deeper than that. Charlotte is less fleeing a boring existence, as she is getting away from a narcissistic parent who has emotionally taken advantage of her and guilt tripped her into never leaving. We watch Charlotte do things for herself for the first time in nearly a decade and through the experience of traveling so far away and meeting so many kind people, discover a voice that her mother almost completely took away. I don’t know if this book necessarily needed to take place in Cambodia in order for it to have the same emotional impact as we learn more and more of the secrets hidden from Charlotte, but here we are.
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