Returning to reading: What I managed to read this past month (part 1).

Hurricanes consumed my reading mood since late August, first it was worrying for friends in Houston, then for my mother and extended family in Puerto Rico as first Irma and then Maria walloped the island.  Instead of reading the fantastic ARCs that kept arriving in my inbox, my time was spent trying to find accurate and reliable news about PR especially about the small towns  that I care about the most and looking for flights to get my mother out.   Instead of reading when I had some downtime I played SimCity Buildit.  As my island's buildings and roads were destroyed, I build housing and infrastructure in my virtual city.   The game gave me a little escape from what was one devastating news day after another.   It has nearly been a month since Maria hit. My mom is living with us and my father made it in and out of PR safely.  Some days I still want to cry about how difficult and exhausting things still are for my family on the island but there is more hope today than there was yesterday. My mom and I have both written posts on our family blogs about the experiences, if you missed reading about it up to now.

In the last month I've managed to read 4 books. To put that in perspective, I usually read more than books in one week. These are the first two, both which I listened to on audiobook when I couldn't keep listening to the news on my daily commute.

33835806A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas (Lady Sherlock #2):  I continue to love this series. This was a book about what makes a marriage, and who one trusts with dearest truths and secrets in one life. In this book Charlotte finds herself mistrustfully assisting Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of her dearest friend Lord Ingram at the same time as she entertains a marriage proposal from his brother spy-master Lord Bancroft.

The mysteries were engaging and engrossing and the secondary characters continue to shine with life and complexity. I continue to want to sit with Charlotte and enjoy scrumptious and decadent desserts with her and chat with Mrs. Watson, Miss Redgrave and Olivia. 

The audiobook fantastically narrated and I am sure I will be listening to it again soon, when I need something comfortingly familiar.

I followed up A Conspiracy in Belgravia with one of my "in case of emergency" books. I have been stocking up on Susanna Kearsley's backlist for the last two years. Whenever one of her books goes on sale I snap it up and save it for when I am having trouble getting into books.

As it happened The Shadowy Horses went on sale early last month.

51BvYNskx2LThe Shadowy Horses

I have read several other books tangentially connected to this one and I had many people recommend it to me when I finished reading The Firebird. One of the heroes of the Firebird is a supporting character in The Shadowy Horses.

Like all of Kearesley's other novels, this novel is a beautifully written blend of romance, women's fiction, mystery and gothic tropes.  Verity Grey is an archaeologist who is excited to join a dig looking for the final resting place a lost roman legion in Scotland.  She is dismayed however to learn that there is startling little evidence that the Legion was there. Instead she uncovers evidence that of forged surveys by her ex-lover, an aging archaeologist basing everything on the seven year old ppsychic boy's proclamations.  There is a conspiracy, many family secrets and a ghost.

While I loved Verity, David Fortune, the handsome and brood-worthy hero, and little Robby, the charming psychic boy I wanted to smack a lot of the other supporting characters around for being such terrible human beings.  This is not my favorite of Kearsley's novels but I was engaged and comforted reading it. The audiobook was very nicely narrated.

 

I'll try to review books 3 & 4, Heart of Darkness by Lauren Dane and Heaven and Hell by Kristen Ashley later on this week, as I try to find my reading and writing rhythm.

 

 


RT Book Review Round-up: An Unsuitable Heir by K.J. Charles

51cU572odJLI really loved An Unsuitable Heir by K.J. Charles.  My review for RT was super-positive, 4 1/2 Stars Top Pick, as I felt it was a fantastic conclusion to what has been a fantastic series by Charles.  

In her final Sins of the Cities novel, Charles once again makes consent, recognition and acceptance gloriously romantic and she crafts a tense and suspenseful story resolving the series-long mystery. When conflicting loyalties and differing definitions of security and safety lead to a betrayal that imperils Pen and Mark’s budding relationship, heartbreak seems inevitable. However, Charles’ solution is deeply satisfying. In this conclusion, Charles deftly ties together series events and themes and delivers an optimistic and sweet ending worthy of its captivating and resilient characters

However as I read reviews from trans and genderfluid folk, I've come to realize that I missed some dynamics that are worth noting particularly on the themes of recognition and acceptance. 

This thread by Corey Alexander was particularly helpful in recognizing what stuff I missed:

Particularly this section:

So while I still loved the book overall, these #ownvoices reviews illustrated for me the vital context I was missing that make me rethink my super-positive take on the book.

 


Time to Set it aside: Mini-DNF reviews

Earlier this month in a bid to become more aware of what I have piling up in my ARC and Impulse-buy TBR, I spent a evening sorting through 67 pages of books on my kindle.  It was a good exercise. I found a bunch of good books that I forgotten I had bought and I rediscovered more than a few books that I had started but didn't finish for one reason or another. The ones that I still think I will re-start and finish went into my In-progress folder to wait for a new day and a different mood.  However for a fair number of ARCs that just won't working for me or I was done with even if I didn't actually finish it.

