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Love in Panels Review: Treason of Truths by Ada Harper

This review was first published at Love in Panels:

I adored the first book in this duology and so I had high expectations for this romance. I was eager to go back into this world and and explore the flip-side of the tropes from the first book. Unlike Galen and Olivia who meet during an assassination attempt and grow in to love and trust, Sabine and Lyre have been partners and friends for decades. Again Harper works to upend trope expectations while leaning into others. I loved the contrast between Lyre and Sabine’s styles and how that played into the way their romantic conflict were resolved. I am looking forward to more queer romantic adventures from Harper and I hope we see more like this from Carina Press in the future.

Lyre has found contentment and purpose serving spy Empress Sabine, guarding her throne from the shadows as her spy-master but when the empress ignores her advice and insists on accepting the mysterious Cloud Vault’s invitation for a summit between the Empire and Syndicate, Lyre is forced to take actions that neither of them ever anticipated.

Lyre and Sabine’s relationship is a friends-to-lovers slow burn romance, where both of them have long-ago committed their hearts while learning to deny the depth of their feelings and smother any acknowledgement of passion in order not risk their friendship and partnership. They had one night early one when things almost boiled over, and neither of them speak of it. While Lyre’s loyalty to Sabine has always been legendary, she fears if the truth of her past was revealed it would sunder their relationship and if it didn’t, it would threaten the security of Sabine’s throne.

Like the first book in this series, intense action dominates the book. Sabine, Lyre and a band of allies slip and slide through the murky underbelly of the Cloud Vault’s flying citadel, tangling with deadly carnivorous vines while trying to untangle the motives of their secretive hosts. About half-way my interest flagged a bit during some of the longer action sequences but my longing for more romance between Lyre and Sabine was rewarded by an incredibly swoony final chapters of the novel. I am not usually a fan of grand gestures but Sabine’s whole life is one of theatrical and strategic actions meant to wow her subjects and rivals and it was wonderful to see Lyre step out of the shadows and prove herself able to stand by her beloved’s side and stop playing the romantic martyr.

Content Warnings: guns, torture, abduction.

 


What to see, taste and read in Puerto Rico

At this time last year not a single romance could hold my interest. Instead all I could do was hit refresh on the twitter #hurricanemaria #hurracanmaria hashtags, and check the weather website between texting with my mother as the storm moved into the island. While the storm didn't land till the 20th by the 19th the effects were being strongly felt.  My mother was hunkered down in her apartment after filling all her jugs and garbage cans full of water.  She felt as ready as she could be. We would later learn, that her preparations as good as they were weren't going to be as good as she would want them to be. I am so thankful for all the interest and support we received from folks in Romancelandia,

Thankful for the people who as the months crawled past still cared about what happened in PR, even as the rest of the world moved on.  In the past few months I've had friends and twitter folk ask about visiting PR, for recommendations about places to see and things to do. I can tell you that tourism has been a priority since the storm.  There has been a lot of effort put into restoring access to historical sites, and tourist hot-spots.  My mom whose apartment in PR is in the middle of tourist zone of Isla Verde had her power and water there restored very quickly after the storm (2 weeks) versus the months it took to get to other locations are around the San Juan Metroplex.  So if you are considering a trip to Puerto Rico, know that you can will find plenty to see and do.

What should you see and do in Puerto Rico?

Absolutely visit Old San Juan. El Viejo San Juan is beautiful, and the historic heart of the Island. Its cobblestone streets, colorful colonial buildings, lively bars and restaurants are worth your time, even if it feels a little cliche because every other tourist makes a stop there.   Take your time, explore the callejones, and you might find out why every Puerto Rican leaves their heart there even if their body across the world and why all of us in the diaspora sing to ourselves the "En mi viejo San Juan" when homesickness hits. And if you are facebook makes sure to follow the Puerto Rico Historical Building Society, their daily pictures from San Juan never fail to ease my heart.

If you go to Old San Juan. I very much recommend you visit both El Morro and San Cristobal.   I grew up having picnic lunches on Sunday afternoons on the wide fields of El Morro, under trees that overzealous park rangers robbed us of after another terrible hurricane (Hugo). However Puerto Ricans of all ages still fly kites there and delight in climbing on the fortifications.  From the walls you can spy down to one of the most famous cemeteries on the island, where many of our famous writers and dignitaries have been buried. 

 While in the Old City treat yourself to a piragua or some coco and pina sherbert and find a bench to people watch from. You won't regret cooling off in such a delicious way as you walk around.  If you want something hardier for lunch, visit La Bombonera.  This spanish restaurant and bakery is one my favorite places to visit on the island. They offer good solid food and delicious sugar-powdered Mallorcas, whose carby goodness are worth every buttery calorie.

