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January 2015

Forbidden by Charlotte Stein

Forbidden is the second of Charlotte Stein’s novels of longing and thwarted desires for Avon Impulse. In the first book, Intrusion, featured two characters deeply scarred by violence whose desire is paralyzed by fear. In this novel, the hero Killian is a young Irish seminarian months away from taking priestly vows when he learns of young woman held captive by her mother somewhere in the deep South, when the mother ask the priests in his Boston-area seminary to perform an exorcism.

Dot has spent a large part of her life, confined and abused by her unbalanced mother, who has equated her daughter’s puberty and budding sexual interest with demon possession. Killian rescues Dot not just by carrying her out of her mother’s home, getting her medical attention, & finding her a refuge, but by he talks to her. His voice and words soothe Dot when she is at her most anxious. He answers her questions and refuses to condemn or stifle any of her bubbling curiosity. They can talk of innocent things for hours but they are both terribly aware of the taboo of doing more than enjoying each other’s conversation. Stein instills deep eroticism to intertwined hands, momentary touches, and the warmth of felt by two people desperately trying not to touch each other. 

What I loved:

Stein is a master of first-person narration, and she doesn't disappoint in this novel. She is able to convey Dot’s progression from traumatized oversensitive tentative fearful anxiousness, to growing confidence and near-certainty about her feelings and desire. Dot’s feelings, desires and wants might overwhelm her at times but she learns to see them not sinful, dirty or wrong. She moves from passiveness to aggressiveness in believable trajectory.

Limited by Dot’s point of view, the reader shares in her the confusion about Killian’s true desires and motivations. She comes recognizes his frustrated wants, reading his blushes, the clench of his fists, the way he holds himself taut. She see in him desire equal to her own, but is not certain of his own willingness to claim them. She recognizes that he is drawn to her thirst and enthusiasm for feeling but is conflicted and tortured by Dot’s unwavering awareness of him. I appreciated that the characters raised most the questions I would have had about their relationship. Killian questions Dot’s attachment to him, his fear of having failed her by not being able to hide his attraction and interest in her while she was under his care. Dot wrestles with herself as to whether she should feel guilty over Killian’s desire for her and how it conflicts with his aspirations.

What I didn't:

I felt that while the climatic conflict and ending were consistent with the story and brought to romantic resolution, I wished it had gone slightly differently. It felt abrupt to have the antagonist & lots of other dangling worries addressed off-page and have their tidy resolution reported in a single sentence.

However if you want to be smeared with the squishy gooey feelings, immersed vicariously in new-found sensation and relish Dot’s self-discovery, Forbidden has that and more.

 

4 stars


I received a digital review copy of Forbidden from the author,  Charlotte Stein.


Trade Me by Courtney Milan

It is unlikely that in all of Berkeley there is someone less interested in the good opinion of a spoiled billionaire’s son as Tina Chen. She has absolutely no time for him.  She is not some fluffy co-ed happily paying her bar-tab with her daddy’s money. Her life is dangerous financial balancing act. She is methodically and determinedly counting each cent, saving every dollar to make sure she has enough to finish school, so she can get a good job, and comfortably provide for her family. But until that day she has to count out the rice left in the bag, and hope it is enough for her to make till her next paycheck. Her mind is constantly filled with worry, whether her sister will have her attention medication this month; will her mother’s over-generosity with her time and money working to help other with immigration issues, mean they won’t have money for their utility bills; will her father, a torture survivor be able to keep a job. With all of this and regular college concerns like tests and papers due, she simply has no time for boy billionaires. Certainly no time for Blake, who nearly runs her over with his Tesla on his way to parking in chancellor’s spot. Blake is walking blind privileged.

But Blake wants to make time for Tina. He want to prove to her that he has been “seeing” her for a long time, that her life is not insignificant to him. He also wants to take her up on her empty offer to trade lives. He latches on to her idea, and turns it into a challenge/dare/distraction from the problems he doesn’t want to face.