34820952The Cartographer by Tamsen Parker.  I believe this is the final book in the Compass series.  Rey is everyone's match-maker & kink coach and he falls for a guy that has way too many other things going on his life and really doesn't want Rey to manage him. I highly anticipated Rey's book and  I was enjoying it right up to the point where Rey screws up everything up. Or is about to. You know how you get a sense that everything is good, so the big dark moment is coming. Rey had worked so hard to build Allie's trust in him, that I knew whatever he did was just going to be infuriatiating. I got such a strong sense of anxiety, I had to jump to the end.  I ended up reading several of the final chapters, seeing if I could make it back to the center but I couldn't go back enough to see Rey hurt Allie.  I got too anxious even having just read the HEA. So I am just going to admit that I am done and content myself with knowing that he was able to fix it. ( I received an ARC for review consideration).  51SqybFmhDL

Dirty Deeds by HelenKay Dimon: I have very much enjoyed the previous two books in in Dimon's Tough Love m/m romantic suspense series. However this one fell flat for me from the beginning. I even hated the cover.  What is happening there. Is he checking the tag to try to figure out why his pants are falling off?  The set-up required the extremely smart, tactical and pragmatic Alec to abandon all previous characterization and behave like lust-crazed driven doofus. Everyone his life in the first few chapters including him can't believe he is being so stupid. I put it down and I am not even midly curious about how it turned out.  This is a rare dud, in what has been a great-run of books by Dimon in the past year. ( I received an ARC for review consideration from the publisher). 

51JzsloGFVL._SY346_Spellbinder by Thea Harrison:  This is another story where I have read nearly 85 to 90 % of it but not in order.   In Spellbinder we follow the villain of the previous book, Moonshadow, Morgan, who is enslaved by the capriciously evil Isabeau. Morgan exploits a badly phrased order by Isabeau to carve out a brief time away from her court in Avalon. During that time he stumbles upon a incredibly gifted musician, Sidonie Martel, becoming fascinated with her from afar. But his interest does not go unnoticed and she soon becomes a pawn of those who want to destroy Morgan and through him Isabeau.  This story was absolutely brutal. Sidonie goes through a harrowing ordeal in Isabeau's court and she is in peril for the vast majority of the book.  Although I believed Morgan and Sidonie's romance, appreciated the way Harrison complicated our understanding of Morgan, how they built up intimacy and found faith in eachtother, in the midst of tense and dangerous setting, but it was just so dark that I couldn't keep coming back. Maybe one day I will see how they faced Isabeau and destroyed her, but I haven't been able to build up enough forward momentum.

( I received an ARC for review consideration).

51aEVUzczWLBlood Guard by Megan Erickson I absolutely adore Erickson's contemporary romances so I was super excited to read her PNR romances. However I am not 0/2. I bailed on Daring Fate (Silver Tip Pack 1)  early on, I found the first few chapters simultaneously info-dumpy and bewildering.  However my issues with Blood Guard were wholly different. I was enjoying the book up to the point we met the hero. The heroine was fascinating and so was her world. But she is yanked right out of it by Athan, reveals to her that she contains powerful life-giving blood meant to be his brother's. Athan is bewildered by his confusing attraction to Tendra and by Tendra's insistence on not being treated as object.  This is bewildering to Athan because although he uses human women for blood and sex, he has not ever talked to one before.   It was just so jarring and stupid. I couldn't quite get past it. I have read plenty of heroes that share this character trait, but I guess I didn't expect it here and it annoyed me too much to want to continue.   I think the book did promise action, had a good sense of fun and ridiculous and was building great tension between the hero and heroine  but it just isn't for me. ( I received an ARC for review consideration from the publisher).

 

I didn't click with these books but maybe they will work for you!

 

 

 

 

 


RT Book Review Summer 2017 Round-up: Worth the Wait by Lori Foster & The Chesapeake Bride by Mariah Stewart

Summer is over for me! I am back at work today.  I made a dent in a my ARC pile but I still have lots of reviews to write. However, these are a couple of reviews I wrote for RT that are no longer behind the paywall, enjoy!

 

Worth the Wait by Lori Foster  -- Closes out the Guthrie Brother's duology with a packed book with dual romances.

The Chesapeake Bride by Mariah Stewart -- The romance is oddly lacking in urgency and tension.


Deacon by Kit Rocha (Gideon's Rider's #2) and Sanctuary by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards & Bondage #2)

Both these books had unapologetically badass heroines. They can kick ass, and save themselves (just like Emma in the Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare which I also read this week), but although they can do it alone, they find people who want to share the load, who want them as partners without diminishing them, who love and respect them.  There is give and take, trust and respect and HEAs to fill you heart to the brim with. These are HEA's for amazing women of color, who carry heavy loads all by their lonesome. They deserve love and partners who value and support them, and reading these HEA's was just what I needed this week.

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Deacon is the second book in Kit Rocha's new spin-off series, Gideon's Riders. It is set in Sector One, where the Rios family rules over devoted flock.  The books follow the Gideon Rios's best, the sector's guardians, the Riders. They ride out to solve problems and to represent him in other sectors.

Ana was over living inside other people's boxes. 

Ana is the first ever female Rider. She trained from childhood at her father's side for the opportunity. She keenly feels the weight of responsibility, that comes from being the first. She knows the sacrifices she is making to be a Rider but it is all she has ever wanted. She worries that she will be the last or the only. That if she screws up, no other little girls in Sector One will have the same opportunity.  That keen awareness of the importance of her role make her super wary of her attraction to Deacon, but she is never not aware of him and her private weakness for him.  But she can't make a move, not when it could destroy everything she has worked for.

Deacon has been leading the Riders for nearly 20 years.  But before he came to Sector One, and pledged his loyalty and life to Gideon, he had been a contract killer and mercenary, but only Gideon knows about his past. When his past finally comes back to haunt him, it shatters the trust his fellow Riders had in him and when Deacon wants to handle it alone, Ana and the other Riders won't let him.

While the book is named after Deacon and it is his past actions and his past associates that drive the action, it is as much Ana's story as it is Deacon's and I loved Ana's story. Rocha did a fantastic job at highlighting how lonely and hard it is to be first. How much pressure it is to be a trailblazer. The Riders might be superheroes, but they are lonely ones.  Deacon and Ana need each other, need to know that they can fail and that isn't the end of the world. That they don't have to do things alone. That they have each other and the rest of the Riders at their side, that they are worthy of love and that love is not something they need to sacrifice in order to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

I am so glad I can continue to read to stories in the Sectors, and to get to know this corner of it.

