Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: New Releases (page 1 of 50)

The Partner Plot – Kristina Forest

The Partner Plot is a new second-chance romance, with a marriage of convenience holding the leads together. The wonderful team at Penguin Books Australia were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

With the bright pink cover and the Vegas nuptials, you can get the vibe of this one at a glance. Violet’s career as a celebrity stylist is progressing in leaps and bounds, but her love life has stagnated after her ex-fiancee left her for one of her clients in a humiliating public fashion. Xavier’s career is nothing what he expected (his would-be pro-ball career was derailed into a small-town school teaching position), and he’s never quite gotten over his high-school sweetheart Violet.

When they run into each other in Vegas and the drinks are flowing, they naturally end up in a wedding chapel (where else?), and soon they realise that both their careers could get a boost from playing up the newlywed status. It’s the kind of convoluted logic that only (kind-of) works in rom-coms.

The Partner Plot has real entry-level prose, and nothing groundbreaking in the plot or its execution. The most surprising part was the maturity with which the leads addressed conflicts in their relationship and communicated about their issues. On the whole, it’s a simple, inoffensive romance that probably won’t blow any minds.

Read The Partner Plot on audiobook via here. (affiliate link)

He’s A 10 – Jessica Yale

He's A 10 - Jessica Yale - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy He’s A 10 here.
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Jessica Yale was a British transplant to the U.S., and started writing a sports romance novel based in an English football club to give herself a taste of home. Sadly, she passed away before she could see the book on shelves, but He’s A 10 is her legacy. The wonderful team at Penguin Books Australia were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Genie is the head of Player Care at a rapidly expanding football club. It’s her job to make sure the players have everything they need, from housing to a manageable calendar of events. She’s off to a stumble start with the expensive new ‘Number 10’ Tony Garratt. He’s coming in under storm clouds of off-field controversy, and he’s hours late to his first press conference. He’s going to drive her crazy – in more ways than one.

Not being too familiar with English football leagues and the behind-the-scenes admin of a club, it took me a minute to warm up to He’s A 10. Once I fell into the groove, though, it was a delight to read. In addition to the intensely-felt romance, there’s a fun mystery running throughout that really had me hooked: who’s screwing with Genie’s work to make her look bad? Will Tony be able to help her figure it out before she gets fired?

There are only one or two slightly steamy scenes, so this romance is more seasoned than spicy. The ending is also a little rushed and cliched, with a lot of expositional dialogue to bring everything together. Still, He’s A 10 is a lovely read, perfect for fans of Amy Lea with a long commute.

Ghost Cities – Siang Lu

Ghost Cities - Siang Lu - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy Ghost Cities here.
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Have you heard of the great ghost cities of China? There’s around 50 of them, municipalities of varying sizes, huge newly-developed properties all mostly uninhabited. They’re a phenomenon that clearly fascinate Siang Lu, as they inspired his new novel Ghost Cities, which he was kind enough to send me for review.

There are two main storylines in Ghost Cities. First, there’s Xiang, a young man living in Sydney and newly fired from his job as a translator at Sydney’s Chinese Consulate. See, Xiang is a “bad Chinese”; he doesn’t speak a word of Mandarin, and he’s been skating by at work by simply feeding documents into Google Translate. He’s at a bit of a loose end when he meets big-shot Chinese director Baby Bao, who offers him a new job and a new life on a film set he’s built in one of China’s empty cities, Port Man Tou (and yes, that’s an exceedingly clever fictional city name).

The second storyline is more of an allegorical fable, about an ancient Emperor and his increasingly desperate grip on power. Over the course of Ghost Cities, the Emperor destroys all the books in the Imperial City (only for a disappeared concubine to replicate them page by page in her hiding place at the heart of a labyrinth), creates a thousand doubles of himself to cheat death (only for some of them to take his place in a more formal capacity), and hosts a great feast for the poor to find himself a new taste tester (all the dishes are poisoned, and the lone survivor will be given the job).

So, yes, Ghost Cities gets a little weird – strong Italo Calvino vibes, for readers who like that sort of thing. I found myself most drawn to the Port Man Tou story, where the city-cum-film-set is revealed to be a contemporary panopticon that blurs the line between life and art. Even as the story grows increasingly surreal and dystopian, the tone remains sharp and wry, a tricky tightrope that only the most masterful storytellers can walk without falling.

Buy Ghost Cities on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Read Ghost Cities on audiobook via here. (affiliate link)

The Studio Girls – Lisa Ireland

It’s a tale as old as time, revisited in Lisa Ireland’s new novel The Studio Girls. Four ambitious young women head for Hollywood, in the hopes of making it big on the silver screen, only to discover upon their arrival that there’s darkness below Tinsel Town’s sparkle. The fine folks at Penguin Books Australia were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Ireland says that The Studio Girls was inspired by research she did for her previous novel, The One And Only Dolly Jamieson. The Hollywood Studio Club was a real place, inhabited by household names like Marilyn Monroe and plenty more who didn’t quite make it. It was basically a sorority for aspiring actresses, to give them space to hone their craft and keep them safe from the underbelly’s clutches until they either made it big or headed home with their heads hung low.

The story is set in the latter half of the 1950s, when screen stars were made by powerful men in big offices who smoked cigars and smacked their secretaries on the bum whenever they walked past. Ireland does acknowledge some of these darker aspects of Hollywood’s Golden Era, notably insidious racism and prejudice regarding interracial relationships, but stops short of anything truly horrifying. That story plays out as the four women reconvene for a reunion in 1999, and reckon with the fallout of the scandal that separated them decades ago.

Some of the dialogue in The Studio Girls is a little laboured, and a few plot points seem a bit of a stretch, but on the whole it’s a sweet and nostalgic read with some glitz and glam to lure you in.

Buy The Studio Girls on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Read The Studio Girls on audiobook via here. (affiliate link)

Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea – Rebecca Thorne

Haven’t we all dreamed, at one time or another, of running away from it all with our one true love to open a quiet bookshop with cozy armchairs and hot tea? Rebecca Thorne shows prodigious skill in tapping into our idle daydreams in Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea, her “cozy fantasy steeped in love”. Cozy fantasy isn’t usually my thing, but seeing as this one is set in a bookshop, I couldn’t resist picking up the copy that Macmillan Australia sent for review.

The dedication gives you a clear read of the Vibes: “For anyone who really needs a cup of tea and a nice book. Take a break. You’ve earned it.”

The story follows Reyna, a dissatisfied private guard for a cruel Queen, and Kianthe, an all-powerful elemental mage. They’re deeply in love, and decide to throw all caution to the wind by leaving their bosses and all-consuming jobs behind to open a bookshop (that also serves tea and baked goods) in a tiny backwater town occasionally beset by dragons.

It’s a lovely book to read, an escapist Sapphic fantasy with occasional moments of mortal peril. I’m particularly impressed with how Thorne balanced exposition and action (always especially tricky in fantasy). She leaves a lot of doors open in the plot, clearly intending Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea as the first in a series that explores her world and its characters further. I probably won’t rush out to buy any of the other books, but it was still a perfectly pleasant reading experience.

Buy Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Read Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea on audiobook via here. (affiliate link)

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