And Blake does have problems. His problems are  rooted in his loving dad’s suffocating pressure to abandon school and take over running their company “temporarily” and their shared grief for Peter , Cyclone Industries's dynamic CFO who died suddenly the year before. Fixated on Peter's death, Blake can only see himself disappearing under the demands of the company or die trying. He doesn’t want to fail his father or admit why he can’t do it. His despair and anxiety is manifesting in ways he doesn’t want to admit to.  Coerced into a compromise of taking over the writing the launch script for their newest product,  he recruits Tina to secretly take his place. He will live in her crappy garage apartment, he will work her minimum wage hours, and she can work on the script, while receiving a generous allowance and living in his palatial home.

This is an offer Tina wishes she could refuse, but she can’t walk away from that kind of money. Money that is only drop in the bucket to Blake, can make all the difference in her life and for her family. But Tina can’t take the money and run, she ends up spending time with Blake trying to understand the why of it all. The more she gets to know Blake the more she realizes things are far from right in Blake’s life even if he can throw money at his problems.

I loved Loved LOVED Tina from the very beginning. She is strong & proud even if she is terrified inside of failing and letting everyone down. I loved the genuine friendship she has forged with Maria (the Latina & Trans heroine of the next book in the series). I loved her uncompromising honesty and brilliant wit.

I was impressed by Milan’s ability to breakdown and humanize Blake. Milans is able to create real challenges, without ignoring his wealth. She created a character that is not simply “poor little rich boy”. I liked how he surprises Tina and himself throughout the book with his feelings and dreams. He might be able to be charming and confident, but also despairing, fearful & needy.

I cried a lot reading this book, (I am a crier) but there were so many moments of genuine emotion, as they learned each others secret hurts and joys. I loved how their relationship slowly developed over text messages, weekly script review meetings and long car trips.

I also loved the family relationships portrayed in book. I deeply identified with Tina’s conflicted feelings about her family, who she loves but who exhaust her. Blake’s relationship with his dad is more complex, sometimes funny and sometimes incredibly sad.

After easing us slowly into a friendship and relationship, the book takes a jarring turn in the last quarter. Tina and Blake are caught up in situation that shows how little they do have in common, despite how much they value each other. The crisis is a have a huge reminder of how differently the world treats them, and how easily they can be wedged apart. While I believed the resolution and Blake's action throughout, it is a departure from the book's pacing up to that point. I am glad that Milan is planning on returning to explore Blake and Tina's relationship in book three, for although they have HFN at the of this novel, and they feel confident that they have survived a huge hurdle, it still felt fragile to me.

4.5 Stars

I received a review copy of Trade Me from Ms. Milan via NetGalley


Autumn Sage by Genevieve Turner (Las Morenas #2)

Cover58784-mediumAutumn Sage is the second novel in Genevieve Turner’s Las Morenas series. The books are set in the late 1890’s California, at a time where old Spanish & Mexican Californian families are losing power to new American settlers in the area. Traditions & communities are changing, and Anglos, Blacks and Latinos are not living in harmony.

 Autumn Sage is the story of Isabel Moreno. Isabel had her life all planned out, she had picked out a compatible good man for a fiancé, and together they had rationally planned out a future. Isabel and Joaquin had dreamed of leaving the confines of their small insular ranching community in Cabrillo for the growing city of Los Angeles. But all those plans are shattered when they are ambushed by a trio of outlaws. Sheriff Obregon, fearing he will never recover ends their engagement, and Isabel is left to face the unceasing questions from friends, family and law enforcement about their ordeal alone. Marshal Sebastian Spenser has been sent to track down the outlaw, and bringing him to Los Angeles for trial. He needs the details Isabel has not shared with anyone in order to get bring McCade in. Isabel mistrusts everything about him and she is right to, he is not all what he seems to be.

This is was a heavy book to read, both the hero and heroine have marked by violence. Isabel is terrorized by thoughts of her attacker coming back to finish the job, terrified of losing her future to that awful moment. She is victimized again and again by the curious community and failed by the justice system. Sebastian was terrorized by his racist abusive father, and he is terrified of becoming a man of violence like his father. Both their mothers, Sra. Moreno and Sra. Vasquez de Espenser we learn are of survivors of racially driven domestic violence. They reacted and responded very differently to similar situations, and I appreciated that Turner presented both their life choices and lives without judging one response better than another.

