Contemporary Feed

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 


Love in Panels review of Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole

Duke by Default  beautiful black woman in a colorful dress in the arms of a silver fox man in a grey shirt and black pantsToday I am over at Love in Panels with my review of Duke by Default, the second book in Alyssa Cole's delightful Reluctant Royal's series.  Stop over there to read it!

 

The Hot-mess Heiress and the Sexy Swordbae

Cole continues to please with her second Reluctant Royals series book, A Duke by Default, blending sexiness and emotionally affirming themes with challenging character arcs. 

Portia’s new internship, the one that she has pinned so many of her hopes and dreams on, gets off to the rockiest of starts. Misunderstandings pile upon miscommunications and leave both Portia and her new boss, Tavish, a master sword maker, with the worst of first impressions and a face full of pepper spray. But Portia is determined to make it work, even when Tavish turns out to be as stubborn and frustrating as he is attractive.

Portia was Ledi’s troubled and difficult best-friend in Cole’s A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1). In A Duke by Default, Portia is determined to remake herself. A Jill of all trades, a nomad and a perpetual student, she has dealt with her feelings of insecurity and her fraught relationship with her parents through avoidance and problem drinking. She only starts to forgive herself and start making progress on her “Project Portia”, when her sister sends a her a link to a video about living with ADHD.

Pulled in too many directions and struggling to keep his armory afloat, Tavish is desperate enough to let himself be talked into accepting an apprentice he doesn’t want but he isn’t at all gracious about it. The grumpy wanker is suspicious of change, skeptical of Portia’s methods and hesitant to trust her. He is frankly a terrible boss. However he is determined to keep his commitments to his community so he is eventually persuaded to listen to Portia. However trusting Portia to manage his web presence is one thing, believing the surprising secret she uncovers about his family is something completely different.

Cole takes Portia and Tavish, who are at times both hard to love and have a hard time accepting love on parallel but distinct personal journeys where they have to reexamine the default ways they react to other people and reevaluate what they have come to think about themselves when confronted with life-changing truths that upend everything they thought they knew. I love difficult heroines, so I warmed up to Portia right away, but it took me a long time to warm up to Tavish. I did love, however, how he changes how he speaks to her, once he realizes how Portia is much more vulnerable and easily hurt than she lets on.

World-building is a underappreciated component in contemporary romance and Cole excels at it. She grounds her fantastical premises (the African prince in your spam folder is an actual prince, and you are the secret heir to a dukedom) by crafting a world that looks and feels modern and familiar. Cole uses little things such as how her characters use or avoid social media to the way she describes Tavish’s working class neighborhood, a mix of long-time residents, recent immigrants & affluent gentrifiers uneasily co-existing to build up a sense of place and currentness.

The only fault I found with the story was how quickly things turned for Tavish and Portia in the last quarter of the book. It jarred me so much that they only way I could move forward was to jump to the end and read backwards before I could go back read to their reconciliation. It was sweet, fairytale-like, yet it doesn’t erase the challenges they will face making a life together.

For fans of the previous book, Ledi and Thabiso make several appearances in the book as do other secondary characters from A Princess in Theory, but the book stands alone easily. I wholeheartedly recommend it!


Thirsty by Mia Hopkins (Eastside Brewery Bk 1)

Second chances new start (1)When his temporary post-prison living arrangements fall apart, Salvador Rosas need a cheap place to crash, quick.  Chinita, an old lady from the neighborhood lets him crash in her garage for $200 and the labor of cleaning it out.  Chinita's granddaughter Vanessa, loses her mind when she finds out, but lets him stay anyway, on probation. 

Sal was sent to prison at 19, after spending most of his teens stealing cars and running with a Hollenbeck gang in East LA, ever since his family started disintegrating after his mother and sister's death. He knew back then that Vanessa  was too good for him, with her good grades and her drive. But just as he was being sentenced, she was finding out she was pregnant by the first boy she ever kissed, another gangster just like him, Sleepy.

In the 5 years Sal spent in Prison, Vanessa's life changed. Widowed before she became a mother, she didn't get out of the neighborhood, but she did get her degree. She works hard as bookkeeper, studying hard to pass the CPA exam. She let her life get derailed once and is determined not to let it ever happen again.

Thirsty is told exclusively through Sal's POV, his worries, anxiety and tension about what to do next with his life is central and that focus is what makes this story work. Sal is big, dangerously built, charming and super-sexy, but from his POV we also know how he struggles to acclimate to life outside of prison, to figure out what the right choices are for him.  We  know that he is wary, anxious and utterly convinced that he isn't worth taking a risk on.  That contrast between his outward  image from images-na.ssl-images-amazon.comappearance and his inner vulnerability allows me to connect to him.

