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March 2014

Reviewing Romantic Suspense: Against the Dark & Off the Edge (The Associates) by Carolyn Crane

Download (1)As teen and young adult I read a tons of mysteries and thrillers but since I started reading romance I have for the most part ignored Romantic Suspense. I picked up a couple via the library, but I didn’t have good experiences. Sometimes I didn’t buy into the premise of the book, or I couldn’t stand the ultra-macho protagonists, but I DNFed nearly every single one I tried. The closest thing to Romantic Suspense titles that I had any success with are the Kristen Ashley novels or Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series. Like anyone else when I tried enough books that didn’t work for me I start thinking that it was the whole genre that I didn’t care for. However when Carolyn Crane’s Off the Edge was released, I saw a lot positive reviews and recommendations for it on my twitter feed. I was intrigued by the idea of linguist hero (I loved my linguistics class in college) but I still hesitated to one-click because it was Romantic Suspense.

Then a few weeks ago, I found myself in the middle of big book shopping splurge thanks to the 90% off coupon from Kobo. I bought all books on wishlist that were eligible for the coupon, buying well over 50 books to add to TBR pile. Riding that 90% off high, I decided I could spend a few pennies to try a books outside my safe zone.

I decided to purchase both of of Carolyn Crane’s The Associates series books, based on the positive buzz for Off The Edge. I read them out of series order, so I will review them in the order I read them.

Off the Edge by Carolyn Crane ( The Associates Book 2):

The book opens with Laney, a young singer on the run, hiding out in Thai hotel, venturing out for a lonely celebratory birthday lunch, only to suspect her ex-husband’s men have finally tracked her down. She trusts her instincts and makes to flee put ends up trapped in storage closet paralyzed by uncertainty, till her best friend Rajini’s is able to retrieve her and bring her back to their hotel, downplaying her fears of discovery while at the same time warning her not leave the hotel without the say-so of her gangster/hotelier brothers. The incident wakes up Laney to the fact that she needs to move on soon, she is starting to realize how ill-prepared she is to do so, with her money tied up in Rajini’s bank accounts, unable to withdraw the funds by herself and her fake passport long expired. Unable to shake off the feeling of dangers but trying not to upset Rajini and her brothers, Laney starts making plans to improve her readiness while continuing her daily routines including her evening singing in the hotel lounge.

The hotel is crawling with unsavory people, and among them is a Associate, Macmillan, there to track down a dangerous but as of yet un-identified arms trafficker only known as the Jazzman, who is set to auction off a powerful stolen weapon. Macmillan specializes in tracking down un-traceable people through their words, and their vocal tics. He and his partner Rio set themselves up at the Hotel’s lounge to observe as representatives from arms dealers, and other organized crime groups gather to mingle in advance of the auction hoping to overhear something that will give them a lead on the Jazzman’s identity. Macmillan is however unexpected distracted much to his partner Rio’s amusement by Laney’s act. Macmillan ends up decoding her songs, identifying her poet heart and deducing she is in hiding and on the run. He is able to use this information to his advantage when he realizes that Laney has been making recording of her shows and on her computer might the data Macmillan needs to track down the Jazzman and the easiest way to get to it to seduce her, using his Linguistics Professor Peter Maxwell persona.

In his mind, he went back over her songs, flipping through them like a Rolodex of her heart.

As Prof. Peter Maxwell he is able to charm her into going out with him, even as he hesitates when he realizes how much he would have liked a girl just like when Peter Maxwell wasn’t just a persona, but his actual self. Despite his claim of not doing damsels in distress before long Peter’s agenda has shifted from using Laney in order to identify & stopping the Jazzman and retrieving the stolen weapon, to ensuring Laney escapes Bangkok unharmed.

What I loved: Macmillan is jaded and cold, having closed himself off to emotion in reaction to a tragic events that launched his covert-operative career. While Macmillan can break part language into analyzable data for a living, Laney is that one who is able to puzzle out the whole man from the pieces he has broken himself into. There is some wonderful word play in the book, great flirtatious banter and fantastic action. I felt the suspense was very well paced, allowing the characters to form believable connections and develop intimacy while building up the danger.

The villain in the story was also genuinely terrifying. Some of the plans he has for Laney made my hair stand on end.

What I didn’t: While I can understand how Laney was manipulated into staying in Thailand with Rajini and her brothers long after she should have left, her loyalty borders on recklessness, especially when she continued to dismiss her own instincts. I understood her to be a naturally passive person, whose years with her husband trained her to avoid conflict, but it drove me a bit nuts.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

AgainstsLGAgainst the Dark by Carolyn Crane (The Associates Book 1)

Angel Ramirez is retired safe-cracker whose childhood friends and former partners have recruited to do one a job in order to ransom one of their loved ones. They pose as prostitutes to inflitrate the home of Walter Borgola, a perverted and cagey criminal kingpin whose diamond collection they are after. It is a very dangerous job, because Borgola is known to be paranoid about security and has surrounded himself with a violent and cruel crew. While doing the job, Angel attracts the attention of Cole Hawkins, one of the Association’s agents, who is undercover in Borgola’s organization and has risen to be one his top security men.

