It has been a long-time since the first book in this series came out. After I dug up my review of Truly, I realized I hadn't imagined the long wait, I had in fact read Truly back in 2013 when Loveswept was experimenting with serialization on WattPad. Thankfully, I am extremely happy report that Madly was worth the wait.
Madly is the story of Allie Fredericks, May's impulsive little sister. It has been more than a year since she broke up with her long-time boyfriend on their wedding day and now she is in secretly in NYC not to visit May and Ben but to stalk her mother.
Allie is watching her mother Nancy, share drinks with stranger, a man she has disappeared to meet up with again and again throughout her long-marriage, this time only days before her 30th Anniversary party. Angry, confused and regretful Allie is not sure what to do, but she doesn't want her mother to spot her across the bar till she figures out what to do next. Enter, Winston.
"Listen, I know this is going to sound kind of crazy, but if you can just kind of bear with me, I think you'll eventually decide it's the good kind of crazy."
"There's a good kind of crazy?"
"If there's not, people have been lying to me all my life."
Winston Chamberlain is quite possibly the least likely person to ever get caught up in Allie's potentially tawdry, and certainly ridiculous drama. Winston is a buttoned-up British banker, whose marriage recently imploded under the weight of all the artificial expectations of what a proper marriage should be. (He is also Neville' s older brother, from It Happened One Night). His ex-wife is across the world climbing the mountains and his nearly-grown daughter is deftly ignoring his presence in NYC. But Winston does get caught up in it, especially when he realizes he knows just who the man Nancy is sharing drinks with is his client, his very rich and very secretive client.
Madly is oddly an extremely sexy romance about divorce. It is also a story about mothers, daughters and the big and little compromises women make when trying to balance their ambitions, marriages and families. Allie and Winston are both exactly who they seem to be and also more. While they superficially seem like an unlikely pairing they are actually at the same point in their lives, evaluating what went wrong, what they want and what comes next.
It was a delight to read Knox's thoughtful prose again and to enjoy Allie and Winston antics as their romance rockets from unexpected attraction to come to something truly special, something worth taking a chance on even if it seems a little mad to everyone else.
Loveswept (Random House Publishing Group) provided a ARC copy of Madly for review consideration via NetGalley.
But she was Sarah Soon, ob/gyn, maker of lists, taker of names, kicker of asses, and she had gotten over terrible things before. She always got over them. And she did not give a fuck what Jake Li thought of her.
Ruby Lang's books get better and better. I liked her first, Acute Reactions, loved the second, Hard Knocks and I adored Clean Breaks. Each of these romances are fun, emotional and nuanced in their portrayal of families and friendships. They are full of flawed people, and families who persist in loving each other, despite mistakes and disappointments.
Sarah Soon has come a long way from high school, where she was almost removed as valedictorian because she was caught topless with a boy at a party. She left home soon after, worked her way through college and med school on her own. She has just survived a brush with cancer, and is working to regain her strength and confidence again. The last person she wants to run into is Jake Li, her brother's best-friend and one of the many who didn't have her back when she needed them most, even if he has gotten incredibly hot in the meantime.
In the last ten years, Jake Li has lost his faith and most recently ended his marriage after his wife admitted to falling in love with another man. Jake is starting over, to trying to figure out who he is and what makes him happy. Everyone from his friends to his Reverend father have ideas on how he should act and behave after the divorce, but he is not interested in sleeping around or dating for sake of getting out there again. He is interested in seeing Sarah again and getting to know her all over again. He is not about to let idiotic best-friends, disapproving family and ancient history get in the way.
I loved how this romance developed. Jake and Sarah have a common history, growing up close but they don't know each other anymore. They have to re-learn things they thought they knew about each other and about themselves. Their shared history is both a blessing and impediment. They needle each other, they recognize each other and in the end surrender to loving each other.
Lang balances the seriousness of their feelings with great moments of humor. I loved their tense stand-offs over who had the right to bring a date to their sushi bar and the disastrous dinner Sarah, Reverend Li and Jake share at white-run Taiwanese inspired restaurant. Anger, awkwardness and ridiculousness meld deliciously.
All the characters felt knowable, yet unpredictable. I can't wait to read whatever Lang writes next.
