I sat at the table in my cabin, my sister's letter in my hand, and read it for the third time. ~ Opening of Russian Cage
The Russian Cage (Gunnie Rose #3) by Charlaine Harris
Gallery/Saga Press, 2021
Fantasy; 304 pgs
Charlaine Harris's The Russian Cage is the third book in her Gunnie Rose urban fantasy series, set in or around the 1930's in an alternate history. It has a definite Western feel to it. The United States fell apart during the early 1900's after the worst flu epidemic the world had ever seen along with a period of depression. What was once California and Oregon is now a part of the Holy Russian Empire, the place the Romanov family fled to during the revolution. It is the last place Lizbeth wants to go, but when a letter from her sister arrives with a hidden message that Lizbeth's friend Prince Eli Savarov has been arrested, Lizbeth does not hesitate to make her way to San Diego to find out what is going on--and what she can do about it.
The Holy Russian Empire appears to be the most advanced and wealthy of the various regions of the former U.S. readers of the series have encountered so far. Lizbeth feels out of her element, not used to the luxuries and protocols of the area. She's not at all happy having to give up carrying her guns when out and about and has little patience for the formalities of interacting with society and royalty. She is not really sure who she can trust but knows she is limited without help. She turns to her sister and an old acquaintance.
I loved the first novel, An Easy Death, but this one is probably my favorite of the three books in the series. Lizbeth proves yet again how strong, smart and resourceful she is even when completely out of her element. She has good instincts which rarely let her down. The Russian Cage gives readers a closer look into Eli's family and the role Grigori's (magic users) hold in the Holy Russian Empire. We also get to know Felicia, Lizbeth's sister a bit more, although it is obvious there is still a lot to uncover there. She's attending school in San Diego, learning to master her Grigori abilities.
The world building in this series is well done and interesting, from the history to the cultural and social aspects. Like the other books in the series, The Russian Cage is full of action and adventure and was an entertaining read. I had no idea what direction the story was going to take and just went along for the ride. I highly recommend reading this series in order as each one builds on the other. I enjoy spending time with Eli and Lizbeth and hope this won't be the last I see of them.
Alexa Monroe walked into the Fairmont hotel in San Francisco that Thursday night wearing her favorite red heels, jittery from coffee, and with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne in her purse. ~ opening line of The Wedding Date
The Wedding Date (The Wedding Date #1) by Jasmine Guillory
Romance; 320 pgs
On her way to a celebratory evening with her sister, Alexa Monroe gets stuck in the hotel elevator with the rather attractive Drew Nichols. Their harmless flirting turns into Alexa's promise to attend not only the wedding of Drew's ex-girlfriend, but also the rehearsal dinner the night before. What could it hurt, Alexa wonders. A fake date quickly turns into a fake boyfriend/girlfriend situation.
There is no denying the chemistry between Alexa and Drew, both physically and otherwise. They feel at ease with each other and enjoy spending time with one another. They had planned for their date to only last the weekend of the wedding, but neither is quite ready to say goodbye when the time comes. The only catch? Alexa lives in Berkeley where she works as the mayor's chief of staff and Drew is a pediatrician in Los Angeles. Where there is a will, there is a way, and thanks to frequent flyer miles and probably hefty savings accounts, the two take turns flying back and forth to visit with each other on the occasional weekends.
As their feelings grow for each other, they both know they must end their relationship before they get too attached. For Alexa, it is the fear of falling in love and wanting more than Drew is willing to give. He made it clear he wasn't relationship material right from the start. For Drew, he does not want to break Alexa's heart, knowing that is exactly what will happen if they continue to see each other.
It's a common trope, sure, but the characters and the magic Jasmine Guillory works to tell their story is what makes this such an entertaining romance. I found Alexa to be an extremely relatable character. I loved her charm and dedication to her work. She's clearly a smart and capable woman. Drew is easy to like as well. They both have some great supportive friends too who not only call them out when necessary but also comfort them when they most need it.
I appreciated the side stories that each character was struggling with and how they came together for each other, whether it was the diagnosis of one of Drew's young patients and how to help the boy's mother or Alexa wanting to start a project for helping at-risk teens (we need more programs like this!).
I also really liked how Jasmine Guillory approached the interracial relationship aspects of the novel. Romance novels are expected to have that Happily Ever After or For Now ending, but it does not mean they cannot tackle more serious topics. The author does not beat anyone over the head with the challenges a couple might face, merely a mention here or there in a very natural-to-the-novel way. As simple as Alexa asking Drew if she will be the only Black person in the room, for example, or having that conversation about privilege in terms of how a Black teen is treated compared to a White teen in the same situation. These are conversations we need to see and engage in more.
After reading Royal Holiday, the 4th book in the series last year, I was not expecting as many bedroom scenes as there were in The Wedding Date, admittedly. The Royal Holiday wasn't without, mind you, but it was significantly less in that regard. Not that I am complaining. Two different novels. Four very different characters.
I am always curious as to how long distance relationships in romance novels will be resolved in the end. Who will have to give up what? I know, I know. It isn't about what they are leaving behind but rather what they are gaining. My mind still goes there though. I am happy to say The Wedding Date had a very satisfactory ending in that regard.
Overall, I found The Wedding Date to be a delight to read. I was smiling just about the entire time I was reading it. Except maybe when I was crying in the sadder moments. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.Challenge Met: Winter COYER