“Have you spotted bad boyfriend material? White Jenny asked. “Imagine that. At a party like this!”

Cole is a logistical expert, who specializes on putting together seemingly unconnected information together to take down criminal organizations. Cole needs information stored in one of Borgola’s safes to avert a tragedy and Angel’s heist is both a complication and opportunity. He tracks Angel down and use White Jenny & Macy as leverage to get her to agree to return to Borgola’s mansion posing as his girlfriend and help him locate and crack Borgola’s second secret safe.

Angel knew he would be dangerous to her from the moment she spotted him at the party, not because he was on Borgola’s security team but because she was drawn to him and she had uncanny ability to find herself attracted to doomed men she can never save.

Macy smiled. “So says the Jane Goodall of the self-destructive man.”

Cole devoted to his job and mission has no problem blackmailing Angel into helping, and throwing her under the bus if it all goes wrong, until he doesn’t. He grows in admiration of her covert skills, and courage, getting to know her as person, figuring out her secrets, until he realizes he can’t sacrifice her, but keeps that information to himself because he can’t let himself get entangled with her and the best way to avoid it that is to push her away.

He wanted to tell her that, suddenly. He wanted to be alone with her and hold her and tell her about how if you felt scared of a thing and did it anyway, it mean you were brave and strong.

What I loved:  I am sucker for stories where people try to deny their attraction for each other, and fight their love tooth and nail. I loved how complex Angel and Cole’s relationship becomes as they both zig and zag to try to avoid revealing vulnerabilities to each other. They lie to themselves and to each other, while at same time learning to depend on each other.

I loved being able compare and contrast Cole and Angel’s reasons for being drawn to dangerous covert work and the way the work has built up some relationships and damaged others. I particularly liked how you could see in their relationships with their associates the foundations of what Angel and Cole could give each other. Angel’s heist was daring and exciting, feeding her need for thrills and it revealed her friendship with White Jenny & Macy was genuine and believable. She never loses sight of them even as Angel is drawn into working with Cole. Cole’s associates enter the picture late in the book, but they are also shown to have bonds deeper and truer than they would ever acknowledge, but it shows in the little things they know about each other. It was also ton of fun to see Rio and Macmillan show up to help, after having met them in the second book.

4.5 out 5 Stars

 

I actually liked Against the Dark slightly more than Off the Edge despite having a more conventional premise because I liked how competent Angel was. While Laney’s is the kind of partner Peter needs, her skill set is essentially limited to her emotional and verbal ability and agility and Angel is the whole package. While Peter is the more interesting hero, Cole is still fascinating, and I was happy with their respective HEA. I am looking forward to other books in this series, and excited to realize that I do like Romantic Suspense after all. 


Taken with You by Shannon Stacey

“Taken with You” is the 8th book in The Kowalskis series set Maine and New Hampshire. Hailey has been a recurring character in the series, the town librarian and best friend to Paige Kowalski. Nearly all her friends have married and started families or Hailey good-naturedly puts it:

“Those damn Kowalski men stole all my women”.

However instead of sincerely whining, complaining or making desperate compromises she and fellow singleton Tori have decided to make the best of it and celebrate their singleness. Their first celebratory woodland trek goes awry, as they fall behind and are left behind by their tour guides. Matt Barnett, a game warden, steps out of the woods on the tail-end of a two-week vacation in the woods looking less like a rescuer and more like furry woodland hermit. Faced with no better offers, Hailey and Tori trust him to lead them back to their car.

Hailey and Matt on the trail they both irritate each other, disapproving of each others grooming, and clothing choices, but at the trail head they part ways, comforting themselves that it is unlikely they will ever see each other again. But life in romanceland isn’t that way, because Matt is the new game warden in town, brought in to help police the expanded ATV and Snowmobiling trails developed by the Kowalski family in the previous books.  Matt isn’t just a new single fixture in town, he is also Hailey’s new next-door neighbor and they can’t keep their eyes off each other and they see-saw on whether they should indulge the attraction or ignore it.

“You are the master of mixed signals,” she said deciding if she couldn’t hide her reaction she might as well face it head on.”