I really enjoyed the book but I think it had some pacing issues. The romance stretches over year, but the book slowed down the pacing considerably while Sebastian and Isabel were in LA for the trial. I enjoyed the lighter moments of banter Sebastian and Isabel shared, their halting flirtations, and conversations over books that contrasted so strongly with their public interactions. However the pace of the action after the verdict picked up in jarring way. It might have been an intentional choice to rush along the action in Cabrillo, to mirror Isabel’s panic and Sebastian’s confusion during the second hunt for McCade, but it made it hard to follow all the different things that were happening post climax. Thankfully the letters late in the book allowed Turner to build back the romance between Sebastian and Isabel in an efficient manner as the end of book neared.

The letters established a solid foundation to their relationship to something more lasting than passion awakened under stress. The letters allowed the reader to see emotional growth in Sebastian, so I could trust that he would not continually treat Isabel to a cycle of passion-rejection as he had in Los Angeles and I could believe in their HEA.

I felt that on the whole Autumn Sage was successful as romance, highly engaging as another installment in the Moreno family saga and a fascinating and nuanced portrayal of a changing community, presenting the  many conflict points between old and new California at the end of the 18th century.

 4 stars

I received a review copy of Autumn Sage from Penny Bright Publishing via NetGalley.


A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong (A Blackshear Family Novella 0.5) by Cecilia Grant.

This is my first 2015 TBR Challenge Review, this month's theme is "We Love Short Shorts! (Category romance, novellas, short stories)".  I read a couple of novellas and category length  books off of my non-review TBR pile but none that I really loved or had much to say about  till I read this one.  I meant to read this novella when it was released back in early December.  But for a variety of reasons it slid back a few pages on my kindle and I might have forgotten about as we got further from the holidays.  I am glad the challenge reminded me to read something outside my "review" books. 

Xmas-perfectly-wrong-225A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong:

Andrew Blackshear is sneaking in one last errand before heading home for Christmas was his family. On a desolate road on the way to see an eccentric Baron about a Falcon he nearly runs over a young woman. The young woman coolly turns aside both his offer of aid and his chastisement at being out alone in the rain. He drives on flustered by  both her appearance and manner as they pique his sense of propriety, and awaken desires he has previously easily ignored.

Lucy Sharp is the only daughter of the falcon-raising widowed Baron. Her childhood has been far from ordinary and while she can easily converse about philosophy and falconry, she has little practical experience with society and house parties. When the family coachman is injured, threatening her plans to join her aunt and uncle for her first ever Christmas House Party, she doesn’t let a little thing like Mr. Blackshear refusal on the grounds that it would be highly improper for them to travel together without chaperone, stop her from successfully manipulating him into, into committing to deliver her to her aunt’s care for the long-awaited Christmas House Party.

Their slight deviation from propriety might have gone unnoticed if not for their near-fatal accident, which strands them in a remote community, having to pose as husband and wife, while they await the return of a wheel-wright.

I really enjoyed reading about these two. Andrew is so out of his element, dealing with Lucy. He might be fussy and uptight, but his love for his family, the earnestness of his desire to behave like a proper gentleman, does him credit. While he starts out scandalized and frustrated by Lucy, he very quickly recognizes her genuine and caring heart. He listens to her, and values her intelligence. I loved that Lucy values and appreciates him, recognizes that his precocupation with propiety does not have legalism at its heart but instead is out of a desire to not cause harm.

Both Andrew and Lucy’s lives have been shaped by the way their father’s have responded to grief. At heart they are not opposites, but instead two very well intentioned people, and out of that love and hope for a feature can be born, instead of resentment and frustration.

The book is comedic, tender and sweet, while providing great back-story for anyone who has read or might be interested in reading about the rest of the Blackshear family, whose roads to love are bit more tortured than Andrew and Lucy’s romance.

 

 


Bringing Home the Bad Boy by Jessica Lemmon

Cover54860-mediumBlurb:

The Bad Boy Is Back

Evan Downey needs a new beginning. Since the death of his wife five years ago, the brilliant tattoo artist has shut himself away in a prison of grief that not even his work can break him out of-and what's worse, Evan knows his son Lyon is bearing the brunt of his seclusion. Moving back to the lake town of Evergreen Cove where he spent his childhood summers is his last chance for a fresh start.

Charlotte Harris knows she owes it to her best friend's memory to help Evan and his son find their way again, but she can't stop her traitorous heart from skipping a beat every time she looks into Evan's mesmerizing eyes. Charlotte is determined to stay strictly in the Friend Zone-until a mind-blowing night knocks that plan by the wayside. Now, if they're brave enough to let it, Charlotte and Evan might just find a love capable of healing their broken hearts . . .

