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Best of 2017 Part 3: Best SF and Fantasy Romances

51N3CgGOTQL._SY346_ For the #readRchatawards I submitted a single nominee in the SF romance category and that was Ashwin by Kit Rocha. Kit Rocha books have a special place in my heart, their themes and recurring motifs are exactly my catnip & Eden and the Districts one of my favorite places that I would never want to live in.

If I had taken advantage of 3 books per category rule, I could filled by ballot with only Kit Rocha books, since their other 2 releases this year, Deacon and Beyond Forever were also fantastic. Kit Rocha's books are my very short list of "books I will drop everything for".  

The new Gideon's Riders series, continues to explore Kit Rocha's favorite themes of chosen families, of self-exploration and recognizing and accepting love. I reviewed Ashwin back in March when it came out.   Spoiler alert, I loved it and I recommend it to anyone who hasn't tried Kit Rocha books before and doesn't want to invest in reading their fantastic backlist. 

Ashwin is about a engineered super-soldier who has grown so emotionally unstable his handlers fear him. He has never felt fully human, but a weapon. The one person that makes sense in his life is Kora.  But Kora doesn't make sense to herself, her past a jumble of secrets and lies. Together they find the courage to untangling the secrets of their pasts and finding security and understanding in a person most should and do fear.

 Although many of the characters might be familiar to long-time Kit Rocha readers, this is a great jump on point for new readers, as the status quo has radically changed in the Sectors and Kit Rocha doesn't assume you've spent several years reading their previous novels (like I have).

                                                        -My review of Ashwin in March

 

6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d2bdd1b5970c-320wiI didn't read a lot of Fantasy Romances published this year, instead I've been binge reading a lot of Ilona Andrews Urban Fantasy series, the Inn Keeper Chronicles and the Edge series and trying out some of Jeffe Kennedy's Twelve Kingdoms books. I read a lot of books that straddled the fuzzy line between fantasy and PNR, books  like Spectred Isle and Etched in Bone. However Stephanie Burgis's Snowspelled was undeniably fantasy and undeniably delightful.

It is about Cassandra, who spent her life fighting her society's prejudice against women casting spells, eventually becoming one of the most promising magicians of her age, only run into a the sharpest of glass ceilings.  

 Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, Cassandra tries a risky spell that robs her of ability to cast spells, and four months later she still struggles to go through the motions of daily life. When her beloved but matchmaking sister-in-law has commits them to attend house party where her ex-fiance will also be attending, Cassandra is resigned and determined not to let anyone see her pain, least of all the fiance she intentionally drove away. But her personal discomforts soon fall in priority when she gets caught up in a tricky Elven plot. Politics, diplomacy and detection are three things Cassandra has never had bother with before, but she is determined to solve the mystery she stumbled upon.

                                                            -My review from last month.

 

My favorite part of this book is Cassandra's trajectory from someone who saw herself as "not-like-other-girls" to someone who recognizes and values other women and their work and starts to rebuild her life in a way to honors both her talents and passion for Magic with a better understanding of what is at stake for everyone. She find a new vocation, a new mission and a new respect for the obstacles and ambitions of others.  It is a story we need to see more in Fantasy.

 


Best of 2017 Part 2: Best Historical Romance and Paranormal Romance

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When I dove into romance I binged on Historical Romance to the point I burnt out. I had to challenge myself to read Historical Romance. Eventually I discovered that I needed to start reading outside Regency-wallpaper romances to rekindle my love for the sub-genre.  The last couple of years have been particularly rich in fantastic historical romance that goes beyond ballrooms and dukes. 

For Best Historical Romance my nominees were Fair, Bright and Terrible by Elizabeth Kingston, An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole, & Lisa Kleypas’s A Devil in Spring but if I could nominated five I would have also nominated The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare and K.J. Charles 's An Unnatural Vice.

I adored Kingston's The King's Man, so I was really looking forward to the sequel,  Fair, Bright and Terrible by Elizabeth Kingston. I was shocked however to learn that the heroine would be Eluned, Gwellian's rebel mother, who was one of the chief antagonists in the King's Man. Kingston however compelled me to fall in love for this revenge-minded and vicious heroine.  It is a second chance at love story, as after the death of her mad abusive husband in the Holy Lands, King Edward seeks to solidify his hold on Welsh lands by forcing her to marry one his men, Robert de Lascaux.  Eluned and Robert had a costly affair when they were both young and Robert has never stopped loving her.  Eluned however paid a deep price for their love affair and is not eager to give up her power, lands and position to a new English Lord, even if he was once her beloved lover. Their journey from vengeance and pain to trust and love was amazing.  I loved the richness of Kingston's storytelling, the way she handles religion, personal faith and politics is intricate and remarkable. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it and if you are an audio fan, both the books are superbly narrated by Nicholas Boulton, one of the best romance narrators around.

