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#RomBkLove August Week 4: Food

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#RomBkLove August Week 4: Food. Hunger, Want, Thirst, Desire... Who combines food & romance to delicious effect?

Food is a big part of my family life, we have a lot traditions built around food. There are dishes we only prepare at Christmas (Coquito or Christmas Log) or foods (Pink beans and rice) we always have on hand. There are the soups or teas we always turn to when we are getting sick. How, when and what we eat at family reflects a lot of what is going on in our lives. If we are stressed and under pressure a lot prepared foods from Wegmans, but the more time we have, the more creative and fun it is.   I can't say I am like my mom who expresses her love through cooking but cooking is certainly one way I express my Puerto Rican identity. I have a hand-painted plate up in my kitchen that states that my kitchen is Puerto Rico, step in there and expect to find all the pilones, plantains, garlic, adobo, gandules and rice you might ever need.  

There are a thousand cupcake baking heroines but food in romance can play other roles, sometimes is it a caretaking act, providing warmth and comfort when it is needed, or sometimes and exploration or rediscovery of personal tastes and desires that in tandem with sexual desire and sometimes an expression of creative energy beyond simple sustenance.

Nessa the heroine in Kit Rocha's Beyond Surrender has one overriding passion in life. She has taken up and abandoned a thousand hobbies but the only thing that has held her attention for the whole of her life is making Bourbon. But the fact that her skill makes her incredibly value to O'Kane gang and their competitors means she has had to fend of too many suitors who are not interested in her personally, making her incredibly suspicious and wary.  I love this scene from Beyond Ecstasy, where that tension and conflict is highlighted.

In Fast Connection  by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell, Costigan's insistence in making himself a sandwich post hookup with Luke, highlights both his vulnerability and obliviousness. He wants to build a connection, make something more of his encounter with Luke, all while Luke is trying to usher him out of his house so he can keep his life strictly compartmentalized. The Costigan family bagel shop is also a source a lot of tension in the book, as Dominic struggles to work alongside his father again after leaving the military.

In Clean Breaks by Ruby Lang there are a ton of scenes food,one a turf war over a favorite sushi restaurant, an insane but cathartic food fight between siblings but my favorite and most fascinating was when Jake and Sarah take Jake's dad to a white-run Taiwanese restaurant, and how differently they react to the experience. This is not a book about food but like in my life food has a role in a lot of the most important scenes.

In Beverly Jenkins's Forbidden cooking is not just something that provides sustenance for Eddy it is a skill that can give her a way out of poverty. She stubbornly holds on to her cookstove, when she is abandoned in the desert, because without it she has not way to provide for herself. In the book the meals she shares Rhine while she is recovering at his place establish intimacy and his stubborn desire to care for her. The role of food plays in community comes up again and again in the book.

Laura Florand writes a lot of books that feature chefs or chocoletiers.  These books use food in classically romantic and seductive ways. If you want a romance that will make you want to order fancy chocolates or make your own hot chocolate from scratch you need to find her books.    

I really enjoyed Sabrina Sol's Delicious Desire series.  The first, Delicious Temptation is about a Mexican-American pastry chef who returns home to help keep her parent's traditional bakery alive, but it is a thankless sacrifice as they resent all her suggestions to update the menu. She then falls for a guy with a terrible rep.

In Kristen Ashley's books food is ever present. Sweets, junk food and above all comfort foods are sprinkled through each of these books, (for example Hillglosss Donuts, Sunny and Shambles's moist cakes, junk food football Sundays), and fancy restaurants are often sites of romantic confrontations and showdowns.  She has a recipe section on her site because you can't help but want to try some of these foods after reading. 

If you love food competitions and older protagonists you should read  A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson . The heroine has been struggling since her husband's death and her daughters enter her in a reality cooking competition as a way to shake her out of her grief. The competition and one particular competitor in particular help her remember who she was before.

Alisha Rai's Pleasure series books, Glutton for Pleasure and Serving Pleasure feature sisters who run a Indian restaurant. The books are filled with rich flavors and savory smells, but the heroines are both starving for affection and touch and find love with unconventional men.

In Truly by Ruthie Knox the heroine has stabbed her former boyfriend with shrimp fork for proposing in the worst way possible. She meets the hero (beekeeper and chef with anger management problems) in a bar where she stranded without her IDs and credit cards, after her dramatic break up, where his offer of a drink turns into dinner that turns into more, and before they know it they have entangled themselves in each other's life like neither of them expected.

My last rec is isn't a book, it the review blog of one my dear friends, Elisabeth Lane.  Elisabeth combines her baking and writing talents in Cooking up Romance where she posts for fantastic recipes inspired by the books she reviews . And check out her instagram because it is drool worthy (and more frequently updated) and treat yourself to literary and culinary treat. 

 


#RomBkLove August: Week 3: Independence

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#RomBkLove August: Week 3: Independence. What does Independence mean in Romance? Which characters seek it?  Who gets it? Who sacrifices it? Who makes sacrifices for it?