 

 

Charlotte, known as Charlie and Evan have been friends since their late teens. Charlie has always had a secret crush on Evan which she set aside when Evan fell hard for her best friend Rae. Rae and Evan married young and started a family but then Rae died unexpectedly. In the years since her death, Charlie has assumed the role of devoted friend to Evan and Aunt to Evan and Rae’s son Lyon. She has keep Rae’s memory alive for her son and often stepped in to give Evan break whenever he needed it.

Evan has been working through his grief, and struggling to make a good life for his son. He has built a career, first as a tattoo artist and now was an illustrator. He is struggling to create art for his next book (a sequel to a hugely sucessful children's book he wrote with his childhood friend and rockstar Asher. Evan is worried about his relationship with his son so he has decided it is time for them to move out of the home he shared with Rae, and back to the lakeside community he spent a lot time in as a kid. He has bought a house on the same secluded cove as Charlie. Seeing Charlie on a daily basis, outside of the home he once shared with Rae, makes him aware of many assets he previously had not paid attention to (mostly how hot she looks in a bikini). Evan is also finally aware of Charlie sexual intrest in him.

Evan showing open sexual interest in her and having him in such close and constant proximity is incredibly taxing and confusing for Charlie. She feels incredibly guilty about her desire for Evan. She wants to be part of Evan and Lyon’s lives, but mentally chastises herself for wanting it. Evan has to breakthrough her resistance, and try to understand her complicated feelings (most that she hasn’t quite figured out herself). For the most part I thought this was very well done.


Evan reassures Charlie of the fact that he isn't constantly comparing her to Rae or simply using her as convenient sexual partner. He consistently answers that those thoughts and feeling are her own insecurities. He breakdowns misconceptions she has about his relationship with Rae (He loved and she loved him but their marriage wasn’t perfect). He is patient with her, knowing that after years of carefully keeping boundaries out of respect for her friend and their marriage, desiring Evan feels transgressive. I really appreciated how Evan really had to learn to see Charlie, to see past her self-protective walls, to keep pushing her to recognize the life they can build together. Unfortunetly it eventually felt repetitive as Evan had to keep addressing the same kind of hesitations over and over. In the end I felt there was too much backstory, too much of familial baggage & past-relationship insecurity to deal with. I wish more of Evan and Charlie’s story had dealt with the challenges they will face living with each other, not just slaying the ghosts of relationships past.

There was also a lot extraneous stuff cluttering up their story, much that left a bad taste in my mouth. The secondary romantic plotline revolving around Evan’s good friend and co-writer Asher, a self-destructive rock-star,

 

and

 

Gloria, their agent and friend distracted rather than added to Evan and Charlie’s story. Both Asher and Evan & Gloria and Charlie’s played out a frenemy routine where they are constantly suspicions and jealous of each other that made them all seem off-puttingly immature.

 

I also rolled my eyes when a cartoonishly sour old librarian, still carrying a grudge about Asher and Evan's teen-age Penis Bandit days was introduced as a minor nemesis.

The worst moment for me however was when Russell, Charlie’s undermining and judgmental ex, shows up out of the blue, serving as walking info-dump-recap of all of Charlie’s insecurities and providing Evan with conveniently symbolic punching bag & triggering a breakthrough in Charlie and Evan’s relationship.

I had a really hard time with this book. At points I really loved it. Certain scenes and choices blew me away but just as many turned me off. I found the story very compelling, I like friends to lovers, and widowers finding love

 

stories but too often the story veered places I didn’t believe or like.

A review copy of Bringing Home the Bad Boy was provided by Forever (Grand Central Publishing) via NetGalley.

Release date: Jan 27, 2015

 


Indecent Proposal by Molly O'Keefe (Boys of Bishop #4)

Indecent Proposal is a marriage of convenience story whose premise is one that I can actually believe in for a contemporary setting. Ryan is a former model & bartender in New York City who has an impulsively and ill-advised one-night stand with Harrison Montgomery, the scion of a troubled political family. Ryan knows him only a Harry, a beautiful patron at her bar who is clearly having a horrible day. Harry is drowning his anxiety in drink. His sister Ashley’s has been abducted by Somali pirates (her story is told in Never Been Kissed,Book 2 of the Boys of Bishop series).  He is hiding away in a hotel bar in NYC, waiting to hear if attempts to rescue/ransom her have been successful.  In an uncharacteristic move for both of them, they indulge in conversation and flirtation before she joins him in his hotel room. When Ryan wakes up the next morning, the man she only knows as Harry is gone, although he has left a lovely goodbye note.

