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December 2014

My Favorite Books Published in 2014

I read a lot of good books this year, some really great ones, and a lot of okay ones. This is purely subjective list of  some of my favorite books from this year. Not all the book on this list were 5 star books for me, but they are books that I still think about & I am genuinely glad I read in 2014.

  • Private Politics by Emma Barry: 
    Friends (or friend of a friend) to lovers story, Liam is a beltway blogger who has unrequited crush Alyse a fundraiser for girls' literacy non-profit. He tries to hide the extent of his crush so he can help her unravel a possibly dodgy donation scam at her non-profit without it getting truly awkward.

    Why is it a favorite? Liam was my favorite hero this year. He is shlubby, earnest, smart and hugable. His quiet competence is  the anti-dote to every alphahole hero out there.

  • Satisfaction by Sarah Mayberry.
    Maggie has never had an orgasm & wants to use Rafael for sex and is scared of wanting more with him since he might not be over his ex.

    Why is it a favorite? It has one my favorite romantic scenes. I just loved that Rafael wanted read the heroine's favorite book (a romance) because he wants to get to know her better. My husband did the same when we first started dating. We still trade recommendations 20 years later.  

  • Think of England by KJ Charles:
    Opposites attract, historical romantic suspense where country-house mystery tropes are up-ended.

    Curtis has come back from the war maimed and determined to find out who responsible. When he first spots DaSilva he can't stand him, seeing in him everything he mistrust as Daniel is dark, jewish, gay & a modernist poet, but as the novel progresses Curtis comes to realize that DaSilva is a true hero of great worth and has to rethink ing his prejudices and assumptions about himself. 

    Why is it a favorite?
    I smiled so much reading this book, loved the wit and language in the book. I loved that we only had Curtis POV, and that he had to grow and rethink his whole life.

  • The Kraken King serial by Meljean Brook:
    I am just going to be honest and say that I have yet to read a book by Meljean that I haven't loved.

    Zenobia is spinster writer, who has decided to go on the run, traveling the world under an assumed name to stay ahead of kidnappers who would love to use her against her brother, Archimedes Fox, a treasure hunter whose adventures she has made famous in her books. When Ariq, the Kraken King, rescues her from her sinking ship, she is launched into her greatest adventure. 

  • Why is it a favorite? Action, Adventure, Romance! I love that Meljean keeps expanding her sprawling, diverse & vibrant world.

  • Hard Time by Cara Mckenna:
    Anne Goodhouse is a outreach librarian in a depressing Michigan small town. Every week  her job brings her to the Cousins Correctional Facility where an inappropriate infatuation with an inmate turns into secret scorching epistolary relationship that neither is sure can survive once he is released.

    Why is it a favorite?
    The letters! They are simply amazing. Anne was sure she couldn't want or desire again, but Collier reawakens her. The letters are beautiful,romantic, raw, intimate and hot.

  • Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett:
    Winter Magnusson is a bootlegger, rich, powerful, & dangerous in 1920's San Fransisco. But when an unknown rival curses him with a plague of ghosts, he turns to Aida, a nomadic medium, who can see ghosts and repel them, to save him. Together they must figure out who is trying to kill Winter before they succeed.

    Why is it a favorite? 2014 is the year where I tried to and tried to fall back into love with historicals, which meant I read a lot of non-regency historicals. I loved the time period, setting & multicultural cast. I also enjoyed Grim Shadows (Book 2) & I can't wait for the 3rd book coming next year, with a Chinese American hero.

  • Countess Conspiracy & Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan.
    Both this novel and novella featured women who have passions for science & math but work in obscurity and the men who recognize how brilliant they are & do all they can so they shine. The obstacles these couples face are huge, the stakes felt real and I was very invested in their HEAs.

    Why are these a favorite?  Loved Sebastian in Countess Conspiracy, his patient/sacrificial devotion for Violet was so romantic. Rose Sweetly was a fascinating character, smart, guarded & determined. I loved that the book gives us a glimpse of a little featured segment of British society, the black Victorian middle class.