Romance at its core tends to be about Interdependence, about finding someone with whom to share life's challenges.  When Independence shows up as theme it is often in novels where the protagonist have a strong need to find their own path, often fighting to live their lives according to their own values and desires and often having to leave family and community behind in order to live a different kind of life, one of their own choosing.  

In Sweet Disorder  by Rose Lerner, political patrons are courting Phoebe for her vote and she is trying to secure the best deal for herself and her sister after her husband's death but it is in Nicholas's arc that we see a focus of independence.  Nicholas is a wounded war vet and writer whose over-bearing family is determined to override all his choices.  In the end, Phoebe and Nicholas's HEA hinges on both their willingness to make sacrifices to become independent financial and emotionally. 

In A Gentleman's Position by KJ Charles  For Richard and David to have their  HEA  they need to seek a different kind of independence.   In the previous books in the series both Richard and David had made themselves indispensable to their groups of friends, but that left little room for each other. In the end for their relationship to have to room to grow Richard needs to step away from the role he had given himself as the central cog in their friend's lives and Richard needs to trust that David's own judgement about his wants and desires.

n Lisa Kleypas's most recent novel, Devil in Spring, Lady Pandora is determined not to give up her independence and personal autonomy.  Being forced into a marriage even one that has the potential of great love and affection is the worst disaster that can befall her.  Throughout the novel Gabriel and Pandora must try to figure out how they can restore Pandora's independence. The book loses it way in the last third, but I had loved the heroine throughout the story and I feel in the end that they will be able to craft a marriage where she can do the things she wants, when she wants to and still have the benefits of loving partner. 

What novels and stories come to mind when you think of Independence? 


Too Cracktastic to quit?

One of the best things about being a reader is finding reading soul-mates, other readers who enjoy the same kinds of books and possibly wrestle with the same issues about them. Recently Jen, Kini and I had one of those, “you too?” moments over Kristen Ashley’s books.  Kristen Ashley’s books are highly entertaining, frequently over-the-top, often problematic and we just can’t quit reading them. After going on about it on twitter we decided it would be fun to have a more formal conversation about KA’s books to try to see why her books work us despite the fact that they so often enrage us too.

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Jen: When I was 12, I  found a bag of romance novels in my Grandma’s basement and my life-long love affair with the genre was born. My romance reviews are hosted by The Book Queen at her site, www.tbqsbookpalace.com. I was reading At Peace after someone recommended it, and that caused our original twitter conversation. I also read Lady Luck and reread Mystery Man for this conversation.

Ana: Compared to Jen I am late-comer to Romance. I grew up reading fantasy, science-fiction and mysteries, only coming to realize after reading one too many YA dystopian novels that what I had always loved was the relationships, and once I found romance novels I haven’t looked back. I review here on my blog, Immersed in Booksand for RT Book Reviews.  I first picked Kristen Ashley's books in 2013. The same week Jen was reading At Peace, I was re-reading it based I think on the very same rec. This year I’ve done a lot of re-reading in Kristen Ashley’s Colorado Mountain Series, including, Sweet Dreams, Lady Luck, Breathe and I most recently listened to her newest book, Complicated. My feeling about KA’s novels are complicated.

Kini: I come from a family of readers and books were one of my main escapes as a kid. Over the years I read a Harlequin here or
there but didn’t truly delve into romance until about 7-8 years ago when I got a Nook and women’s fiction was getting too expensive. I’m here for the HEA’s for all. After years of wearing Mandi & Tori down with my tweets, they brought me on to do reviews at
smexybooks.com. I also host a podcast all about romance called Romance Romp. I have purchased and read over 30 of Kristen Ashley’s books, with Heaven and Hell and Lady Luck being my all time favorites as well as comfort reads for me. My feelings about KA’s novels are also complicated. For this conversation I did a re-read of Fire Inside: A Chaos Novel, but I am pretty familiar with most of the ones mentioned above.

 

  • What is it exactly about her books that make them so cracktastic and propulsive? 

D1CGXbdZbjS._SL250_FMpng_Jen: I actually spent a lot of time thinking about this one when I was rereading that scene in Lady Luck where Ty throws Lexie out. (I really love it when there’s a devastating break up and I have no idea why. I think it’s because I love groveling.) Anyway, in that whole scene, all of their feelings are telegraphed through their actions. There’s not a whole lot of *characters sitting around thinking* in KA books. She really is the queen of Showing and not Telling. Maybe that’s why everything feels so action-packed? Because it literally is?!

Kini: The scenes when Ty throws Lexie out and then she send him away at the beach, gut me. Every single time. But both are very typical KA, high drama, high emotion leading to serious grovel and probably why I love it so much.

Ana: I had a friend who is not a KA-lover describe her style as stream-of-consciousness. A lot of the things I love and hate about KA books are tied up with what makes her voice unique. I love that we get every little emotional reaction her MCs feel. They have all these roll-coaster emotional journeys as they react to what they see and hear.  I personally get highly annoyed at the endless pages of house, yard & outfit descriptions but I accept it as part and parcel of that POV, her characters are taking  it all in and we get to read that input unfiltered.   I love that her books are high-conflict.  Her heroes drive me crazy, but the heroines want them so much and there is always some thing they are in conflict about.

