Review | The Wedding Game, by Meghan Quinn

TheWeddingGameCoverEnemies to lovers, and grumpy / sunshine are two of my favourite romance tropes, and the fiery meet-cute in The Wedding Game is pretty stellar. Not only are Luna Rossi and Alec Baxter competing on a TV show to win their respective brothers a dream wedding and NYC penthouse, but the first time they meet, Alec mistakes Luna for a PA, and orders her to get him a coffee. Luna spits into his cup in retaliation, and tells him as much, so she can watch in satisfaction as he tosses the cup without drinking.

I absolutely, wholeheartedly, love Alec. He’s arrogant, ambitious, and the grumpiest person on set, but he’s also dealing with the trauma of having had to grow up too young. He practically raised his younger brother Thad by himself, and did his best to shield Thad from their parents’ toxic arguments. Due to his parents’ marriage, he doesn’t believe in love or marriage, and has devoted his career to helping women get good divorce settlements. His motivation for agreeing to do the competition with Thad and Thad’s fiancee Naomi is to support his brother, and perhaps repair the estrangement between them that began when Alec began focusing on his career. Alec, Thad, and Naomi are all complex characters whose dilemmas can sometimes break your heart, and I absolutely adore their family unit.

I also liked Luna from the start, but she took me a while to really warm up to. Part of it, I think, is that compared to Alec, her childhood and family life seemed perfect. She does have some growth to do in the novel — she signs up her brother Cohen and his fiance Declan for the competition against their wishes, which Cohen rightly calls her out on — but beyond that, she doesn’t seem to struggle much until late in the novel, and even then, her fiercely protective best friend Farrah is ready to wage war against those who hurt her, while Luna mopes in her bedroom. 

Luna also does things that the author hypes up for comedic effect, but that turn out being too cutesy to be cute. One major example is when she barks (yes, literally barks like a dog) at Alec in response to something he says, simply because she doesn’t want to speak to him. That was the most cringe-y example, but even milder moments sometimes felt a bit forced. Like when she was literally hyperventilating into a paper bag because she was stressed about confessing to Cohen that she went behind his back on the show, and she knew he would lecture her. I can understand the stress, but also, I wanted to tell her to chill; she’s an adult and isn’t about to be grounded or sent to her room without supper.

The story picks up significantly when Luna and Alec finally become friends. Their banter is cute, and their chemistry hot. They work well together, and I love how they know how to support each other as friends as well as lovers. The scene where Luna holds Alec through a bad time was really sweet. 

I also love how their relationship’s development happened alongside the development of their respective relationships with their family members. Thad and Cohen are wonderful brothers, even if Thad is a bit over-the-top dramatic, and as the future in-laws, Naomi and Declan provide perfect balance to the family units. The biggest conflict had as much to do with Alec and Luna’s relationships with their families as it did with their relationship to each other, and I love how the author took us beyond the romance in showing the most important people in the main characters’ lives.

Overall, The Wedding Game is a fun novel, and the reality show scenes are entertaining. But the heart of the novel is in the families, and I love how Luna and Alec falling in love together also helped them reinforce the love they have with their families.

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Thank you to Thomas Allen for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Death in a Darkening Mist (Lane Winslow # 2), by Iona Whishaw

DeathInADarkeningMistCoverThe second Lane Winslow mystery takes us to a hot springs resort in the mountains of British Columbia, where a Russian man is found murdered. Lane and her friend Angela happen to be enjoying the springs for themselves, and due to Lane’s childhood in Latvia and history as a British intelligence officer, she is fluent in Russian, and can speak to the dead man’s distraught friend. Inspector Darling and Constable Ames of the Nelson police happen to be the closest law enforcement to the area, and are called in to investigate.

This mystery has a bit more of an international espionage feel than the first, which is probably why I enjoyed the first one a bit more. The investigation delves a bit into the man’s past in Russia, and potential reasons that he may be on the run from Stalin’s government. Personally, I was more interested in learning about the Doukhobors, who appear to be Russian immigrants who are religious pacifists. I wasn’t at all aware of this part of Canadian history, and I found it fascinating to learn how they farmed in the mountains, and clashed with the Canadian government that wanted to take the land they’d lived on for decades.

There’s also a subplot involving an inheritance from Lane’s father. I loved these additional glimpses into Lane’s family, and particularly the dynamic between Lane and her more beautiful and confident sister. I also liked seeing Lane grapple with her father’s legacy, in that he was a spy just like she was, but he was also cold and dismissive towards his family, in part due to his job, and part of the reason Lane wanted out of the business is that she didn’t want to turn out as cruel as he was.