As you wander around, stop in the San Juan Alcadia (Town Hall) and sneak a peak at the beautiful stained glass windows of Flamboyans just inside.  Amble down Calle Cristo, till you spot the Parque de Las Palomas unless pigeons freak you out.

  If you love history to to see the Casa Blanca museum is it open.  The home was build by Ponce de Leon's family in 1521 and it is a marvelous example of architecture from that era. The walled gardens are quite beautiful. There are tons more things to look for and explore there, but these are some of my favorites. 

If you  read romance, maybe pick up Mia Sosa's One Night with the CEO, for a story that partly takes place in Puerto Rico, with the leads, staying at the famous El Convento Hotel in Old San Juan and traveling to Luquillo Beach to eat the beach front kiosks there. (I beta read this for Mia Sosa).

Outside of Old San Juan, there other can't miss stop in Puerto Rico is El Yunque.   El Yunque National Rainforest, is magnificent mountain that the Tainos of Puerto Rico once thought was home to the creator god Yukiyu.  El Yunque was hit hard by Maria. A lot of trees were snapped in half and while the vegetation is recovering, not all the trails or roads in the park are yet open. But what is open is still absolutely worth your time.  I have so many memories of crawling up the mountain roads up to El Yunque for a drive, and running up Yokahu tower to see the misty, view down to Luquillo beach.  It is an easy day trip from the San Juan area, and a hike in El Yunque is easy to combine with an afternoon spent on Luquillo's famous beach after grabbing some lunch at the kiosks. I'm not sure which kiosks have opened back up after Maria, but there is always some crispy fried beach food  (Alcapurrias, Bacalaitos, or Pastelillos) available there.

Further down the east coast you will find the town of Fajardo, the home of one of several bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico. I grew up visiting the one La Parguera, that sadly  has dimmed over the years because of too much gas-fueled tourboat activity. However the ones in Fajardo and Vieques were better protected and are only toured via Kayak or electric boat.  The one in Vieques is harder to reach, but the brightest of them all.  Vieques, is a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico and absolutely worth visiting, if you have time and are able arrange transportation there.   

My own place in Puerto Rico is even further down the coast, on the Caribbean ocean, in the town of Maunabo.   Maunabo was hit very hard by Maria, as it made landfall just a few miles up the coast in Yabucoa.  It took over 9 months for water and power to be restored to the area.  It gorgeous and well off the beaten path, with gorgeous beaches and beautiful Punta Tuna Lighthouse.

As you drive around the coast make sure to try some mofongo and asopao de Langosta, one of my favorite Puerto Rican foods.  There are tons of little roadside restaurants along the southern coast, with fresh seafood, including many near the marinas in Salinas.

Puerto Rico's second city is Ponce on the southwest end of the island. It is home to a fantastic art museum, and has a very cool little downtown, with its picturesque Parque de Bombas. If you visit make sure to travel up to El Castillo Seralles  and the nearby Cruceta El Vigia for its panoramic views of the city. Just outside Ponce you can also visit, La Hacienda Buena Vista, an former coffee plantation, run by non-profit committed to protecting Puerto Rico's natural treasures.

For the beach lover, I would certainly recommend you continue to travel down the coast, and enjoy delicious pineapples grown in Lajas before exploring the beaches of Cabo Rojo.  You can also travel up to Mayaguez on Puerto Rico's western shores. This is the town my grand-father Sammy was raised in.  

On the northwestern coast is the town of Rincon, whose beaches are famous with surfers across the world and where one can sometimes spot whales during their migrations.

Along the northwest coast, the town of Arecibo's most famous landmark is it radio telescope, at the Arecibo Observatory.  I usually combine a visit there with a trip to the Camuy Caves but since they haven't reopened yet, the  Cueva Ventana  with its breath-taking views might be a better alternative.

Don't miss traveling into the center mountainous regions of the island. Up in Ciales, you can find a Coffee museum, that my mom and sister have enjoyed visiting. My maternal grand-mothers family is from Naranjito, and I will always associate driving up to the mountains to Naranjito, with feelings of home, making pasteles with my extended family and eating spit-roasted pork at Christmas time. You can have some delicious Pernil from the lechoneras in Guavate.

If you end up driving toward Cayey, see if you can spot El Palito solitario, the lonely tree one of the peaks near the El Jibaro statue. It was one of the trees I was most happy to hear survive the storm as I looked for it every time we crossed the mountains from the San Juan area toward Ponce.