Kini: I frequently try to put my finger on what makes them so cracktastic and I think it comes back to the stream-of-consciousness that Ana mentioned. I think it lends itself to really getting in the mind of the MC’s and understanding them. They are flawed people, some more than others. The heroes are frequently monosyllabic grunters, but when they fall for the heroine, they are all in.

  • Some KA books work better for me than others, so I’m interested in the gap between what works and what doesn’t? What are the boundaries for you? Why?

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Jen: I struggled with At Peace. One of the things that has always bugged me in KA books is that the world of women breaks down into two camps: good women and “bitches.” So there’s this part in At Peace where Joe slept with Vi a few times and then dumps her in a pretty awful way. They’re laying in bed, and he just says, “We’re done.” The next couple of times they meet, he gives her progressively more shit for being upset with him. He suggests she should get over it, and it escalates to the point where he calls her a bitch. I honestly almost DNF’d at that point. There was this really hard boundary I bumped into as a reader---something about some of these KA alpha-heroes, where their behavior is ALWAYS logical and right, but women’s response to that behavior is always policed by men. What kept me going was that Vi gives as good as she gets….but…. 

Ana:  I love At Peace and Sweet Dreams, because although the hero does try to police the heroine’s reactions, and acts like he is being logical and in control, they are actually losing their shit, and scrambling like crazy.  Joe is wrong and scared and acting stupid. His dumping of Vi is so incredibly cruel both times. He tries to make it about her, but in the end it isn’t really. She might have gotten ideas, she might have read into things that he didn’t actually say, but he was feeling those things and so in the end she isn’t wrong. She is vindicated for seeing things and feeling things. That to me feels like a very real conflict. I wouldn’t touch that hero with a ten-foot pole in real-life but it is very compelling.

41TLHlxyeQL._AC_US218_Kini: As Jen mentioned the theme of good women and “bitches” is strong in KA novels. In several of her novels, the ex-wife is a bitchy horrible women. Some die, some just are cast off to live with their bitchy ways forever. And it feels like an easy crutch. In Fire Inside, not only is Hop’s ex a bitch, so is his mother. In fact, that is very similar to Ty from Lady Luck. But yet, this continued portrayal of the other woman as being the worst hasn’t stopped me from reading her books. There also tends to be some stereotyping of POC and LGBTQ folks in her books that has bothered me, yet she was one of the first authors I read that had a bi-racial hero (Ty from Lady Luck, Sam from Heaven & Hell). I much prefer her self-pubbed books and annoying tangents of pillows, clothes and jewelry aside, I think that avenue allows her story-telling voice to shine. 

You both touch on the policing of behavior/emotions and that too is a common theme in her books. It’s annoying because in real life, I’d want to punch someone for that. Yet is always seems to work in the context of KA-world. The hero always has a way of backing up his behavior and frequently it seems to involve helping the heroine get out of her own head or way in order to be with the hero.

Part of the boundaries is also knowing what works for you as a reader and what doesn’t. Not every book, even KA ones, are the books for me. Her older books tend to be more problematic, but also have the best stories.

A1VasaWj52L._SL250_FMpng_Ana: You are so right about the problematic rep of POC and LGBTQ folk. When I first found them I was so happy to just have POC and LGBTQ characters in a book, but the rep is so terrible it makes me cringe when re-reading. I used to resent she hadn’t given Elvira her own book in the Rock Chick series, but now I’m happy she didn’t.  

Jen: I’ll just have to add a hearty “yeah” to the problematic rep of POC and LGBTQ. I recently wrote a review where I called for an author to make the setting of her books more inclusive. But at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if white authors shouldn’t do it at all if they can’t do it well? Worst fucking question of all time: is erasure better than misrepresentation?

Honestly, the combination of what you both said helps me understand why I keep going with these books. You’ve laid out two pieces of the puzzle. As Ana said, these are real conflicts. The push-pull between the characters is so believable. So maybe I can let myself enjoy a bossy hero if what he’s working towards is a way for their relationship to move forward.

  • The gender politics of her world and the roles for men and women. What is problematic or troubling for you as a reader, even if it’s okay for the characters? Does that matter?

D1v8HjJAyNS._SL250_FMpng_Jen: The thing I keep thinking about is how I literally wouldn’t want anything to do with a man who treated me like that. Okay. That’s fine. But most KA heroines are their match or are down for it. But then, the other crazy thing about KA books is that these women feel like my friends, or women I would want to be my friends. Well, I would warn my friends off of a man like this, too. Right?

Kini: Jen, I also want to be friends with all the women of KA world.

Ana:   I agree that KA has very contradictory, inconsistent and frequently troubling messaging about women. There are these great moments of female friendship and solidarity  (Vi with Feb and Cheryl in At Peace and Krystal and Lauren in Sweet Dreams ) and at the same time there is almost always some sort of bad-girl rival, (Susie in At Peace and Neeta in Sweet Dreams), whose conflict makes me cringe every time.