Hopkins does a wonderful job with depicting the complexity of Vanessa and Sal's connection to their neighborhood and their Mexican American heritage.  While I don't love the fact that Sal and Vanessa's ex, were both gang-members and the centrality of gang life to the story, and I wish there were more non-gang affiliated supporting characters in the story, I still liked it.  Chinita and her gang of elderly chismosas were a ton of fun. I also liked the contrasts Hopkins developed between the two white men who enter Sal's life.  Barry is his boss at the gym, sees someone he can exploit in Sal. He might frame his offer to train him to be a trainer as something that would benefit both of them, but Sal is right to be wary. To Barry, Sal is an opportunity.  Alan on the other hand, recognizes in Sal someone with potential.  He mentors and befriends without in non-patronizing way.  He feeds Sal's curiosity by sharing his passion openly and I wasn't surprised that he was there when Sal needed him most.

If you enjoy stories about second chances, about finding a new path in life despite past mistakes, try Thirsty. Despite my wariness that the story w
ould reinforce the very harmful stereotypes of Latinx criminality, it was a story that was very respectful of the challenges of growing up with few choices and focused on building a better future. 

 

 

 


Surprise Baby, Second Chance by Therese Beharrie

48. Therese Beharrie ‘s Suprise Baby, Second Chance (eARC, 8/7) forced-proximity, SAfrican-set m/f. Rosa left their seemingly happy marriage without a word & their near reconciliation has consequences.Strong emotional conflict as they face their anxieties https://t.co/BbUvioLYKK

— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) June 23, 2018

A black woman with light brown curly hair is hugged and nuzzeled by a handsome black man in white shirtsleeves.Rosa walked away from what Aaron thought had been a happy marriage. Her surprise abandonment, shattered his confidence and his sense of what they had together.  It is Rosa who is blindsided when she walks into what she expects is her mother-in-law's birthday bash to find herself stranded alone with her estranged husband at his family's vacation home.

Stuck together for the weekend, Rosa and Aaron can no longer avoid talking about the hidden guilt and anxiety that has driven them apart. Despite the fact that they both care deeply about each and still are deeply attracted they find a way to reconcile and overcome the ways they have denied each other trust and intimacy when they needed it most.

Beharrie has her characters unpack  and reckon which whole host of mental anguishes and anxieties that stem from the very particular way they met. Cancer, caretaking and parental abandonment both physical and emotional play a huge role in their relationship dynamics, more than each of them realize at the start of the novel.

The escalation of their confrontations and the very realistic way they spiral off-topic to other sensitive topics felt very real, especially they way to very verbal people can talk circles around each other while failing to understand what the core conflict really is.

The book felt emotionally true, especially Rosa's conflicting desires and questioning of her choices and her deep fear of becoming someone Aaron comes to resent. Aaron's struggles to confront his own anxieties about being someone deserving of love where equally heartbreaking.

And this is all before they have to figure out how to respond at the news of an unplanned pregnancy.

This book packs an emotional wallop that never shies away from the very un-cute downsides of forced proximity scenarios. I appreciate how truly uncomfortable it is not to be able to escape an emotionally intense conversation because you are literally trapped in a the room together and then seemingly trapped in a relationship because of impulsive choice.

Neither of these characters responds in all the right ways. They really struggle which makes their efforts at trying to put together their relationship and becoming more accepting of their own mental health struggles was highly emotional book to read.

 

An ARC of Surprise Baby, Second Chance was provided by the author, Therese Beharrie for review consideration.

Surprise Baby, Second Chance is available for pre-order right now and it due for release on Aug 7, 2018.

  


Shadow of Doubt by Linda Poitevin

44. Shadow of Doubt by Linda Poitvien. (ARC, 5/10) RomSuspense. Started out promising but too much of the emotional conflict was the MCs arguing if it was too risky for the RCMP heroine to keep helping the framed DEA agent hero on the run. #ttr #bkbrk https://t.co/0rfLpBBgLs

— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) June 3, 2018

 

51BEYqNiYELI really loved the start of this book. A RCMP officer find a bullet-ridden man on a rain-soaked back road on a stormy night and is forced to bring him home.  Kate Dexter is all business, practical, wary and very very suspicious. She doesn't have time to ogle the handsome and extremely well built victim.  She worries about how dangerous it makes him.

Poitevin captured the extreme tension within Kate as she tries to decide how to respond to situation. Her instincts are at war with the police procedures and every minute she hesitate the bigger the cost to her career.   Poitevin carries that tension over  to the intense action and suspense scenes.  