I am always a bit nervous when I hear a heroine is a librarian. I end up holding my breath, because it is my profession. I thought Stacey did a great job, depicting the ups and downs of small town librarianship. Hailey sees her library as cultural community center rather than a repository for books, young and old are welcome, she is over-worked and under-supported but she still loves what she does even if she does have to deal with cat-pissed books in the bookdrop.

This is a novel of new beginnings, old relationship baggage, re-evaluating prejudices and expectations. I really liked the arc of their relationship I liked how Hailey and Matt move from needling and judging each other, to genuinely liking each other, but liking each other and fully understanding what they truly want are different things.

It is not a full-blown opposites-attract story, or enemies to lovers story, because both Hailey and Matt share more things in common than they superficially think they do. I liked Matt’s flirtatiousness and teasing, and I loved Hailey’s honesty.

“That wasn’t meant to be a dig. I swear there’s something about you that makes me say stupid things.”

She is the one to apologize for getting off on the wrong foot, and warns Matt about the fish bowl element to dating in a small town. She is also mature enough to realize when it is time the right time to have a fight, and when it isn’t.

“Hailey wasn’t sure what to do with a man who was bone-tired, emotionally tapped and not in the mood to talk about it, so she made cocoa.”

I really respected that. My husband has a emotionally taxing job, and there have been times in my life when I had to just set something aside, for a while, till we were both ready to deal with a issue. She just had a good head on her shoulders and I enjoyed reading her. Matt is a good-looking hardworking guy who has a chip on his shoulder about his profession. He has gone through several relationships that have failed because in the end the women didn’t want to put up with his law-enforcement hours, the dirt and stink that comes from working outdoors and who have wanted to turn him into something spiffier. He is done with being thought of as diamond in the rough.

“And so it began. Dinner. Dancing. Before he knew it, she’d be dragging him to fancy functions and making apologies for him embarrassed whispers.”

Despite his father and mother calling him on it, and intellectually knowing it wasn’t fair, he is still insecure and frankly immature about it and really hurts Hailey because of it. And when Hailey is there for him despite of it he almost screws up some more out of fear of rejection.

 “Two days. Two days, Matt Barnett had been gone and Hailey wanted to strangle him. Or hug him. Maybe she’d just hug him, really, really tightly and fulfill both urges at the same time.”

 Their reconciliation really worked well for me, which genuine remorse, understanding and resolution and I could have closed the book there, because their “Three Months” later was a bit too perfect/sweet/much for me.

Kowalski series note:

Most of the Maine Kowalskis and other recurring town residents resurface for this book but do so without pulling attention from main story and characters. Nobody was shoehorned in, and I particularly liked how Paige's friendship with Hailey was depicted.  The Kowalski series as whole has just worked for me. While other small town series sometimes start feeling repetitive, Stacey has managed to create a familiar setting without reducing the recurring characters to cliches. 

 

4 out 5 stars for Taken with You.

A review copy of Taken with You was provided by Carina Press via NetGalley for review purposes.


Roman Holiday: The Complete Adventures by Ruthie Knox

9780345547071.225x225-75When Ruthie Knox announced that she would be following up the serialization of her upcoming novel “Truly” on Wattpad with a truly serialized novel I was intimidated by the commitment. I used to read dozens of serialized stories a month when I was reading comic books regularly instead of romance novels. But as grew to know myself as reader I started letting those comics books pile up till I had 6 or more and read them all in one shot. In my Romance and YA reading I am resolutely a binge reader. I like to read books in sizable chunks that give me chance to just lose myself in a story, so I decided to “trade-wait” Roman Holiday to borrow a term from the comic book world, and I am glad I did. While the story was structure to be read in four to seven chapter chunks, with their own distinct story-arcs, I was happy that I could read one chunk after another.

In “Roman Holiday” Ashley Bowman torn by grief and betrayal, impulsively chains herself to a palm tree on her late-grandmother’s former Florida Key beach-front apartments, to stop Roman Diaz’s bulldozers from flattening them to the ground. To Roman, Ashley is first an inconvenience, an unscheduled delay, an irritation to be dealt with. But from her vulnerable exposed position Ashley is able to bluff her way into power position.

 

“She threw him a smile that showed small uneven teeth. He imagined two rows of them sharp and deadly as a shark’s.”

 

Ashley and Roman hate and fear each other, and initially I didn’t like either of them very much, because we see them as they see each other and every description is tinged with their aggressive negativity. But this love story, is not a simple story of overcoming first impressions, because in truth Ashley and Roman see each other more clearly than they see themselves. It is a story of self-acceptance, and not defining yourself by what others want to see in you.

Ashley ends up blackmailing Roman into postponing the planned demolition, and embarking on improvised road trip to introduce him to the winter residents of Sunnyvale and convince him of the value  of saving her childhood refuge. Nothing is straightforward as Ashley has to confront her grief, and the complicated motivations and personalities of her friends, while all the while poking at Roman trying to crack his untouchable plasticized shell of perfection. Ruthie inserts a great deal of humor, even slapstick into their interactions. While Roman might be dripping in dignity, Ashley has none.