516WEHK17LLAlyssa Cole's An Extraordinary Union is a spy-thriller set in the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Ellie Burns's photographic memory once made her performer on the abolitionist circuit , but the former slave now serves the Union as part of the Loyal League, a network of black spies. She has infiltrated the home of a Confederate politician when her mission is endangered by the arrival of another Union spy, Malcom McCall, a Scottish immigrant and one of Pinkerton's agents.

I loved Ellie, righteous anger and disgust and incredibly bravery.  She is witty, cynical about men, white men in particular and determined to do all she can to make sure the Union wins. 

61DtVTVlHSLLisa Kleypas's Devil in Spring is the sequel I didn't really mean to read but that I loved anyway. I was distinctly underwhelmed by the first book in this series, as the hero and heroine hardly spent anytime together, and although I bought Marrying Winterbourne, I didn't ever get around to reading it. However, after hearing interesting things from trusted romance reading friends, I decided to try the sample and I was delighted by Pandora. One of the wild Ravenel sisters that steal the first book, Pandora is determined to avoid marriage, so she may launch her own game-manufacturing company. However an act of kindness and clumsiness entrap both Pandora and  Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, the son of Evie and Sebastian from Kleypas's treasured classic Devil in Winter, in an engagment.

This book has some flaws, mostly in the third half when the plot goes sideways, but Pandora is one of the most enjoyable Regency heroines I have read in a good while.

51P7cOTXSrLHowever I could have easily nominated Tessa Dare's delightful and fanciful, The Duchess Deal. The Duchess Deal is more fairy-tale than Regency romance, as many almost fantastical events move the plot forward but the romance was just so tender and sweet that like most Tessa Dare romances, it overcomes all sorts of ridiculous premises. It doesn't quite matter how ridiculous it would be that a Duke would insist on marrying an impoverished seamstress so that he may spite the fiancee that abandoned him when he returned dramatically scarred from the Continental Wars, because story feels right.  The book leans into the ridiculous at points, with Emma giving the Duke new nicknames each day and Ashbury's adventures as a nighttime vigilante.

I very  much enjoy Dare's sense of humor and find her fun to read. She frequently makes me laugh, which is something I look for in fluffy reads, but she also tackle a great deal emotional territory. I particularly appreciated the scene where the Duke struggles to understand and comfort the Emma when she is having a panic attack. It wasn't gritty or eloquent but it felt very very familiar.

She clung to his waistcoat. “This just h-happens sometimes.” He tightened his arms about her. “I’m here,” he murmured. “I’m here.” He didn’t ask her any further questions, but he couldn’t help but think them.

 

51EKw4JefHL._SY346_I adored K.J.Charles's Sins of the Cities series ( I reviewed the whole series for RT). The books are set in a colorful and diverse London that is rarely depicted in romance novels and never as vividly. An Unnatural Vice is the story of Nathaniel Roy, an investigative journalist pressured by his boss to take on the incredibly popular spiritualists, who were all the rage in Victorian London. His skepticism meets its match in Justin Lazarus, the gifted amoral grifter known as the Seer of London, and one my favorite K.J. Charles characters yet.  

K.J.Charles did a fantastic job juggling the overarching series mystery with the more personal and deadly danger Justin and Nathan find themselves caught up in.  I was fascinated by the way Charles was able to resolve the conflicts between Justin and Nathan, to provide them with a believable HEA. 

 

My nominations for Best Paranormal Romance were Wildfire (Book 3 in the Hidden Legacy series), Silver Silence by Nalini Singh (Book 1 in her new Psy-Changeling Series, Trinity) and Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop.

27422533There are very few authors for whom I consistently pay full price for on release day, no questions asked, that small circle includes these authors.

I have consistently enjoyed Gordon and Ilona Andrew's Urban Fantasy and PNR novels but the Hidden Legacy series has all the elements that made the other series work for me mixed together in just the right way.  I love Nevada, her self-sacrifice, and determination to take care of her family. I love her family, her wacky sisters, her funny cousins, and her quirky and determined mom and grandmother.  I really like Rogan and the arc the Andrews have given to him, from almost feral despot, to a dangerous and still unpredictable leader who trust Nevada as partner in all ways, and is determined to make sure the Nevada and her family have all the choices they deserve.