Whatever type of vacation you prefer, active, beach or relaxing, you can find in Puerto Rico.

Who should you read?

D1wYve0bxCS._SY135_IIf you plan to read on the beach or on the flight over make sure to pick up some great romances written by amazing women of the Puerto Rican diaspora before you travel to Puerto E1bxNPU73wS._SY135_ Rico.

Make sure to check out Priscilla Oliveras, Alexis Daria, & Mia Sosa's work. Oliveras, Daria and Sosa all write very different women whose Puerto Rican roots ground them and drive them. The help me feel see as one of the many Boricuas in the diaspora, living and working far from my island but whose heart beats to the rhythm of the coqui.

And D1a4-NdYJXS._SL250_FMpng_ for historical romances set in the Spanish Caribbean, check out 51ofF1WqwOLLydia San Andres

 

 


Love in Panels Review: Night and Day by Andie J. Christopher

This review was first published on Love in Panels:

Letty Gonzalez is trying to rebuild her career after her ex-boss/ex-boyfriend fires her when he realizes that he won’t be getting into her parents' deep pockets through her. Max Delgado is a sculptor on the verge of breaking out, trying to get ready for a major exhibition of his work. When Letty shows up at his door, he is expecting a model not a temporary assistant. 

Letty can’t afford to let this grumpy and much too sexy artist send her away. She needs this job. Although she won’t pose for him, her presence in his studio as she goes about her work organizing his life is irresistible and all-consuming, tempting him to want things he shouldn’t. Since his meddling matchmaking Abuela Lola hired her, he can’t even fire her.

While this book was solidly likable and enjoyable, it felt like it was trying to be three different books at the same time. The first - an erotic romance about a grumpy sculptor trying to convince his shy plus-sized artist’s assistant that she is beautiful and desirable. The second - an angsty romance about a couple struggling to communicate, scarred by unhealthy and abusive family dynamics. And finally - a forced proximity rom-com about a kooky but irrepressible grandma trying to set up her grandson with a pretty girl. A book can try to do all these but in this case, the mash-up wasn’t fully successful and the story moved forward in fits and starts while the mood would swing wildly.

Once thing the book did very successfully is portraying complex and dysfunctional Cuban-American families that were utterly relateable. Letty’s and Max’s families value social status and appearances, but it manifests in different ways. For Letty, this means constant negative comments about her looks and passive aggressive policing of her diet by her mother. She seeks financial independence from her parents because she has long ago learned the kind of emotionally manipulative strings that come attached to any financial help. Letty is smart, determined but has been emotionally battered by first her parents and then her ex. She over-thinks and misconstrues comments, as she is so used to expecting every comment to include a hidden barb. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the way this storyline was resolved as I wanted her journey of self-acceptance and self-confidence to be more internally motivated rather than having the unexpected validation of becoming a plus-size bathing suit model confirm for her what Max and her sister have been telling her. I did love the truly supportive relationship Letty has with her swimsuit model, size-2 sister. They are not pitted one against the other to the reader because of their body shape. They are both beautiful. They are both interesting, funny women and they love each other very much.

In Max’s family the importance of status and image lead to a long-term denial of his mother’s addiction and his father’s use of money to manipulate and control. Max’s conflicted and fraught relationship with his newly-sober mother felt realistically drawn and as was his hyper-awareness of his short-temper. I really appreciated that Christopher had Max verbalize his fears and open up about the reasons he was scared to death to get involved with someone seriously. Too often these kinds of feelings are only expressed in internal monologue and the other MC has no opportunity to challenge those notions. And it felt true to life that even knowing the issues involved two people might still misunderstand and misconstrue things because they are working through their own emotional baggage. The one issue that Max struggled with that I was surprised the book did not challenge more directly was his preoccupation with being able to provide Letty the kind of life he imagines she is used to. He holds on to the mistaken idea that Letty would care that he is not yet as financially self-reliant as he wants to be.

The ending had too many of the conflicts and villains vanquished off-page by the power of Lola's Fairy Godmother-like witchiness and the actual reconciliation felt somewhat rushed but I am still interested in reading more books in this series because of the genuineness of the family relationships and the frankness of the characters about their messy feelings. This is a solid romance that could have used some more focus, but delivers in sexiness and emotion.