Ryan’s life which was not very stable to begin with goes into a tail-spin after their night together, she loses her job and to her great surprise discovers the condom they used failed and she is pregnant. Ryan is estranged from most of her family but is determined to somehow do this on her own and not crawl back home to her working-class family in Philadelphia.  However when Ryan becomes seriously ill early in her pregnancy and her brother Wes finds her passed out in pool of blood, he is enraged and spurred into action. They are together in her hospital room when she discovers Harry’s true identity.  Against her wishes he takes it upon himself to contact Harrison’s people and threaten them into making things right.

Harrison Montgomery is in the middle of congressional campaign in his home state of Georgia where the Montgomery’s have a long political history. His father is the former governor and author of many scandals, covered up by his wife. Harrison is determined not to follow his example but to be better than his father in every way he can be. Harrison insists that they marry against the advice of his closest advisors, who rather he quietly pay her off.

I really loved how Ryan unfurls as a character when she joins Harrison in Georgia. From their marriage contract negotiations, to the stiffening of her spine when faced with his awful parents and protective friends.  She feels keenly how little prepared she is for political life or to fit in his privileged but dysfunctional family. She is able to withstand Harrison’s passive-aggressive and resentful behavior by armoring up  by making the right connections, figuring out how dress right way & not letting them underestimate her.  

Harrison is a difficult man for Ryan to love. He rarely offers glimpses of the person he was with her on their one-night stand. He has been raised to hide all his vulnerabilities or risk being shredded by those closest to him. He has gambled it all on this congressional bid and is desperate to avoid failure. While he longs revive their easy connection, he struggles to figure out how reach out to her. His clumsy attempts are rebuffed or misunderstood. O’Keefe does a wonderful job highlighting the gigantic disconnect they are facing when Ryan confronts Harrison with his utter detachment about her pregnancy and the reality that they will one day be parenting together. His utter focus on the campaign have blinded him to the fact that he is turning into his parents, thinking of Ryan and their future child as easily ignorable political props, the same way he used to be treated.

Both Harrison and Ryan have a lot of familial guilt and baggage to overcome, both are terrified of being vulnerable and have every reason to doubt and suspect each other. They have created the worst possible circumstances in which to try to make a sham marriage into a real one. O’Keefe builds fantastic relational tension, as Harrison and Ryan's attraction and mistrust develops into a frustrating hot-cold dynamic. They are constantly off-balance trying to figure out their boundaries and figure out what is real or what is for show in their interactions.

Indecent Proposal is a great book that delivers emotionally. Usually I fail to enjoy marriage of convenience stories and I hardly ever finish books with that trope. I think the reason Indecent Proposal worked for me when so many marriage of convenience story don't is that O’Keefe successfully transformed it into a “Marriage in Trouble” story and making me care less about the events that lead to their marriage and instead on them reviving the spark of connection that drew them together in the first place.

 4 stars

 

 

I received a digital review copy of Indecent Proposal from Random House Publishing Group - Bantam Dell  via Net Galley.

A twitter conversation this morning with @_ClaudiaGC reminded me that I meant to write a review for Indecent Proposal months ago, but I was sidetracked by sickness, holidays and just too much else. The conversation helped me figure out why Indecent Proposal worked for me when so many marriage of convenience stories do not.

 


Personal Geography by Tamsen Parker

15663266840_63b90839dfAre you experiencing BDSM-romance exhaustion?  I am. I have mostly moved away from reading books where BDSM is big part of the story, which is why I almost missed reading Tamsen Parker's excellent Personal Geography (The Compass Series Book 1) .  I will also admit to being wary because I know Personal Geography is only part 1 of a story, and I knew I wouldn't get a HEA till its sequel, Intimate Geography comes out in March.