  • Code Runner & Binary Witness by Rosie Claverton:
    Book 1 & 2 of the Amy Lane Mystery series, the books are set in modern-day Cardiff and follow Amy, an agoraphobic hacker and consultant for the Cardiff police force and Jason Carr her house-cleaner/Guy Friday, who is a  former street tough and felon. They have a gentle and unlikely partnership.

    Why is it a favorite? The mysteries are smart and engaging. But what sold me on the series was the relationships. I loved watching Jason and Amy grow to depend on each other and how their relationship challenges and strains their relationships with others. I can't wait to read more from Claverton because I don't think she is scared of letting the relationships continue to grow and change.
  • Into the Shadows (The Associates #3)by Carolyn Crane:
    Nadia, the daughter of a deposed crime-boss, is searching for her mother by raiding her father's former holdings with the help of her former bodyguard and some mercenaries. Thorne is her former lover, a double agent within the most dangerous of the gangs who claimed her father's crime empire.

    Why is it a favorite? I was trying to break up with tortured heroes and then Crane upped the ante, with Thorne & sucked me into a secret baby story  (which I normally hate). Nadia and Thorne are broken in such interesting ways. They are both looking for redemption while fearing they can never earn it.  I couldn't help but root for these two souls to find love & acceptance with each other.

  • The Others by Anne Bishop.
    This is sort of a cheat because only one of the three The Others novels I read this year was actually published in 2014, Murder of Crows, Book #2, (Written in Red, was published March 2013 & Vision in Silver will be out March 2015) but I loved this series too much to leave it off my list.

    This Urban Fantasy/Alternate History series,  this is the story of Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet who flees an institution where rich and power humans cut into her for profit, claiming a name and life for herself. She is taken in by a community of Terra Indigene, the elementals and shape-shifters who rule vast portions of Thasia. Her interactions with the Terra Indigene, and with Simon Wolfguard in particular will change the history of humanity in their world.

    Why it is a favorite? The friendship and budding romance between Simon and Meg is lovely. I have no assurance they will have a HEA but I have grown deeply attached to them, and I love seeing Meg curiosity and desire for life transform her world.

 I hope you had a wonderful year of reading in 2014 and I hope you find books that inspire, comfort and awaken you in 2015.

The Secret Heart & The Lover's Knot by Erin Satie

The Secret Heart:

In The Secret Heart, we are introduced to Caroline Small, a mercenary debutante, the daughter of a dissolute Viscount. Caro was raised by his mistress Giselle, a former ballerina he had installed in their home as governess. She armed Caro with a cynical world view, coquettish charms and the exacting discipline of ballet. Caro is determined to secure a wealthy husband so she can provide for her younger brother Robin and herself in the ways her father hasn’t. She is flinty, determined but honest in her intentions. She has been invited to spend time with Daphne, niece to the Duke of Hastings at the family’s country estate. The visit is welcome respite from depredations she experiences in her father’s home, and when she meets Adam Spark, Lord Bexley, the Duke’s son alone one night, she sets her sights on him, but first she runs from him frightened by his thuggish appearance.

Bexley is not tall but he is imposing and brutish. Secretly a bare-knuckle boxer, Bexley buries the pain of his sister’s disappearance and presumed death and the betrayal of his best-friend by training as boxer and pounding into laborers at late-night fights under an assumed identity.

Caro and Bexley’s romance is not at all straightforward. Adam has grown up under the thumb of the Duke of Hastings, a power-hungry manipulative man who seeks to control everyone dependent on him, and Adam has made it his life’s ambition to financially free himself from him. He has saved every penny and it is on the verge of achieving it, when Caro enters his life. Caro is a grasping opportunist and sees in Adam first someone she can blackmail, later someone to entrap to win herself the comfort she has always wanted before she comes to see him as person whose hopes and dreams she can crush. Adam is initially disgusted by her machinations as much as he is attracted by her beauty and attentions. He plays along with her games of seduction hoping to scare her off, before he can no longer resist her lure. While incredibly angry at her he eventually able to recognize the vulnerability & fear that drives her and to see her as a treasure not a trap. The panic and dread Caro feels as she realizes that Adam is not simply a mark to be manipulated & that she has started to fall in love is perfect.