 

“She smiled. She loved dragging him down to her level. There was something subversively hot about flustering a man who tried so hard not to be flusterable.

 

This story took me places I didn’t expect, going beyond its enemies-to-lovers structure, to address questions of identity, family legacy, forgiveness, reconciliation and belonging. 

It is a long road to travel, and a couple of detours didn’t work for me as well as others but in the end I was deeply satisfied with Ruthie’s story. I also admired the way she was able to slowly reveal Roman’s back-story.

 

4.5 out of 5 Stars for Roman Holiday: The Complete Adventures (2 Book Bundle).

 

A review copy of Roman Holiday: The Complete Adventures was provided by Random House: Loveswept via NetGalley for review purposes.


Re-reading Ruthie: How to Misbehave

How-to-Misbehave-225x300Ruthie Knox's Camelot Series was one of very first contemporary series I sampled and the first that really connected with me. I tried Ruthie's novella "How to Misbehave" on the recommendation of Sarah Wendell after I heard a DBSA podcast on contemporary romance, and I asked her on twitter for some recommendations. She recommended I try Ruthie Knox, and the library had “How to Misbehave” available.

What I remembered from my first reading: Amber is on the younger side of her twenties, she works running the town rec center in the college town she grew up in.  She doesn't feel all the way grown up. Tony works construction and has noticed her noticing him, but would have never done something about it. There is a big cloud over Tony’s family, but she isn't aware of it. A Tornado warning traps them in the rec center and they have to take refuge in the basement...then there was flirting, and talking, and they get together, they fall apart, and there was some begging/hot sex and a happy ending.  I didn’t retain a lot of details beyond how much I liked them.

Re-reading Reflections:

Just like when I first read it, I really connected with Amber.  Set in 1999, Amber is roughly the same age I was back then. She seemed entirely familiar, after all she is recent Bible college grad, a good girl, she has a loving but over-bearing over-protective mother, she is very invested in her responsibilities and so was I back then. She is an adult but she is still trying to figure what she wants out of life, while I was newly married in 1999 and trying to figure that all out. 

Amber has been fostering an "inadvisable crush" on one of the construction workers working on the expansion of the rec center but she feels the weight of her inexperience, torn by her attraction to him and transparency of her blushing fumbling and mooning. But a Tornado Warning siren is starts blasting and she torn between excitement and worry about having to take shelter in the basement with Tony because she isn't sure if this the best or worst thing ever.

"Now she was alone in the dark with an unreasonably sexy man who thought she was Mother Teresa"

 

Tony had overheard Amber have embarrassing phone conversation with her mother and can see how nervous she is, she fidgets. He teases her gently and playfully, setting up a pattern to their interactions, and when Tony admits to his own discomfort in the dark after he lights go out, she returns the favor, keeping conversation going to help avert his panic attack. 

The darkness, the force closeness, lets them both expose themselves in ways they usually wouldn't. Amber coaxes out of Tony how feels about himself:

"That's a lot of nots. You're not the bad one, the smart one, the ambitious one or one of the girls. Which one does that make you?

The one who's never going to amount to anything."

 

And Amber takes a risk she normally wouldn't, 

"that's a relief. If you were a saint, who would teach me to misbehave?

Silence.

She'd walked off a conversational cliff."

 

Tony tries to let her down gently but she is not having that.  She has had it with just doing what is safe and trying to always be so good.  She talks back to him, pushes him and he doesn't even know how big of deal that is for her. She owns her attraction to him, lets herself feel it, lets herself pursue it. That ups the stakes in their flirtation. But it doesn't go from 0-60; they aren't suddenly having sex on the floor of the rec center basement even if that is exactly what they talk about. Acknowledging desire, talking about sex and their wanting of doesn't mean that bam, she is suddenly sexually liberated, and that he has forgotten who they both are.  I love that Ruthie didn't go there then, after all Amber is still says things like "Son of a biscuit!"when she bumps into obstacles in the dark and "Gosh darn it!" when she discovers an oak branch has crushed her car.  What changes is that she is willing to do, try, say and reach for things she never would have before that siren blew and that proves irresistible to Tony who just can't keep himself kissing her after she indulges yelling out some choice curse words at the tree that killed her car.

And what an incredible kiss it is!  He is not kissing her in the soft gentle way she has been up to this point in her life. This was a raw, urgent mind-blowing kiss, followed by even hotter against a tree near-sex.  And God bless Ruthie, for remembering that for Amber this is huge, and that it would unsettle her, make her question and panic just a bit:

"the longer she looked at everything that wasn't Tony, the more aware she became of how uncertain she felt.