I am very happy however to have received a review request from Parker. I frequently interact  with her on Twitter and really enjoyed her short-story "Needs" in the Winter Rain anthology and that combined with her assurance that there is a really good HEA will be coming, convinced me to give the book a try.

Despite my caution I really enjoyed Personal Geography  mostly because I really liked the heroine. India is extremely competent and hardworking consultant. She comes in and straightens out the finances and everyday operations of failing agencies. Her job is high stress (crazy intense boss) and high stakes (media scrutiny & political consequences). Several years in the past, India exited a long-term D/s relationship over a deep betrayal of trust. The ending of that relationship radically changed the course of her life.  With the help of her best friend Reyes, she has rebuilt her life, and has found a way to have her sexual/kink needs met through a series of short-term encounters, with dominants who Reyes has carefully vetted. She sets the terms, and walk away when she wants to. The fact that these relationships are void of emotional intimacy are feature not a bug for India.

Cris Admore is the latest Dom to get a call from Reyes with an invitation he can’t resist. Cris has recently had long-term relationship end, and is open to accepting India’s terms with some modifications. He wants a chance to talk to her beforehand. It is a minor change, but one that has reprecussion in the way they interact.  Both India and Cris know getting to know each other outside the roles they play sexually can change everything. He uses this little change to India’s contract as a wedge to start breaking through her anti-intimacy wall.

Predictably the more he knows her, the more he talks to her, the more they grow to depend on each other and when India realizes just how much she has become entangled in him, how tempted she is to be more for him, she recoils, violently and decisively. As a reader I wanted to yell at her for not being willing to take that step, while completely understanding why doesn't dare.

At the end of the first half of India & Cris’s story, I  was left eager for more, but not frustrated. As a reader I am rooting for Cris and India, they have some big hurdles to overcome. While the end can be characterized as a cliff-hanger, I didn't feel fear as much as anticipation about what this development will mean  for India & Cris. I will be eagerly awaiting the second half of their story.  

And I hope Parker does  write a story for Reyes some day. 

4.5 stars

I received a review copy of Personal Geography from the author, Tamsen Parker.


Party Lines by Emma Barry

Carina_0115_9781426899454_partylinesParty Lines opens with a world-weary Michael Picetti sitting at a gate in O’Hare airport waiting for a flight to Iowa in December. He is heading back to work on a presidential primary campaign, after seeing one of his best-friends get married & realizing the other will be marrying sometime soon too. He feels acutely the distance and difference between the lives of his friends and his own. He finds himself scanning the crowd for a likely hook-up, some other jaded campaign veteran with no hope of a social life. It is mostly a mental exercise, to entertain himself while waiting when he isn’t scrolling through twitter to take the pulse of the voters or taking calls from other campaign staff.

When Lydia Reales sits next to him on the plane, he turns his scrutiny on her, trying to figure out what is bringing her to Iowa. They eventually start talking about the candidates with best chances of prevailing, about life on the campaign trail & he starts thinking about how he would love to keep talking to her & share his tips for surviving campaigns with her when she suddenly gives him the brush-off & firmly settles in to read instead. He is very confused,  not sure what went wrong and stews about it for the rest of the flight. He thought they were clicking, that she was maybe even flirting, and he felt so secure on the assumptions he made based on her reading material, the fact she is young and Latina & that he doesn't even consider the actual reason she was less than impressed with him. When after some awkwardness Lydia accepts his card & bemusedly offers her in return, it is embarrassingly clear to Michael what Lydia realized from the start. Turns out Michael & Lydia are on opposite sides of a lot of issues and the rest of the novel is peppered the best conversations about why they believe what they believe and why they have ended up where they have ended up. Barry does a great job presenting how campaign folk are wired differently than other political operatives.

I really liked Lydia  even if I strongly disagree with her politics. Lydia is just starting her political career and is driven, ambitious, competitive and combative in ways we rarely see heroines get to be. I love that she takes advantage of every opportunity and works her ass off. I just loved how much she wanted to be amazing at her job, to be seen and recognized for it and how she is trying to figure out how to best fit in & while standing-out on the campaign team. I Liked that Barry also doesn’t shy away from portraying some of the micro-aggressions Lydia experiences as WOC on the campaign trail, and how Lydia sometimes chafes and sometimes dismisses them. Michael is at completely different place in his career than Lydia. He is getting ready to transition out of campaigning. He is questioning his life choices and his passion for being on the road. 