However while the action kept Jonas Burke, a framed ATF agent on the run, and Kate ricocheting around Ontario and the Northeast United States,  the romance stalled.  I was frustrated by the repetitive nature of Kate and Jonas arguments.  While Poitevin eventually gives us the backstory as to why Jonas is so fiercely and stubbornly independent, I was too bored with Jonas continued insentience that Kate stop helping him, and his doubts about her abilities even though she consistently proved herself extremely capable.  Jonas's realization of the errors of his ways came much too late for me and while the epilogue was sweet and perfect, I still think Kate should have smacked him and walked away, because she endured too much from Jonas as he tried to push her away. I thought Kate should have hooked up with her ex or her fabulously supportive partner instead.

Shadow of Doubt had a fantastic heroine, gripping action and a frustrating lug of a hero, who tried to pushed away the best partner he could have ever hope to have found.

 

I received a ARC from the author for review consideration.

 

 


Resort to Love by Priscilla Oliveras review over at Love in Panels

I accepted Suzanne's invitation to join the Love in Panels Review team.  I will be reviewing one or two books a month for them. 

Ever since RT announced that it will be closing, I've been trying to figure out it I wanted to join another group venture or just write for myself.  This is the best of both worlds. I have total freedom of what I choose to review for Love in Panels, and I get to support a review blog I respect. 

 

I'll always link to my reviews here too, but I hope you add Love in Panels to your  bookmarks!

 

 


Rome's Chance by Joanna Wylde

Rome's Chance_Joanna Wylde's books are really hit or miss for me usually. I either love them or I hate read them but either way I rarely put them down because they are really emotionally engrossing.  This was a second-chance at love/reunion romance for two minor characters in a book I hate read (Reaper's Fire), yet I really liked it.

Randi has been taking care of her siblings since she was just a kid because of her mom's addiction issues. The warring feelings of love and resentment Randi feels for her mother were very well portrayed as were Randi's creeping awareness that things have been going terribly for her youngest siblings while she has been away at school in a different town.   Despite Randi's complicated feeling for her mother, Wylde was surprisingly compassionate in the portrayal.

Rome is a classic caretaker hero, thankfully without the asshole bossiness qualities that often comes packaged with the caretaker alpha character type in Biker novels. He truly cares for Randi, and put in the effort to be there for her when she can't cope. He understands the ups and downs of her grief and sticks even when she lashes out.  Randi's self-protective, self-denial and a real sense that she just doesn't have the energy for a a relationship, doesn't faze him, because he is there not to get something for himself, but because he wants to take care of her.

“We’ll date later,” he told me, dropping back down in front of me. “Maybe next year. Until then, I’ll be the guy fucking you. And the guy who bandages up your feet. You can cry on me, too, but I’m not gonna let you dump me until we’ve had a real chance. Sooner or later, you’ll be ready to live again. I can wait.” -- Rome's Chance by Joanna Wylde

 

I won't recommend this widely because biker books just aren't for everyone, but if you like biker books, I liked this one.


Recent Reads: Mini-Reviews of my April Reading including books by Kristen Ashley, Holley Trent, Lauren Dane and Deanna Raybourn

This surprise novella gives an HEA to a longstanding supporting character in the Rock Chick series, Shirleen, the former poker-game running, black office manager at Lee Investigations, whose over-the-top meddling has incited many a romantic conflicts in the series.  She is now a devoted single foster mother to two teenage boys on the brink of manhood. As a character Shirleen has always been problematic, and this book is no exception.

When a handsome man tries to pick her up at the grocery store, she first runs from his attention and then soaks it in, saving his number despite being determined not to ever call him because she is sure her sketchy past, precludes her from deserving of the HEAs she has helped engineer for her girlfriends have all received.  So the Rock Chicks and the Hot Bunch intervene.

What I really enjoyed about this romance was the care Moses took in building up his relationship with Shirleen. He knows she is skittish with good reason, so he puts in the work. They have long phone-calls, romantic dinners and is there for her breaking down the barriers to her believing she deserves to be happy and that someone can love her despite her complicated history.

Like all anthologies there are some really great stories and some so-so ones and all of them are no longer than a handfuls of pages. My favorites were "Here" by Ronnie Garcia, "Stories from my father" by  Adam Lance Garcia and Heidi Black, "A Broken Promesa" by Rosa Colon and "Blame it on 'Rico" by  Alberto 'Tito' Serrano,  It will be a great document to use try to unpack all the cultural anxieties experienced by Puerto Ricans and the Boricuan Diaspora. I was also once again fascinated by the amount of projection we Puerto Ricans are able channel into Taino imagery as an expression of anti-colonial sentiment. I understand the impulse and desire to reclaim that lost heritage but I feel we run the danger of colonizing them once more with our narratives. Puerto Rico has a lot more wrestling to do in the present with its colonial reality and reading this anthology made me feel a lot less alone, as I recognize so much of the home I grew up in, the worries and hopes I have for it and the murkiness of its future in it.