In some ways, The Secret Heart felt like historical NA because both Caro and Adam, have to wrestle with their fathers’ emotional baggage in order to become better adults than any one intends them to be. For their happy ending to be believable and achievable, Caro and Adam first learn to stand independently, and figure out how to get the better of all who will try to control them without playing the same destructive games. Their victory in the end depends on the fact that they gamble on each other and win.

While I loved th whole novel, one element in which Satie excelled in was in her world-building. She pours beautiful detail into this book, showing obvious care and research as she presented Caro and Adam’s passions for boxing and ballet. It is in all the little details she drops in to highlight Caro’s relative poverty (her need to sponge hems, rather than being able to change into new dresses like Daphne does) and how she describes the estate and surrounding community. The details ground the novel in a specific time and place and remind us that that these characters are not modern people playing dress up.

5 stars

The Lover’s Knot

The second novel in the No Better Angels series is only loosely connected to the first through the appearance of a supporting character from the first book and the mention of another. Initially I was dismayed by this as I had just finished the Secret Heart and didn’t want to leave those characters behind. But I shouldn’t have worried. Once again the heroine completely caught my attention because she doesn’t behave like a romance heroine should. The story also departs from the usual romantic narrative arc. It is as much a murder mystery, and novel of memory & grief as it is a romance novel.

The book opens with the arrival of a new Duke. Julian Swann is an unlikely heir to a dukedom, once a ward of the Duke, he was seventh in line to inherit, but all the other men ahead of him have died without leaving sons or other heirs. The previous duke did leave a suicide note that Julian immediately recognizes as a fake. He runs off to confront Sophie Roe, his former fiancee and the only person in the vicinity with the skills to forge the letter.

Sophie Roe was once a lady, a young woman with a promising future and doting fiancee. Now is she is small business owner, a tradeswoman much to the embarrassment of her aunt and uncle. She distills ink and sells custom nibs to customers all over England out her small shop, Iron & Wine. Her hands are ink-stained, her clothing plain and her face scarred & tattooed. She hasn’t seen Julian since the night of their engagement ten years before, a night she barely remembers, but that left her indelibly marked, the night when she was injured, discovered her fortune had been lost, and she forsook Julian.

The Lover’s Knot centers on memory and fictions and how we can come to believe in lies more deeply than truth. Sophie is an orphan who can’t rely on her memory. While she can remember her distilling recipes and techniques, conversations and events start fading almost as soon as they happened. She obsessively journals, and sends herself letters written in her parents handwriting to comfort herself. These false letters mingle with her faint recollections to utterly muddle her memory. But Sophie is not the only one carefully self-deluding herself, just the most obvious. Julian deludes himself constantly about Sophie’s interest, motivations and intentions, The Duke’s daughter, his widowed second-wife, his old friends, all choose to dwell on one memory or fiction to justify their actions in the wake of the Duke’s death.

Julian is determined to uncover the truth about the Duke’s too convenient death, convincing Sophie that she has inadvertently aided a killer. He also hopes that through their work together he can finally learn why she rejected him and put it behind him.

Like in The Secret Heart, the secondary characters’ relationships and motivations are not secondary to the plot. The complexity of familial relationships, the ties of duty and fealty are essential to unraveling not only the mystery of the duke’s death but what happened on the night Julian and Sophie’s relationship was destroyed.

I really liked Sophie even when she was less than sympathetic. I liked her independence and single-mindedness, even if it made her blind to Julian’s needs. I enjoyed Julian’s frustration with her at her inability to behave how he expects her to, although I struggled with his destructive rages. I had a harder time with Julian. He is ruthless, angry, haunted and lonely, isolated by his physical beauty, and self-destructively obsessed with Sophie. He prefers a crumb of her attention to the full focus of anyone else, all the while building up resentment that for a great deal of the novel Sophie is fails to recognize. Their relationship is deeply unbalanced for a great part of the novel, because Sophie doesn’t realize how much he needs and wants from her and how much he does for her, that her success is not quite as independent as she thought.