Content Warnings: Past trauma (child abuse), fatphobia


Love in Panels Review: At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli

This review was originally published on Love in Panels

At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli

Sandra Antonelli is a long-time advocate and promoter of romance featuring older protagonists. While the majority of romance authors and publishers focus on characters in their twenties and thirties, Antonelli and other fans of seasoned romance thirst for characters with a few more gray hairs and a lot more life experience. At Your Service is the first of Antonelli’s new In Service series, a mystery/romantic suspense series which will feature main characters over 40. At Your Service was an engrossing and highly-enjoyable romance, with great pacing, action and banter and a fabulous heroine, Mae in her mid-50s, who is just little bit older than the hero, Kitt.

Mae loves working as butler - she thrives on feeling productive and useful. For the last three years, she has juggled being both landlady and butler to Major Kitt, whose globe-trotting work is both dangerous and mysterious, but whose appreciation for her scrambled eggs is always constant. She might quirk an eyebrow at the way he hustles his young married paramours out of his apartment on the morning afters but she does not share her judgment, it wouldn’t be professional.

But the wall of perfect professionalism crumbles when Mae is first mugged, then burgled, and finally swindled before she kills a man in self-defense in his flat. Someone is targeting Mae and she is in way over her head, so he bullies her into letting him help. Together they race to discover who and why someone is after Mae and untangle their grand scheme while tangling with the several intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, wrestling with murderous bankers and brushing up against the Mafia. It is was a complicated but highly entertaining caper.

I enjoyed the action and adventure but if you are triggered by physical violence be aware that both Mae and Kitt get seriously banged up through the course of the novel, they are drugged, tazed and nearly drowned, and stumble upon a bevy of murdered bodies. But through it all Antonelli keeps up witty banter but manages not to trivialize or diminish the emotional roller-coaster both Mae and Kitt are experiencing as they survive multiple near-death experiences. They are both feeling emotionally messy and that is acknowledged and reflected in how they behave and in the quality of their decision-making. 

One of my favorite tropes is a widow finding love after a grief, but I have mixed feeling as to how this played out in the novel. I loved Mae’s realization that her feelings for Kitt were deeper and more significant than she had ever let herself admit and that she reached out for him the mornings in the same way she had reach out to for her late-husband Caspar. Kitt knows how deeply Mae grieved Caspar and that affects his ability to understand that her feelings for him have changed. I was disappointed, however, very late in the novel when certain facts about Caspar are revealed to both the reader and Mae. Although Antonelli uses these to further the romance plot, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I was also disappointed in the “not-like-other-girls” subtext to Kitt’s love of Mae. He refers to his past lovers as meaning nothing and thinks of them as no more than temporary disposable diversions on multiple occasions, while classing Mae differently. While that is part and parcel of his characterization as a cross between James Bond & Mr. Rochester type, it rankled a bit, especially when Kitt is convinced that he has been protecting Mae by overlooking her. I did appreciate that Mae saw his behavior for what it was, a misogynistic response to early heartbreak and calls him out on callousness. Other aspects of his hyper-masculine/Alpha hero persona were hyped up and I was particularly fascinated by recurring the hero or bully discussion Mae and Kitt have through the novel.

“You’re a bully,” she said.

“I was hoping you’d see me as heroic.”

“Heroic. Which means you expect me to lean up and cover you with kisses to thank you profusely?”

“I think I’ve enough of your blood on me already.”

“Heroic. Maybe you’re a little of that, but mostly you’re a bully.”

“ I can live with that.”

-Mae and Kitt in At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli

 

I stayed up late into the night reading At Your Service, and then dove back to reading as soon as I could the next morning and I recommend it to all who are looking for funny, smart romantic suspense with a strong focus on romance that doesn’t skimp on the mystery. I will be eagerly awaiting more from Antonelli, especially if her heroines continue to shock both their heroes and adversaries by refusing to go meekly or cave quietly, whatever the situation.

Content Warnings: Guns, Kidnapping/Abduction, Murder.


Free Fall by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner (Fly me to the Moon, Book 5)

Free Fall coverOne of the best things that can happen to you as a reader is to find a writer whose books just work for you, whose core story is the story you love to read. As a reader I have been very lucky, over the last 5 or 6 years I've found several such writers. Emma Barry is one of those writers. Whether she is writing nerdy accountants, swaggering astronauts or uptight engineers as heroes or workaholic public servants, managing housewives or sultry sorority girls are heroines, I am here for it.

At the start of Free Fall, Vivy is just 19, daddy's little girl, a college girl is majoring in sociology, who loves her sorority sisters and is too loud, too big and much too much for her  prim and petite society mother. She is in that middle space, no longer a child but not a full-fledged independent adult yet.  One night she accompanies her father, a defense contractor with big contracts with the space agency, to a party at an astronaut's house. After a while she decides to go outside and get some air. Dean Garland, one of the astronauts, follows her out.