He was right. This was crazy.

A few hours ago, she'd never even spoken to him and no they were...what? What were they?

She didn't even have a name for it."

 

It is these little moments that turned me into Ruthie Knox fan.  Amber is a real person, she wants something but she also gets scared of it.  And Tony has good intentions, doesn't want to start anything, until he can't help it, and then he sure doesn't want to like it too much because he knows he is just going to screw it up.  And Ruthie reminds us it has only been 90 minutes since the Tornado Siren.  They might have learned lot about each other  in that time, but it still reckless and all that Tony can think about it how wrong this will go for Amber and he tries to use that scare her off when she regains enough nerve to invite him up to her apartment. But he ends up in her apartment anyway because of the way she fought back against his patronizing chivalry.

But yet again, they aren't just simply in bed.  Instead Ruthie builds more intimacy, by having Amber tell Tony exactly where she is coming from when it comes to men.

"It was a purging, a necessary cleansing so she could have Tony the way she wanted him.

Honest."

 

Because neither of her previous sexual experience had been honest.  Her first was a seduction out of fear that she was going to lose her boyfriend, and the second out of obligation to someone she didn't care enough about. The confession changes brings down the tone and changes pace of their seduction. Ruthie uses their word play to lead them back toward sex. 

We return to Tony’s POV for the sex, where we see just how careful he is being, intentional and just how much he wants her to belong to him. And he fires up her lust of him by making her ask for she wants, coaxing forbidden words and with it her forbidden desires, which in turn turns him on, playful, dirty and sexy.  But Amber is not the only one affected by their shared words.

"Amber, he said. Like an experiment, an acknowledgement that she was who he was with, the woman he wanted more than he wanted to be smart."

And there is just so much joy and messy frantic abandon in their sex with both of them reaching for what they want but I have to give Ruthie extra points for making me laugh with this little passage post-sex:

"It didn't look so much like cudgel when it wasn't standing to attention. It looked almost domesticated in its nest of black curls. Lovable.

Or maybe that was just Tony."

Reality and history intrude into their sexy night, with the shrill rings of the telephone and  Tony's hesitation trying to get out her bed before she wakes.  He doesn't succeed then, and instead bares even more of himself to her, finally letting her know just exactly why her mother and others would call him trouble.  It is a truly horrific admission. Tony doesn't cut himself a break and Amber takes it all in with grace, which makes it all the more painful when:

"When the sun came up, he put on his clothes, laced up his boots, and left."

Surprise upon Re-reading: Janet Clark, Amber's mom, shown in what is probably the most positive light ever in the whole Camelot Series when she carefully comforts a broken-hearted Amber. I had forgotten how awesome she was in this scene only remembering her shrewish behavior later in Caleb's book.  Janet gives Amber just the right amount of comfort and tough love, sharing ice-cream and humor instead of I-told-you-so, letting Amber unload her sorrow so she could gather herself back up.

Tony doesn't get ice-cream instead he gets a well deserved rebuke from his brother, Patrick when he tries to take out his anger and frustration with himself on Patrick.  Upon re-reading I am no less surprised that Ruthie never got around to giving him his own story or subplot. He is given here almost classic introduction as future leading man; he is smart, flirtatious and tortured.  He is certainly more interesting than the Clark siblings whose books Ruthie had already written or plotted  and who are mentioned in passing. I am not calling it a missed opportunity because I think Ruthie did that intentionally, but I still would have loved to know the answer to Tony's bellow:

"Well, what did you want? Why aren't you doing?”  

That question reverberates within Tony shaking him, making him aware of his own double standard, demanding Patrick get over something he isn't over himself, to ask him to think of the future when he is been too scared to want one for himself.  This encounter really worked for me, because I've in more than one occasion had similar eye-opening realizations in the middle of a fight and it is a bewildering feeling to have.  It takes a few hours for it all to sink enough for him to find the right words, but Amber is waiting for him.

Tony and Amber get back together the same way they first got together, with words, playful, sweet & flirtatious mixed up the intimate, dirty & the loving. A vow to do his best, and HFN.

And then bam the novella is done, which was honestly a surprise even thought this was my second read through, but it is precisely why I ended up spending my time reading the other books looking  for and treasuring any glimpse of Amber and Tony. I loved that this novella was about acknowledging desire and letting yourself reach for what you want and that Ruthie skill-fully set up the anxieties that resurface in “Making it Last” the bookend novella that completes Tony and Amber’s love story.

Still 5 out 5 Stars!