After I finished this book I spent a lot of time thinking about unbalanced relationships, a theme in both novels and how people can try to earn love (Julian), manipulate it (Caro), avoid it (Adam), abuse it (Sophie) and how other seek to use money and power to force devotion perverting families ties, all the while being convinced of the rightness of what they are doing. It is one of the many interesting themes present in these novels and I can’t wait to read the next two books.

5 Stars


I’ve been following Erin Satie on Twitter for more than a year and she follows me. I started following her before I realized she was working on self-publishing her novels, because I enjoyed her responses to twitter conversations I was participating in. When her first novel The Secret Heart came out I ordered it almost automatically, but didn’t read it right away (my TBR is huge). I was caught off guard when I saw that her second novel was on Netgalley soon after that and ready for release. The premise of the second story caught my interest more than the first, so I requested it and decided to read  the novels back to back.

I am incredibly happy that I did.

Clergy and Church-going in Contemporary Romance.

Last month a listener to the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books/Dear Author podcast wrote in asking about depictions of Clergy and church-going in contemporary romance.  I wrote to Sarah Wendell with my thoughts after listening a few weeks ago. I am not sure they will get around to using my letter as I am sure they get lots of responses, so I figured I would share what I wrote here, as this is the last Sunday of the year.  This is not a comprehensive list, but rather recommendations and thoughts on some of pastoral/clergy depictions I've read in the past year.

I had to stop listening to this week's podcast after you finished talking about this question, because my brain was bubbling with thoughts on contemporary romance's depictions of faith and church-going and the lack thereof.

My husband is ordained minister and has either been in seminary or serving as lead pastor for the whole of our marriage (going on 17 years). As result I always perk up a little when I see Pastors, clergy or church-life are depicted in Romance novels.

I don't generally read Inspies, because the theology in them tends to drive me a bit crazy, but I grew up reading and loving Janette Oke's Love Comes Softly series, an inspirational family saga, that followed a family of American Pioneers, staring with a romance that develops on a covered wagon train journey across the prairie. It was all petticoats, bonnets, hard-work and faith. That series is a staple in Church Library collections everywhere and I think the popularity of that series must in some ways have led to the current fascination with Amish romance. The Amish are the modern stand-in for those early pioneers, farming, courting along with conservative sexual values.

This year I read two Erotic Contemporary romances that had wonderfully nuanced portrayals of pastor and pastor's families.

The first was Molly O'Keefe's "Between the Sheets", the third in her Boys of Bishop series. It is an enemies to lovers story with a great emotional punch. The heroine is Shelby, the daughter of complete scoundrel of revivalist preacher.  He had abused his wife and terrorized her. Although he is long dead, he left deep scars.  Shelby had grown up repressed, feels trapped by a good-girl persona that doesn't reflect her desires, and is completely conflicted about her faith. She is still a regular church-goer however, accompanying her ailing mother to a different church than the one founded by her father out of duty and habit.  One of the most interesting encounters between
Shelby and Ty early in the novel occurs when Ty unexpectedly shows up at her church.  Ty is a former Biker & mechanic struggling to raise his troubled new-found son.  Turns out that ever since he straightened out his life, he has been a regular church attender.  While not deeply religious, he looks for churches that "don't preach hate", attending church because he finds them great places to find community and support.   O'Keefe did a great job portraying the legacy of a bad pastor/father who used faith as a weapon without condemning all clergy or believers.

The second book was Shiloh Walker's Deeper than Need.  The novel is the first of her Secrets and Shadows series. The series is set in a picturesque Indiana small town, whose most upstanding citizens might be linked to (trigger warning) a ritualized sex abuse ring going back decades.  The hero Noah is a recovering alcoholic ex-youth pastor contractor who unearths evidence of a long-ago crime while restoring the home of his love interest Trinity.  Walker did a great job portraying Noah as someone who entered ministry looking for redemption after a turbulent time in his late teens and twenties but left it once he realized it was it not his true vocation. He is still a believer, retains the respect of the community, who lovingly still call him 'Preach' and has a strong pastoral heart.   The novel is far from perfect as I thought the romance suffered in comparison to the romantic suspense and mystery elements, as Walker spent considerable time on the extremely dark sex-abuse ring/missing person plot that links the series together.