I received an ARC from the authors for review consideration.

It is available at all the usual places, starting today Aug 29,2017 for $4.99

 

51-h-Y2+csLSanctuary by Rebekah Weatherspoon is the second book in her Beards and Bondage series.  Like Haven before it, the book open with an absolutely engrossing and intense set of chapters.  Liz Lewis is a lawyer with a pissed off client, one so angry and petty that he has sent a contract killer after her. I could not put the book down. Weatherspoon's depiction of their encounter and its aftermath were absolutely riveting.  I was particularly moved by Liz's inability to turn to her closest friends, because it would mean surrendering part of her identity, that of mother hen or protector.  Her self-imposed isolation in those early hours were so incredibly painful.

Liz is a tall, big-boned black woman, and the world don't let her forget that for a second. All the micro-aggressions and plain old-aggression she endures at the hands of law enforcement are just heartbreaking and it left a deep impression on me, because it is an experience I rarely see represented. I have never wanted to hug a heroine more, or smack around those who so casually disrespect her. Fear and lack of confidence in those who are purportedly charged with protecting her drive her to accept Scott's, her one brown office friend, offer of a hiding place upstate.

Silas can't stand his brother, hasn't been able to stand to be in the same room with him for years, so he is understandably enraged when he summons him with little explanation and dumps Liz's on his doorstep for an indefinite period of time.  Worst yet is that in order to explain away her presence he has to pretend to be her online boyfriend.

 I loved how Silas and Liz struggle to understand each other. How Liz's trauma-enduced rawness, means that she doesn't shrug off Silas' rudeness or grin and bear it. She confronts his bluntness and rudeness head on as she has simply reached her breaking point.  Although Silas is undeniably gorgeous and attractive, that doesn't override their conflict,  they have the hard uncomfortable conversations, set boundaries before they go further.  I adored how Silas's admiration and desire were so unvarnished. He doesn't mince words and they reach Liz when she needs them most.

Like Haven, the sex is hot and if you love a good femdom book, grab this one.  Liz, knows what she wants and doesn't hesitate to demand it.  But sex doesn't solve shit, not on its own. Liz has stuff to work out, and so does Silas and I love the Weatherspoon gives them both the room and time to do so before their HEA. 

I received an ARC from the authors for review consideration.

It is available at all the usual places, starting today Aug 29,2017 for $4.99

 


#RomBkLove: August Week 5: Lost & #RomBkLove and #readRchat Updates for September.


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I almost forgot about this week of Aug. It got lost in my planning for the start of the school year and our end of summer vacation. This week navigating NYC and Philadelphia via public transit has reminded of how important it to have people you can share the navigating responsibilities with.  I am the family planner, I book the hotels, shows and games, and I often lead the way, peering into my beloved google maps app for guidance, but my husband is my master sign spotter. He is taller than me by a good 8 inches, so he can see above the crowd and spot those street signs or exit signs. As long as I have some idea of where we are supposed to be heading, he will help get us there.

For this week #RomBkLove I would love to know about your favorite stories where people lose their way and find again either metaphorically or literally.

 In Alisha Rai's newest novel: Hate to Want You, Nico and Livvy lose each other to family secrets but keep circling back to each other year after year, till they finally find their way back to each other. There is a particularly poignant use of compass rose, that made my heart beat extra hard.

Tamsen Parker's Compass series is all about people exploring their desires and finding someone to share their journey with. My favorite two are  True North and Due South.  In True North, Slade Lewis (the villain in the Personal Geography) is shocked to run into his ex-wife at a BDSM club where he is starting his training.  The same ex-wife he drove away because he didn't think he could ever confess his kinks to her, so shamed he had been of them.  In True North, Slade and Pressley need to figure out if they can come back together or if it too late.

Sight Unseen Anthology had a lovely novella, The Heart is a Universe, that was all about losing one's faith, purpose and way in life, and how hard it can be to find one's way to the end of a journey without someone at your side.

Laura Florand's La Vie en Roses series has been about finding one's way back to family and community. Each of the heroines has connections to the Rosier Valley, but their families had either run away or been driven away from the valley and the Rosier for one reason or another. Unexpected inheritances draw them back and they need to figure out they have a future in the valley or if they need to walk away again.

What romances do you get lost in?

On Friday the All About Romance team will host a month of #RomBkLove.  They are going to tackle the Five Pillars of Society, starting off with Family. They will be posting a daily prompt (except for Sundays) for the month of September.

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Sept 1-7th:  Building Blocks of Society: Family

Sept: 1st: Baby, secret or not

Sept 2nd: Sister, step or not

Sept 3rd: No post -- enjoy your Sunday

Sept 4th: Brother, foster or not

Sept 5th: Mother, Step or not

Sept 6th: Father, foster or not

Sept 7th: Family, unit or clan

 

And don't forget our #RomBkLove themed #readRchat take place on September 2nd at 4pm EST:

 


#RomBkLove August Week 4: Food

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#RomBkLove August Week 4: Food. Hunger, Want, Thirst, Desire... Who combines food & romance to delicious effect?

Food is a big part of my family life, we have a lot traditions built around food. There are dishes we only prepare at Christmas (Coquito or Christmas Log) or foods (Pink beans and rice) we always have on hand. There are the soups or teas we always turn to when we are getting sick. How, when and what we eat at family reflects a lot of what is going on in our lives. If we are stressed and under pressure a lot prepared foods from Wegmans, but the more time we have, the more creative and fun it is.   I can't say I am like my mom who expresses her love through cooking but cooking is certainly one way I express my Puerto Rican identity. I have a hand-painted plate up in my kitchen that states that my kitchen is Puerto Rico, step in there and expect to find all the pilones, plantains, garlic, adobo, gandules and rice you might ever need.  

