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Who should you try? Some of my favorite WOC authors:

Last year I wrote a post breaking down the RITA finalists list against the books I happened to read the year before (2017) and looking at the list to see which books were in my TBR in order to move them up before the annual ceremony in July.  This year when the list was announced there were a few first time finalists that made me super happy (Congratulations, Alexis Daria and Priscilla Oliveras & KJ Charles) but there were so many fabulous books especially by Authors of Color that didn't final this year that at the end of day, I didn't feel a great RITA bounce.

This past month and half has been rough in Romancelandia. First were the waves of revelations of abuse and harassment in m/m, that affected a lot of readers and writers I read, then the RITAs announcement day came and went, and it just highlighted how segregated Romancelandia can be. Since then Black authors have been sharing incredibly painful stories of exclusion.  These stories are not new, but hopefully more people will hear them this time around.

At the same time my friend Jen (@jenreadsromance) had started work on website full of romance novel recommendations: https://www.jenreadsromance.com/, a place where a reader could find starter romances in many of romance's rich sub-genres. She is intentionally working on creating an inclusive list that is searchable by theme and time period. It is something I wish I had stumbled upon when I was first starting. I started by exploring my library's ebook collection first and that collection was mostly white, assembled by purchasing from the RITA finalists lists.

Eventually I left that mostly-white corner of Romancelandia behind, but not before I had developed the mistaken notion that African American and other POC simply didn't write the books I was looking for.  Instead I accepted the crumbs of having white writers who would very occasionally throw in a token or stereotypical CoC into their books, when looking for characters like me.  While I was growing bored, restless and increasingly angry with these book and I kept saying I wish, someone would write X but with POC. It took me a ridiculously long time to realize I was the problem because I was the one limiting myself. The problem wasn't that no one was writing that, it was that I wasn't looking at what POC writers were doing. The books were out there waiting for me, but I didn't know where to find them or who to ask. That was no one's problem but my own.  I had to change how I discovered books.  Some of it was organic, as I got more involved in Romancelandia, I met more PoC readers, as I followed them, I became exposed to authors and books I hadn't encountered before.  

As I moved into reviewing I became more intentional about reading outside the narrow corner of Romancelandia I had first landed in.  Some of it was unintentional, because I am not a big blog, I didn't just depend on what I saw available in Netgalley or Edelweiss, several authors that have grown into favorites approached me, sending in a review request . I am not going to pretend that my blog is this diverse wonderland but being willing to review what I buy for myself and accepting author pitches has certainly exposed me to tons of authors I would have never reviewed otherwise.

This week  has reminded how other folks might end up just not knowing about great books and great authors of color because no one in their immediate circle talks about them. I might think everyone knows who Farrah Rochon or Alisha Rai  or Beverly Jenkins is but honestly too many people don't. They might not see their books in  bookstores, they might not see them listed as read-a-likes.  Ask me how weird it was to walk into a B&N last year and have to hunt around to find just a couple of non-white authors on the shelves. So many of my faves were missing and it was a wake-up call about just how much further we need to go as industry to be inclusive despite how affirming my own twitter TL might be.

I can't fix the whole industry or those who don't actually want to read awesome books but I can talk about some of fantastic authors of color publishing right now. It is not a hardship to come up with fabulous Authors of Color to recommend, it is a hardship to stop.

 

 So who should you try? If you follow this blog the names I mention here should not surprise you. But if this is your first visit here:

 These are some of my favorites:

C1rYF-xYAVS._SL250_FMpng_Farrah Rochon (Contemporary & Sports Romance):  Rochon writes contemporary romance set in the south.  Most of her books take place in small town and cities not far from New Orleans. My favorite is her Moments in Maplesville Series, they are about people seeing their towns grown and change, worrying about big box stores moving in and whether they should move to bigger cities for better opportunities. The first book in The Moments in Maplesville series (which can be read as standalones),A Perfect Holiday Fling is about temporary single dad (his widowed sister is deployed overseas, so the former naval pilot moves in to take care of his nephew) and the recently divorce veterinarian he meets when they discover an abandoned cat. 

