Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Review & Giveaway - - Ana Takes Manhattan

Ana Takes Manhattan
by Lissette Decos
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: February 28, 2023
Reviewed by PJ

As a reality TV producer, Ana Karina orchestrates extravagant marriage proposals that always (well, mostly) go as planned. When they don’t, she’s not afraid to cut and paste scenes to make the moment picture-perfect. If only Ana’s own life was as simple to direct. Her colleagues are getting promotions. Her best friend and her younger sister are both getting married. Everyone is moving forward—except Ana.

Sick of feeling stuck, she decides to start living with no regrets. She’s going to pitch all her ideas at work, no matter how unlikely. She’ll take a chance on a guy even if he doesn’t check all her boxes for Mr. Right. Soon, she’s swept up in a roller coaster of exhilarating dates—a comedy show, a Jane Austen reenactment, a rave pool party, and a whirlwind trip to Vienna. With all this excitement, Ana should be on her way to her own happily-ever-after, but instead her life is getting messier by the second.

Yet throwing caution to the wind may still bring Ana more than she hoped for as she begins to listen to her heart and realizes the life—and man—truly meant for her might be the one she never saw coming.

PJ's Thoughts:

What an absolute delight! I loved this book! First of all, it's hilarious. I lost track of the number of times I laughed out loud. The situations Ana finds herself in - or puts herself in - are ones to which many of us will be able to relate. I found myself thinking back to my younger (dating and work) years, nodding my head, and having many "oh, yeah" moments while tagging along on her journey. 

While this book is filled with humorous moments it's not all laughter, no substance. Decos does an admirable job of layering the story with sub-plots, such as Ana's complicated relationship with her Cuban American family, that bring a poignant depth of emotion to the process. Then there's her work life which affords many opportunities for personal growth as she navigates the shark-infested corporate waters of reality television. As a fan of reality TV, I loved the authenticity of the behind-the-curtain perspective of producer (Ana) and crew as told by an actual reality TV producer (Decos). And, finally, there's romance. Again, I found myself catapulted back to my dating years and the guys who checked one - or two - of my HEA boxes but not the whole bouquet. Maybe Ana has the right idea. Opening herself up to saying yes to all of them has her experiencing some amazing dates while at the same time learning what it is she actually wants. And doesn't want. No spoilers but let me say I was 100% on board with the final outcome.

If you're in the mood for a hilarious romcom with poignant undertones, complicated family dynamics, long-lasting female friendships, reality TV shenanigans, discovering love in unexpected places, and finding yourself in the process, this is the book for you. It has my very enthusiastic recommendation!

Are you a fan of reality TV? Which shows do you watch?

One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, March 2 will receive a print copy of Ana Takes Manhattan.

*U.S. only
*Must be 18

Monday, February 27, 2023

Winner - - The Lady Knows Best


The randomly chosen winner of 

a signed print ARC of 

The Lady Knows Best by Susanna Craig is:



Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Review - - Falling in Love on Sweetwater Lane

Falling in Love on Sweetwater Lane
by Belle Calhoune
Mistletoe, Maine - Book 3
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: February 21, 2023
Reviewed by PJ

Will a big-city veterinarian give this small town—and the single dad who’s caught her heart—a chance?

Veterinarian Harlow Jones knew returning to small-town life, even temporarily, would be a disaster. She just never guessed it would start that way—with her car skidding off the road outside Mistletoe, Maine. And while her rescuer is both charming 
and handsome, Harlow isn’t about to get involved with a local. She’s in town for one reason only—to pay off her vet school bills—and then she’s back to her real life in Seattle.

Nick Keegan knows all about unexpected, life-altering detours. He lost his wife in the blink of an eye, and he’s spent the years since being the best single dad he can be. He’s also learned not to take anything for granted, so when sparks start to fly with Harlow, Nick is all in. He senses Harlow feels it too, but she insists romance isn’t on her agenda. He’ll have to pull out all the stops to show her that love is worth changing the best-laid plans.

PJ's Thoughts:

I've fallen hard for Belle Calhoune's small town of Mistletoe, Maine and the people who call it home. Nick Keegan (and his young son, Miles) have been begging for a story and I'm happy to say that their book, Falling in Love on Sweetwater Lane, is all I had hoped for. 

Leave it to Calhoune to pair single dad, Nick, a man with both feet firmly planted in Mistletoe with a woman who loathes small towns, is only there to eliminate her student loan debt, and is determined to not stay one day longer than she is contractually obligated. This big city woman had enough of small towns as a child and has no desire to relive the horror of that time. She may be game for some fun but relationships and friendships are not for her. Of course, Mistletoe, with her pups and people, may have something to say about that. 