I really hope we see way more books set in this world. I am pretty done with Rogan and Nevada as leads, but I am eager to follow so many of the other characters in this series into magical mayhem.  These books are also excellent audio books. Renee Raudman once again pairs up with Andrews to deliver an engrossing performance.

51kN6kL1f7L._SY346_I was thrilled to see Nalini Singh embrace a new more inclusive direction in the her new Psy-Changeling series, Trinity.  Silver Silence is the story of Silver Mercant and Valentin Nikoleav.

Valentin is sweet, determined Bear Shifter who is determined to breakthrough Silver' icy silence, but he gets consent.  

In Silver Silence, Valentin does not proceed without Silver's explicit consent. He is blunt, determined and stubborn but he respects Silver's choices even when it hurts him.  He encourages her and makes sure she has everything she needs. His protectiveness does not make her world smaller. Silver is presented as more powerful than Valentin in all ways but the physically, and that he is not threatened by her prominent global position but instead actively supportive of it.  Valentin's love for Silver is self-sacrificial, and constant when many would have given up. Singh does a great job presenting this as fidelity not simply stubbornness.

"Who are you to me?" 
"Yours," he said, "I'm yours."

From my July 2017 review

51l5ne9mCDL._SY346_ Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop is the last book of a fascinating but often frustrating series for romance readers like myself who are used to more romantic progression and heat. But the series and its sprawling cast captured my heart and imagination.

In this novel Bishop resolves Meg and Simon's long-standing but unacknowledged love for one another. The whole world is changed by their relationship even if they don't know quite how to articulate what they are one another.  I left the series feeling satisfied and impressed after a few re-reads of the whole series highlighted to me how many themes and threads from the first books are tied up in the fifth book. 

However the book was also partly a set up for Bishop future novels set in the world of the Others as she expands the focus away from the Courtyard to new satellite communities.  I am eager to see what dangers and wonders those stories will dwell on.

 Next up:  Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Romance!


Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

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Cassandra Harwood fought her whole life for the chance to study magic at the Great Library.  She excelled at Magic despite long-standing tradition reserving its practice to men. But despite admittance to the Great Library and although she might have been the most talented magician of her age, she was still a woman and no one wanted to hire a Lady Magician. Everyone in Anglasia knows a woman's place is in Boudicate, governing the nation, not casting spells. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, Cassandra tries a risky spell that robs her of ability to cast spells, and four months later she still struggles to go through the motions of daily life. When her beloved but matchmaking sister-in-law has commits them to attend house party where her ex-fiance will also be attending, Cassandra is resigned and determined not to let anyone see her pain, least of all the fiance she intentionally drove away. But her personal discomforts soon fall in priority when she gets caught up in a tricky Elven plot. Politics, diplomacy and detection are three things Cassandra has never had bother with before, but she is determined to solve the mystery she stumbled upon.


A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Recently Audible had one of their not-too-infrequent sales, for which I am always a sucker.  As I browsed the Fantasy section I stumbled upon this series.  I remembered quite a lot of buzz for it among the fantasy and Lit-Fic crowd when the first book came out and I was curious. A fair number of my twitter book friends had read it and many recommended it with the caveat that it had pacing problems.

A Discovery of Witches is about ambitious and determined academic, Diana Bishop who had forsaken her family's magical heritage to devote herself to the study of history, particularly the birth of scientific thought. She is in Oxford researching Alchemical texts tracing when Chemistry and Alchemy branched off from each other, when she calls up a book long thought lost. Her interactions with the book act like a catalyst, sparking a chain reaction of events that dramatically turn her world upside down and catch the attention of a whole cohort of dangerous creatures.

One such dangerous creature is Matthew Claremont, ostensibly a brilliant but reclusive scientist, who is fact a extremely old and powerful vampire, who has been chasing the secrets hidden in the book  Diana inadvertently opens.  But Matthew quickly becomes fascinated with the curiously un-witchy witch. 

This book was in equal parts fascinating and frustrating. There were a lot of ideas and characters that I adored but the pacing and storytelling left me unsettled and dissatisfied. I love books with a great sense of place and setting, and on that front Harkness over-delivers. Whether she is describing the Bodelian's reserve reading rooms, a grand fortress in the French countryside or ghost-haunted house in Upstate New York,  it is described in intricate detail. I am not a very visual reader but I am sure I could sketch out each of these locations with a great deal of accuracy after reading the book.  This would not be a con for me, if not for the number of times where I had to re-read or re-listen to a brief pivotal scene buried at the end of one these extensively descriptive chapters. Maybe were are supposed to feel as bewildered as the hyper-observant Diana feels but mostly it left me feeling impatient.