    She also wrote sports romance for Kimani, so if you are looking for football romance that are not improbably all-white check those out. She is a huge Broadway fan, so I hope one days she gives us Broadway-set romance. 

Alisharai Forbidden Heart coversAlisha Rai(Contemporary & Erotic Romance) has been on my favorite author list for a long time. I read and enjoyed a lot of her erotic romances, Serving Pleasure & Gentleman in the Street but I have adored her Forbidden Hearts series for Avon (Reviews for Hate to Want You, Wrong to Need You,  Hurts to Love You.) She tackles huge themes, creates a fantastic family saga that takes three books to resolve and left me wanting more while doing an amazing job portraying the many faces of anxiety and depression.  These people are complicated and fascinating and I loved them. So if you like angsty romance novels where lots of tropes are subverted and upended in swoony ways, check Alisha Rai's books out.

Clean breaks, a couple lays on a picnic blanket.Ruby Lang (Contemporary) writes smart, funny contemporary romances with strong female friendships and prickly heroines. I've liked each book in her Practice Perfect series better than the one before and I quite liked the first, Acute Reactions.  I loved Hard Knocks, book 2 and suddenly I got her, then Clean Breaks, and now Lang is one of those authors, I auto-buy. Most recently I simply adored her story in Rogue Acts, The Long Run.

So-sweet2-200x300Rebekah Weatherspoon's (Contemporary, Erotic Romance & PNR) Beards and Bondage series books Haven and Sanctuary start off with a bang, each of these RS-tinged contemporary romances feature the heroine surviving attempts on their lives. The openings are intense and gripping and immediately caught my attention but the meat of the books are these strong black women falling for big gruff mean that are secret marshmallows and are people they can lean and depend on.  I also really enjoyed her Sugar Baby series of novellas about a woman, Kayla, desperately trying to make ends meet, whose roommate convinces her to Sugar Daddy mixer event, in hopes of finding someone who will be happy to help pay some of her bills in exchange for a little companionship. Totally miserable at the event, she tries to hide out in side room and ends up meeting the organizer of the event, and they have to figure out how to negotiate a real relationship. This is not a trope that typically appeals to me but this series was delightful, and Kayla and Michael are adorable and I loved spending time with them as they figured out their HEA.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b7c8bf9c92970b-120wiDo you enjoy geeky heroes and heroines or raunchy stories of sexy revenge?  Well Melissa Blue/Dakota Gray writes them both! (Contemporary & Erotic Romance)  In early 2016, I read Under His Kilt, about co-workers who have fling and I ended up searching out the rest of her backlist and it so worth reading.  I  have to admit to hesitating in trying Perv when a few people on my TL started recommending it, I didn't know at the time that Dakota Gray was another pen name for Melissa Blue, and I was frankly put off my the hero's aggressive cockiness in the blurb. But I finally gave in after a good friend whose recs I trusted raved. It so fun. I am heroine-centric reader and I adored the heroine, Robyn, she is not here for the hero's shit, she is hero to teach him a lesson and it all gets very sexy and complicated.

D1wYve0bxCS._SY135_Priscilla Oliveras (Closed-door Contemporary Romance) RITA nominated debut, His Perfect Partner and its newly released follow-up Her Perfect Affair should be on your TBR if you want to read emotional romances, centered on sisterhood and family. It was such a joy to read a heroines who shared so much with me, who respond in such believable ways. These stories might be closed door but they don't lack in tension and sexiness. I am really looking forward to the third book, coming out later this year.

51qO-ZAMi6L Y648Mia Sosa writes great tropey Contemporary romances. I have really enjoyed her Love on Cue series for Avon Impulse. In the first two books she has mashed a lots of great tropes ( secret identity, vacation fling, best-friend's little sister, fake relationship) and combined them with great premises and an interesting and diverse cast of supporting characters to create highly-enjoyable romances.