"It was unfair, and so like a man, to look that good and that cocky."
                                                                                        Vivy in Barry and Turner's Free Fall

He claims to have been lured out by the bigness of her laugh, which instead of pleasing Vivy, cools everything off

"Settle down, quiet down, sit down, look down: all her life, her mother had tried to wrestle Vivy into a smaller space, a smaller size. But Vivy couldn't be less"
                                                                                    Vivy in Barry and Turner's Free Fall.

But Dean recovers, not letting Vivy slip away back inside offended, frank in his interest and ignorant of who her daddy is. He doesn't flinch away from her sharp teasing, clearing liking it just as much as he likes the look of her.  The combination is irresistible and Vivy is soon kissing him in the dark under the moon and then following him to his house down the block for more.


The Governess Game by Tessa Dare (Girl meets Duke #2)

Cover of the Governess Game by Tessa Dare. Two people, embracing, forehead to forehead on the edge of a deskI find Tessa Dare's writing delightful and reading them like being in the fluffiest and warmest of bubble baths, but underneath the fluff she is doing really some serious work piercing the Regency Romance bubble with decidedly un-fluffly topics, such as racism and abandonment.  

In the Governess Game, outside of a few dear friends, Alexandra Mountbatten is totally alone in the world. Her Philippine Mestiza mother died when she was a young child and her beloved father went down with his ship in a storm.  She makes her living as professional timekeeper, winding and setting the clocks of wealthy patrons.  She arrives at the home of Mr. Chase Reynaud to offer her services only to be mistaken for an applicant for the perpetually vacant post of governess to his two young wards. He doesn't care who she is and doesn't remember the time they briefly met the year before, but he is desperate to keep her.

"I don't care if you're gently bred, roughly bred or a loaf of brown bread with butter. You're educated, you understand propriety, and you're . . . breathing." -- Chase Reynaud in Tessa Dare's The Governess Game

But his charm offensive and extremely lucrative offer are not enough to sway her.

"And then she did what Chase yearned to do, often. She flung open the door, fled the house and didn't once look back." -- Tessa Dare's The Governess Game

But an accident and lost chronometer not much later has Alexandra re-evaluating the merits of his offer and ends up changing all their lives.

If the governess trope is not one of your favorites, I usually avoid it, know that early on Dare makes it clear that Alexandra has other options for shelter and job opportunities, so the power imbalance of employer and employee is minimized but it does not go unacknowledged as it does in too many stories.  

Dare layers banter, word-play (I lost track of how many alliterative names they came up with for Chase's hideout, but I cackled at each one) and surreal situations (such as Millicent's daily deaths and funerals) into a confection that serves to highlight the moments of piercing emotional realism.  When Alexandra wakes shaking after nightmares flashing back her days adrift alone in a dinghy or when Chase is confronted by his guilt over his cousin's death and his feelings of inadequacy as a father-figure and future duke, those moments sear.

I loved how Dare deconstructs the familial relationships in this book,  unacknowledged brothers, wards of uncertain parentage &  estranged relatives and how Chase, Alexandra, Rosamund & Daisy find a way to reassemble themselves into a new family. As much as Chase, Daisy and Rosamund consider themselves lost causes, unlovable or unworthy of loving, Alexandra refuses to give up on them.

Dare's style is not for everyone (don't come here looking for detailed depictions of wallpaper) but this series are dollops of delight. I love that heroines are unbowed by their past pain, but not emotionless "strong-female heroine", they hurt, they struggle but they are determined to build lives for themselves.  At points I wanted to shake Chase out of his wallowing in guilt and self-reproach but I adored the scene when Ash ( the hero of the Duchess Deal) bursts in on Chase and Alexandra determined to save her from Chase. 

"I came as soon as I hear you'd taken up residence in this place." He walked past her to stare down Chase face-to-face. "You deserve to know what a worthless scoundrel he is, Alex"

"Yes!" Chase exclaimed. He reached for Ashbury's hand and pumped it in a vigorous greeting. "Thank you. I've been trying to tell her myself, but she won't listen."

 

But Alexandra has listened, and seen. I love that love isn't blind. Alexandra sees his guilt, his past bad actions, and still sees he is more than that.  But their journey as a couple takes them through many ups and downs of dashed hopes before Chase gets his act together.  There is a good grovel and reconciliation at the end, with little touches, that made it far from generic, but very grounded in the specifics of their narrative.