I loved a ton of the secondary characters, who were vibrant and distinctive. I loved Matthew's weary, resentful vampires family initially bristling with hostility, and his daemon best-friend, Hamish who is pushy and patient, tolerant and judgy.  I also loved Diana's beloved aunts, Sarah and Em, who are prickly, suspicious, loyal and devoted to each other.  I also liked the revelations in the second half that make Diana radically alter her relationship with her magic.  I especially loved that it did not become as I initially feared, Matthew doling out wisdom and insights about her powers, instead he is often more wary and perplexed by them than she is.

There were however many elements about her relationship with Matthew that were uncomfortable. At one point I started highlighting every time, Diana took responsibility for something that triggered, unbalanced or affected Matthew. She is hyper-aware of being his prey and as result, is constantly monitoring his mood, and his reactions.  It is a survival instinct of course, but it is one that should put a greater strain on their relationship than it does. 

I was also repulsed by the deeply patriarchal vampire culture, which condones and affirms Matthew's desire to control and command.  While the story pays lip-service to how assertive, willful and independent Diana, she is incrementally cedes more and more control to Matthew even as she grows into more of her power.  

I read a lot of book with caring protective alpha-male heroes, but this was just too much for me to like Matthew for Diana. I feel like his love is suffocating rather than nurturing. I wish I was reading about Diana's parents, whose relationship seems vastly more balanced.  I am not sure I would be planning on reading the second book if didn't already own it.


Spectred Isle (Green Men 1) by K.J. Charles

51MgWXJAakL._SY346_In Spectred Isle, the porous veil that separates the mundane from the magical worlds was almost completely shredded by the terrible choices magic users made during the war. Unusual magical phenomena is more common than it was before the war, and there are less skilled occultists around, since many like Simon Feximal (from Charles’s The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal) were lost or went missing during the war.

Saul Lazenby is a talented archaeologist whose career and life have been derailed by a dishonorable discharge from the army. The only job he can find is as secretary for a man obsessed with finding sites of magical significance.  Although skeptical he dutifully follows his employer's whims and fancies, tracking down these allegedly magical sites throughout London, till disturbing things begin occurring in alarming regularity. He is particularly disturbed to keep running into Randolph Gylde, who he suspects knows more than he is letting on.

Randolph Glyde is the arrogant and sly scion of a magical house devastated by the war. He is desperately trying to fulfill the duties his family has kept for generations, while ignoring his deep grief at their catastrophic and preventable loss during the war. He is at first suspicious of and then grows increasingly concerned for Saul safety as he persist in blundering into situations he has no preparation to face.

This series is a sequel of sorts to The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, set in the same world but not directly picking where the Casebook left off. Instead The Green Men series is set in the interwar period immediately after World War I. This is  the fragile yet glittering era of the Bright Young Things, where a war scarred generation tries to pick up the pieces in a world that has been radically changed by the war.  Although Sam Caldwell, Feximal’s adopted son is one of the supporting characters and the bureaucratic Shadow Ministry also returns to serve as Randolph’s nemesis in this novel, you don’t actually have to have read The Casebook in order to follow the story.

I enjoyed how Charles wove together history, elements of horror stories and folklore together to create incredibly menacing situations for Saul and Glyde to encounter. I also loved how Saul's Green Man magic worked, and how despite Randolph's magical pedigree he is really bumbling about since he is  trying to take over the roles left vacant by his family for which he has no training.

Both Randolph and Saul are vulnerable and lost in their own ways. Saul is deeply ashamed about what he has done in search of love before and Randolph has a lot of unresolved grief to deal with. I loved that Randolph and Saul are deeply suspicious of each other for incredibly legitimate reasons.  And I loved that they both long for yet struggle to picture what a lasting gay relationship would look like. They have take chances and be brave and name what they want, and let go what they have understood before. 

The supporting characters all need fleshing out, there where too many scenes with Green Men (the independent  occultists, ghost hunters and magic users, Glyde has aligned himself with in order to oppose the Shadow Ministry) where I couldn’t tell one from another. The only exception was Sam who by virtue of being a returning character, has an established history and his own distinct trauma. I look forward to reading the Green Men's individual stories but they are largely ciphers with dark backstories at this point. It was still very interesting, engaging start to a series that is sure to grow in intensity and depth.