Acting on Impulse features an Afro-Puerto Rican fitness trainer who has just gotten dumped on the radio by her politician boyfriend and decides to jet off for an island getaway. On the plane she meets Carter Williamson, a television star traveling incognito to an island resort after a grueling film schedule. Carter tries to make a play for Tori knowing she doesn't recognize him and when she finds out she is not happy and she puts him through his paces before she lets him into her heart.

Sosa has a new book coming out next week, Pretending He's Mine that I was lucky enough to read early (I have been beta reading for Mia for a couple of years) featuring Carter's agent and best friend Julian and Carter's little sister Ashley.

516WEHK17LL Princessintheory-hires RsAlyssa Cole has rightly has gained a lot praise for her excellent historical romances, some of my favorites are An Extraordinary Union, Let it Shine and Let us Dream and she also has fantastic new series of royal themed contemporary romances, Reluctant Royals, on the go right now, but the first series I read from Alyssa was the first book in  dystopian series, Off the Grid, Radio Silence.  That just shows you a little of the range of stories Cole is able to tell. What all those stories have in common of fantastic engaging heroines, who are bright, determined and ready to kickass.

A-Study-In-Scarlet-Women-350x525I have been reading Sherry Thomas (Historical Fiction, Mystery with Romantic Elements, Fantasy and Contemporary Fiction) for a long time. Remember that mostly-white collection of RITA finalists stuffed ebooks collection I mentioned in the intro? In it was Sherry Thomas so as a result I had the opportunity to read a lot of her historical fiction. I am huge fan of her current mystery-with-romantic elements series, Lady Sherlock. Her prose is beautiful and I adore the moral dilemmas and complications they have tackle. I really enjoyed her story in the Sight Unseen anthology which was the galactic romantic myth "The Heart is a Universe", that reminded I really need to get around to reading her Burning Sky series sometime soon.

This is just a smattering of fantastic Authors of Color. There are so many more, some with huge fan bases and others with smaller followings, I hope you find someone on this list to try.  

 

Update 4/6/2018:  I have been asked if I have some more historical romance authors to recommend

 

C1tEZX44+-S._SL250_FMpng_Courtney Milan writes really fantastic UK and American set historical romances. My absolute favorite of hers is The Countess Conspiracy, a fantastic friends to lovers story. The whole Brothers Sinister series excels at showcasing how sexy and romantic affirmative consent is. Start with the Governess Affair  and don't forget to pick up the novellas, like Talk Sweetly to Me with its fantastic black British heroine (There is a bundle that has all of them!). 

4138IRy-ZYL._SL500_SX145_Piper Huguley. I loved Piper's story in The Brightest Day Anthology a collection of beautiful historical romances by African American authors, like Lena Hart, Kianna Alexander and Alyssa Cole.  Her story there is connected to her Migrations of the Heart Series. Many of stories her stories include a strong spiritual/religious elements without being preachy, just powerful.

51TFTz2KV0L._SY346_ 513A-UBIcmL 51UqNwUj8xLBeverly Jenkins is the Slayer of Words and amazing mentor to
the current generation
 of African American historical and contemporary authors.  Her love for research and her ability to teach history through her writing is unparalleled.  The first book of hers that I read was Forbidden just blew me away. And I have loved the rest of the series that has followed, Breathless and Tempest .

51ofF1WqwOLLydia San Andres is Dominican author writing historical fiction set in the Spanish Caribbean. I really enjoyed her "Infamous Miss Rodriguez" in which a young woman trapped in engagement she does not want tries to make herself scandalous and the man tasked with saving her reputation ends up falling for her instead.  

51S44mYlkbL 51zPfcpXrTL._SY346_Jeannie Lin's Chinese Tang-Dynasty set historical mystery romance series, The Lotus Palace and the  Jade Temptress helped break me out a historical genre slump back in 2014. These stories are beautiful, suspenseful and absolutely worth your time. Also if you are a fan of steampunk make sure you don't miss Gunpowder Alchemy and the Gunpowder Chronicles series as they are one my favorite alternate history romances.

and two more recs!