 

I received a ARC from the publisher for review consideration via Edelweiss.

 

 


Love in Panels Review: Stripped by Zoey Castile

This review was originally published at Love in Panels:

Zac Fallon has been stripping for 10 years and he has always loved everything about it. He loves making women smile, being in the spotlight, the camaraderie with the other guys in the show, the freedom to travel and the money. But he just doesn’t quite love it as much as before - something is missing in his life.

Robyn Flores had it all together once. She is the one who did everything right but ever since since her 

best friend, Lily, the wild one of their duo, got engaged and started settling down, her life has started falling apart. She is happy for Lily, maybe a bit jealous of how together and happy she seems, that she can’t bring herself to tell Lily about how much she struggling. Robyn can barely get to work on time, is coming dangerously close to losing her teaching job and has little clue of why she can’t bring herself to care.

This Magic Mike XXL-inspired romance by Zoey Castile (who writes YA as Zoraida Cordova) was a roller-coaster - part frantic romantic comedy, part angsty relationship drama. While there are lots of glitzy and sexy scenes, what I loved were the quieter romantic moments that let me see why Fallon and Robyn were getting so wrapped up with each other so quickly. Castile captures the allure of someone who listens but might not be there to judge one’s bad choices the next day, especially as Robyn struggles to figure out what she wants to do, not what she thinks will please the people in her life.

But he listens to every word and, somehow, the space between us on the couch disappears and we’re sitting side by side...”

-Robyn -- Stripped by Zoey Castile

I also I really like the frank moments late in the novel where Lily and Robyn finally face why their friendship is floundering and it was interesting to contrast the state of their relationship to that of Fallon’s with Ricky and Aiden.

“... they want the spectacle. I want someone who might see more in me.”

-Fallon -- Stripped by Zoey Castile

The ‘Magic Mike Life” that Fallon is living is losing its charm after 10 years. Hosting an apartment-full of women for an after-party, just feels like a chore rather than a perk. But is an adjustment to become someone’s boyfriend, even a temporary one. Castile does a good job presenting the double edged ness of Fallon’s career. While he has plenty of people who get it and support him simple small talk with Robyn friends and family feels like traps, intentionally or unintentionally. Fallon is ready for something new, for a change, but outside of loving Robyn what that new thing was left too vague for my liking. 

I got a little tripped up in the early chapters by several eyebrow-raising references related to Robyn’s teaching (how can any teacher avoid meeting their new principal for two months? Do they not have faculty meetings?) but if anything, it showed how checked out Robyn was from her career and her life in general. Her gigantic heavy work bag she lugs back and forth to work did make me feel seen. I also appreciated that she frequently considered filling out union incident reports because she was certainly entitled to have done so. The whole storyline with Lukas, her inappropriately fixated principal was an ode to trusting one's instincts when other people think someone is okay.

There is a lot to like in this romance and I am intrigued enough by a lot of supporting characters, particularly Ricky the lead choreographer and organizer of the crew that I will come back to the Happy Endings series again.

If you are looking for a Magic Mike XXL-inspired romance with a sweet hero that doesn’t sugar coat the challenges, is full of emotionally messy people, set in a NYC that is as diverse as the real one and has just enough humor to balance the angst you should check this out.

I received an ARC for this book for review consideration from its publishers, Kensington.


Mini-Reviews @ Love in Panels for Wild like the Wind by Kristen Ashley and The Protector by HelenKay Dimon

I have two mini-reviews over at Love in Panels today.  Check out what I had to say about Kristen Ashley's Wild Like the Wind and The Protector by HelenKay Dimon.

 

Wild Like the Wind, by Kristen Ashley
Ana says: Pass for everyone but series completists 

 

WLtW was a deeply uneven book, with a terrible first half and a tolerable second half.  The Hound, Shepherd Ironside has had unrequited feelings for his best-friend Black’s widow. He has kept his feelings under wraps for decades, as it would be breaking their MC’s brotherhood code to make a move on another man’s woman, even if he is long-dead.  Keely only wakes up to the fact that she loves Shep, after an emotional confrontation causes him to stop coming around and she realizes she needs to make the moves.

The first half of the book is written in Hound’s POV and it was dreadful. In her better books Kristen Ashley’s the deep POV leads to an immersive ride however, Hound’s POV was riddled with info-dumpy passages that sounded nothing like the typically taciturn biker, including one where he catalogs the hotness of his biker brothers in addition to several where he rhapsodizes about the heroine’s home decor style.  The book improves once we switch over to the heroine, Keely’s POV because these passages are just not as jarring. What doesn’t improve however, are the passages extoticizing the heroine’s 1/4 Apache heritage.