I enjoy how real Calhoune keeps her stories. Her characters are well developed with layers of complex emotions and relatable back stories creating obstacles to love. She infuses their journeys with plenty of humor and charm but doesn't hold back from honest, heart-wrenching emotion. Harlow's struggles with her mother's illness and Nick's anger over an unexpected curveball related to his late wife's death are good examples. I appreciate that she doesn't give them easy solutions to their issues but confronts them head on. Once her couples work through the emotional turmoil of what life has dealt them, and choose to be happy together, I'm confident in the staying power of their love and life together.

This is the third book in Calhoune's Mistletoe Maine series and from what I've read, this concludes the series (though I'm holding out hope for a story for Harlow's twin brother, Malcom). Falling in Love on Sweetwater Lane can be enjoyed as a standalone, although main couples and secondary characters from the first two books are prominent in this third book as well. For that reason, you may want to start with book one, No Ordinary Christmas (Lucy and Dante), followed by book two, Summer on Blackberry Beach (Luke and Stella). All three books have my enthusiastic recommendation.


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Sneak Peak Excerpt and Giveaway - - The Lady Knows Best


Susanna Craig is back with a new series and I couldn't be more excited. She kicked things off in December with a prequel novella, Nice Earls Do (read my review) that has had me eagerly anticipating the first full length book in the series. Then, when reading about that first book, The Lady Knows Best, I discovered it features Daphne Burke, a favorite secondary character from her Rogues and Rebels series. I love when authors circle back to give now grown up characters from an earlier series their own stories! 

Susanna has been gracious enough to share an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming The Lady Knows Best with us today along with a great giveaway. Read to the end of the post for more details. 


The Lady Knows Best
by Susanna Craig
Goode's Guide to Misconduct - Book 1
Publisher: Zebra Books
Release Date: April 25, 2023

Serving as the advice columnist, ‘Miss Busy B.’, for an often-subversive ladies’ magazine is the perfect outlet for Daphne Burke’s outspoken nature. But when she advises a young lady of the ton, to break off her engagement to a notorious rake, the consequences take Daphne beyond the page and into her real life.

 Miles, Viscount Deveraux, sometimes known as “that devil Deveraux” 
needs a respectable bride by the end of the Season, and he’s bet a fortune that he can get one. Now, his fiancĂ©e has not only changed her mind—but done it publicly, in a letter to London’s most infamous magazine. With the stakes high and time short, it seems reasonable to him that the columnist responsible should come to his rescue and marry him instead.
Fortunately for Miles, Daphne is eager to escape the pressures of the London marriage mart. She agrees to a courtship. But at the end of two weeks, she intends to turn him down in a big, splashy, scandal that will ruin her reputation and set her free. There’s just one shocking wrinkle: Who knew being ruined by a rake could be so much fun?

Exclusive excerpt from The Lady Knows Best by Susanna Craig, 

for The Romance Dish:


Daphne Burke’s first act as “Miss Busy B.,” the advice columnist for Mrs. Goode’s Magazine for Misses, is to encourage a young lady to call off her engagement to notorious rake Miles, Viscount Deveraux. But when Miles—who has a great deal of money riding on a wager that he will marry by the end of the Season—discovers Miss Busy B.’s true identity, he blackmails Daphne into finding him a new bride. Daphne offers to marry him herself, but only after a two-week courtship, during which time she intends to discover enough about “that devil, Deveraux” to ruin him in the eyes of society and then jilt him. But is Miles really the man she believed him to be?


In this scene, a few days into their courtship, Miles meets Daphne for a private conversation at a garden party.



When a long silent moment passed, he asked, “Are you afraid that if we converse, you might discover something likeable about me? That you might find me amiable, amusing, attractive?”

Her lips twitched. “Not in the slightest.”

“Then I wonder why you insisted upon a courtship at all. If it distresses you, we could just go ahead and get married without it.” He slid closer and lightly covered her hand with his. “I can have a special license in hand first thing tomorrow.”

She jerked free of his touch. If it were not made of stone, the bench would have swayed with the force of her movement. “You needn’t keep reminding me of your power over me, my lord.”

Miles disguised his own uncertainty by gripping the edge of the bench.

“I suppose that’s why you sent me those quills—to mock me, as you did with that song.”