I received a ARC for review consideration from the author, K.J. Charles

Expected Publication date Aug 3, 2017


Sight Unseen: A Collection of Five Anonymous Novellas

Sight-unseen-b-small-2-377x600Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran, Erin Satie, Emma Barry and J.A. Rock contributed to this anthology/guessing game. I have read multiple books by 4 out of these 5 authors, so it was an easy decision to pick up this book.  Even not knowing who wrote which story, I could count on enjoying the anthology as whole.

The stories cover a gamut of sub-genres, from fantasy to historical. These stories are clearly experiments by the authors to write outside their usual niches and play with settings and tropes they aren't know for exploring and push the boundaries of the genre.

The book opens with "Lost That Feeling" about rebel witch who has erased 7 years of her life & needs to figure next step when she is rescued by her former rebel leaders. I loved the depiction of magic in this story and how it played with the amnesia trope within a magic fantasy setting. Alma is a living "what if" moment, and is conscious of the possibilities, while confused about the reasons that led her to that moment.  I would characterize this story as fantasy with romantic elements because the romance takes a far back seat to the philosophical questions of how to end injustice.

In "A Clear View of You", I adored the angry and cynical fake-psychic grad-student heroine, drowning in college debt. Harmony "Kate" Marsh is estranged from her hippie-magic obsessed mother, Pangaea.  North needs Kate's help to retrieve a magical orb in Pangaea's possession.  It is a fantastic story about truth, trust and family. I loved the interaction between North and Kate, and how he challenges her entrenched beliefs without forcing or coercing.  It had a lot of fun banter and humor through out.

In "Free," Brad is a timid accountant who finally builds up the courage to confront an oblivious biker princess, Wren Masters, about her father's biker club's drug dealing. It is a small town romance about unrequited crushes, growing up and moving on.  Of the novellas this was probably the most conventional in tone and style. The subversion is in how it reworks the the typical Biker romance, rejecting slut-shaming tropes, and elevating the law-abiding hero over well-hung arrogant biker.  I loved Wren was the sexual instigator and that her motivations are not simple or easy.

It is 1983, and CJ Crespo's band DonJon is falling apart. Donny, her creative but not romantic partner of a ten-years, has exchanged the excesses of the road for the strictures of religious conversion. Their careers are disintegrating but they are finally reaching toward each other. "Chariot of Desire" jumped forward and backward in time and it left me feeling pensive about passion & purpose & not terribly hopeful for CJ and Donny.

"The Heart is a Universe", the final novella is epic science fiction/romantic myth. Vitalis and Eleian are heroes to their planets.  Vitalis is the Chosen One, the brightest of her generation, chosen by her people as a child to face a deadly task that assures their ability to remain on their planet.  Eleian pulled his planet from the brink of chaos, facing off against a tyrant and helping them restore democracy, before retreating from public life. What most don't know is that he has been ill since birth, and only experiences brief moments of health and vitality.  He uses one of them to orchestrate a meeting with his hero and inspiration Vitalis.  I cried a lot reading this story, sympathetic frustrated tears, mostly as these two, struggled with anger, duty and doubt.  

As a whole this anthology was very interesting and ambitious. As a guessing game despite having read 4 out of the 5 authors and knowing for sure who wrote one of the stories, I don't feel any confidence in my authorial guesses but it was fun to read a set of stories without knowing who authored what. As a discovery tool, I will definitely try more books by the one author I had not read previously, J.A. Rock.


#RomBkLove Day 8: Heroes and Heroines

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There are all sorts of heroes and heroines. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Aliens, Aristocrats, Assholes and Sweethearts.... Some types come in and out of vogue, others seem perpetually popular? Which ones standout to you and why? What makes them memorable?

I don't think there is just one type of hero or heroine that appeals to me, I've never claimed a book boyfriend or girlfriend, but I do have a weakness for proud, independent heroines. Sasha Duncan (Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh), Kate Daniels (Illona Andrews), Mercy Thompson (Patricia Briggs), Lex Parrino (The Beyond Series, Kit Rocha), Zenobia Fox (Kraken King, Meljean Brook) and Justine DeCabrillac (Joanna Bourne), all have special places in my heart. They  kick ass, fight hard for the people they love and don't give up when facing terrible odds.  Their worlds, values and approaches to life and love vary greatly but at their core, they are all Amazons.