One of the most interesting portrayals of clergy in recent years however has to be Tiffany Reisz's Original Sinners Erotica series.  One of the leads in this kinky, polyamorus series is Soren. a Catholic
priest, who is also a sadist dom.  One of his loves is Nora, an erotic novel writer, and member of his congregation.  When I first ran across this series, my eyebrows nearly popped off my face.  But Reisz is deeply versed in Catholic theology, imagery and ritual (she is a former seminarian and practicing Catholic). Her characters' faith journeys and reasons for believing and behaving the way they do are
complex, conflicted but consistent. The church is often being both a refuge and oppressor but Soren is devoted to his calling as Priest even if he isn't celibate. Reisz doesn't ignore the conflicts she raises and I have a lot of respect for what she is doing with religion in her books.

My friend Emily (@emilyjanehubb) another pastor's wife and fellow romance fan, really liked Noelle Adams' marriage of convenience story, "Married for Christmas", where all that seems to be standing in the way of Daniel a widower, being named pastor of the congregation he
grew up in is his lack of a wife.  I haven't finished it yet because I really struggle with Marriage of Convenience stories in general and as someone intimately familiar with how hard it is to maintain a loving healthy marriage in the semi-public sphere of ministry, a marriage of convenience seemed like a horrible idea, but the initial chapters I read did a very good job portraying small-town ministry life.

Robyn Carr has novel in her Virgin River series, reissued this year, "Forbidden Falls" where the hero is a pastor.  Virgin River is one of those strange romance novel towns that is seemingly populated only with giant former military men. While the denominational politics that allow Noah to buy a church on e-bay seem really odd, and the theology is sort of vague, I did like the romance between the widowed pastor and his pastor's assistant, a former stripper, who is desperately
trying to regain custody of her kids. The conflicts and believable were nicely developed.  I also
appreciated how many of the the other former heroes and heroines starting attending church now that they had kids, because that actually happens.

One writer in whose work I consistently find evidence of faith life/church going is Ruthie Knox.  While her main characters are rarely personally religious, many have grown up in the church or have family members who are active church goers.  In the Camelot series, Amber, Caleb and Katie's mom is church-lady.  Mrs. Clark we discover through the series converted to Christianity and Catholicism when she married Mr. Clark. She is far from a perfect mother and wife, but her
faith is not something that vilifies her, just one more element that makes up her character.  Amber from How to Misbehave and Making it Last attended a Bible college, were she was slightly traumatized when her boyfriend started crying out of guilt and shame after their first sexual encounter. Roman from Roman Holiday has a powerful moment of personal insight while confronting another character in a  Miami area Catholic church with a large Cuban Virgin Mary mural. I feel that her characters are often trying to sort of big faith issues around, belonging, acceptance and love in secular ways, but they do so while acknowledging the existence of church going folk is part of what makes her books feel genuine to me.  While I know less and less people are regular church-goers especially among millennials, many of them should still have friends or family who do, even if it is just on Christmas or Easter.

I know there are more contemporary romances with pastors out there, but these are just a few that I have enjoyed.

Who is your favorite romance novel pastor or clergy member (Historical or Contemporary)? Any depictions you hated?  Personally I really enjoy Austen's vicars even or maybe because they are often pompus, vain and human but not Evil just very human, as flawed and mock-able anyone else in her book.


Winter Rain (Love in the Rain Book 2)

Winter Rain cover

Winter Rain is the second anthology of short stories published by Pink Kayak press benefiting RAINN. I read and reviewed Summer Rain earlier this year. Like most anthologies this collection showcased a lot of variety in terms of style, tone & setting. My favorite stories in this collection, Suleikha Snyder's Spice and Sand & Tamsen Parker's Needs were very different from each other but stood out from the rest by packing strong emotion, character growth & romance into small packages.