“Mock you?” he echoed, genuinely astonished. “Is it not a custom of proper courtship for a gentleman to send a token of his esteem?”

“Gentlemen send flowers.” The governess-y tone was back, a sort of exaggerated patience, as if she were delivering a lesson in etiquette to an unruly boy. “Bellis gets them by the cartload. Daisies, usually.”

If he hadn’t been watching, he would have missed the slight wobble of her chin as she spoke those words.

He didn’t think she begrudged her sister those gifts. Not exactly, anyway. But with every bouquet of flowers, every

reminder of her talented and famous elder siblings, she swallowed a pang of something like jealousy. Often enough

that it had become little more than a reflexive tickle in her throat.

And he had unwittingly made that irritation worse.

“I’m quite aware gentlemen send flowers.” He forced a lightness into his tone. “And setting aside any debate over whether that dubious distinction applies to me, I did in fact speak with the clerk at the florist’s shop, who explained to me the botanical meaning of your lovely name.” It was a source of some amusement in certain circles that all the Burke siblings were named after plants. “But a few branches from a shrub laden with poisonous berries didn’t seem quite the thing.”

That made her snicker. Reluctantly, to be sure. Just the tiniest hint of a laugh.

Nevertheless, his chest swelled with pride; he always enjoyed pleasing women. “I thought quills would be at least as apt as Bellis’s daisies. Something befitting the woman you really are. Sharp, yes, but soft too. Strong, but delicate.”

Like most women, in one way or another, he supposed.

But they’d seemed to him a particularly perfect gift for Daphne.

“I pictured you writing your column with them,” he finished simply.

She would start out with a straight spine and a spotless page. But as she went on, warming toward her subject, her quill would fly. Gradually, as if pouring a bit of herself into her words, she would bend her head closer to the paper.

He’d imagined pressing his lips to the soft skin that peeked between the collar of her dress and the few stray wisps of hair that tickled the back of her neck.

After a moment, she asked in a whisper, “Does that mean you intend to permit me to keep writing?”

The question was so unexpected, it took him a moment to comprehend. “Once we’re married, you mean?”

Her chin dipped, almost imperceptibly.

“I will not permit it, my dear,” he said. At that, her head spun and her gaze snapped to his. “I will insist upon it. I for one am eager to read your retraction.”

“My retraction?”

“Oh, yes.” He lifted his brows suggestively. “It should be easy enough to pen. Once you’ve discovered just how enjoyable it can be, being married to a rake.”

Was it his imagination, or was the spark in her eyes brighter now? Warmer?

Could it be that she enjoyed being teased?

Oh, but that was promising indeed.

“I assume you refer to that old saw about reformed rakes.” She tilted her head toward him and favored him with a look he was fast coming to consider her “Miss Busy B. expression”—part disapproving governess, part insufferable know-all, part inquisitive young lady who couldn’t quite make herself look away, though she knew she ought. “Tell me, my lord. Do you have any intention of reforming?”

He stretched out his legs and leaned back as much as the bench would allow. In a more comfortable chair, his posture would have been described as a sprawl—a blatant invitation for her gaze to travel his body, head to toe. “Which of my vices would you have me give up? My bootmaker? My tailor? Surely, you do not want a shabby bridegroom, ma’am.”

Again, the quirk of lips that were determined not to betray a smile.

“Or perhaps you object to my French cologne?”

“Your French brandy, rather,” she retorted. “Your gambling. Your . . .” Her voice dropped to a whisper, barely audible above the chatter rising from the garden below. “. . . flirtations.”

A little frippery of a hat sat perched high upon her head. Beneath it, her hair was more simply arranged today, the sort of coiffure that could be mussed by a man’s careless fingers without anyone being the wiser. And her gown was pale, diaphanous muslin, embroidered with a green vine and the occasional pink rosebud. Perfect for a garden party. On this warm day, its skirts clung to her limbs most provocatively.

He raked his gaze over her, tipping his head to the side.

“Must I stop flirting with you?

Have you read any of Susanna Craig's books?

Do you enjoy when authors return to a beloved series to feature a now adult character? Are there any stories in particular that you're still waiting for? 

One randomly chosen person who comments before 11:00 PM, February 24 will receive a signed, print advance copy of The Lady Knows Best from Susanna (two months before publication!).