 I do love that in the books the friends are almost always just a little torn about the men. They think they are hot, but they are right unsure whether they are worth the trouble. And these heroes are incredibly-high-maintenance trouble. I love that in At Peace, Cheryl is all, bang him but don’t get emotionally involved. It is only Feb who actually encourages Violet to keep giving Joe chances.

 The gender politics are troubling for me in that I struggle to recommend these books to people. I know a lot of people who would love the crazy OTT action and conflict but who would DNF at the raw rudeness of some of the heroes.  

 Jen: Came across a terrible thing today when reading a new-to-me book, Kaleidoscope, which is that the heroine says that she doesn’t want kids. And instead of this being a valid life choice, it’s a sign of her being mentally shut down. I have quite a few girlfriends that aren’t interested in having kids. This isn’t because they’re emotional cripples. I actually *cringed* when I thought about what it would be like for a woman who doesn’t want to have kids to read this book.

 Ana: Yes I agree with you that is terrible! She has plenty of heroines who haven’t had kids, but she almost always gives them kids in someway because most the heroes have kids from other relationships. I understand that for some readers children are necessary for the HEA but not wanting them should not be equated with a damaged psyche!

D1+KjEzhEnS._SL250_FMpng_Kini: The female friendships can be one of the best things about KA novels. Tyra, Lanie, Elvira, Gwen, Mara and Tess from Dream Man/Chaos series. Lexie and her sisters/mother from Lady Luck. They are there when things fall apart and there when they put them back together. They are all interconnected and supportive. But the continued villianization of the ex is just horrible. It is hard to reconcile these examples of female friendship yet the continued talk of other women as skanks. 

Because the bulk of her heroes are these OTT Alpha heroes, there is frequently discussion about clothing choices and it is often gross and things I have to skim through. In Fire Inside Lanie goes to a bar all dressed up and ends up in a bad situation and Hop “saves her from being raped” It felt victim blamey and icky and borders on something that I would DNF a book for. Many of her stories feature some situation that requires the heroine to be saved by one of the men. Just once I want a KA heroine to save herself.

Ana:  Kini, in Complicated we do have a scene where there heroine does that. She gets attacked in her house by a stalker and is able to disable him and escape before tracking down the hero and calling him into to arrest the bad guy. But I agree those scenes are rare. I feel like in her most recent books exes over all are doing better. I no longer expect them to fall prey to serial killers or get killed in a horrible fashion, but instead learn their lesson and maybe co-parent amicably in the end. 

Kini: Thanks for that update in regards to a heroine save herself. I’ll have to add that to my list.

 

  • Morality, justice and vengeance in KA books. 

C1Ly1O4fMuS._SL250_FMpng_Jen: One thing that I find really interesting in both Knight and Lady Luck, there are men who have the occupation of, basically, the good pimp. I’ll admit that I’m not entirely up to speed on the politics of sex-work, but I’ve read some really compelling arguments about how to think about sex work, and it’s interesting to me that KA at least admits that sex work happens?

Ana: I have a hard time with the good pimp narrative but I am glad that it gets acknowledged as something that exists and several of the heroines have lived right on the fringes of that world, working as strippers or dancers, for example Daisy from the Rock Chick series and Cheryl when she first appears in For You.  

I tend of the heroes in KA books as having very hands-on male-centric ideas about Justice and Vengeance, as it is the man’s responsibility to make sure any insult to “their woman” is answered quickly and violently.  I think for women who have fantasies about being protected and fought over, this is part of the appeal of KA heroes.  The heroines almost always start out on their own, and the men step-in to protect them and fight for them.

Kini: I think morality is shaky at best in several of her novels. Even taking out the Unfinished Heroes, some of the heroes do bad things and don’t really regret it for it is frequently done in order to save their woman. All the investigative force from Lee Nightingale’s crew use questionable tactics to do what needs to be done. I think several of her heroes straddle the line of law abiding citizens.

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The need for justice and vengeance is also a strong theme. Especially in her earlier series like The ‘Burg, Colorado Mountain, Dream Man and Rock Chicks, there is some outside force that the heroine needs to be saved and protected from. The men round of the troops, call in some markers and everything is resolved.

Jen: Basically, the men in KA books bond over kicking ass and taking revenge the same way the women do over throw pillows and KitchenAid mixers. 

  • Loners vs. family. This is a big theme in KA and one that’s pretty interesting. What does it mean to have a family, be a family? What about those who have to create a family for themselves?

Ana: Found families and how loners are folded into these extended packs of friends is one of the things that I do absolutely love in the KA books.  There a lot of blended families, and characters who leave behind unhealthy relationships and are able to find a community. In At Peace, Vi, has lost her family (she is widowed and had to move away from her supportive in-laws and friends), she is adopted by her neighbors and then by Cal’s family, a family he had self-estranged from. Getting involved with Vi, is a catalyst for him to reconnect with them.  In Sweet Dreams, Lauren had moved far from her loving family to follow her first husband’s materialistic ambitions.  At the beginning of the novel, she is literally driving around the country, living out of suitcases, looking for a community.  She finds it in Carnal and by the end of the book, she has extended community of friends, a new husband and a new family, in addition to reconnecting to her own.