Dream by Delphine Dryden -- Robin's best days are the first Tuesday of every month when she takes time off work to visit her therapist George and her voice coach, Celia. When rains from a storm trap Robin in Celia's house, they finally truly see each other. It is a story of connection and how powerful it can be to have someone see through our veneer of competence, to our imperfect selves and accept those flaws, hurts & baggage. Both Celia and Robin have a lot of mental health issue to resolve, but they are full of hope they can figure things out together.

4 stars

Sales Tax Not Included by Inara Scott -- Nash Hanover tried to runaway from the mess his father made but after near fatal bout of malaria he is right back in the small town he grew up in. He has become obsessed with catching the attention of Chloe the cashier at dollar store down the block from his apartment. Chloe is determined to ignore him because she can't see one good thing coming from his attention. This story moved a bit too fast for me and would been better served by a longer word count. The story was too compressed for me to quite believe in the couple at the end, even as an HFN.

3 stars

Exposure by Serena Bell: Jenny was publicly embarrassed and romantically disappointed after sending an inappropriate tweet from her boss's account and ran away to work as temporary caretaker at campground deep in the woods. Six months of licking her wounds later, Beck her childhood friend & crush has been commissioned by her parents to try to bring her back. This story was working really well for me, till the first sex scene where the Bell does some distracting handwaving to justify the characters having unprotected sex. It kicked me out of the story in a major way, and I couldn't recover to enjoy the end.

3 stars

Sand Dollar Cinderella by Amber Lin-- When Jaime was a teen a private picture of herself circulated around her high school and pretty much killed her dating life. It is years later and she is ready to leave that behind and move on with the rest of her life. First thing in her agenda is to rid herself of her virginity. When her original plan is foiled by a well meaning friend, she decides to pick up her brother's old friend who just came back to town and doesn't recognize her. She doesn't know however how much he wants to leave his one-night stand days behind him. I liked that he figured out pretty quickly that she wasn't being honest with him, and that he didn't let things drag on. Overall the story felt like it was setting up a series, or at the very least a sequel featuring Jamie's brother and her best friend Mirabelle.

3 stars

Behind the Mask by Alexis Hall -- Pretty standard super-villain origin story premise with a m/m romance twist. Masquerade created his persona to give Justin a purpose after he returned from war still grieving his closeted quarterback boyfriend . As a longtime superhero comic fan the premise didn't seem new or interesting nor the resolution satisfying.

2 stars

Spice and Sand by Suleikha Snyder -- I don't know a lot of Hindu mythology but that didn't stop me from greatly enjoying this story. Rambha is nymph whose dancing can shake the earth. She has been cruelly separated from her husband, Nalakuvara, for centuries. Even though she lives pleasure-filled heaven, she longs to be reunited with him. She risks displeasing her demon king Indra by refusing to dance and challenges him for an opportunity to claim her husband. He lets her have the opportunity but when she finds him, Nalakuvara is living as composer for Bollywood films, Nicky Kohli . He has no memory of Rambha, although he is hugely attracted to her. Rambha however knows she can not be satisfied with only his desire, it would be torture and cruel substitution to have him with him knowing who she is so she flees, hoping he will seek her and come to know her. Snyder did a great job weaving the mystical and the fantastical with the earthy and the modern. Rambha is proud, bold and sensual, and deeply devoted to her husband. Their relationship has weathered violence & separation, and she will not let it die. Nicky moves through feelings of fascination, incredulity and desperation as he starts to see who she had been to him and once again risks all to have her. This is one of the highlights of this collection.

5 stars.

Remembering Yesterday by Stacy Reid -- This was a plot straight from soap opera, complete with cartoonishly conniving family. Ava survived a serious car accident that left her with partial amnesia. With her memories fractured, Ava feels broken, unable to move on with her life even if she is going through the motions for the sake of her parents. When Devlin walks past her something clicks into place, and soon fragmented context-less memories are flooding her. Confused but determined, Ava confronts Devlin, to find out what he used to mean to her, and why he isn't in her life. Ava will learn more about herself than she bargained for. This is not a trope I enjoy and this story did not impress me enough to overcome that. I found Ava to be incredibly immature and not simply because she is only 23. Devlin remains largely a blank slate, even as Ava starts to remember him. I had too many questions for the plot to work for me.