U.S. only
Must be 18

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Review - - Going Rogue in Red Rye County

Going Rogue in Red Rye County
by Katie Mettner
Secure One - Book 1
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue
Release Date: February 21, 2023
Reviewed by PJ

She’s on a mission
And dangerously off the grid…

After an undercover mission gone wrong, agent Mina August is on the run from the FBI and The Madame, a ruthless brothel owner. Her mantra: trust no one. But alone and permanently disabled, the cunning beauty must trust her ex-partner Roman Jacobs to take her side in a deadly cat-and-mouse game. Can she fight her true feelings for Roman to stay professional…and alive?  

PJ's Thoughts:  

I love a story that plunges me straight into the action then keeps me on the edge of my seat until the final twist. This book does exactly that. It's an intense, fast-paced, action-packed, roller coaster ride filled with unexpected twists, emotional romance, and life-altering challenges. I loved how strong Mina was and how she handled her physical limitations. Roman won my heart with his respect for her, confidence in her as his FBI partner, as well as his unspoken love, and protective nature. So much hidden yearning with these two.  

It's been a while since I read a Harlequin Intrigue. Going Rogue in Red Rye County reminded me of what I've been missing. Katie Mettner's characters were well developed and intriguing, engaging both my interest and my emotions, with a tightly-woven plot that kept me glued to the pages. As this is the first book in this series, there were several characters to be introduced - primary and secondary - as well as potential storylines for future books yet all of those introductions felt organic and woven into the story in a logical, realistic way. I felt emotionally attached to Mina and Roman almost immediately but by the end of the book, I had formed attachments to some of the secondary characters as well. And I am fascinated by the concept of the Secure One organization and how they operate. 

If the well-balanced blend of action, suspense, and romance that kept me reading this first Secure One book late into the night is what I can expect from the rest of the series, I can hardly wait for the books to come.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Winner - - A Love by Design


The randomly chosen winner of

a print copy of

A Love by Design is:

Katie Chapman


Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Review - - Imperfect Angel

Imperfect Angel
by Christi Barth
Publisher: Entangled
Release Date: October 25, 2022
Reviewed by Hellie


Three days ago, all Maisy Norgate had was a stack of bills, about a gazillion jobs, and her sunny-as-hell outlook. Now, thanks to an uncle she never knew about, she’s inherited an ornate skeleton key with absolutely no idea what it’s for—or why she has it. Which is exactly when a ridiculously handsome guy claiming to be an angel shows up at her door and all hell breaks loose…

Nephilim Rhys Boyce cannot believe that Maisy is the new Keeper of the Key. Why would anyone bequeath this warm, bubbly redhead the key to Hell? And to make matters worse, she’s given the key to the first person who asked for it. A demon. Yep, Maisy is determined to make his job—not to mention some seriously inconvenient temptation—as hard as possible.

First a half angel with a very human chip on his shoulder must find a way to convince Maisy that angels and demons do exist. Then Rhys will have to break the really bad news…that she might have accidentally ended the world.


Hellie’s Heeds

I try to keep up with my review books, but it feels lately I have had less free reading time–or the free time gets eaten up by out-of-state travel or LOVE IS BLIND episodes. So this is why this is coming out later than I meant and I do apologize. It’s not the book’s fault by any means: it’s a cute book and when it comes to paranormal, I’ll always pick an angelic hero over one who turns into a wolf…or wants my blood. Rhys Boyce lives up to his angelic hype as one gorgeous, broody, protective hero. Maisy is a lovely heroine who is very much the human who is just trying her best to be a good person–and always believing she is falling short–but always impressing Rhys whose experience with humanity has been with a more selfish kind. 

The blurb actually sums up the story very well (not always the case) so I don’t feel I need to go into more details because it would give more away. I was impressed by the dark moment for the heroine–the thing she must sacrifice in order to get the key–and also how the ending was resolved. I’m also glad there wasn’t a large dramatic “I’m not worthy of you because I’m only a half-angel” type of black moment where I would have thrown the book down–but a normal amount of romantic doubts that the characters worked through with conversation, trust, and action. Not to say that these characters don’t do dramatic and sorta dumb things–as people do when feeling self-doubt–but I think you and I have both read books where that has been dragged out way too long and you no longer want the couple to get together because you think the whiny hero(ine) should get therapy instead of a relationship.

I did spend a lot of my time thinking there should be more books associated with these characters–and wondering if those books are in development. I looked at her website–where she says she writes sassy, smart, and sexy romances–and I would concur. The banter of the characters was all of these things; and by avoiding creating “conflict for the sake of conflict”, she made her characters smarter and more emotionally intelligent, more worthy of a happy successful relationship. I do hope we get to see more books set in this universe of angels, demons, and the humans who love them, but in the meantime, she has all sorts of books for all sorts of vibes to fulfill your need for smart, sexy romance. (There’s a royal series that has my name all over it! I do love discovering new-to-me authors.) 

