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Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

June 12, 2023

4 Romantic Stories for Your Summer Reading

by Donna Huber

Are you looking for vacation reads or like me just trying to catch up on some of the novels that have come out in the past year that you just didn't get to? If you are looking for a little romance in your summer reading all four of these books have elements of a love story - some more than others. I listened to all of them as audiobooks and all of them would be good for a road trip.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

The Syndicate Spy by Brittany Butler

book cover of romantic suspense novel The Syndicate Spy by Brittany Butler
May 2023; Greenleaf Book Group; 9798886450996
audio (10h 55m), ebook, print (320 pages); romantic suspense

Do you have a summer road trip planned and want to load up on a few audiobooks for the trip? The Syndicate Spy recently came out in audio. I was looking forward to this book when it came out in print back in March but I seem to have more time for audiobooks right now.

I love a good spy thriller, though I prefer ones set during the Cold War era as opposed to the present-day. I like the spycraft that was required now it seems to be all about high-tech surveillance and computer hacking. Even though this is a contemporary setting, I was drawn to it because Butler is a former CIA officer. Most spy novels I read are written by men and feature male protagonists. I was hoping for a female-centered Jack Ryan-type novel.

Juliet is part of an international intelligence agency called The Syndicate. She is paired with Graham. I didn't care for their early interactions. They don't get along and the banter between them felt like it was trying too hard to set them up as romantic interests. My initial thought was how unnecessary this was in a spy thriller. The banter is similar to what you read in an enemies-to-lovers rom-com. I soon realized that I had to shift my expectation that this was a spy thriller and instead, it was perhaps romantic suspense. But as the story progresses more and more romance tropes were introduced and by the end, I came to the conclusion that this was a romance novel masquerading as a spy novel.

While it was not the book I was expecting, it is a decent romance novel. I'm not a big reader of romance novels, particularly ones that have detailed sex scenes. If I had been reading this book, I would have skimmed over those scenes, but that isn't easily done with an audiobook.

I also found the social commentary a little heavy-handed at times. The world is in an energy crisis and an Arab nation has discovered the formula for an endless renewable energy source. The leader wants to keep the formula a secret and basically control the world because they will have to bend to his will to access this energy. There are parallels to what we see now with a few countries controlling most of the available oil.

The Syndicate Spy is Butler's first novel and I see the potential for her becoming a great author. The problems that I had with the writing are often seen in debut novels and are often resolved as the author becomes more comfortable with her voice.

If you love romance novels that feature international danger and don't mind a little heat, then this is a book for you. The story was easy to follow as an audiobook, though I thought the male voices didn't sound very male - like you could tell a female was trying to sound like a man.

Buy The Syndicate Spy at Amazon

How I'll Kill You by Ren DeStefano

book cover of psychological thriller How I'll Kill You by Red DeStefano
March 2023; Berkley; 978-0593438305
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); psychological thriller

Sissy, Iris, and Moody (not their real names) are triplets who were abandoned as newborns. Their discovery made them famous but it didn't keep them out of the foster system. At first, they were kept together but as they got older they often were in separate foster homes, particularly when Iris and Moody became "troubled" kids and were difficult to manage. They learned early on they had no one but each other and they would do anything for each other. That bond is tested when Iris's first boyfriend hurts her. 

I thought this would be a slightly humorous story where a woman plots to kill her cheating husband. But that wasn't what I got. I like dark novels, but these characters are more psychopathic serial killers that I cared for. I had trouble connecting with the characters and for most of the novel, I just kept thinking what the heck. If I hadn't been reading it for a review I probably wouldn't have finished it - which is a big deal as I hate not finishing a novel. And this book proved why I hate not finishing a book - the ending was brilliant and pretty much made reading the book worth it.

I did find the subtle discussion on nature versus nurture. These three are completely identical and work hard not to have any visual difference - it is part of the reason they can kill and get away from it. Yet their personalities are different. 

In How I'll Kill You it is Sissy's turn to kill. This is her first kill as the previous one just didn't feel right. This is the first glimpse that there are differences between the girls. 

In flashbacks, we see the girls' childhood and get a glimpse into how they developed into the adults they are but it isn't until the end that everything is fully explained. 