2 stars.

Sometimes it Storms by Cole McCade I couldn't finish this story so I won't give it a rating. Ethan is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the story chronicles his struggle with sexual intimacy, and Aurelie's patient love through the painful process. The backstory, presented in vivid flashbacks was so dark I just couldn't make it all the way through.

No rating

Needs by Tamsen Parker -- As soon as she could Ryn left the family farm in rural Iowa for the lights of the city and never wants to go back. Ryn is a city planner with a long list of exes, when she meets Sam, handsome, cultured & interesting. Rather than fall into another boring conversation about their careers, they playfully choose to make the topics of their professions off-limits. One date leads to another, and soon Ryn is falling hard for him till she learns something about him that stops her in her tracks. I loved this story. Sam is sexy, patient & a true grownup. Ryn had to grow up in a couple of ways and I loved her grovel and the HEA.

5 stars


Gentleman In The Street by Alisha Rai

I usually avoid romances featuring billionaires, but I made an exception for Rai because it is not everyday you see abrasive self-made billionaire heroines. You can find heroes fitting that description all the time, but not heroines, and she isn't simply an alpahole in drag.

Akira is the driven & hardworking head of a multi-national entertainment chain having turned her youthful sexcapdes, family notoriety and a small trust fund from her grandmother into a launchpad for her company. Akira is angrily and reluctantly grieving her distant and disapproving mother Mei and trying to avoid her father, the dissolute heir to a hotel fortune, who now lives his life for TV ratings on a Kardashian-like reality show with his latest wife and her children. Mei, Akira's mother, had long withheld one of Akiras's most beloved objects, a puzzle box that her grandmother had left for her, as incentive for Akira to submit to making occasional appearances at her charity events. But when her mother passed away the box is nowhere to be found, and Akira needs to find it. After exhausting all other options Akira turns up at Jacob's door. Jacob was briefly her step-brother over a dozen of years ago but unlike Akira he and his siblings stayed close to Mei till the end and are the most likeliest people Mei would have entrusted with the box.

Jacob is a writer who has dedicated the last decade & half of his life to raising his siblings, fully taking over after his father's unexpected death. Jacob is incredibly unhappy to see Akira, but not for all the reasons she thinks he is. Akira is sure that straight-laced Jacob shares her mother's low opinion of her. Their encounters have long been combustible, their relationship adversarial, Akira teasing and blatantly challenging him at every opportunity, in order to get any reaction from him, even a negative one. He has never taken her up on her invitations, doubting their sincerity instead making an art of avoiding her. Jacob standoffishness is not out of lack of interest but out of self-preservation and self-denial. Jacob is convinced that he can't indulge in admitting his attraction Akira. She has come to stand in his mind as incarnation of the temptation & invitation to obssesion. He dedicated all his energy into his family, he can't imagine a way she could fit into his life. He sends her away empty-handed and disappointed but for the first time aware that Akira might not be as invulnerable as she appears.

When Jacob discovers he does in fact have what Akira has been seeking, and painfully confronts his sister over it, he finally begins to admit to himself that he does want Akira, and he might need more in his life than his siblings.

There is a lot of sex in the book, an orgy even, but with the exception of a couple scenes at the orgy not directly involving Jacob or Akira, I think the sex was scorching hot and essential to the development of the romance, building on and complicating their intimacy.

The romance was great, both Jacob and Akira pushing and pulling, running hot and cold. They both have a lot of baggage to work through & lives that invite complication, so their relationship does not progress smoothly. Jacob has to work hard to seduce Akira into wanting him for more than a fling.