There are a thousand cupcake baking heroines but food in romance can play other roles, sometimes is it a caretaking act, providing warmth and comfort when it is needed, or sometimes and exploration or rediscovery of personal tastes and desires that in tandem with sexual desire and sometimes an expression of creative energy beyond simple sustenance.

Nessa the heroine in Kit Rocha's Beyond Surrender has one overriding passion in life. She has taken up and abandoned a thousand hobbies but the only thing that has held her attention for the whole of her life is making Bourbon. But the fact that her skill makes her incredibly value to O'Kane gang and their competitors means she has had to fend of too many suitors who are not interested in her personally, making her incredibly suspicious and wary.  I love this scene from Beyond Ecstasy, where that tension and conflict is highlighted.

In Fast Connection  by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell, Costigan's insistence in making himself a sandwich post hookup with Luke, highlights both his vulnerability and obliviousness. He wants to build a connection, make something more of his encounter with Luke, all while Luke is trying to usher him out of his house so he can keep his life strictly compartmentalized. The Costigan family bagel shop is also a source a lot of tension in the book, as Dominic struggles to work alongside his father again after leaving the military.

In Clean Breaks by Ruby Lang there are a ton of scenes food,one a turf war over a favorite sushi restaurant, an insane but cathartic food fight between siblings but my favorite and most fascinating was when Jake and Sarah take Jake's dad to a white-run Taiwanese restaurant, and how differently they react to the experience. This is not a book about food but like in my life food has a role in a lot of the most important scenes.

In Beverly Jenkins's Forbidden cooking is not just something that provides sustenance for Eddy it is a skill that can give her a way out of poverty. She stubbornly holds on to her cookstove, when she is abandoned in the desert, because without it she has not way to provide for herself. In the book the meals she shares Rhine while she is recovering at his place establish intimacy and his stubborn desire to care for her. The role of food plays in community comes up again and again in the book.

Laura Florand writes a lot of books that feature chefs or chocoletiers.  These books use food in classically romantic and seductive ways. If you want a romance that will make you want to order fancy chocolates or make your own hot chocolate from scratch you need to find her books.    

I really enjoyed Sabrina Sol's Delicious Desire series.  The first, Delicious Temptation is about a Mexican-American pastry chef who returns home to help keep her parent's traditional bakery alive, but it is a thankless sacrifice as they resent all her suggestions to update the menu. She then falls for a guy with a terrible rep.

In Kristen Ashley's books food is ever present. Sweets, junk food and above all comfort foods are sprinkled through each of these books, (for example Hillglosss Donuts, Sunny and Shambles's moist cakes, junk food football Sundays), and fancy restaurants are often sites of romantic confrontations and showdowns.  She has a recipe section on her site because you can't help but want to try some of these foods after reading. 

If you love food competitions and older protagonists you should read  A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson . The heroine has been struggling since her husband's death and her daughters enter her in a reality cooking competition as a way to shake her out of her grief. The competition and one particular competitor in particular help her remember who she was before.

Alisha Rai's Pleasure series books, Glutton for Pleasure and Serving Pleasure feature sisters who run a Indian restaurant. The books are filled with rich flavors and savory smells, but the heroines are both starving for affection and touch and find love with unconventional men.

In Truly by Ruthie Knox the heroine has stabbed her former boyfriend with shrimp fork for proposing in the worst way possible. She meets the hero (beekeeper and chef with anger management problems) in a bar where she stranded without her IDs and credit cards, after her dramatic break up, where his offer of a drink turns into dinner that turns into more, and before they know it they have entangled themselves in each other's life like neither of them expected.

My last rec is isn't a book, it the review blog of one my dear friends, Elisabeth Lane.  Elisabeth combines her baking and writing talents in Cooking up Romance where she posts for fantastic recipes inspired by the books she reviews . And check out her instagram because it is drool worthy (and more frequently updated) and treat yourself to literary and culinary treat. 

 


Romance Novel Meetup 2017 #MTLRom

A week ago I was walking around Montreal with a band of romance readers and writers. Stopping to shop and eat while discussing our favorite romance novels, twitter culture and just generally enjoying each other's company. I am still a bit amazed it actually came together.

Last August my husband and I took a trip to Quebec. Our kids were away at camp so we had an opportunity to travel on our own.  As soon as my husband suggested Montreal I messaged Kay (@miss_batesreads) about meeting up.  Kay was generous with her advice as I planned, giving us great suggestions for our sightseeing itinerary and hotel suggestions near downtown.  When we arrived in Montreal Kay graciously introduced us to her city, and we had a lot of fun together.  It was fabulous to have the time to chat face to face about romance after reading each other's reviews for years.  When we tweeted about our trip, our mutual friend Elisabeth expressed jealousy and how she wished she could have joined us.  We casually joked that it would be a fun thing to do again and that maybe Elisabeth could join us. And the bam all sorts of other twitter friends expressed an interest in going, if we could organize something. So we did.


2017-08-11 12.28.24_censoredWe polled people to decide a date, opened up a little website to collect itinerary ideas and post hotel suggestions, we put together a very infrequent newsletter. We envisioned a casual and informal gathering.  All the chatting and meal sharing we love at conferences without the sessions. We understood some folks would be traveling with spouses, friends, children or have other commitments so everything would be optional.  Although only a fraction of the people who expressed interest were able to make it at the end of the day we were amazed how many people actually made the trip.  (and incredibly thankful it wasn't much larger...getting dinner reservations for our crew was challenging enough!).