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Review & Giveaway - - A Love by Design

A Love by Design
by Elizabeth Everett
The Secret Scientists of London - Book 3
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: January 17, 2023
Reviewed by PJ

You couldn’t design a better hero than the very eligible and extremely charming Earl Grantham. Unless, of course, you are Margaret Gault, who wants nothing to do with the man who broke her youthful heart.

Widowed and determined, Margaret Gault has returned to Athena’s Retreat and the welcoming arms of her fellow secret scientists with an ambitious plan in mind: to establish England’s first woman-owned engineering firm. But from the moment she sets foot in London her plans are threatened by greedy investors and—at 
literally every turn—the irritatingly attractive Earl Grantham, a man she can never forgive.
George Willis, the Earl Grantham, is thrilled that the woman he has loved since childhood has returned to London. Not as thrilling, however, is her decision to undertake an engineering commission from his political archnemesis. When Margaret’s future and Grantham’s parliamentary reforms come into conflict, Grantham must use every ounce of charm he possesses—along with his stunning good looks and flawless physique, of course—to win Margaret over to his cause.
Facing obstacles seemingly too large to dismantle, will Grantham and Margaret remain forever disconnected or can they find a way to bridge their differences, rekindle the passion of their youth, and construct a love built to last?

PJ's Thoughts:

Elizabeth Everett continues her Secret Scientists of London series with a multi-layered, second-chance, friends-to-enemies-to-lovers romance that had me wondering how in the world it would all work out in the end. There are more than a few obstacles standing in the way of this happily ever after, primarily Margaret's refusal to forgive George for leaving her when they were young.  

If you enjoy STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) romances, this series is tailor made for you. Everett's women scientists are dedicated, determined, and ahead of their time, making life-changing discoveries. If only they weren't forced to do it in secret. Except for Margaret. Determined to open England's first woman-owned engineering firm, Margaret is challenging London's male-run business community head on. I'm sure you can imagine the challenges she faces in doing so. Everett doesn't make it easy for her lady scientists. While fully embracing the feminist qualities of these women, she doesn't back away from the difficulties created by their choices. It adds complexity and realism to these characters as well as the time in which they lived. It also adds layers to the relationship between Margaret and George.

May I just stay how much I adore George? This is a man who has loved one woman his entire life. Too bad he messed things up when they were young. Yes, his reasons were understandable but he broke young Margaret's heart and - no surprise - she's not exactly eager to forgive and forget. Still, I was in his corner cheering him on the entire way. He's just such a sweetheart and his yearning for his "Maggie" is so endearing. I love how he respects her engineering prowess, how he supports her even when her ambitions stand in the way of his, how he's determined to protect her at any cost. And, oh my, the personal secret he's been keeping and how Margaret handles it? Yes, please! 

One of my favorite parts of this book is the bromance between George and Arthur (hero of book one, A Lady's Formula for Love). George's increasingly outrageous gifts for Arthur's and Violet's baby daughter, Arthur's responses to them, and the ways in which these two men "bond" the friendship neither is willing to openly acknowledge are both hilarious and endearing. More, please!

A Love by Design stands well on its own though for a better understanding of Everett's lady scientists and events that have brought them to this point, I suggest reading the books in order. 

Have you read any books in this series?

Have you read any STEM romances you would recommend to other readers?

Do you enjoy side bromances in the romances you read?

One person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, February 16 will receive a print copy of A Love by Design.

*U.S. only
*Must be 18
*Void where prohibited


Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Review - - The Fraud Squad

The Fraud Squad
by Kyla Zhao
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: January 17, 2023
Reviewed by Nancy

A working-class woman who infiltrates Singapore’s high society to fulfill her dreams risks losing everything in the process—including herself—in this propulsive novel by debut author Kyla Zhao.
For as long as she can remember, Samantha Song has dreamed of writing for a high-society magazine—and she’d do anything to get there. But the constant struggle to help her mom make ends meet and her low social status cause her dream to feel like a distant fantasy.
Now Samantha finds herself working at a drab PR firm. Living vicariously through her wealthy coworker and friend, Anya Chen, is the closest she’ll get to her ideal life. Until she meets Timothy Kingston: the disillusioned son of one of Singapore’s elite families—and Samantha’s one chance at infiltrating the high-society world to which she desperately wants to belong.
To Samantha’s surprise, Timothy and Anya both agree to help her make a name for herself on Singapore’s socialite scene. But the borrowed designer clothes and plus-ones to every glamorous event can only get her so far. The rest is on Samantha, and she’s determined to impress the editor in chief of Singapore’s poshest magazine. But the deeper Samantha wades into this fraud, the more she fears being exposed—especially with a mysterious gossip columnist on the prowl for dirt—forcing her to reconcile her pretense with who she really is before she loses it all.