Because of their history Akira needs Jacob to fully understand and accept her sexually, rightfully unwilling to compromise that part of herself in order to be accepted. Jacob is undeterred even if he is occasionally overwhelmed and confused by his feelings and reactions. I think Rai did a wonderful job creating a complex and unusual heroine. I liked how unapologetic she is about her sexuality, even if it is clearly an area of vulnerability. She knows the world judges her for it and while she trades on it, she is doesn't want to be rejected by Jacob for it. It thought that was a really difficult but real situation to portray. Jacob has to do some major work on himself, be willing to expose his own vulnerabilities to her, before he can earn her trust. And that he recognizes that her trust, her heart, are worth fighting for.

Rai's Gentleman in the Street is well worth reading.

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the author.

Tempting the Player by Kat Latham

Cover53587-mediumI enjoy watching sports, and used to be a big baseball fan, but I don’t read a lot of sport themed romances;  Kat Latham’s London Legends series is the exception. Tempting the Player is the third book in the series. The heroes are all been members of the London Legends, a fictional European league rugby team. Latham does a wonderful job explaining elements of rugby & rugby culture that might be unfamiliar to American readers without bogging down the plot.  While Sports-stars and rock-stars are supposed to be the new billionaires,  like that her London Legends players are not in fact multi-millionaires, and instead read more like working-class men, who work physically demanding jobs, albeit ones that come with media scrutiny, racy  holiday calendars and crazy fans. Her stories are filled with good humor, and just right touches of physical comedy.

Libby and Matt are best friends and neighbors. They share custody of a rescue teacup Chihuahua, and on nights they are both in town they spend cozy nights together watching movies.

Libby is a hard-working airline pilot for no-frills discount airline, working long hours as she tries to climb to the top of the seniority pile and make Captain.  She knows her career is murder on families and relationships having seen her parents marriage and that of many colleagues disintegrate.  A champion list maker, she has pretty set ideas &  criteria describing the kind of partner she thinks she needs to make it possible for her to keep her career and build a family. But she keeps dating men who Matt hates and considers unambitious prats and unsurprisingly those relationships never go anywhere. Her sister thinks the problem is that she is hung up on Matt, despite thinking Matt is all wrong for her. After all he doesn’t fit any of her criteria: He is younger than her, in a demanding career of his own and shown no interest in re-marriage.  Yet they spend hours together, share common interests and similar senses of humor. Libby’s sister advises her to get over Matt by shagging him and get over him, so she can move on date more productively.

Matt is deeply aware of how he has constantly disappointed people in his life, His rugby-star father, his first wife, his teammates. Libby has been one of relationship in his life unsullied by disappointment. Spending time with Libby has been safe in every way for Matt, he basks in her admiration and companionship and relaxes at the lack of sexual expectations. Libby has been the one no-pressure thing in his life. And Matt is under a lot of pressure with the Legends. After years of under performing, they need him to step up when their starting defender needs to take some time away from the field. It is clear to Matt that this is his last best chance to save his career. However his on-field play is only part of the equation. They can no longer keep ignoring his paralyzing fear of flying, if they are to count of him to be a starter.  Matt treasures his friendship with Libby above all else… even his growing attraction to her but Matt needs Libby to help him get over his fears, and risk disappointing her or he will be finished.

I loved how the conflicts in this novel exposed both of them. Both Libby and Matt were clinging to their friendship in unhealthy ways, using it to fill needs they didn’t want to acknowledge. Libby needed to finally admit that she wanted more from Matt, and Matt needed to lean on Libby and ask for her help, even if that made him vulnerable and recognize that she was worthy of that trust.

I loved how complicated both Libby and Matt’s relationships with their careers were and how she portrayed how messy it can be to start baring yourself to another person, even someone you have known for a longtime, and trust. I liked that even though they have been best friends for so long, they had so much to learn about each other because of how much of their own vulnerabilities they have been hiding out of self-protection. I really liked that in the end they were really choosing each other, not settling. 

Latham combined two of my favorite tropes, “friends to lovers” and “we can keep it casual” to great effect in this story. The resolution was super romantic,  & funny (almost a bit OTT for me) but lovely and right and consistent with the tone of the story.

 4 stars


A review copy of Tempting the Player was provided by Carina Press.  Tempting the Player was published Nov.10, 2014.