 


Catch-up Reviews: Once in a Lifetime, Bite Me, Rock it, and Love the One You're With

Cover38398-medium

Once in a Lifetime (A Lucky Harbor Novel, Book 9) by Jill Shalvis, Publication Date: Feb 18, 2014

None of Shalvis recent Lucky Harbor novels have charmed me the way the original trilogy did, but I did enjoy visiting the Lucky Harbor once again with its bands of meddling senior citizens and over-sized dogs. Aubrey was one of other women Ali Winters's scumbag boyfriend was going around with behind her back in Bk. 7, “It had to be You".  Despite being flinty and bitchy, Ali and Leah (Bk 8) have befriended Aubrey.  Aubrey is trying to make some changes in her life as she remodels her late-aunt's bookstore and is inspired to make amends after accidentally attending AA meeting.  Ben is a widower who has finally returned home after spending 5 years burying his grief while digging sanitation systems in the remotest corners of the work.  His cousin Jack and friend Luke are trying to help him reconnect with Lucky Harbor, bullying him into running a Kid's Craft Corner, and taking his old job back. However Luke and Jack are not quite sure Ben's interest in Aubrey is a good idea.  

A light-humorous romance about making amends and forgiving mistakes than can't be fixed.

4 out 5 stars.

Source:  NetGalley, review copy provided by Forever (Grand Central Publishing)

 
Cover42521-mediumBite Me (The Pride Series, Bk 9) by Shelly Laurenston, Publication Date: March 25, 2014

This is the first Shelly Laurenston book I ever read, and I am jumped in cold to the 9th book of this shape-shifter series, due to a comment I read on Twitter that mentioned the heroine of this story was a Honey-Badger shifter. Livy Kowalski is professional photographer with a chip on her shoulder and thieving violent family.  Instead of living the life of a con-artist as she was bred to do, she lives for her photography.  The book opens with Livy at her father's funeral, a farcical affair with complete with drunken relatives, a mistress/ex-wife slap-fight, where it is clear that Livy has spent a very long time trying to distance herself from these people but can't help loving them.   Vic Barinov is a Bear/Tiger hybrid who has real soft-spot for Livy, even when he find that she has yet again burrowed into his house, and raided his honey stash.    

Vic is a sweetheart and Livy was a ton of fun. There is a suspense plot involving anti-shifter villain, corruption and collusion within the various animal shifters governing bodies and getting revenge.  I got a bit lost when Livy's best-friend's family was introduced, along with their significant others who I assume are recurring characters from previous books but I thought the book was a blast.

I really enjoyed just the insanity of Livy's world and the determined accepting love Vic has for her, even as she struggles to express it.  

"Mostly because she was bad at expressing anything but her disdain."

So if you don't enjoy books with a high silliness quotient, skip this, but if you do , you can look forward to  Bear/Tiger jousting, an unstable master forger, pool emptying wrestling matches between Bear/Tiger and Bear/Lion hybrids and Honeybadgers wrecking houses and getting drunk on snake venom.

5 out 5 stars 

Source: NetGalley, review copy provided by Kensington Books

  Cover41112-medium (1)Rock it by Jennifer Chance, Publication Date: Mar 4, 2014

I really should stop trying to read rock-g0d romances.  As much as I love music, aside from Lauren Dane's Brown Family novels I find all romance novel rock-gods just really just a bit too self-involved for me. Despite my childhood love for Menudo, I don't have a lot interest in a wish-fulfillment story where your teen-heartthrob obsession picks you out from the crowd instead of charging you with stalking discovers you are his true love.

Lacey is  an up and coming junior-agent for international talent agency.  She was once also a mega-fan of Dante Falcone, a former teen heartthrob and now full-blown rock star. Dante, who is under a lot of pressure and tiring of being on the road, chooses Lacey, not her man-eater boss as his new interim tour manager. Lacey is caught between trying to hide her obsession for Dante, and showing-up her boss and wrecking her career.

I didn't feel Dante and Lacey's attraction for each other was developed much beyond the physical, and I just didn't buy the wish fulfillment aspect of having Lacey's letters to Dante when she was a teen  among the few that he read and treasured,  proof of their special true love connection. The plot for this book just sort of unraveled for me at the end, when Lacey's friends were called in to help protect Lacey after her mega-fan status was uncovered by her boss, and they launch a viral internet hoax/marketing stunt and alternate persona for Lacey called Rocker Girrl.

2 out 5 stars

Source: NetGalley, review copy provided by Random House Publishing Group -- Loveswept.

 

  Cover38785-mediumLove the One You're With (Sex, Love & Stiletto Series, Bk 2)

By Lauren Layne, Publication Date: Dec 9, 2013

I really enjoyed book 1 of this series and I was looking forward to Grace's story but it somehow got lost in my TBR and my review-time swallowed by Christmas.