Politics aside Michael and Lydia are simply on two different trajectories, so this is not simply at enemies to lovers story with super-hot secret affair but story about bad timing. I love that Lydia really doesn’t want or have time for a relationship with Michael. It is not in her master plan and she has bigger things on her agenda. Michael on the other hand can afford to want more from their relationship that she does. He is secure in his career in a way she isn’t. That unbalance in place of life, goals and expectations creates real conflicts for them to overcome during the novel, over and above the really engrossing political drama they are engaged in.

I just loved how Michael & Lydia’s relationship develops and deepens over the course of the election cycle progressing from tense encounters, confusing stolen moments, to secret nights, texts & phone calls. The rhythm of their relationship feels right and I found their climactic conflict to be utterly believable. I think Ms. Barry took some great risks in the second-half of the novel in particular, with the way Lydia reacts and responds to that conflict. The way she responded took my breath away but it was completely consistent with her established personality, character & priorities. That trueness to her character allowed me to believe in her choices and thus believe in their HEA.

If you haven't picked up the first two books in the Easy Part series, Special Interests and Private Politics, run out and get them, all three are really great reading.  Each of the romances and couples have very different trajectories to true love and I believed in all of them.

A review copy of this novel was provided by Carina Press via NetGalley.
On-Sale Date: January 12, 2015


It's not you...it's me (for the most part): A DNF round-up

As a reviewer I keep a scribbled three-section list tracking my reading of review books. I track the books I still have to Read, Books I have read and need to review and I keep a tally of all the review books I started to read and ended up abandoning. I don’t feel I must finish every review book I request, and I frequently abandon books I pay for or borrow for the library simply because there are too many books out there to read so I refuse to force myself to finish something that is not clicking with me emotionally, stylistically or intellectually. I also don’t have the stamina required to hate read books. Sometimes it is very easy to point to why I didn’t finish a book (wrong mood, wrong trope, just plain wrong), but sometimes I run into books that I actually kind of like but didn’t finish anyway. Most of the books on the list fall into the last category. For the most part these are books that should have worked for me, that I sort of liked but didn’t end up finishing.

As I start this new reviewing year I wanted to clear my list a little bit. Say good-bye to some of the books that have been haunting my reading queue and make room for others. Here are some the books that sadly landed in my DNF list in the last year and half and I have to simply admit to myself I am just not going to finish.

 

Yours to Keep by Serena Bell
Release date 11/11/13
Review Copy courtesy of Random House Publishing Group — Loveswept


I started reading this novel with a bit of trepidation. I like reading romances with Latin@ characters, but I was a bit wary since the main conflict centered on the immigration status of the heroine. Turns out that aspect of the novel was really well done. I thought Bell did a good job presenting the struggles of undocumented immigrants who came to the US and young children, who have little connection to their home countries but are trapped in the underground cash economy, unable to take the jobs they could easily do well because they lack documentation. Ana is wonderfully written, and I liked how Bell portrayed the conflicts caused by varying levels of assimilation within the Travares family. My problem was the hero. Ethan is a smug widowed pediatrician, who is constantly redirecting the advances of desperate housewives. I had to tap out when he decided he could solve all of Ana’s problems, without really consulting her. I suspect this becomes a plot point in the book but I had to tap out at that point because I just couldn’t stand him.

 

The Submission Gift by Solace Ames
Release date 4/30/14
Review Copy courtesy of Carina Press 

I really loved the first book in the LA Doms series “The Dom Project”, so I nearly broke my finger requesting the Submission Gift. I loved that like the first book it had a diverse cast and that it really works to humanize BDSM and poly relationships, taking them out of the super-fantastical constructs of secret billionaire fetish clubs and instead focusing on everyday people. I read the first few chapters eagerly but as I read I found myself increasingly stressed out. Adriana is in a very stressful and toxic work environment, and apparently this is a trigger for me. Since then I’ve had to quit a few other books where work stress plays a major part of the plot. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am not to be able to finish reading this book, because outside my trigger, I was loving it. Adriana and Jay were a beautiful Mexican-American couple, who are coming out the other side of some hugely stressful life events with real grace and love. If you are not triggered the same way I am, please go out and pick this up.