If you are invested in the series’s overarching suspense plot, there are significant breakthroughs and setting up for the conclusion of the series plotline in the next book.  

Content Warnings: Crime, domestic violence (not MCs)

Ana purchased this book.

 

The Protector, by Helen Kay Dimon
Ana says: DNF

 

Cate Pendelton has been turning over every rock in her efforts to find out the why and hows of her sister’s death in a secretive commune. Damon Knox left Salvation, PA under tragic circumstances and vowed never to return, but knows that the only way Cate will be able to find the answers she needs is if he brings her back with him.

Although the tropes in this book should have appealed to me (bad first impressions, fake relationship), neither the plot nor the characters caught my attention. In previous books, the banter carried me even when the plot stalled, but in this one the bickering that too quickly turned into lust didn’t feel genuine. I wanted to sympathize with Damon, but he was too obnoxious and unwilling to level with Cate about his past.  And I felt little connection to Cate beyond her frustration with Damon because we knew so little about her beyond her determination to find closure about her sister’s death. Although I loved The Fixer and The Negotiator, I never clicked with The Protector and when I put it down at little over half-way into the book I didn’t have any interest in picking it up again.

 Content Warnings: Crime, guns

Ana received an ARC from the publisher, Avon, via Edelweiss.


Latest Listens: Mini-Audiobook reviews for Twisted by Laura K Curtis, The Hidden Legacy Series by Ilona Andrews and Night Hawk by Beverly Jenkins

In the past month I have spent a lot of time with audio-books, in fact I listened to books each day. Walking around the neighborhood, digging out weeds in the yard, and listening during long drives, books have been keeping me company.  I have been listening to a mix of new-to-me books and revisiting some comfort reads. My favorite genres to listen to are Mystery, PNR and Historical and this past month has been filled with wonderful examples of all three.

 

Blonde woman with hair blowing on her face, woods in the backgroundI have been meaning to read Curtis's books for a long time, as we've followed each other on twitter for years and have met in person several times over the last few years.  I was very excited for her when I saw she had arranged to produce an audio book with Angele Masters whose narration on Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell series I really enjoyed.   While it took me a couple of chapters to excise Veronica and Stoker from my head (as the MCs in this book are also arch and gruff), I really sunk into the story.   The mystery, a cold case that threatens power players in a small town and the romance, hesitant and wary, were both very nicely developed and I was very engaged in both storylines. I hope she continues to produce more audiobooks for the Harp Security Series, as I am eager to listen to more of their adventures.

CW: guns, gun violence, murder, references to past trauma (sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape).

I received a copy of this audiobook as a gift from the author.

 

HiddenLegacyI re-listened to Gordon and Ilona Andrews fantastic PNR series, Hidden Legacy. Blazing through from Burn for Me, straight into White Hot and on to Wildfire.  While I adore the Kate Daniels series, I have to agree with Elisabeth Lane and many others that Hidden Legacy is probably their best series. The world, and the relationships, just gel together so much earlier.  It was fabulous to re-listen, and see what stuff I missed as I raced to read them the first time. I love noticing how early Rogan realizes she is a prime, and starts anticipating what she will need to do, all while she is just trying to stay alive and deny her growing feeling for him.  I can't wait for the follow up stories that are coming this fall. I love so many of the supporting characters and I wish I could have a dozen novellas.  

My only nitpick with Renee Raudman's narration of these books is how old she makes Nevada's mother, Penelope sound. She is 45 and sounds ancient.  As someone creeping toward my mid-forties, I would have liked a less creakiness to her voice. Although I am sure someone else feels the same way about Grandma Frida's voice.

CW: gun violence, torture, murder

 

Cover of Night Hawk by Beverly Jenkins. Black man, shirtless, wearing a black stetson and black leather duster.I continue to love listening to Beverly Jenkins's novels on Audio.  I have struggled to read historical romance recently but I know that no matter what Beverly Jenkins book I have queued up next I will get swept up in the story.  While Kevin R. Free's Scottish accent in the prologue was very rough, I urge to persevere as the rest of the book is wonderfully narrated.  I came into this book a little wary because I had mostly heard about the hero, and I am heroine-centric reader, however Maggie is wonderful in her own right, even if Ian's tends to steal the show. And why shouldn't he, he is a knight-in-shinning-armor, hiding behind a black hat, leather duster and a checkered past.  This is a road-trip romance, and  I loved how Jenkins has Maggie learn about Ian's many identities as they travel from town to town looking for judge or sheriff he can safely deliver her to while encountering folks who remember him fondly or have grudges to settle with him. I loved how their relationship morphed, and how they became essential to each other, when at first what they most wanted most was to get rid of each other.  I expect that I will want to listen to this again in the future.