These two authors are on my TBR but I haven't yet read their books but they come highly recommended and might be perfect for those looking for AOC written historical set in the UK:

  51kcbtyjaWL

and

51xEK1xADkL 5130nVJfovL I picked her Riley's The Bittersweet Bride just last month because I love widowed heroines and second chance at love stories.

 


Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs and Lake Silence by Anne Bishop

A blonde blue-eye woman peeks face half-submerged in waterLake Silence by Anne Bishop:  Bishop returns to the broader world of her Others series with a self-contained story set in a small community deep in Wild Country on the edge of the Finger Lakes. 

In her divorce settlement with her gaslighting and emotionally abusive husband Vicky DeVine was granted ownership of run-down rambling inn on the edge of Lake Silence. She has spent the last six month working on restoring it and slowly regaining a healthier sense of self.  The peacefulness of her lakeside retreat is shattered when her sole lodger who she didn't realize is a Crow, attempts to microwave a human eye in the Inn's kitchen.

The story is one-part police procedural & one-part women's fiction in a dark fantasy package.  For readers of Bishop's previous Others novels the story will feel very familiar. A wounded woman finding sanctuary and protectors in a community run by supernatural beings, a honest and determined law-enforcement official seeks to solve crimes and protect humans from their own foolishness while walking a tight rope between human laws and powerful beings with their own rules and expectations.  There is even another strong, wounded bookseller with a deep interest in the heroine, although this time that role is filled by Intuit,humans who have a uncanny ability to sense the future.  

I very much enjoyed getting to know the new characters and community of Lake Silence, and I appreciated the faster, self-contained pacing.  I didn't expect the story to wrap up in such a satisfying manner after the leisurely pace of Bishop's previous books in this series.  I loved Julian Farrow's character, and the particular ways being an Intuit affected his relationships with non-Intuit humans.  The scene in which Julian ends up playing game of Murder (very similar to Clue) with several Others was particularly fantastic, both darkly humorous and suspenseful and I  loved how those scenes had ramifications that played out later in the of the story.

I'm now deeply curious where else in the World of the Others Bishops plans to write about next. 

P.S. For those familiar with the Finger Lakes area of NY, my guess is that Lake Silence is so supposed to be Honeoye Lake.

 

(An ARC of Lake Silence was provided by the Publisher for review consideration. Lake Silence is available through all the usual outlets, with a publication date of March 6th, 2018.)

A woman embraces a wolf while tangled up in flower vinesBurn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5) by Patricia Briggs: Bran, the Marrok is away and has left his son Charles in charge, when one of the Marrok's special pack of wolves is attacked.  Charles, Anna and the rest of the pack rush to to avert tragedy and track down a traitor among them.  

The story was intense, full of grief and powerful magics. It is a story about marriages and loss and it was simply beautiful.  The story was filled to the brim with little character moments, full of insight into long-standing relationships in the series. It was completely engrossing and I highly recommend it.  I love these characters and the ways Briggs has lets us grow to get to know them, sometimes transforming the way I thought about a character through small reveal.  

This story starts as Brigg's Mercy Thompson's Silence Falls ends and I had fallen behind in my Mercy Thompson series reading, and this made me eager to catch back up again, although like the previous Alpha and Omega books, its stands apart.  After going off and catching up, I found it particularly fascinating how Charles and Mercy revisit memories of the same time period, persons and relationships and see them so differently.

I understand two more Mercy Books and one more A&O book, with Moira and Tom are under contract and I am eager for more stories in this world.

(An ARC of Burn Bright was provided by the Publisher for review consideration. Burn Bright's expected publication date is March 6th, 2018 and it is available for at all the usual places).

 

(I had previously published slightly shorter versions of these reviews in my The Waning Days of 2017: Mini-Review Round-up)


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).