Most of us at #MTLrom were from the eastern half of the continent (Susanna Kearsley, Rain Merton, Laura Curtis, Elisabeth Lane, Tamsen Parker and me) but Super Wendy came to us from LA and  ValancyBlu and VaVeros made the incredibly long trip from Australia.

2017-08-10 20.43.27We opened up our trip by meeting for dinner at a very casual fish and chips restaurant downtown and after dinner we ended up wandering down the nearby streets, enjoying the street art near the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and walking through the McGill campus. We eventually made it back to our hotels and crashed for the night.

The next morning Kay lead most of us to The Libertine Bakeshop where we spent a great deal of the morning laughing and talking while enjoying delicious pastries.

 We eventually headed to Old Montreal and walked the tourist filled streets and after a few tries found a quiet little place for lunch.

2017-08-11 17.43.58We stayed well past when we should have left and it was only Elisabeth's well tuned ear that noticed that the kitchen sounds had turned into closed up/cleaning up sounds. The staff had been remarkably gracious and let us camp out at our table well past closing.  Kay then led us in an excursion through The Underground City, the interconnecting passages that connect many buildings downtown, finally bringing us to the romance section at the Indigo Bookstore downtown. We had fun finding our favorite authors on the shelves or grousing about the shrunken HQN Category section.We shared recommendations with each other and eventually with unsuspecting readers that stumbled upon us while we were occupying the aisles.

We eventually dragged ourselves away, and made it in time to meet the rest of group for dinner at fancy burger place not far from the hotel. We stuff ourselves silly with fries, onion rings  and groused about books over cocktails and beers before resting our aching feet for the night.

2017-08-12 12.25.57Saturday morning started at another coffee house, Cafe Myriade before we piled into the metro explore Boulevard St. Laurent and the attractive neighborhoods nearby.  We visited a giant mural of Leonard Cohen, and stopped in at Guillaume Bakery. We then chatted with some very nice firefighters and found a nice lunch at Dieu deu Ciel! (which got incredibly busy shortly after we arrived!)

2017-08-12 16.23.04 2017-08-12 16.23.04After lunch there was more shopping and then a bus ride up to Mount Royal Park, the volcanic hill around which Montreal is built.  We spent several hours just resting in the lush green park, enjoying the sounds of families enjoying picnics all around us.  We chatted about romance (of course) but also health care, patriarchy and families.  We finally got caught in a fast moving torrential rainstorm as we waited for our bus back to downtown.  We had been incredibly lucky up to that point. The weather outlook for the weekend had called for lots of rain but we only had been sprinkled once early and were able to find shelter quickly during the second storm.  A little damp, and a bit mud-splattered we made it to Fiorellino for dinner. Despite the hilariously tall tables I enjoyed dinner immensely.  It was simply a joy to look around the table and see everyone in conversation, and to overhear the wide ranging topics being discussed.  It is just so fabulous to chat with my "invisible" friends in person, to hear the sound of their laughter, or observe their most intent expressions. 2017-08-13 15.03.38 Many of commented on how great it is to be able to read a tweet and hear it in the voice of our friend now that we have spent time together.


On Sunday we went many different directions. Some folks started heading home or went off to explore on their own, others went to church with Kay, or traveled with me to the knitting shop next to it before heading to the Jean-Talon Market for lunch.  We eventually found our way to 2017-08-13 19.32.16Kay's lovely apartment, and the amazing meal she had assembled for us there.  There were sweet and savory Greek delights,  lots of books to rummage through and even more talking to do. Wendy, Vassiliki & Kay explained category romance to the rest of us, and then we all decided that Kay and Vassiliki really need to write one with an authentically Greek hero (Greek hero that doesn't dance, pshaw!).   I am incredibly thankful that Montreal's Metro runs late into the night because we didn't venture back to our hotel till quite late. I don't think anyone really wanted to say goodbye.

 

2017-08-13 16.43.29_censoredThere is just no way sum up the fun we had last weekend. I learned a lot, I laughed a lot and I am just so incredibly grateful to share this time with other people who care so much about genre.

On our drive out Montreal, Elisabeth and I were in agreement that we loved the weekend and both want to do this again. We are both willing to organize another meet-up next year.  However we are thinking of taking the meet-up to a new city, (possibly Chicago) with the idea that it could rotate around.  It is just a happy notion at this point, but so was this meet-up, so maybe this idea will take off too!


#RomBkLove August: Week 3: Independence

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#RomBkLove August: Week 3: Independence. What does Independence mean in Romance? Which characters seek it?  Who gets it? Who sacrifices it? Who makes sacrifices for it?

Romance at its core tends to be about Interdependence, about finding someone with whom to share life's challenges.  When Independence shows up as theme it is often in novels where the protagonist have a strong need to find their own path, often fighting to live their lives according to their own values and desires and often having to leave family and community behind in order to live a different kind of life, one of their own choosing.  

In Sweet Disorder  by Rose Lerner, political patrons are courting Phoebe for her vote and she is trying to secure the best deal for herself and her sister after her husband's death but it is in Nicholas's arc that we see a focus of independence.  Nicholas is a wounded war vet and writer whose over-bearing family is determined to override all his choices.  In the end, Phoebe and Nicholas's HEA hinges on both their willingness to make sacrifices to become independent financial and emotionally. 