Jen: I think the “finding a family” theme is absolutely the big draw for me, too. In Knight, Anya is basically an orphan. She has a crew of girlfriends, but they’re not without their issues--Sandrine is a straight-up gold digger, but Anya loves her anyways. Being with Knight makes her part of something bigger, part of a family. (Interesting, I think her calling him Daddy isn’t really for me, but when Ty calls Lexie Mama there is something really sexy about that! I guess I have my own issues. Lol.) In Mystery Man, both Gwen and Hawk have families they love. Gwen’s sister and birth Mom are an issue, but they have this rock solid foundation with family.

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Kini: Ugh the families that extend from her books is amazing. When Ty brings Lexie home and the town just loves her instantly. That epilogue with the kids running all over the place and Julius and all the members of the family, it doesn’t get much better than that. In Heaven and Hell, Kia is traveling abroad when she meets Sam but she also falls in familial love with Celeste & Tom a couple who lost their own daughter. The hero/heroine is always accepting of the other’s children (I absolutely love this). She creates these huge extended families and makes me feel like I am part of them. She really drives home how family doesn’t have to be the one you are born into, it can be this collection of people that you’ve chosen. For KA families, once you’re in, you’re in and that family, they’ll do anything for you.

Kini: In summary: For me, I know that reading a KA novel is probably going to be problematic, the hero will do or say something that makes me ragey, the heroine might border on being TSTL, she’s probably going to give me too much description of jewelry and throw pillows, but in between all that messiness, I am going to get a couple that is probably slightly older than I’d find elsewhere and a love story that despite its problems is still really compelling to me. It is one of those things about how much realism I want in my romance, it’s such a fine line and changes constantly. And to top it off, she is the queen of epilogues. (I LOVE EPILOGUES) It should also be noted that I will probably be purchasing the next book in the Magdalene Series on or close to its release date. I have a sickness!

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Ana: I’ve already pre-ordered it!  I don’t read all her books but I am loyal to the series of hers I do read.  I love the action and adventure in her books, and I just mentally edit out the stuff that bugs me.  The core story of older couples finding love and community after a making mistakes or struggling, just really appeals to me and I’ll keep buying those. Nobody else quite fits that niche for me.

Jen: KA is an author I read in big gulps for a few books and then just hit the wall and have to take a break for a year. Her backlist is HUGE and I do love that. There’s always another one where that came from when I need to scratch that itch. Mostly, I’m glad this exercise allowed me to share my KA angst and know I’m not alone with loving these books that also make me squirm!

 

 


#RomBkLove August: Week 2: Adventure

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Who writes the best adventure romances? What are your favorites?

I really enjoy adventure romances. I tend to find them by reading Romantic suspense, SFR  or fantasy romance. I love how adventure plots often throw characters who would usually avoid each other in to close proximity. Force to work together for the greater good has a way of ramping up the hormones!

Here are some of my favorites: 

The whole Iron Seas Series by  Meljean Brook is high on adventure, how can it not when some of the main characters are air pirates fighting nanonite infected zombies? I love all these books but the Kraken King serial by Meljean Brook was fantastic. Giant sand monster, leaps for plummeting airships, who wouldn't want to read this!

Gunpowder Chronicles by Jeannie Lin. Most of this series is currently unavailable but I hope Lin republishes them soon. She did such fantastic worldbuilding in Gunpowder Alchemy, and adventure and tension in each story was phenomenal.

Kearsley's writing is most often described as lyrical and her novels as atmospheric but they are also full of adventure.  Her heroines are often pulled into stories and out of their own time, literally or figuratively. In the  The Rose Garden a grieving young woman visits a Cornish estate where she spent most of her childhood summers. As she wanders about the estate she keeps wandering back into time, where she meets and falls in love with man from the past whose rebellious activities might doom him to the gallows, but not if she can help it.

Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole After worldwide event has disabled the power grid and chaos ensues Arden and her best friend John, hike out Rochester to wait for help at his family's well-stocked cabin.  There Arden and Gabe, John's brother drive each other crazy and slowly fall in love as they try to figure out what happened to John and Gabe's missing parents.

Jill Sorenson is one of my favorite romantic suspense authors. Her Aftershock series is as much Adventure romance at it is Romantic Suspense. Two of my favorites are Island Peril and Backwoods. Both the books have a lot of action and fantastic heroines. If you haven't tried her books, do yourself a favor and check them out.

What books do you turn to for high-stakes action and adventure romance?

 

 

 


#RomBkLove August: Week 1: Summer Reading

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 This week I would love to hear from everyone if they read more or less in the summer, what they read (and if it is different than what they reading the rest of the year).  What books do you most associate with summer or holiday reading? What makes something a beach read? What are you favorite summer romances?

I am a teacher-librarian so while I read voraciously all-year round, I do have more time in the summer for reading and writing. I don't really change my reading for the summer. Other than having way more time, which results in more binge reads.  