Due South by Tamsen Parker: I love Tamsen Parker’s Compass series but this story can stand alone, and I highly recommend it if you have not read any of the others. As I said on twitter it is the sexiest book you will ever read about two people working crazy hours to rewrite a presentation on municipal bonds. Long hours, too much coffee and frustrated mutual attraction boil over one night, changing everything. Lucy and Evans, are both highly competent but not terribly confident, but in each other they find someone to trust, someone with which intimacy & vulnerability lead to empowerment.
Hard Core by Dakota Gray: I did not love this. I adored Perv and was really looking forward to Duke’s story but although I love his friendship with his battle-axe paralegal Gwen, and I thought Kennedy was interesting and fun, Duke was too much of chore. Although his downward spiral and grovel was epic, I wish the POVs had been switched and we would have seen this story from Kennedy’s point of view rather than Duke’s boringly stubborn head. I’ll still be back for Tarek’s story however because I still find the writing fun even if it didn’t sell me on the romance.
A Crown of Bitter Orange (La Vie en Roses bk 3) by Laura Florand A novel about family heritage, about coming home, and finding a home in someone. Malorie tried to walk away from her family’s disgraceful history and make a place for herself on her own. But when her grandmother dies, she comes home to make decisions on behalf of her scattered sisters about what to do with what is left behind. Tristan the youngest of the Rosier cousins, is waiting for her. He in fact has been waiting for to come home for a very long time. Safely grounded in the fertile soil of the Rosier Family, Tristan has to learn how to communicate and love Malorie in a way she understand, to climb the walls of her loneliness and overcome her suspicions. I loved the organic growth of their relationship and how the resolution to their conflict was natural and believable.
Unseen Attraction by KJ Charles: I absolutely loved this book. I reviewed it for RT so I can’t post a full review here or link to the one I wrote for them since it is behind a paywall. However I can say that I loved it. KJ Charles excels at populating her worlds with interesting, complex people. Her Victorian London is gritty and colorful, with visible immigrants & people of color and people of all economic classes are represented. I adored the romance between Clem and Rowley blossomed out of friendship and mutual care. (ARC provided by Loveswept for review consideration, expected publication date Feb 21, 2017)
2016 has been a hard year for a lot of people. For my family it was a year of transitions, and although we’ve come out on the other side of those changes happier and healthier, there were many points in this past year where I’ve depended on books to provide comfort and light into my life when things were particularly hard. I re-read a lot of old favorites this year or turned to reliable authors who were already known to me when I felt the most emotionally fragile.
However one of my greatest joys as reader is when I discover someone new-to-me and learn they have a backlist full of books for me to enjoy. Instead of doing a traditional best-of list or favorite-books-of-the-year list I thought I would share a list of authors who I discovered this year and whose books brought me joy. Many of these authors are not debut novelists, some in fact are legends in the genre, but were simply new-to-me. I hope you to find someone to discover.
N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season completely rocked my world this year. A sprawling time-hoping science-fiction saga about a woman whose world is literally shaken apart. The story’s focus is on her determination to find and rescue her daughter amid the chaos. Jemisin's world building is masterful and the careful development of all the different relationships and small choices that led to that cataclysm was completely engrossing. I loved the second book, Obelisk Gate was just as much. I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy. Jemisin’s draws a complex world with People of Color at the center of the narrative, and where race, class and gender issues all intersect with incredible skill. If you only read one book of my list this year, read this one but I should warn you that while there are incredible romantic conflicts in this story, it is not a genre romance, HEAs are not guaranteed in any way.
Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson’s Cyberlove collaboration left me squeeing uncontrollably on twitter for days. Emotional, smart, funny, diverse and and scorching hot, these LGBT romances just made me happy. The main characters are quirky, gruff and flawed and incredibly compelling. After reading Strong Signal and Fast Connection, I ran out and bought books off both of their backlists and I continue to be impressed by the quality of their work. Both Hassell and Erickson have sky-rocketed to the top of my must-buy-list.
HelenKay Dimon is a romantic suspense legend, but because I generally avoid books with buff Navy SEALs on the covers and if I am honest most romantic suspense, I had never read one of her novels till this year. I tried several, including some of her older M/F rom suspense novels but the series that made me a fan is her new M/M romance series from Loveswept, Tough Love, featuring deadly dangerous men secretly saving the world. The team dynamics are fantastic and the supporting casts full and entertaining. The romances were full of competence porn featuring witty bickering couples great at their jobs but terrible at feelings.