In A Gentleman's Position by KJ Charles  For Richard and David to have their  HEA  they need to seek a different kind of independence.   In the previous books in the series both Richard and David had made themselves indispensable to their groups of friends, but that left little room for each other. In the end for their relationship to have to room to grow Richard needs to step away from the role he had given himself as the central cog in their friend's lives and Richard needs to trust that David's own judgement about his wants and desires.

n Lisa Kleypas's most recent novel, Devil in Spring, Lady Pandora is determined not to give up her independence and personal autonomy.  Being forced into a marriage even one that has the potential of great love and affection is the worst disaster that can befall her.  Throughout the novel Gabriel and Pandora must try to figure out how they can restore Pandora's independence. The book loses it way in the last third, but I had loved the heroine throughout the story and I feel in the end that they will be able to craft a marriage where she can do the things she wants, when she wants to and still have the benefits of loving partner. 

What novels and stories come to mind when you think of Independence? 


Too Cracktastic to quit?

One of the best things about being a reader is finding reading soul-mates, other readers who enjoy the same kinds of books and possibly wrestle with the same issues about them. Recently Jen, Kini and I had one of those, “you too?” moments over Kristen Ashley’s books.  Kristen Ashley’s books are highly entertaining, frequently over-the-top, often problematic and we just can’t quit reading them. After going on about it on twitter we decided it would be fun to have a more formal conversation about KA’s books to try to see why her books work us despite the fact that they so often enrage us too.

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Jen: When I was 12, I  found a bag of romance novels in my Grandma’s basement and my life-long love affair with the genre was born. My romance reviews are hosted by The Book Queen at her site, www.tbqsbookpalace.com. I was reading At Peace after someone recommended it, and that caused our original twitter conversation. I also read Lady Luck and reread Mystery Man for this conversation.

Ana: Compared to Jen I am late-comer to Romance. I grew up reading fantasy, science-fiction and mysteries, only coming to realize after reading one too many YA dystopian novels that what I had always loved was the relationships, and once I found romance novels I haven’t looked back. I review here on my blog, Immersed in Booksand for RT Book Reviews.  I first picked Kristen Ashley's books in 2013. The same week Jen was reading At Peace, I was re-reading it based I think on the very same rec. This year I’ve done a lot of re-reading in Kristen Ashley’s Colorado Mountain Series, including, Sweet Dreams, Lady Luck, Breathe and I most recently listened to her newest book, Complicated. My feeling about KA’s novels are complicated.

Kini: I come from a family of readers and books were one of my main escapes as a kid. Over the years I read a Harlequin here or
there but didn’t truly delve into romance until about 7-8 years ago when I got a Nook and women’s fiction was getting too expensive. I’m here for the HEA’s for all. After years of wearing Mandi & Tori down with my tweets, they brought me on to do reviews at
smexybooks.com. I also host a podcast all about romance called Romance Romp. I have purchased and read over 30 of Kristen Ashley’s books, with Heaven and Hell and Lady Luck being my all time favorites as well as comfort reads for me. My feelings about KA’s novels are also complicated. For this conversation I did a re-read of Fire Inside: A Chaos Novel, but I am pretty familiar with most of the ones mentioned above.

 

  • What is it exactly about her books that make them so cracktastic and propulsive? 

D1CGXbdZbjS._SL250_FMpng_Jen: I actually spent a lot of time thinking about this one when I was rereading that scene in Lady Luck where Ty throws Lexie out. (I really love it when there’s a devastating break up and I have no idea why. I think it’s because I love groveling.) Anyway, in that whole scene, all of their feelings are telegraphed through their actions. There’s not a whole lot of *characters sitting around thinking* in KA books. She really is the queen of Showing and not Telling. Maybe that’s why everything feels so action-packed? Because it literally is?!

Kini: The scenes when Ty throws Lexie out and then she send him away at the beach, gut me. Every single time. But both are very typical KA, high drama, high emotion leading to serious grovel and probably why I love it so much.

Ana: I had a friend who is not a KA-lover describe her style as stream-of-consciousness. A lot of the things I love and hate about KA books are tied up with what makes her voice unique. I love that we get every little emotional reaction her MCs feel. They have all these roll-coaster emotional journeys as they react to what they see and hear.  I personally get highly annoyed at the endless pages of house, yard & outfit descriptions but I accept it as part and parcel of that POV, her characters are taking  it all in and we get to read that input unfiltered.   I love that her books are high-conflict.  Her heroes drive me crazy, but the heroines want them so much and there is always some thing they are in conflict about.

Kini: I frequently try to put my finger on what makes them so cracktastic and I think it comes back to the stream-of-consciousness that Ana mentioned. I think it lends itself to really getting in the mind of the MC’s and understanding them. They are flawed people, some more than others. The heroes are frequently monosyllabic grunters, but when they fall for the heroine, they are all in.

  • Some KA books work better for me than others, so I’m interested in the gap between what works and what doesn’t? What are the boundaries for you? Why?

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Jen: I struggled with At Peace. One of the things that has always bugged me in KA books is that the world of women breaks down into two camps: good women and “bitches.” So there’s this part in At Peace where Joe slept with Vi a few times and then dumps her in a pretty awful way. They’re laying in bed, and he just says, “We’re done.” The next couple of times they meet, he gives her progressively more shit for being upset with him. He suggests she should get over it, and it escalates to the point where he calls her a bitch. I honestly almost DNF’d at that point. There was this really hard boundary I bumped into as a reader---something about some of these KA alpha-heroes, where their behavior is ALWAYS logical and right, but women’s response to that behavior is always policed by men. What kept me going was that Vi gives as good as she gets….but…. 