I read a lot of bossy protective heroes, mostly because they are such great foils to kickass independent heroines, but the heroes I remember the most tend to fit different molds.  David Cyprian from KJ Charles's Society of Gentlemen series is morally flexible, devious and too smart for his own good. Julius from Rachel Aaron's Heartstriker series is sweet, earnest and most of all kind while Ash Winters from Alexis Hall's Glitterland is self-destructive and mean,   Judd Lauren from Nalini Singh's Caressed by Ice is cautious, repressed and gentle. Simon Wolfguard  from Anne Bishop's The Others is grumpy, baffled and Wolf. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha & Moonshadow by Thea Harrison

Make Love not War goes the 60’s refrain but that is not a choice the lovers in these two books can make. War is raging and they can’t retreat or escape it. Their choice is to make love and war.

51VepsJ+oeL._SY346_Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha is the final book in their dystopian epic series about a band of free-loving bootlegging gangsters that were push too far and too long and refuse to roll-over and die.  They tried just carving a little piece of the world for themselves but the world wouldn’t leave them alone, so they had to make their world just a bit bigger.

Nessa in Beyond Surrender is everyone’s little sister, most especially Dallas’ . She has been with him since before there were any other O’kanes. Her skill at making Liquor is the heart of his operation. And no one is more aware of that than Nessa.  Life has taught her that only two kinds of men ever make a move on her, thoughtless lunks who don’t know enough to be scared of the O’kanes  and manipulative liars who see her as asset to be seduced away. Nessa has been waiting a long time to find someone who will hold her attention and who is worth her time. Ryder terrifies her. He is everything she wants, and she has absolutely no idea what he really wants.

Ryder doesn't either, he has been training and preparing for this war his whole life. The only person that has made him want to consider what comes after is Nessa.

I enjoyed the romance, and I love the dynamics of Nessa and Ryder’s relationship as they both try to figure out what they want and how much they want it. They are deliciously awkward at times and undeniably sexy. However the main draw for me in this book was seeing how Bree and Donna were going to wrap up this war, and series, keeping up the tension and stakes and not destroy a bunch of HEA’s in the process.  I was sucker punched at points and  just generally impressed at how they were able to really show the cost of this war on the O’kanes while not betraying romance expectations.  There was a cost and many tears and scars because to this war.  There are many storylines I am eager to follow into their new Gideon’s Riders series but I was also satisfied that I had read something that hung together as cohesive if expansive story.  The O’kanes and their struggle have always connected with me deeply and I think this was a good way to end their story. ( I received ARC of Beyond Surrender from Kit Rocha).

Beyond Surrender ended a series but  Moonshadow opens one.

Moonshadow_Thea_Harrison_Moonshadow_HiRes_1575x2475-652x1024Moonshadow by Thea Harrison is the start of a new series in the Elder Races world.

 I took refuge in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races novels during the run up to the election. They were a fantastic escape, worth the hefty price tag. However unlike my experience  with the Beyond books, where I always wanted to see how things connected and check in with Dallas and Lex, I was way less interested in the political intrigue arcs and the central couple of Dragos and Pia. I wanted less of the meta story and more romance. In Moonshadow, Thea Harrison stays in the same world and mythos of her Elder Races novels but goes in more romance-heavy direction  (and much more reasonable price point).

Some things were very familiar, Nikolas, a soldier for Oberon’s Dark Court is powerful, dangerous and unreasonably attracted to the heroine. Despite being overmatched physically by the dark commanding hero, the heroine,  Sophie Ross,  tolerates zero BS and challenges the hero at every turn. There is tons of delicious bickering, some hate sex and lots of stomping around and trying to ignore inconvenient feelings.

Sophie is at a major crossroads in her life. She is recovering from a terrifying encounter that has left her unable to face returning to her old life as Witch-consultant with the LAPD, when she is offered a piece of her past and given chance to inherit an impregnable magical house, if she can break into it. On her way there she rescues a hurt creature that is not quite what he seems, bringing her to Nikolas’s attention. He and his ever-dwindling fighting brothers has been stranded and on the run for centuries and have almost forgotten what peace feels like. Sophie and her magical house, built on the site of their greatest defeat offers a glimmer of hope and her un-orthodox magical practices an edge they have never had before. Sophie and Nikolas must learn to fight side by side, even when it terrifies them. In the end  Sophie and Nikolas have to make a choice to treasure love despite inconvenient timing and their own doubts about their capacity love or give up before they have even gotten started.

I am hopeful of this new direction.  The romance still got  a bit lost in all the intense action of the last third of the book  but it was restored to its proper focus in the closing chapters. I am eager to spend more time in this corner of the Elder Races world. ( I received a ARC of Moonshadow from Thea Harrision via NetGalley).


Gambled Away: A Historical Romance Anthology

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I loved this anthology. Rich characterization and intriguing stories about resourcefulness, resilience and redemption that are never repetitive despite sharing a common plot element.