To my eternal shame I hadn’t read any of Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances until this year. I knew of her, met her at RWA and read books by her literary daughters but I had not actually read one of her books. I read Forbidden with the #notabc, (not-a-book-club) twitter reading group. I was awed by the richness of Ms. Jenkins books, and how she seamlessly layers historical and cultural details while crafting beautiful romantic HEAs for black men and women. If like me you find yourself primarily reading a very narrow slice of historical romance (for example: white m/f regency roms) I urge you to read Ms. Jenkins and see what you have been missing and then check out Piper Hugely, Kianna Alexander, Lena Hart & Alyssa Cole for more awesome historical romance.
I started out the year reading one of Melissa Blue’s contemporary romances, "Under His Kilt" and ended it reading her Dakota Gray erotic romance, Perv about man with a fetish for oral sex and the woman determined to teach him a lesson for the callous way he treated her best-friend. Whether she is writing as Melissa Blue or Dakota Gray her books were a ton of fun, very sexy with strong believable conflicts. I’ve already pre-ordered the next book in her Filth series out at the end of January, Hardcore on the strength of Perv.
I can’t fail to talk about the Kindle Unlimted authors, Anna Carven, Ruby Dixon, TS Joyce & Suzanne Wright that caught my attention this year, since I spent a great part of this year binging on their books. This summer I treated myself to Kindle Unlimited subscription and gave myself permission to declare ARC backlog bankruptcy and read for fun without the pressure to review. It was glorious and just what I needed.
Because of the economics of KU, I was more willing to try books with weird covers, crazier concepts and indulge in a trope-heavy erotic romances that just made me giggle at first and later surprised me with the quality of their worldbuilding. These books are certainly a cut above the average KU book, but I probably wouldn't have read them all had I been buying the books individually and not accessing them via KU. If you have a powerful need for some hot SFR and paranomal romaances and already have a KU subscription check these out:
Ann Carven’s Dark Planet Warriors series is suspenseful and action packed. A space station is taken-over by seemingly hostile group of super-powerful aliens, but the real threat are the giant cockroach-like creatures they are chasing. Complex imperial politics, interplanetary diplomacy and a clash of civilizations is the backdrop in these romances. The stories are far from perfect but I wasn’t bored reading them.
Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet Barbarians with their big blue hunter-gatherer aliens has grown into expansive family drama, as much about community dynamics as it is about people learning how to love across cultural and language barriers and surviving in a brutal environment with few resources.
TS Joyce’s Lumberjack shifters are funny and trope-heavy, but I got attached to kooky trailer-park inhabiting shifters because of the multi-generational community full of strong friendships Joyce develops.
Suzanne Wright’s books are the most traditional of this quartet, featuring wolf shifters trying to balance pack politics with forbidden or inconvenient attraction. The Phoenix and Mercury Pack series are solidly entertaining.
I've been binge reading bear-shifter books on KU for the past month and not writing much of anything although I have several posts percolating. I'll review my epic dive into TS Joyce's bear shifter books in the next few days but since I haven't posted my RT reviews here since May (Whoops!), here are the ones from the July issue!
Ride'em by Delphine Dryden -- I quite enjoyed this. I love Delphine and I laughed a lot reading this one. Kinky enemies to lovers at dude ranch.
Into the Blue by Chantel Cleeton -- Second chance love story. Great portrayal of pilot dealing with grief and PTSD and questioning the choices he made once. Great conflict.
SPECIAL Announcement: Two years ago I met up with Elisabeth Lane from Cooking up Romance at RWA and we had such a fabulous time talking face to face about romance. This summer I drove up to Montreal to meet up with Kay, from Miss Bates Reads Romance and despite having two days with her, we hardly scratched the surface about all the awesome romance conversations we could have. After my visit to Kay, we ended up talking on twitter about how awesome it would be to get a bunch more of rom reader twitter friends together to just hang around together and talk romance. The more we talked about it, the more possible it seemed. So we decided to get serious about it. We are planning on meeting up in Montreal, next summer, Aug 11-13, 2017 . Montreal is a very fun city and Kay is fantastic host! If you want to know more please visit:http://www.romancenovelmeetup.com/ and sign up for the update emails.