Ana:  I love At Peace and Sweet Dreams, because although the hero does try to police the heroine’s reactions, and acts like he is being logical and in control, they are actually losing their shit, and scrambling like crazy.  Joe is wrong and scared and acting stupid. His dumping of Vi is so incredibly cruel both times. He tries to make it about her, but in the end it isn’t really. She might have gotten ideas, she might have read into things that he didn’t actually say, but he was feeling those things and so in the end she isn’t wrong. She is vindicated for seeing things and feeling things. That to me feels like a very real conflict. I wouldn’t touch that hero with a ten-foot pole in real-life but it is very compelling.

41TLHlxyeQL._AC_US218_Kini: As Jen mentioned the theme of good women and “bitches” is strong in KA novels. In several of her novels, the ex-wife is a bitchy horrible women. Some die, some just are cast off to live with their bitchy ways forever. And it feels like an easy crutch. In Fire Inside, not only is Hop’s ex a bitch, so is his mother. In fact, that is very similar to Ty from Lady Luck. But yet, this continued portrayal of the other woman as being the worst hasn’t stopped me from reading her books. There also tends to be some stereotyping of POC and LGBTQ folks in her books that has bothered me, yet she was one of the first authors I read that had a bi-racial hero (Ty from Lady Luck, Sam from Heaven & Hell). I much prefer her self-pubbed books and annoying tangents of pillows, clothes and jewelry aside, I think that avenue allows her story-telling voice to shine. 

You both touch on the policing of behavior/emotions and that too is a common theme in her books. It’s annoying because in real life, I’d want to punch someone for that. Yet is always seems to work in the context of KA-world. The hero always has a way of backing up his behavior and frequently it seems to involve helping the heroine get out of her own head or way in order to be with the hero.

Part of the boundaries is also knowing what works for you as a reader and what doesn’t. Not every book, even KA ones, are the books for me. Her older books tend to be more problematic, but also have the best stories.

A1VasaWj52L._SL250_FMpng_Ana: You are so right about the problematic rep of POC and LGBTQ folk. When I first found them I was so happy to just have POC and LGBTQ characters in a book, but the rep is so terrible it makes me cringe when re-reading. I used to resent she hadn’t given Elvira her own book in the Rock Chick series, but now I’m happy she didn’t.  

Jen: I’ll just have to add a hearty “yeah” to the problematic rep of POC and LGBTQ. I recently wrote a review where I called for an author to make the setting of her books more inclusive. But at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if white authors shouldn’t do it at all if they can’t do it well? Worst fucking question of all time: is erasure better than misrepresentation?

Honestly, the combination of what you both said helps me understand why I keep going with these books. You’ve laid out two pieces of the puzzle. As Ana said, these are real conflicts. The push-pull between the characters is so believable. So maybe I can let myself enjoy a bossy hero if what he’s working towards is a way for their relationship to move forward.

  • The gender politics of her world and the roles for men and women. What is problematic or troubling for you as a reader, even if it’s okay for the characters? Does that matter?

D1v8HjJAyNS._SL250_FMpng_Jen: The thing I keep thinking about is how I literally wouldn’t want anything to do with a man who treated me like that. Okay. That’s fine. But most KA heroines are their match or are down for it. But then, the other crazy thing about KA books is that these women feel like my friends, or women I would want to be my friends. Well, I would warn my friends off of a man like this, too. Right?

Kini: Jen, I also want to be friends with all the women of KA world.

Ana:   I agree that KA has very contradictory, inconsistent and frequently troubling messaging about women. There are these great moments of female friendship and solidarity  (Vi with Feb and Cheryl in At Peace and Krystal and Lauren in Sweet Dreams ) and at the same time there is almost always some sort of bad-girl rival, (Susie in At Peace and Neeta in Sweet Dreams), whose conflict makes me cringe every time.

 I do love that in the books the friends are almost always just a little torn about the men. They think they are hot, but they are right unsure whether they are worth the trouble. And these heroes are incredibly-high-maintenance trouble. I love that in At Peace, Cheryl is all, bang him but don’t get emotionally involved. It is only Feb who actually encourages Violet to keep giving Joe chances.

 The gender politics are troubling for me in that I struggle to recommend these books to people. I know a lot of people who would love the crazy OTT action and conflict but who would DNF at the raw rudeness of some of the heroes.  

 Jen: Came across a terrible thing today when reading a new-to-me book, Kaleidoscope, which is that the heroine says that she doesn’t want kids. And instead of this being a valid life choice, it’s a sign of her being mentally shut down. I have quite a few girlfriends that aren’t interested in having kids. This isn’t because they’re emotional cripples. I actually *cringed* when I thought about what it would be like for a woman who doesn’t want to have kids to read this book.

 Ana: Yes I agree with you that is terrible! She has plenty of heroines who haven’t had kids, but she almost always gives them kids in someway because most the heroes have kids from other relationships. I understand that for some readers children are necessary for the HEA but not wanting them should not be equated with a damaged psyche!

D1+KjEzhEnS._SL250_FMpng_Kini: The female friendships can be one of the best things about KA novels. Tyra, Lanie, Elvira, Gwen, Mara and Tess from Dream Man/Chaos series. Lexie and her sisters/mother from Lady Luck. They are there when things fall apart and there when they put them back together. They are all interconnected and supportive. But the continued villianization of the ex is just horrible. It is hard to reconcile these examples of female friendship yet the continued talk of other women as skanks. 

Because the bulk of her heroes are these OTT Alpha heroes, there is frequently discussion about clothing choices and it is often gross and things I have to skim through. In Fire Inside Lanie goes to a bar all dressed up and ends up in a bad situation and Hop “saves her from being raped” It felt victim blamey and icky and borders on something that I would DNF a book for. Many of her stories feature some situation that requires the heroine to be saved by one of the men. Just once I want a KA heroine to save herself.