Nancy’s thoughts: 

The Fraud Squad introduces us to Samantha in a scene that demonstrates her uneasiness with her job, where things aren’t going especially well for her division of the PR firm, her love of high fashion and the doings of Singapore’s social elite, and her friendship with Anya. It’s obvious that the two women are very close and trust each other despite Samantha’s understandable envy of the advantages Anya derives from her mother’s social status and wealth. Anya invites Samantha to dinner with Tim, who wants to vent over his latest romantic troubles. Because it’s an exclusive restaurant, Samantha agrees. 

Zhao has a tough line to walk with Sam because of her yearning to experience life as the A list knows it. She saves Sam from coming across as shallow in part because her goal is not so much to belong among people far wealthier than she is but to write for the magazine that’s the pinnacle of the fashion press in Singapore. Samantha is also sympathetic because she’s loyal and loving to her mother, who works as a nail technician. Samantha’s father died long before the story opened, leaving his family with a massive pile of debt, some of it owed to loan sharks, to discharge. Sam’s mom hopes Sam will marry a wealthy man who can give her a comfortable, secure life. Samantha prefers to earn that life on her own, but she’s tolerant of her mom’s hopes, as many a daughter has been. 

At dinner, Tim shares his frustration not only about the broken relationship but about his parents’ insistence that he stop pursuing creative interests and join the family business, one of Singapore’s most successful hedge funds. He doesn’t see himself as a money man, and the scheme to elevate Sam to the social elite is designed to show them that people’s destinies aren’t determined by their beginnings. So he and Anya set out to launch her in society by getting her invitations to exclusive events, where she’ll wear clothes borrowed from Anya. They call themselves the Fraud Squad. 

I found the idea that elevating Sam socially would prove anything about Tim’s chances of making a career in the arts a stretch. Attaining social success and establishing a creative career are very different endeavors. Still, I liked Anya and Sam’s support of Tim’s hopes and Tim and Anya’s willingness to help Sam make the connections that could get her the job of her dreams. 

Once Tim and Anya gain access for Sam to any particular event, the impression she makes is up to her. She has to look like she belongs and to establish connections that gain her further invitations and raise her profile. Things don’t always go smoothly, which makes the story more believable. 

Little by little, though, Sam begins to turn her social toehold into a niche and then to establish a wider circle of connections that give her the exposure she needs to attain her dream job. Along the way, she makes some choices about other friends that are not endearing though the reader understands why she acts as she does. 

The book is somewhat reminiscent of The Devil Wears Prada (the movie, not the book, which I haven’t read) in that the heroine sets out to establish a career that involves high fashion, is sucked into the appeal and the standards of that world, and ultimately pays a price for that. The two stories are completely different, but the questions of who the heroine is at heart and what she really values are common to both. 

There’s a romantic thread between Sam and Tim that’s sweet and believable. It’s definitely a subplot but figures into the clever way Zhao ties in several plot threads at the moment of crisis. That crisis has a double twist that’s painful for Sam. The way she dealt with those twists was sympathetic and reasonable. 

Zhao works in the Singapore setting primarily with place names, business names (kopitiam for coffee shop), and some terminology. I don’t mind looking up a word. When I have to look up several, it pulls me out of the story and becomes annoying. While the meaning of kopitiam was apparent in context, the meanings of two or three other terms were not. I like to understand what I’m reading, so even if I think I might grasp what something is, I look it up to be sure. This disrupts the flow of the story for me. Explaining them in an aside or an internal would’ve given me a much smoother reading experience. Other readers may disagree. 

The story moved well, and the characters were likeable. I found the plot engaging. Though I  thought the Fraud Squad’s stated goal of helping Tim a bit unlikely to succeed, the part that would elevate Sam’s social profile and help her forget connections was logical and well executed. The twists at the crisis fit well with the characters involved, and the resolution tied everything up in a satisfying way. 


4 Stars