As this anthology includes many of my favorite authors I hope many people take a chance and explore some of their other novels and that they team up again in the future.

All or Nothing by Rose Lerner: This story was surprising, engrossing and emotionally complex. It is a story about lust, longing, trust, hope and how important it is to hold on to truth.  Maggie da Silva's life is outwardly glamorous. She and her best-friend and lover Henny host a small gambling den, where together they charm aristocrats into emptying their pockets for chance to be singled out to gamble on winning Maggie's sexual favors.  Simon Radcliffe-Gould is a struggling architect and terrible gambler who can't resist coming every week because he is infatuated with Maggie. He is titillated and mortified when he wins Maggie. Torn between honorable intentions and desire, he persuades Maggie to pose as his mistress at house-party hosted by Simon's ex-lover, so he can complete a commission without getting sucked back into a relationship with him.  

Lerner is masterful in balancing the emotional tension in this story, as both Maggie and Simon have a lot they need to figure out about themselves, their needs and what they are unwilling to compromise on before they can even consider how to turn their temporary entanglement into something lasting. I don't think I will be done thinking about Simon and Maggie and the truths they hold on to for a very long time. I was particularly moved by Maggie determination to reclaim her Jewish faith. Maggie's feelings about her faith are rich and complex as she seeks away to live authentically despite the challenges of growing up without any access to those who might have taught her the traditions her family was forced to abandon because of religious persecution and forced conversion.

“The Liar’s Dice” by Jeannie Lin

Set during the Tang Dynasty, Lin's novella is part of her fantastic Lotus Palace series and features many familiar characters as secondary characters while still being completely accessible to those who have  not be lucky enough to read the previous books.

Wei-wei, Lady Bai, has always been a dutiful daughter but she has grown restless and seeks to experience a little of bit of the freedom that would have been hers if she had been born a boy. After borrowing her brother's scholar's robes she sneaks into her sister-in-law's tea house to experience for herself what she has only ever read about. On her way back home she runs into Gao a shady acquaintance of her brother  and together they stumble upon murder victim. Worried that the murder might be connected to her brother's recently uncharacteristic behavior and could inadvertently destroy her brother's newfound joy, they team up to solve the murder.

The Liar's Dice was essentially a mystery novella with a touch of romance. Wei-wei tests the limits of her freedom, confronts her brother and gets to know a mysterious but unsuitable man in Gao. The ending of their flirtation is hopeful but far from assured. As a mystery novella it was highly enjoyable, full of fantastic and fascinating detail but as romance it left me somewhat unsatisfied.

“Raising The Stakes” by Isabel Cooper  As Okies stream into 1938 California, desperate as dust storms and drought push them off their land, Sam, a card-shark, wins a magical flute that allows her to summon a otherworldy fae warrior to come to her aid.  After the initial shock wears off, the clever and shrewd, Sam enlists Talathan's aid in conning a greedy revival preacher in order to save her family farm from foreclosure. Sharp, cunning Sam bewilders and tempts Talathan with her forthrightness and hidden vulnerabilities and makes them both long for something more than temporary team-up.

Cooper grounds her fantasy with great period detail and sells the partnerships between the nomadic gambler and fairy warrior through humor and snappy dialogue, but the romance between them still felt tentative by the end.

“Redeemed” by Molly O’Keefe 

Guilt-ridden Dr. James Madison is struggling to figure out how to rebuild his life, camping out in a brothel and turning away his friends. Addiction has wrecked his career and nearly destroyed the life of his assistant, but it is the daily grind of recovery and re-integration into society that is wearing him down. 

When Helen Winters, the caged singing star of the titillating traveling "Northern Spy" act  arrives in to town, James can't decide if he should intervene when it seems that Helen is being drugged and possibly held against her will by her manager and guardian. 

Like the previous stories in O'Keefe's fantastic post-Civil War western series, Into the Wilds, Redeemed explores the complicated legacy of the Civil War on its survivors.  All the characters are richly drawn and the romance was emotional and heart-wrenching.

“Gideon and the Den of Thieves” by Joanna Bourne When Gideon Gage a trader and mercenary infiltrates the lair of London's most powerful crimelord,  Lazarus, he finds unlikely allies in Hawker and Aimee, two of Lazarus's most loyal subjects.

Hawker and Aimee are conspiring to protect the ailing Lazarus from challengers, through a campaign of distraction and misdirection  because they know that Lazarus's perceived strength is all that keeps their little band of street urchins and waifs from utter destruction. Lazarus might be the devil but he is the devil they know and count on.