 

If I stay by Tamara Morgan:
Release date 6/30/14
Review Copy courtesy of Carina Press

 Sometimes I part ways with a book without really knowing why it didn’t work for me. This is hugely frustrating. I wish I could say X-didn’t work, or I can’t stand Y, but this isn’t the case with “If I Stay”. I have read and enjoyed many Tamara Morgan books and the blurb really appealed to me. I was still watching Dowtown Abbey back them so the Montgomery Manor series, which focuses on the entangled webs of relationships between the Montgomery’s and their staff, would seem to be right up my alley. But this romance between the daughter of the Nanny who grew with the Montgomery kids & has come back to take her mother’s place and the family chauffeur who resents no longer being able to do his chosen work as stunt driver, should have worked for me but instead I put it down and didn’t come back to it for months.

  

The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan:
Release date 7/15/14
Review Copy courtesy of Courtney Milan 

Courtney Milan is one of my auto-buy authors. I’ve enjoyed nearly all her stories, but I have some sort of weird every-other thing going on with her Brothers Sinister series. With both Heiress Effect & Suffragette Scandal, despite liking the characters I found myself putting the down the book and not wanting to pick it up again. I think in both cases the either the tropes or the tensions in the books just didn’t connect.

It has been over 6 months and I have to just admit to myself that I might just not into it. I did love “Talk Sweetly to Me” and I will still pick up every book Milan publishes because when her books click with me, they really click with me.

 

Should’ve Been Home Yesterday by Inez Kelley:
Release date 7/21/14
Review Copy courtesy of Carina Press 

I’ve read a few of Kelley’s other Country Roads novels, and her dark erom The Bastard, and was intrigued by this second-chance at love story. It started off really well, establishing the heroine’s long-time devotion to the hero, but once I realized the story was going to center on the characters’ inability to communicate how they truly feel about each other, I just lost interest. I read great deals of the story, backwards trying to get myself back into reading it and recapture the feelings I felt when I started reading but their inability to honestly communicate eventually stopped me from making forward progress. It is a marriage of convenience, best-friend’s sister love story with lots of angst and romantic suspense elements.

 

Trapped at the Altar by Jane Feather:
Release date 7/22/14
Review Copy courtesy of Pocket Books 

Set in the the Restoration era, I thought the time period would be a welcome break from Regencies and Victorians, and it might reignite by interest in HistRom. I really wanted to read this book after reading the blurb and hearing from others than the heroine wasn’t your typical virginal hist-rom heroine. Feeling trapped by her family’s political expectations & feeling isolated, she indulges in an affair with besotted newcomer. She enjoys their sexual relationship but is not naive enough to think it can be more, she just thinks she has time to enjoy a little passion before she is forced into a political marriage. However that times comes sooner than she expected & she is forced to the altar to solidify her clan’s future. Even though she is good friends with the groom, she never ever expected to actually have to marry him and feels incredibly betrayed by the fact that he won’t fight being forced into the marriage.  But she throws tantrums rather than plot and act, and the hero's failure to explain to her that he actually wants more than a passionless political marriage ended my interest. 

 

The Second Chance Hero by Jeannie Moon:
Release date 10/21/14
Review copy courtesy of Penguin Intermix

 

Kim Torres was a nurse in Afghanistan where her fiance was fatally wounded and died in her field hospital. The trauma is compounded when she discovers he was involved with another woman in his battalion.  It has been over a year but she is struggling with returning to civilian life, and make sense of her fiance’s betrayal while unable to express her complicated and conflicted feelings to his grieving family. Unable to face returning to working as a nurse, Kim takes a job as nanny.  When her car breaks down and she needs a ride,  Owen Kent a friend to family who she nannies for, volunteers to pick her up. He feels an immediate connection and fascination when he meets Kim, soon realizing that he has seen her before, and had even served with her fiance, and was present for the messy scene. He keeps this fact from her, but is determined to date her.   At that point I had to put the book down. I couldn’t keep reading a book where the hero knows that the heroine has very valid trauma and trust issues and choose to protect himself by lying about this and other things. This is books is simply not for me. 

 

What makes you put down a book? Are you very predictable? Do the same things always cause you to DNF or does it have to be combination of factors?  I find that certain author's voices are so strong I will forgive their books for things I would immediately quit another author's book for. What about you?