Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Princess in Theory

A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole (2018), narrated by Karen Chilton

Busy, working graduate student Naledi starts getting emails claiming she's betrothed to an African prince, which she deletes because of course they're spam BUT THEY'RE NOT SPAM. Prince Thabiso has to travel to New York on business and decides to seek her out in person, which goes terribly awry when she mistakes him for a new hire at her waitressing job and he plays along with it only to set a table on fire. Needless to say, it's not a good impression. But when he turns up in the apartment next door to her and offers to cook her dinner, they smooth things over and soon it starts heating up between them. But she still thinks his name is Jamal and he doesn't reveal his real identity, or their shared background, so that's rather a ticking time bomb.

Naledi only remembers New York. Her parents were killed in a car accident when she was very young and she grew up in a series of foster homes. None of them stuck and she is without family, struggling to complete her education. She needs an internship and hasn't heard back from the person she's supposed to be interning for, and this is a great source of stress, in addition to the demands on her time with school and two jobs. Even as she becomes more and more attracted to the guy she knows as Jamal, she is convinced that their relationship won't go anywhere.

The setup alone was enough to get me to read this book, but the execution was fantastic. Naledi definitely has some self-esteem issues when it comes to relationships, and the knowledge that Thabiso was lying to her about such huge issues really hung over me throughout the story. But not too long - this isn't one of those stories where it all comes out very late in the book and then they get over it and live happily ever after. No, there is a lot more to this story and that's what makes it so good.

When all is said and done we learn about Thabiso's country and his life, the issues facing them and why they're all counting on him to get married, the whole story behind Thabiso and Naledi's childhood betrothal and, finally, why Naledi's family fled Thesolo and started a new life. Throughout, Naledi tried to come to terms with Thabiso's lies, her attraction to him, and how the situation would affect - or not? - her life. They were both such great characters. Naledi down-to-earth and practical, but passionate about her work in public health, Thabiso raised to have his every need served but still empathetic to the needs of his people.

Literally the only thing wrong with this book is that when Naledi learned Thabiso's real identity she never expressed concern about what happened to the real Jamal, who probably really needed that job. (Thabiso intercepted him outside and paid him something like $20k to not go in, so he's fine. She just doesn't know that.)

The audio narrator was great (she did the accents, though I have no idea if she based the Thesaloian accent on a real African language) and I thought this was a great choice for audio. I mean, there were some sexytimes that were fairly graphic and I always feel a little weird listening on the bus even though I know nobody can hear what I'm hearing. But overall it was a fun and satisfying listening experience.

Fun fact: Alyssa Cole is known for her great dresses, which she buys from an Etsy shop called Adorned by Nicole. The dress on the cover is actually a dress designed by that shop. So if you love it (and why wouldn't you?) you know where you can get one.

The book I've been reading in print at the same time as this one is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, which is all about our horrible broken justice system and innocent people being executed. But we have to also read things that make us feel good and remind ourselves why life is even worth living in the first place. So do yourself a favor and pick up a story that you know is going to end well - like this one. As much as we need to pay attention to horrible stuff happening around us, sometimes we also need to escape for a little while.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike #1) by Robert Galbraith (2013)

This is the first crime novel by J.K. Rowling, who initially published it under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. I've heard great things about it - about the whole series - and I love all of Rowling's other books, so it was only a matter of time before I read it. Of course it's fairly long so I kept putting it off, and it ended up on my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge list.

The story opens on the aftermath of an apparent suicide. A famous model has jumped from her balcony, and police and paparazzi swarm the street outside her London home. But her brother refuses to believe she killed herself and hires private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate. One witness, a resident of the building's first floor, claims to have heard Lula Landry arguing with a man before falling to her death, but is this witness credible? Is there something suspicious about Landry's down-and-out friend Rochelle, who seems like she doesn't want to be found? And what of Landry's estranged boyfriend? The police consider it an open-and-shut case of suicide, but to Strike too many unanswered questions remain.

Cormoran Strike is in the midst of his own difficulties. As the story begins, he's just begun living in his office after a devastating breakup, business not healthy enough to support his renting an apartment. He has a new secretary sent by a temp agency, Robin, who is fascinated by Strike's work and dreads being moved on to her next job. This tension permeates the novel, as Robin proves herself worthy of more than just administrative duties due to her cleverness and resourcefulness, but Strike knows he can't afford to keep her on. Robin is engaged to a guy named Matthew who disapproves of her working for Strike, and I kept hoping she would dump him. It's a sketchy situation really, working for a guy who is clearly living in his office but trying unsuccessfully to hide that fact. He also tries to hide his prosthetic leg, crankily urging Robin to leave when he's been walking a lot and just needs to take his leg off for some relief but refuses to do so with her there. I loved seeing their very different personalities interact, especially as the story progressed and they got more comfortable with each other.

Along the way, we learn a lot about Landry's life. Her adoptive family, as well as her reconnection with her birth mother and search for her biological father. We also meet her friends, both the unlikely - Rochelle, who she met in rehab - and the other models as well as a designer she modeled for and had a close relationship with. We also learn about Strike's life: the son of a groupie and a rock star, everyone knows who his father is and mention him whenever they meet Strike, but he himself has only met his father a couple of times. The similarities between Landry's and Strike's life were apparent, but so were the vast differences, but both characters were fully realized even though one was already dead when the book began.

It was long, as I mentioned, but not unnecessarily so. The mystery of Lula Landry's death had many twists and turns and it took Strike - with Robin's help - a long time to investigate all the leads. It did take me a long time to read, but it was definitely worth it. There are two more books in the series, with a fourth to come later this year, so I look forward to picking those up at some point.