Bourne's novella is set is near the very beginning of her Spymaster's series chronology.  A very young Hawker, at his most  vicious, sarcastic and feral and Aimee, french refugee who works as Lazarus' s fence, is everything her heroines usually are, independent, resourceful and deeply scarred by her past.  I enjoyed the novella's focus on Aimee and Hawker's friendship and their relationship with Lazarus.

 

The anthology is currently available for free through Kindle Unlimited but it is more than worth its regular $2.99 price tag.  I received advance copy from the authors for review consideration.

 


Beyond Ruin by Kit Rocha

Beyondruin-400Beyond Ruin is the seventh book in the gritty and erotic post-apocalyptic romance series by Kit Rocha. I have an unapologetic love for this series, and I loved this book but you won't love it as much as I did  if you haven't invested in reading the previous books in the series. Luckily Bree Bridges and Donna Herren, the writing duo known as Kit Rocha have made it easy to catch up by offering discounted book bundles and fantastic website with a great character directory.

In Beyond Ruin all the seeds of conflict between Eden and the sectors that have been planted from the very beginning are bearing fruit. The tensions that rock  the central romance between Mad, Doc, Jade & Scarlet is inseparable from this conflict.

Mad, Adrian Maddox Rios, is the grandson of Prophet who built a powerful religious dynasty in Sector One.  He is somewhat estranged from his family, having fled to Sector Four and joined the O'Kanes, rather than taking up leadership there and face the suffocating love the of Prophet's followers, who would gladly give their lives for him, and wear his sainted mother's image on their bodies.  

Dylan "Doc" is a self-destructive pain-pill addict, who once was a sought after physician in Eden before he learned too many secrets and found himself a captive forced to oversee torture sessions. Dylan's family had sacrificed everything so he could get an education, but he became nothing but a tool to masters of Eden. He lost them and the position they had wanted for him and now he feels he has nothing left to lose. Once reckless and rootless, he has found some solace and comfort in Mad's embrace.

While Dylan and Mad are together they long for Jade and Scarlet, dreaming and fantasizing about them but unable to figure out how to approach them. They are caught in a tug of war of desire and fear, wanting and wishing but never quite acting on the flirtation, dancing frustrated circles around each other. 

Jade came to Sector 4, fragile and strung-out, after being betrayed by the Cerys the head of Sector Two.  She once used her training as an Orchid-trained prostitute to be serve as a spy, pleasing and manipulating powerful men in Eden with sex and submission.  When her patron discovered the truth, he nearly killed through drugs and abuse.  She has found comfort and love in Scarlet's arms but has not yet lowered the walls around her own heart enough to truly give and accept that love.

Scarlet is orphaned singer from the bombed-out Sector Three. She feels keenly out-classed by her lovers, never having lived in anything like the luxury and privilege they have all come from. They all adore her open-hearted embrace of life and sensation.

Beyond Ruin is probably the most plot heavy book Kit Rocha have ever written. A hell of a lot stuff happens, both to the central quartet and to Eden and the sectors. There are attacks, rescue missions, assassinations and the steady build-up toward war, all while Jade, Scarlet, Mad and Dylan try to figure out if their coming together as foursome can be maintained. There are a lot of moving parts to their relationship and they have to figure out how they can be there for each other beyond wrecking themselves with pleasure in bed.  Kit Rocha excels at building toward some seriously dark wrenching relationship moments that are 100% earned and consistent to who the characters are.  The push and pull of their ambitions, self-protection and instinctual drives, come up against the desire to truly accept, trust and belong to each other.

The stars of the book for me where Jade and Mad because they both struggle so much and respond so differently to very similar situations.  I was fascinated by Jade's internal struggle to let herself be truly seen by her lovers and her agonizing sense of responsibility over all the girls from the pleasure houses in Sector Two. Raised from childhood to feign desire and pleasure, to mimic affection and care in order to manipulate and control, she constantly questions her reactions and responses, as she works to reclaim her authentic self.  I felt Mad's anxiety and claustrophobia in Sector One, and his desire for and fear of wielding power over others.  He is a true prophet in how clearly he saw his grandfather's corruption and is struggling with untangling his desire to protect, save from his grand-father's power-hungry appetites. His struggle is how to love and care without controlling and self-martyr-ship.

The sex in these books continues to be inventive, hot but most importantly emotionally meaningful. The storyline continues to build with great payoff for longtime readers and I am on the edge of my seat waiting  to see what the future holds for the O'Kanes as their world is shaken once more.

I received a review copy for Beyond Ruin from one of its authors and was happily immersed into it.