Grace used to write the Love articles for Stiletto magazine, until she discovered that her long-time love and fiancée was cheating on her and had been for a while.  Grace took some time off from work to recover from her heartbreak and is finally ready to come back to work, except she now has great big chip on her shoulder against the whole male gender and is realizing that her spot in the Stiletto triumvirate is not as secured as she thought.  Not interested in ever again getting played and trying to regain her boss’s trust, Grace lets manipulate her into taking on cross-magazine dating challenge.  Jake Malone is a reporter for the Oxford, Stiletto’s male-focused rival.  While his true love is travel reporting, he became New York based journeyman reporter without really intending to.  With the Oxford under new management, Jake makes his move, and asks to for the travel beat, but his editor wants him do him a favor first, take on the women of Stiletto and show the world that the Oxford men understand women more than the Stiletto women understand men.

Jake and Grace are to go out on a series of dates, and write rival he-said/she-said accounts of their dates,  to see who is better at reading the opposite sex.  Their dates become closely monitored affairs with hidden cameras and recording devices, after their initial stories go viral and the managing editors try to out-play each other.  What gets lost in this magazine grudge match is that Jake and Grace do get each other and actually really quite like each other.

I really liked that both Jake and Grace are trying to re-discover parts of themselves they have neglected and carve out a relationship under the microscope.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley, review copy provided by Random House Publishing Group -- Loveswept

 


Seeing myself in Romance Novels

In the last day or so there has been some discussion on twitter and Dear Author about a upcoming Kristan Higgins' book that a blogger cited as part of Harlequin's strategy to address the overwhelming whiteness of their books.  The cover features to white-looking protagonists, one who is described as Irish American and another as half-Puerto Rican.  As mother of two half-Puerto Rican children, I am more than happy to count a half-Puerto Rican character as move toward diversity, however I do think the blogger/article author over-stated the impact the book is likely to have and Dear Author commenters are right to point out that there is something very off about having this promoted as in any way ground-breaking.

I don't go out of my way to find Latino/Hispanic characters but I am almost always excited to see them.  Finding Hispanic/Latino characters that feels right is hard can be hard because we are such a complex fluid bunch.  We have immigrant/native Latinos, legal and undocumented, urban and rural, poor and rich, Spanish or Spanglish or English speaking, and that isn't touching the complex brew of racial, national and cultural heritages we carry. An author could be trying to craft complex Latino characters and still get slammed for not crafting one just right.

As Puerto Rican of predominately White European descent, growing up I have often feel the weird outsiderness of people judging me as not Puerto Rican enough, because my skin is not dark enough, or my Spanish accent not strong enough.  One my most painful moments in high school when I had a classmate and rival for exchange student slot, said to me that because I was lighter skinned than he was, I would have a easier to time fitting in at the rural Western NY school we were  doing the exchange with, thus he should be selected the opportunity because he was more Puerto Rican than I was.  In the years since then I have come to appreciate the privilege my white skin and my minimally accented English grant me.   For the most part, unless I tell someone, people don't immediately know I am Latina. I don't wear my culture on my skin, and that is awkward thing in our heavily racially focused American culture.  I have ended up hearing many a bigoted comment from people who don't realize they are talking about my people or had people try to compliment me in weird ways because I don't fit their stereotype. So as result I usually extra glad to see Latino characters with non-stereotypical backgrounds, characters whose racial/cultural identity is more complicated.

Last year I really enjoyed Audra North's One Night in Santiago because the hero  Bruno Komarov, was a Chilean American with Russian ancestors.  He was California born and bred but with strong historical and cultural ties to his parents and grand-parent's Chile.  In Laugh, Mary Ann Rivers' upcoming book the heroine is a first-generation Mexican American, born in the US to migrant worker parents.  Although she is described as having her father's strong Mayan features, and dark hair, she was raised English speaking, and the strongest elements in her identity are not necessary about being Mexican-American but being a daughter of a migrant farm laborer,  her grief and urban farm.  As I read the book I ended up contacting Rivers over Twitter to ask her about Nina's use of the curse word 'joder' un-conjugated as replacement for 'fuck'.  It jarred me when I read it because I am more familiar with the conjugated uses of 'joder'.  Turned out that Mary Ann Rivers had Nina use it that way, because the primarily-English speaking 1st and 2nd Generation Mexican-Americans she recorded speaking as part of her research used it that way.  I loved learning that.  Cursing is so regional in Spanish, and it just added to the building of character that is uniquely themselves and not just a token.