An abused, low-ranking wolf female jumps at a chance to leave her wretched home back by answering a mating call.  Arriving to a new pack as modern-day mail-order bride of sorts, she has no idea what to expect, and only has the hope that these wolves will be better, less brutal and that her role as wife, rather than a single female will be more secure.  Only when she arrives her assigned mate doesn't want her.  Determined not to go back, she sets out to out-stubborn him.  I quite liked the heroine and her hope and determination. She is practical and clear-eyed about the society she has grown up in, and it was a treat to see her grown in confidence as she realizes her world need not be as small as it was before.  

However I didn't care for the hero or his self-hating about his new disability. His view of himself as lesser and unworthy as mate, and that didn't work for me.  I particularly didn't like how long it took him to realize that his determination to reject her was about overriding her choices. And I didn't like that in the end he was containing to insist in denying her the bite that would allow her to shift fully after reconciling himself to the blessing of having her as his wife. I did like the rest of the world, so I will eventually read the rest of these, but I think I will jump to the Viking Queen's Men book everyone else is raving about first.

I really loved the beginning of this book. I loved how the heroine's dating life was messy and how realistically she responded the attention and interest after her mini-makeover. She basks in the new-found male attention but doesn't lose sight of her boundaries. When one of her dates starts getting possessive, and clingy, she reacts in reasonable ways, mildly rebuking, trying to distance herself while also being aware of the potential danger.  

However I didn't like how much the story relied on portraying women outside the heroine's friendship circle, and in the hero's past as vain and bitchy and how often the heroine had to stake her claim through uncomfortable confrontations. I really hate the trope that the hero has only date terrible women in the past and finally find the one.

 

I continue to enjoy how matter-of-factly lecherous Veronica can be. She owns her sexual desire and has no shame in claiming her extensive sexual history. In this book I did love how she uses her flirtations with Stoker, to soothe or aggravate him depending on what he needs at the time and how she has come to realize that her feelings for him go well beyond wanting to shag him. The mystery however was quite dull and Veronica and Stoker spent too much spinning their wheels.


Loving the Secret Billionaire by Adriana Anders

Shirtless Man putting on a flannel shirtA scrappy pre-k teacher is a political underdog running against a slick incumbent.  She is doggedly trying to make a difference in her city, taking the bus to far flung neighborhoods to campaign after a full-day of work, when meets Zach Hubler. Zach's overgrown yard and dark house are not a likely prospect but it is the only house on the block without her opponent's sign in its yard.  Zach is charmed by Veronica and takes an interest in her campaign.

When better campaign materials and hordes of volunteers start circulating around town Veronica is baffled until a stray comment by one of her new supporters, prompts her to return to Zach's doorstep and learn who he is really is.

I enjoyed this novella but I am not quite sure what to make of depiction of blindness, While Zach is portrayed as being incredibly confident and independent, the way Veronica responded to his blindness, becoming hyper-aware of all the non-verbal communication she needs to verbalize or her wonder at his ease in navigating the world through the accommodations he has in place felt off and a little bit weird, like she has never previously interacted with a blind person.

"I couldn't nod at the little questions, couldn't play things off with a shrug. Conversation with this man involved commitment. It was frightening and refreshing."

But despite side-eyeing that I really enjoyed Zach and Veronica's backwards and text-filled courtship, it was delightfully awkward and hesitant as Veronica struggles against her curiosity and chemistry with Zach and the certainty that he is being less than honest with her.  I loved how Zach's inexperience challenged Veronica to be more assertive and explicit in her requests and desires, unable to rely on him knowing what should be done.

The reasons Zach is so reclusive and secretive are mercifully not directly tied to his blindness but we don't have much more explanation for it. The book is centered on Veronica and on her race for City Council and how Veronica responds after Zach's intervention radically altered the City Council's dynamics on her behalf.

This novella first appeared as a short story, titled Grassroots in the first of the Rogue Series of Anthologies, Rogue Desire. I enjoyed the story in both its forms, and the romance is not substantially altered as most of the expanded word count goes to develop that campaign plotline a little further and to introducing Veronica's best-friend and campaign manager, O'Neal Jones, who is the heroine of the follow-up novella "Loving the Wounded Warrior" . If you missed Rogue Desires, and are a fan of Anders' Blank Canvas stories, and you enjoy underdog stories or love virgin heroes, check out Loving the Secret Billionaire.

 

I received an ARC of both "Rogue Desire" and "Loving the Secret Billionaire" for review consideration.