So far this summer I've started making a dent in my ARC TBR, including a couple like Not Another Rock Star by Amber Belldene and  Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai, whose release dates I missed.  Rai's Hate to Want You is a good example of a book that is a perfect summer read for me. While some might want to read light fluffy stuff, I am better able to deal with emotionally intense books in the summer. I had to put down HTWY when I first picked it up in May because it was too overwhelmed with life and work (I was juggling work deadlines and the first incarnation for #RomBkLove) to read it with abandon. That wasn't a problem at all when picked it up last week and I read it in less than a day and I was as baffled as my friend Jessica was when she asked me how I had ever put it down.

As a reviewer I am also starting to receive a lot of the Fall and Winter releases. I actually have a Christmas anthology already in my queue, but I am not really ready to start reading it. I usually end up some diving into some of the RITA awards winners that I missed the first time around. However what I am currently reading is Ilona Andrew's Innkeeper Chronicles, which are set in an inn in Texas that serves intergalactic travelers.

So what have you been reading this summer?

I will be looking for your answers on #RomBkLove  and I would love it if you'd join us on Saturday Aug 5th at 4pm EST for the #readRchat about Summer Reading.

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Hate to Want You (Forbidden Hearts #1) by Alisha Rai

29422692Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler were a golden couple, heirs to a growing and successful grocery store chain founded by their grandfathers, until tragic car accident exposed secrets and a stolen inheritance tore their families apart.  In the decade since Livvy and Nicholas have only seen each other 9 times, meeting for a secret yearly hookup. For one night, they express only the lust and need they still feel for each other before locking away all their feelings for each other again.  On her 30th birthday, Livvy breaks the pattern, never sending the inciting text to Nicholas. and she then returns to their hometown of Rockville, NY after 10 years of nomadic living as professional guest tattoo artist.  Even though their families would explode if they knew, Nicholas can't stay away.

"Talking's not usually what we do when we're together"

I loved this book. It is intense, affirming, full of sexiness and humor. One of my favorite things about this romance was that Livvy and Nico have to acknowledge the underlying reasons for why they fell apart the way they did. They had been young and passionate but they hadn't known each other as fully as they have aught to.  At the end I wanted to do a little victory lap for Livvy and Nicholas for finally having the hard conversations necessary to build real trust and intimacy, not just with each other but with their families.  Those family relationships are not magically restored and made perfect and serious obstacles remain but they have started doing the hard work they need to do build a life together despite their ugly family history.

All the secondary characters in this amazingly inclusive cast with the exception of Nicholas' villainous father Brendan were fascinatingly well-rounded. I was incredibly happy to discover that Livvy's best-friend and widowed sister-in-law, Sadia, a Pakistani-American single-mother would the heroine in the next book, Wrong to Need You, particularly after learning who her hero is going to be. I also loved Tani Oka and Maile Kane's unexpected friendship, which could have come come off as "Odd Couple"-like due to their contrasting demeanors, but instead showcased empathy, compassion and complexity.  Through out the novel Nicholas and Livvy have to face that they didn't understand their parents marriages and relationships the way they thought they did, and that they might have to rethink livelong assumptions about their intertwined pasts. To that end I hope we see more of Nicholas's grandfather John, in future books, he provided needed perspective and was interesting figure, driven by his desire to do right by his old friend, dismayed by his son and hurting for his grand-children

"He'd tried binging on her in secret, stolen, isolated bites, telling himself that the small hit of excitement was enough.

It wasn't now."

I loved that Rai gives both Nicholas and Livvy serious yet distinct expressions to their emotional baggage. They respond to their familial traumas differently. While Livvy and Tani's depression and anxiety are front and center, Nicholas suffers more subtly, sublimating his emotions into over-exercising, self-denial and hints of disordered eating.  I wish Nicholas's issues were given more direct attention but Rai does have him start addressing the root issues to his behavior in a way that felt genuine.

I can't wait to get my hands on the next book and I am delighted that Rai's highly-anticipated Avon debut is as sexy and passionate as its gorgeous cover.  If you haven't read any of Rai's previous novels this new series is a fantastic place to start.

 

I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Hate to Want You was Published July 25th.

 


These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (Alastair-Audley 1)

Heyer_These_Old_ShadesThese Old Shades was delightful. I really didn’t know what to make of it when I first started reading.  I love foppish heroes that are deceptive, perspective and dangerous and it was clear from the first page Justin Alastair would be all three.

“He walked mincingly, for the red heels of his shoes were very high. A long purple cloak, rose-lines, hung from his shoulders and was allowed to fall carelessly back from his dress, revealing a full-skirted coat of purple satin, heavily laced with gold; a waistcoat of flowered silk; faultless small clothes; and a lavish sprinkling of jewels on his cravat and breast. A three-cornered hat, point-edged, was set upon his powdered wig and in his hand he carried a long beribboned cane.”