Last year I read most of Serena Bell's "Yours Keep” which featured an undocumented Dominican Spanish tutor, heroine, Ana Travares. While ended up bailing on reading the whole book because some ass-hattery by the love interest Ethan, I thought Bell did a great job crafting a complex Dominican family for Ana.  The book actually touched on some of the complicated racial politics within Latino cultures, where variations in skin shade/hair texture within a family are often commented upon and whiteness often privileged.   I liked having this internal racism acknowledged and getting that detail right gave me confidence that the author had some actual knowledge of the workings of Dominican families.

But sometimes a character can be given all sorts of little details, and still not feel true. I read and enjoyed "A Righteous Kill" by Kerrigan Byrne, even though the hero, Luca Ramirez described as half-Puerto Rican, half-Brazilian, felt off to me.  His mother was supposed to have been a Puerto Rican underage stripper from El Paso, TX who got involved with violent "euro-trash" Brazilian that gave Luca nothing but grief and abuse.  Beyond mentioning their ethnicity, there was little about this back-story that carried into the characterization of Luca.  Maybe it wouldn't have felt that way to others, but I thought, why go to the trouble of giving this character this back-story and not do something with it.  Ramirez was completely disconnected to his family or ancestral cultures and so it was nothing more than window dressing. But maybe I am being unfair, and out there are Puerto Rican/Brazilian Texans for whom Luca feels familiar but I doubt it.  I thought Hero, the heroine's Irish-Russian, Shakespeare spouting spy family received much more development and weight.

One thing that does ring true in all these recent depiction of Latinos is the fact that they are entering into multicultural/interracial relationships.  According to  recent Pew Studies, Latinos and Asians have the highest rates of intermarriage to whites, and some of the highest rates of acceptance of marrying out.  In my family, all my siblings and step-siblings have either married out or involved with people  partners who not Latino (White, Indian-American, Japanese-Brazilian), and all but one of my high school best-friends have also married out.  This is my reality and I certainly want to see more of it in Romance novels I read.

 


Satisfaction by Sarah Mayberry

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Maggie has been taking care of herself for a long time ever since her mother's cancer diagnosis when she was 12.  And she has taken very good care of herself. She has built a wonderful life for herself. She has her own business, great friends, and a cozy home.  What Maggie doesn't have, what she has never had is orgasms.  Not one, not one during sex, not on her own and she has had enough, enough of faking orgasms, of nodding along when her friends share stories, she is ready to do something drastic.  When Maggie's friend Cleo gushes with full filthy details about the incredibly hot and skilled tattoo artist, she just had a mind-blowing sex with Maggie can't stop thinking about him.  Maybe he would be different than all her other lovers, and if he isn't then she needs to stop trying to do this by herself and seek medical help.  Before she can think better of her idea she calls up Brother's Ink and makes an appointment for tattoo and hopefully something more.

Rafael has worked very hard for everything he has, maybe too hard.  At thirty-one, with his brother he shares a successful company, a healthy investment portfolio and good friends. What he no longer has in life is a woman to share it with. For six years he shared it with Lena, till she decided it wasn't enough and she need to see what the world had to offer. 

"He hadn't chosen to remember those moments, though. Not over the last twelve months. He'd been fixating instead on the early months and years of their relationship. Remembering the good times, blocking out the bad. A very specific form of self-torture"

Into his life walks Maggie, who is nothing like Lena, and for the first time in a year his mind is preoccupied with not with past but with today and whether he might or should see Maggie again.

I really loved this book, enjoyed reading it, even though I could hardly sit still and read through the first three chapters. I tend to hyper-identify with people who are in the process of embarrassing themselves.  Whether it is in fiction or real life, I can't stand to watch, and for the first three chapters as I got to know Maggie, the dread started to build, I saw the impending mortification and I kept having to put the book down and walk away, but I kept coming back because I needed to know how it was going to turn out. 

"Humiliation came in many flavors and colors, Maggie discovered over the next twenty-four hours"

Maggie ends up not just risking embarrassment, she ends up risking her heart.  She risks her heart getting involved with a man that admits that he might still be half-in-love with his ex-girlfriend.  She lets herself lose control of her emotions and her hopes and let someone else take care of her for a change.

"The first time in years that anyone had offered to look after her. To shoulder her burdens, even if just for a few hours or days. Even in such a small, apparently insignificant way"

She lets herself start trusting her happiness, but won’t be enough. Maggie will have to do more.

What I loved:

  • Mayberry does a wonderful job building tension and anxiety throughout the whole book because she develops characters worth caring about.  
  • Her characters are conflicted and complex, people misinterpret each other, blurt things out, and get really cranky and take it out on the wrong people and I never felt for a moment that the conflicts were in anyway fabricated.
  • I loved that both h/h have people who love and care about them in their real life, who notice when things are not okay, and ask about it.

Satisfaction by Sarah Mayberry: 5 out 5 stars

 A review copy of this book was provided by the author.