I struggled with the first half or more of this novel. I just couldn't get on board with the plot. Plus at times Sissy's thoughts on Edison border on erotic which I don't care to read. I understand that this was part of developing the girls' character - they get off on murdering men who they make fall in love with them. It's also another subtle way of differentiating Sissy from Iris and Moody. There was also the sex scene during a church service that as a Christian I found appalling. 

The story is a slow-burn without a lot of action which didn't help my apathy towards the book. But I couldn't put the book down for the final fifth of the book. The action picked up and everything rapidly came to a head - I had to know how it all turned out.

Buy How I'll Kill You at Amazon

The Edge of Summer by Viola Shipman

book cover of women's fiction novel The Edge of Summer by Viola Shipman
July 2022; Graydon House; 978-1525811425
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); women's fiction

Viola Shipman is one of my favorite authors. He writes such great feel-good stories. I can't believe it took me nearly a year to get around to reading The Edge of Summer but at the same time, I was glad because it was the perfect book for reading on my vacation a couple of weeks ago. 

When the pandemic started I wondered how it would be portrayed in literature. While I have read a few novels that made passing comments about the pandemic this is the first novel that sets it upfront in the story. Sutton's mother is in a nursing facility when the pandemic starts. While the story does move past the pandemic, the lingering ramifications of that time are threaded throughout the plot.

I don't sew but I grew up with my mom making clothes for me. So the many references to sewing were really interesting. I like how the author uses them for transitions. 

Sutton knows little about her family's history. It has just been her and her mother and her mother. Growing up, her mother only shared the barest of details in response to Sutton's growing curiosity. Now at loose ends, Sutton embarks on a search for her past, and in turn, it helps her discover her future.

The Edge of Summer is a sweet look into family history and you get to learn a bit about the textile industry. There are some really interesting characters - the high-society ladies trying to outbid each other for a Sutton original definitely brought a smile to my face. All the characters though feel like real people and endear themselves to the reader. 

I think this summer I'm more drawn to the relaxing vacation reads. This is not an intense read. There is no adrenaline-pumping conflict. Instead, this is a nostalgic type of read - perfect for lazing in a hammock or on a float in the pool.

Buy The Edge of Summer at Amazon

A Wish for Winter by Viola Shipman

book cover of Christmas romance novel A Wish for Winter by Viola Shipman
November 2022; Graydon House; 978-1525804847
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); romance

Do you live in the southern hemisphere where it is winter right now? Or are you celebrating Christmas in July? Or maybe you are like me and just can't fit in all the Christmas books you want to read between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Perhaps the best reason to pick up A Wish for Winter right now is because it is a great novel. 

Whereas I find Shipman's summer novels to be more about the main character discovering themselves with a little romance thrown in, firmly women's fiction, his Christmas novels are more romance with the main character discovering herself while finding love.

Susan's family is big on Christmas. It is more than just her being after the little girl in A Miracle on 34th Street. The family owns the bookstore Sleigh by the Bay. But that isn't the reason they are big on Christmas. Susan's grandparents met at a fraternity party where her grandfather was dressed as Santa Claus... and Susan's parents met while her father was dressed as Santa. Will the tradition continue with Susan?

Still single at 40, she has just about given up on meeting anyone - dressed as Santa or not. But a chance encounter a the annual Santa run may change all that... if only she had gotten his name. When he doesn't show up at the local bar after the race, Susan is convinced it's just not meant to happen for her. However, her friend Holly isn't having any of that and embarks on the Single Kringle mission to discover who this man is and bring Susan and him together. She has a bit of a following on social media and soon everyone wants a Christmas miracle.

What follows is pretty predictable in terms of finding the guy but it is still sweet and heart-warming. There is more to the story than finding the Single Kringle. Susan is still coming to terms with her parents' death and through her search for the one, she learns about lasting love and freedom from the grief.

As the story is set in the family bookstore there are plenty of bookish references. There is a customer who comes in every week to read the obituaries and then buys a book for the grieving family member. 

The story may start and end with Christmas, but many holidays in between are highlighted so really it can be read at any time. And it would be a shame to miss this story.

Buy A Wish for Winter at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour

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