Ana:  Kini, in Complicated we do have a scene where there heroine does that. She gets attacked in her house by a stalker and is able to disable him and escape before tracking down the hero and calling him into to arrest the bad guy. But I agree those scenes are rare. I feel like in her most recent books exes over all are doing better. I no longer expect them to fall prey to serial killers or get killed in a horrible fashion, but instead learn their lesson and maybe co-parent amicably in the end. 

Kini: Thanks for that update in regards to a heroine save herself. I’ll have to add that to my list.

 

  • Morality, justice and vengeance in KA books. 

C1Ly1O4fMuS._SL250_FMpng_Jen: One thing that I find really interesting in both Knight and Lady Luck, there are men who have the occupation of, basically, the good pimp. I’ll admit that I’m not entirely up to speed on the politics of sex-work, but I’ve read some really compelling arguments about how to think about sex work, and it’s interesting to me that KA at least admits that sex work happens?

Ana: I have a hard time with the good pimp narrative but I am glad that it gets acknowledged as something that exists and several of the heroines have lived right on the fringes of that world, working as strippers or dancers, for example Daisy from the Rock Chick series and Cheryl when she first appears in For You.  

I tend of the heroes in KA books as having very hands-on male-centric ideas about Justice and Vengeance, as it is the man’s responsibility to make sure any insult to “their woman” is answered quickly and violently.  I think for women who have fantasies about being protected and fought over, this is part of the appeal of KA heroes.  The heroines almost always start out on their own, and the men step-in to protect them and fight for them.

Kini: I think morality is shaky at best in several of her novels. Even taking out the Unfinished Heroes, some of the heroes do bad things and don’t really regret it for it is frequently done in order to save their woman. All the investigative force from Lee Nightingale’s crew use questionable tactics to do what needs to be done. I think several of her heroes straddle the line of law abiding citizens.

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The need for justice and vengeance is also a strong theme. Especially in her earlier series like The ‘Burg, Colorado Mountain, Dream Man and Rock Chicks, there is some outside force that the heroine needs to be saved and protected from. The men round of the troops, call in some markers and everything is resolved.

Jen: Basically, the men in KA books bond over kicking ass and taking revenge the same way the women do over throw pillows and KitchenAid mixers. 

  • Loners vs. family. This is a big theme in KA and one that’s pretty interesting. What does it mean to have a family, be a family? What about those who have to create a family for themselves?

Ana: Found families and how loners are folded into these extended packs of friends is one of the things that I do absolutely love in the KA books.  There a lot of blended families, and characters who leave behind unhealthy relationships and are able to find a community. In At Peace, Vi, has lost her family (she is widowed and had to move away from her supportive in-laws and friends), she is adopted by her neighbors and then by Cal’s family, a family he had self-estranged from. Getting involved with Vi, is a catalyst for him to reconnect with them.  In Sweet Dreams, Lauren had moved far from her loving family to follow her first husband’s materialistic ambitions.  At the beginning of the novel, she is literally driving around the country, living out of suitcases, looking for a community.  She finds it in Carnal and by the end of the book, she has extended community of friends, a new husband and a new family, in addition to reconnecting to her own.

Jen: I think the “finding a family” theme is absolutely the big draw for me, too. In Knight, Anya is basically an orphan. She has a crew of girlfriends, but they’re not without their issues--Sandrine is a straight-up gold digger, but Anya loves her anyways. Being with Knight makes her part of something bigger, part of a family. (Interesting, I think her calling him Daddy isn’t really for me, but when Ty calls Lexie Mama there is something really sexy about that! I guess I have my own issues. Lol.) In Mystery Man, both Gwen and Hawk have families they love. Gwen’s sister and birth Mom are an issue, but they have this rock solid foundation with family.

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Kini: Ugh the families that extend from her books is amazing. When Ty brings Lexie home and the town just loves her instantly. That epilogue with the kids running all over the place and Julius and all the members of the family, it doesn’t get much better than that. In Heaven and Hell, Kia is traveling abroad when she meets Sam but she also falls in familial love with Celeste & Tom a couple who lost their own daughter. The hero/heroine is always accepting of the other’s children (I absolutely love this). She creates these huge extended families and makes me feel like I am part of them. She really drives home how family doesn’t have to be the one you are born into, it can be this collection of people that you’ve chosen. For KA families, once you’re in, you’re in and that family, they’ll do anything for you.

Kini: In summary: For me, I know that reading a KA novel is probably going to be problematic, the hero will do or say something that makes me ragey, the heroine might border on being TSTL, she’s probably going to give me too much description of jewelry and throw pillows, but in between all that messiness, I am going to get a couple that is probably slightly older than I’d find elsewhere and a love story that despite its problems is still really compelling to me. It is one of those things about how much realism I want in my romance, it’s such a fine line and changes constantly. And to top it off, she is the queen of epilogues. (I LOVE EPILOGUES) It should also be noted that I will probably be purchasing the next book in the Magdalene Series on or close to its release date. I have a sickness!

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Ana: I’ve already pre-ordered it!  I don’t read all her books but I am loyal to the series of hers I do read.  I love the action and adventure in her books, and I just mentally edit out the stuff that bugs me.  The core story of older couples finding love and community after a making mistakes or struggling, just really appeals to me and I’ll keep buying those. Nobody else quite fits that niche for me.

Jen: KA is an author I read in big gulps for a few books and then just hit the wall and have to take a break for a year. Her backlist is HUGE and I do love that. There’s always another one where that came from when I need to scratch that itch. Mostly, I’m glad this exercise allowed me to share my KA angst and know I’m not alone with loving these books that also make me squirm!