CW: guns, gun violence, attempted rape, sexual harassment, abusive language/slurs & racism directed at MCs. 

I love audio-books and this has been a fantastic month.  I hope you find something wonderful to listen to for the next time you have to tackle you next drive or chore 


Destiny's Surrender by Beverly Jenkins (Destiny #2)

Destiny's surrenderBillie Wells doesn't believe in fairy tales. Her life has always been hard and she has done everything to survive from picking pockets, scavenging and once her body started changing, sex work.  While the attention and care Drew Yates is undeniable, she can't let herself rely on it or even let herself believe in it. She knows who she is and what they are. She is his whore, not his wife or novilla and can't imagine a world where she would be anything but that.  She still soaks up whatever nuggets of knowledge of the world and culture he shares with her, treasures the gifts, the chocolates, and silks he brings on his visits and big and small the luxuries they are to enjoy when they are together.  When she learns she is pregnant she doesn't even consider contacting him, not just because he has been away for months, but because they have never been exclusive for longer than a few days at time, so many other clients could have fathered her child.  Though she misses him terribly, her choices and consequences are her own to deal with.

Drew Yates knows it is time of him to settle down. While his mind often wanders back to Billie when he isn't with her, he knows he needs to find himself a proper Spanish bride to bring back to his mother.   When months of spent among friends and family in Mexico don't yield any likely candidates he renews his search in Yerba Buena (San Francisco). While he doesn't find any women with Billie's curiosity, directness and strength of will, he does identify a young woman, whose poise and beauty catch his attention, among all the young ladies hiding behind their duennas, even though her mother is a terror. He can only hope his mother will be able to nurture her into blossoming. Spotting a heavily pregnant and haggard looking Billie almost distracts him from his chosen course but her adamant rejection and dismissal, makes him more determined to start this new phase of life.  But when an old enemy threatens Billie and her young son, surprisingly, his own, his carefully planning is for naught.

I adored Billie. She is fierce and flinty. She doesn't sink into self-pity or regret for the tough choices she's had to make her whole life and she doesn't anyone shame her. She doesn't ever expect anyone to stand up for her, but has genuine affection when someone willfully and knowingly do so, from Addie, to Alanza to Mariah.  Jenkins doesn't sugar coat or gloss over the hardships faced by sex workers from abuse and exploitation by pimps and johns, social isolation, the risks of disease, pregnancy and abortion, but the sex workers themselves are never vilified. They are working people and have their relationships with their johns and fellow sex workers  shaped by it. The other women have been competitors and peers and while some of their patrons have been kind, others detestable and most forgettable.  Her frankness unsettles many but I loved watching her interact with Alanza, who while bold and courageous has still been incredibly sheltered by her upbringing and station in life. I also love how Alanza who is devoutly catholic, never shames Bilie for anything but the time that Drew and Billie lose themselves in screaming match, frightening Antonio.

Shirtless Black man with a black woman in a hiked up lilac dress embrace on rock by a riverDrew goes on a journey in this book. His whole life is upended.  Learning he is already a father, having his carefully cultivated engagement shattered and facing scandal just as his career faces other threats is a lot, but he also has to come to terms with his own feelings about Billie, something he has determinedly tried to ignore for years.  Learning to do the hard work of loving someone rather than simply depending on his charm was great to see. He has to unlearn so many selfish and self-centered habits in order to earn a place in Billie and Antonio's life and it was lovely to see him do the work.

As I previously experienced in with other of Jenkins' novels, I loved the secondary characters. Alanza continues to shine as a steadfast but demanding mother, starting to embrace her own life as her sons grow and find their life-partners. She is a doting grandmother and someone on the cusp of experiencing a sexual awakening of her own.  I also loved Addie, the New Orleans born, mid-wife/seer, who rescues and shelters Billie and gains the revenge she long sought.  I was also curious about Rosa, Drew's smothered and sheltered ex-novilla and wondered if she will find her own HEA in Monterrey among Drew's Mexican family.  

Destiny's Surrender's audiobook was fabulously narrated  by Thomas Penny as I literally couldn't stop listening and he captured both Drew and Billie's emotional ranges!  

I highly recommend Destiny's Surrender for its fierce and flinty heroine and for having the hero do the emotional work necessary to regain the trust of his heroine.