Strong Signal (Cyberlove #1): Garrett Reid is serving the last 9 months of his military career deployed in Afghanistan. He spends his precious few hours of downtime playing video games, where one day he is mercilessly destroyed by an overpowering opponent. Angry he decides to virtually track down the Orc only to discover that he is Kai Bannon,a "gaymer" with his own Twitch stream (video gameplay channel) with legions of adoring followers and subscribers. At first Garrett hate-watches the stream, trash-talking in the Chat, but before long he finds himself grudgingly admiring him and starting to feel protective of Kai (after hypocritically benefiting from tumblrs full of stalker/fan-fodder about Kai). He can't resist sending Kai a concerned email. Kai and Garrett then start exchanging initially tense then later, funny and tentatively flirtatious emails, then gchats and more. They have a great opposites-attract dynamic that blossoms into a beautiful sense of compatibility for two people who struggle to be understood, seen and truly known.
There is so much going on in this novel and all of it good. Erickson and Hassell layer emotionally-rich and realistic portrayals of imperfectly loving families, online communities, economic pressures, sexual identity and the tensions and conflicts inherent in building authentic intimacy and friendships while interacting online. While Kai and Garrett's sexual chemistry is hotter than fire it is not enough to overcome the serious obstacles they face in building something permanent. A lasting relationship require they both put in serious work on themselves and the way they communicate in order to make their relationship work.
I have a great deal of respect for how Hassell and Erickson dealt with Kai's mental health issues. Garrett and Kai love each other but that doesn't magically cure anxiety. While having an understanding partner is super important, in the end therapy and medication is how those things are addressed. And it is powerful to have Kai be the one who puts in that work and effort, because he values himself and wants more for himself.
Fast Connection (Cyberlove#2):
Dominic Costigan is at loose ends. Twenty-six and recently out of the military, he feels just as lost and directionless as he was at 18, living in his parents' basement and working the counter at the family bagel shop. At the same time he feels extremely alienated from his old friends, who don't understand why he doesn't simply go back to being the hookup obsessed dude-bro he used to be. Having only recently become aware of his bisexuality, he is completely unsure about how to approach men and signal he is looking for something more than just a one-night stand.
Luke Rawlings only wants one-night stands. After a disastrous relationship wrecked his career and endangered his family he keeps his sexual needs very separate from the rest of his life. But Dominic's charm, persistence and vulnerability wear down Luke in bending and eventually breaking his strict compartmentalization, complicating his life in ways that he never expected to value.
I was again moved by the richness of the storytelling. Erickson and Hassell weave multiple storylines and themes into a very satisfying whole. I loved the centrality of family and how fragile but tangled those bonds can be. Both Dominic and Luke are very protective of their families, despite the very different ways those families operate. I love how Erickson and Hassell portray the tender work necessary to rebuild relationships after meltdowns.
Both these novels illustrate one of my favorite relationship lessons -- Relationships take work and while sex can spark relationships it is the commitments made to walk the hard path together that sustain them. Time and time again Kai & Garrett and Luke and Dominic can get everything right sexually but it is the fact that they come back to each other when things get hard, when apologies need to be made and after things have gotten uncomfortable that builds toward the HEA. Kai, Garrett, Luke and Dominic are broken, flawed people and they are worth of love in that brokenness.
I can't wait to dive into Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson's backlists and I eagerly look forward to Cyberlove #3.
My last review for my blog was May 10, when I hit a stress bubble in my offline life and had to let something go for my sanity. I kept on reading and writing 140 character reviews on twitter but I didn't have any time to just think and write. I am on vacation right now in Maunabo, and for the first time in months actually felt like I could coherently write something again.
I have a review for the fantastic Gambled Away anthology almost ready to go but I am waiting to finish one last novella in it before I hit publish.
I'm stilling writing my reviews for RT so I am planning on linking to those in my next review. RT is going through some major changes so I have drastically cut down the number of books I read for them as I wait through the transition to see if it still works for me to review for them.
Although the blog has been hiatus and I've been turning down ARCs for most of the last month I have been reading a ton.
I indulged in Kindle Unlimited subscription and have read dozens of books on KU, mostly bikers, shifters and aliens and have dug through my TBR to read books I had forgotten I bought. I have been playing around on a bookish app called Litsy ( a cross between Instagram and Goodreads for booklovers)
I read all the Ice Planet Barbarians books by Ruby Dixon, which had been repeatedly recommended to me by Michelle Mills and Elisabeth Lane (their book choices rarely overlap so for both of them to recommend them, meant I had to try them eventually).