The book opens with Justin, the Duke of Avon buying a young man from his abusive older brother to turn him into his page.  The boy, Léon, is slavishly grateful, to the consternation of everyone but the Duke. The Duke of Avon is known to all as Satanas, He has a terrible reputation for heartlessness and selfishness.  In his youth he recklessly lost one fortune and won another and since then has cut a swath through polite society, careening from one scandal to another. He is untouchable, crowds part for him, and he floats through parties being coldly superior. He does have one good friend, Hugh Davenant, who is both kind and sober and hints that Justin is redeemable hero, but even he is concerned about what Justin might be up to with the boy.  

Of course, Léon does turns out to be Léonie. I am not actually a fan of most “girls in boys pants” books. Too often the books end up having homophobic or transphobic passages where the hero is discomfited by his increasing attraction to the young-man/heroine or angry at being mislead. However this is not just a girl-running-around-in boys-clothes-for-a-lark story.  Léonie has been living as as boy for all of her adolescence and is loathe to return to being a girl. Although she changes her clothes and grows out her hair, she never quite let go of her boyishness. And Avon never goes around objectifying her when she wears her trousers. Although she is much admired as Léon the page, it is accepted as a matter of course that one’s page should be decorative.  It is only Rupert, Avon’s clumsy and sometimes boorish brother that ever makes an overt comment about Léonie figure in her trousers. Img_4807

I did love how Léonie’s “boyish habits” are marked contrasts to Avon. Her impulsive physical responses, her blood-thirstiness contrast against Avon’s cold planning and reserve.  She is forever threatening people with guns or chasing them around with rapiers, while he defeats the villain not by physically overpowering him but by outmaneuvering him through insinuation and storytelling. Léonie is forever chasing or running and Avon is just there at the right time and place looking completely unruffled, his only weapon, his fan. He is masterful and powerful without the over-used masculine signifiers.

I was  amused and a bit surprised by the blatancy of the D/s dynamic in play in Justin and Léon’s interactions. Their is not merely a master-servant relationship as Heyer loves to contrast how Avon’s employee’s respond to him versus how Léon does. No other servant thirst for Avon’s approbation in the same way and he certainly does not pet them.  Maybe it is all the BDSM themed novels I read in the last few years talking, but I couldn’t unsee once I did.  

(Sidenote: Heyer does a fabulous job humanizing the servants both in their scenes below stairs and in their reactions to the many ridiculous tasks they are asked achieve and I particularly like the subtle ways Léon/Léonie interacts with them)

51iKLd8g-CL._AA300_I was worried early on that Heyer wouldn’t address the very real power-differential between them so I could accept Léonie’s ability to fully consent, since he had literally bought her but she managed to do while not abandoning their dynamic. Instead it morphs, Léonie becomes his ward, he informally adopts her and refers to her as his Infant. Thankfully she never calls him Daddy or Papa, Justin is always her “Monseigneur”.  Avon largely removes himself from Léonie’s life, sending her to stay in his country estate and  entrusting her to care of his sister and cousin. Under this arrangement Léonie grows in confidence, and tests out her assertiveness.  While she was Léon, the page,  Avon had already given her more leave to question and be contrary than he did with the rest of his employees, but as his ward, she test out her power against her new guardians, Avon’s sister Fanny, her poor duenna and Rupert.

14456161609Avon delights in spoiling Léonie, and letting her have her way, and she delights in provoking him into chastising her. His friends and family don’t fail to notice the dynamic is as much romantic as it is paternal and they debate whether the 20 year age gap in their ages is a pro or a con.  Avon persists in thinking of himself as unworthy of her because of those tarnished years till the end but for Léonie all younger men seem to be merely boys at play, when she only has eyes for him, her protector and provider.

I didn’t grow up re-reading dog-eared hand-me down copies of Heyer novels but I have really grown to love her wit and love for understatements to show the depth of emotion. The “Not entirely’, he said, and forgot to drawl.”  nearly killed me in that climatic scene, his cool demeanor collapsing as he tries convince Léonie she shouldn’t waste her love on him.

I also continue to be enchanted with her narrative voice as it is both indulgent & lightly sarcastic and her ability to creates a crowded yet vibrant cast of secondary characters. In this novel I particularly loved the little solo scenes she gives to the Marlings and Merivales. Their relationships are incredibly different than Léonie and Avon’s, but they are no less loving.  And best of all when I finished These Old Shades I had to immediately re-open Devil's cub and re-read that first chapter again, now that I know who all those people are.

INVITATION:

Every year in Aug Not-a-Book-Club (#notabc) reads a Heyer novel.  I was not a founding member of this book club but I crashed their discussion of Venetia that first year and they haven’t been able to get rid of me since. Our pick for this Aug is These Old Shades, if you have read this novel and want to discuss it please join us on Aug 20th (8PM EST) when we will discuss it on Twitter.


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


Beauty Like the Night by Joanna Bourne (The Spymaster Series)

51ed+EIhtsL Severine de Cabrillac is a "retired" spy, cultivating a reputation as untouchable spinster who uses her clandestine skills as private inquiry agent. Although surrounded by family and loyal retainers she is haunted by the dark choices she made in the service of Military Intelligence during the wars in Spain.