There was also a bit of a minor subplot involving an irritating potential suitor who barrels past Lane’s boundaries. Fortunately, it shifted to a different direction before getting as bad as the unwelcome suitor in the first book, but I hope this doesn’t turn into a pattern for all the succeeding books. Or at least, that Lane gets better at setting firm boundaries with men in succeeding books. She’s a bit too kind-hearted with men who want her time, and I just want to tell her to just say no from the get-go.

That being said, I love how the romance between Lane and Inspector Darling developed in this volume! Darling’s really sweet and respectful, and I like how he’s finally starting to acknowledge his feelings for Lane. I like how they work as a detective team, and how well they bounce ideas of each other. I especially love Ames’ role in this dynamic, and how he says things that Darling and Lane are perhaps a bit too shy to say themselves. I also enjoyed the glimpses into Ames’ various romances, and into his childhood friendships, and I very much look forward to seeing a lot more about Ames’ personal life in future books!

The first book struck me because of its depiction of Lane’s feminism amidst the sexism of her era, and I like how the second book took that theme forward. At one point, Darling comes to her and a friend’s aid, and Lane mentions that she hopes Darling doesn’t think he actually rescued them, as they did most of the work towards their rescue themselves, and would actually have been fine even if Darling wasn’t around. The statement may perhaps be a bit much in a contemporary novel, but given the patronizing attitude another man took regarding rescue in the first book, Lane’s comment here is completely understandable. Darling, of course, understood full well the incidental nature of his role in their rescue, which is yet another reason he’s such a perfect love interest in this series.

I personally enjoyed the mystery more in Book 1, but I loved the deeper glimpses into Lane, Darling, and Ames’ personal lives that Book 2 provides. I’m excited to see how the series continues to develop in future mysteries, and how much more it reveals about Canadian history.

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Thank you to TouchWood Editions for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | A Killer in King’s Cove (Lane Winslow # 1), by Iona Whishaw

KillerKingsCoverGrab yourself a cuppa, and settle in with the first Lane Winslow historical mystery, A Killer in King’s Cove. Set in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada (near Nelson, BC), the novel has the feel of a classic British village cozy mystery. The series lead is a British expat and ex-intelligence officer who decides to settle in a remote Canadian town for a quieter life, away from the intrigue and double-dealing that her former job required.

The first few chapters begin like many British cozies, with Lane meeting her new neighbours over cups of tea, and getting an initial peek into the various relationships and intrigues amongst the townsfolk. There are nods to the Canadian wilderness setting, mostly in people doubting Lane’s ability as a single woman to rough it in the bush without a big, strong man at her side. But mostly, the atmosphere is gentle and genteel, and you just know there’ll be more to these neighbours than meets the eye.

Indeed, a few chapters in, a dead body is found in the creek, with Lane’s name on a paper in his pocket. It turns out that the dead man is linked to Lane’s former job. The author gives us glimpses of his story leading up to his fateful trip to Canada, and the corresponding response of British intelligence to the news. All this adds intriguing hints of international espionage to the plot, a la Maisie Dobbs, but overall, the novel maintains its intimate, cozy mystery feel. I’m personally glad it did, because I’m more a fan of village cozies than spy thrillers, and the author has given us plenty of intrigue as it is, amongst Lane’s neighbours.

I love the touches of feminist commentary that the author includes in the novel. One of the reasons Lane slips so easily under the radar as an intelligence officer is that, because she’s a woman, people easily believe she held a boring office job during the war. There’s also a subplot involving a young man who is thrilled to see a woman his age moving into town, and things unfortunately turn ugly when Lane declines his advances.

Mostly, though, there is the contrast between a man from Lane’s past, and Inspector Darling, her likely future love interest. Lane remembers the man from her past as hiding things from her. He is older, and now, with the benefit of hindsight, Lane can see how much she looked up to him, and how patronizing his attitude actually was. At one point, he describes Lane to another character as being “compliant,” which he means as a compliment, and if Lane had been around to hear it, I like to think she would’ve slapped him for that.

In contrast, Inspector Darling respects Lane as an equal. He recognizes the validity of her theories, and even teases his assistant, Constable Ames, that he should learn from Lane’s methods. In perhaps the loveliest bit of romance in the novel, Darling tells Lane, referring to the man from her past, “Miss Winslow, he cannot hold a candle to you.” His wording surprises Lane, because she would have expected him to say the man was “not worthy or not worth it,” meaning that she should just move on from him. Instead, Darling’s phrasing sets her up as the man’s equal, and “she could not remember ever being compared equally to a man, especially not by a man” (397-398). It’s a pointed reminder of the time this story is set, and it also sets the stage for a potential new kind of relationship for Lane, one where she is valued not just as a woman, but as a human being. I’m all for this Inspector Darling / Lane Winslow romance, and I can’t wait to see how it develops over the rest of the series.

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Thank you to Touchwood Editions for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.