My favorite of them all was Barbarian Alien. A traumatized Ice Barbarians kidnaps one of the human women he resonates with (they have a symbiote that alter their body to survive the harsh environment of the planet and it that identifies their mate, and amps up the mating drive) to ensure no one takes her from him. Despite the whole alien abduction, symbiote driven mating drive the books are really good about consent. The tension in the books is about having the character's feelings for each other catch up to their bodies ramped up lust, while overcoming language and cultural barriers. Over all the heroes tend to be very protective and possessive but what I loved about Raahosh comes to understand Liz's need to be independent and learn to provide for herself in this new planet. Ruby Dixon's worldbuilding was pretty great, and I was amused by how subtlety she tweeked our understanding of how resonance and mating work in the books to provide different conflicts and tensions for later couples.
After reading all the Ice Planet Books I read Ruby Dixon's Shift that collect five bear shifter novellas. These novellas were very cute and fun. Bear shifters find their inconveniently human mates and respond in a variety of ways.
I also tried Ruby Dixon's Bedlam Butcher series. I enjoyed Off Limits about the unlucky-sister of the Biker club's president, Lucky and Solo, the one partner-less biker in a band of bikers who are somewhat obsessed with the buddy system. When Lucky is targeted by a gang of white supremacists, Solo rescues her and together they bait the other gang into exposing themselves. I enjoyed the suspense plot in the later books, but ended up skimming them because I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to sink into the later books that are all menage.
No KU binge can be complete without trying Alexa Riley again. I had read and hated Mechanic and Coach, but I discovered that I very much enjoyed their Fairy Tale Shifter books. All the elements that make me recoil from their contemporaries, work for me in their paranormals. They write over-the-top uncomplicated books full of insta-love, possessive mates and mating urges, and I find I can only enjoy that when reading about shifters or aliens.
I quite enjoyed Suzanne Wright's Phoenix Pack and Mercury Pack shifter books. The books had very interesting political pack dynamics and I enjoyed how blood thirsty and powerful the women in the series were. The romances were fun, with a lot emotional push and pull but I laughed and laughed when I realized that all the books had anal sex scenes because although almost all the characters had previous sexual partners they had saved anal sex for their true mate. What I didn't enjoy was the high-mortality rate for the female exes and how often sexual rivalry drove the suspense conflict.
I'll be back to ARC reviewing in the next few weeks!
Brenna Nakmura left the corporate world behind to train as massage therapist. It cost her fiancee but she loves her job and doesn't regret her choices despite how hard it is to make ends meet while getting her small business off the ground. Every job matters and she won't do anything endanger the referrals she gets, even if her newest drop-dead handsome client is extremely attractive and wants to invite her for a coffee afterwards she won't cross that line. Turning down his invitation to dinner is a few weeks later when they unexpectedly bump into each other again is much harder to do, especially when it is clear that neither of them have stopped thinking about each other.
For the last 8 years Calvin Wilcox has been un-waveringly focused on making partner as his late father's lawfirm. He is on the verge of finally reaching his goal but suddenly he is much more interested in trying to persuade Brenna to date him, despite the fact that she has little spare time and the live in different cities. Cal's persistence, charm and a willingness to spend a lot of time on commuter shuttles, soon convinces Brenna to take a chance on him despite the fact that they are both incredibly busy and live in different cities. He holds himself back however, intentionally keeping things outwardly casual, which leads him to act in a unthinkingly hurtful manner.
I thought Rowan did a great job building up and then resolving the tension over Brenna's professional ethics. I loved how realistically conflicts caused by their long-distance relationship was handled. I really felt for Brenna as she is torn between growing her business and unconsciously responding to Cal's unvoiced desire that she be available when he was around. It was a small moment, but that highlighted for me the hidden costs of their relationship, that comes back to bite them later, when the all the resentments and expectations of their not-quite-serious-relationship finally bubble over. I thought Cal's grovel was great as was Brenna's simultaneous but confusing feelings of frustration and softening she feels towards him as she receives each gesture.
Winning Her Over was very charming and insightful debut, and I would be happy to read more Alexa Rowan in the future.
I received a review copy of Winning Her Over from Alexa Rowan's publisher Jasmine Press.
I'm a a semi-reviewing hiatus right now. I've been really tired recently, so instead of staying up reading books or using my time to write reviews I've mostly been sleeping. I'll be back to reviewing soon, as I am starting to feel a little less tired. I've read some really great books last month before I crashed to sleep, so hopefully I'll have the energy to review them here in the next couple of weeks.
These are my most recent reviews for RT (June issue):