Like Severine, Raoul Deverney bears the scars of his years in Spain and the consequences of the risky and youthful choices he made there during the wars. He needs Severine's help to find his late wife's child, Pilar, missing since her mother's murder. However he does not approach Severine as a client would instead confronting her in the dark of her bedroom, because he knows exactly how dangerous she is, she nearly cost him his life in a incident she claims to not remember.

Severine becomes intrigued by the case, determined to find Sanchia's killer and the missing child but she is also frustratingly captivated by the mysterious Raoul. Their courtship is all biting mistrustful flirtations, and unspoken feelings. They spar and get more and more entangled in each other as they grudgingly work to unravel why his estranged wife was killed and why Pilar would carve Severine's name before disappearing. 

"She used  light words that didn't say what she was thinking. He was doing the same. They leaned on each other and everything important between them went unsaid."

Raoul like her Papa Doyle and her brother-in-law Adrian Hawkhurst, respects her skills and talents. He is dangerous and skilled himself and able to taunt her in ways few others can, but he recognizes and values her sharp mind and the connections she can make and never attempts to diminish her. 

"One did not, he suspected, write poems to Severine's eyebrows. One slew dragons for her, or stood slightly to the left, holding her spare lance and buckler, while she did they slaying."

I adore the slightly off-kilter dynamics of the Bourne's families. Although Severine has been cultivating a deliberately "sensible, useful, careful life" since her return from Spain, and her family knows that everything is far from right with her. they trust her to heal and give the time to do so. They all  know she is made for more and they trust that she will want to live fully again someday.  So while Doyle and Hawker might want to shelter, protect her and even fuss over her they know better than to try. They just love her in wordless but powerful ways.

"At least she's armed,"
"A cogent summation of the women of my family."

I loved Pilar, yet another in a long line of children who find unlikely refuge and champions in these novels.  So many people hate children in romance novels but Bourne excels at creating sharply-smart vulnerable children surviving in dangerous situations. Severine was such a child before Doyle and Marguerite made room for her in their family.  Bourne never forgets that however remarkable they are, they are children.

Spymaster Series by Joanna Bourne is one of romance's modern classics and one of my all-time favorite series. The series is beautifully written, darkly suspenseful and incredibly romantic, and this highly anticipated installment does not disappoint.   

While Bourne's novels benefit from re-reading, you don't need to re-read or even read any of  the previous novels in order to love Sevie and Raoul's story. Everything you need to follow their courtship and become fascinated with the mystery of Pilar's disappearance and the missing Deverney locket is in this novel.  But I guarantee that you will want to find all the previous novels when you are done, especially Doyle, Hawker and Pax's stories. I suggest when you do go looking, you start with The Forbidden Rose, which I consider the narrative heart of the series.

 

I received an ARC for review consideration from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley.

Expected date of Publication is Aug 1, 2017 and it will be available at all the usual places in audio, print and ebook.

 


Not Another Rock Star (Hot Under Her Collar #3) by Amber Belldene

51qVm7EJsDL._SY346_Suzannah's first year as a priest is off to a rocky start. The foodbank project her church called her to spearhead has run into unexpected opposition, she is putting in too many early morning and late nights working on her sermons and worst yet some of her parishioners have noticed. When her organist, Peggy, breaks her arm in the weeks leading up to Easter it is a stress she doesn't need, but the replacement, Peggy's former star pupil, Rush Perez, a troubled rock star, might just the thing that makes her break.

Rush is hiding out in SF, trying to sort through treatment options. Losing his hearing and battling vertigo might not be life-threatening but they are career threatening. His worry and frustration has isolated him from his friends, too worried about the possibility of life without music that he rather let them think he is struggling with addition than tell them the truth about his prognosis. 

I really love Belldene's Hot Under Her Collar Series. First because they are so familiar and feel so right. My husband was a pastor for 15 years, and I find myself nodding along, as her priests tackle church politics, difficult parishioners and crises of confidence. Her priest are smart and passionate, with genuine faith and calling and, so often in romance and fiction in general characters are either one or the other. I believe in Suze's distracting attraction to the brooding rockstar just as much as I believe in her desire to serve God in her community.

I really enjoyed the progression of Rush and Suze's relationship, from antagonistic and prickly to wary and hopeful. They both carry a lot of baggage when it comes to music, faith and how they handle peoples expectations and  work pressure. Their relationship becomes believably unbalanced as Suze tackles her fears and insecurities, trusting in Rush to listen and provide good advice. While Rush comes to trust Suze with his struggles, opening up about his pain, he almost unable to trust himself to let her care for him. I cried big fat tears when Rush finally comes to realize almost too late that the barriers to their relationship's success are almost exclusively of his own making. Those are some of my favorite kinds of resolutions, when a character realizes that they are the ones that need to change, that they need to bend, and that all the external conflicts are secondary and endurable together.

If you like me are hungry for more romance where spirituality, and faith are not antithetical to sexual desire and passion, where couples struggle to be truly vulnerable and intimate with each other, and do a wonderful job at portraying friendships and community give this series by Belldene a try.  The books standalone quite well, so you can start with any of them, but they are all worth reading.

 

I received a ARC via Netgalley from the author.