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#RomBkLove Day 17: Dukes, Dukes & Dutcheses

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 Ridiculously over-represented in Romance, Who out Dukes them all? 

My favorite Duke is Mary Balogh's Wulfric Bedwyn, from the Bedwyn Saga/Slightly Series.  Balogh builds him up as character over a half-dozen books before pairing him with a very unsuitable wife.  He is all superiority and quiet menace, raising his damnable quizzing glass to note anything not quite proper. Yet although his siblings occasionally see him as a villain, he is in his own overbearing way always there for his siblings when they need him, even if they don't know it.  Held apart from them for early adolescence, he only has duty to warm him.  

When I first read Slightly Dangerous, I didn't love it. Wulf had become such a beloved character, that I had a hard time connecting with Christine, who turns him away as much as she can. How could she be the right woman if she doesn't see how awesome he secretly is, I though unfairly.  In the end Christine does see him clearly, more clearly than he sees himself, and wants him, not for being a duke but despite it.

So who is the best/fave/ worst Duke or Duchess in all of Romancelandia?   And Don't forget tomorrow, there won't be a Duke in sight. 


#RomBkLove Day 13: Contemporary Romance

IMG_7003#RomBkLove Day 13: Contemporary Romance:  Small Towns, Big Cities, and everything in between. What do look for? Who does it best?

When I burned out of HistoRom, I was lost on where to start with Contemporaries. My library at the time didn't have much contemporary romances available that didn't have Adirondack chairs on the covers. And browsing through Amazon seemed like a bad plan. Since I had no idea on how to begin I asked for recs on twitter.  I asked Sarah Wendell, specifically as I was huge listener of her podcast with Jane Litte and I knew she read a lot of them. She suggested I start out with Ruthie Knox and Shannon Stacey.  These were fantastic recs, as they are both authors I still read to this day.  Stacey's Kowalski series, set in a small New Hampshire town is still one my favorite small town contemporary series.

But the first contemporary I tried was actually Ruthie Knox's About Last Night. And to be honest I didn't really like it the first time I read it.  I didn't like Neville a lot and I wasn't quite sure what to make of Cath.  But there was there that when I saw the first novella in her Camelot series, with How to Misbehave was on sale, I decided to try it. Reading Amber was a little like reading about myself 15 years before. Her hesitancy and distance from her sexual self was painfully familiar as was her struggle with her faith and always having been known as a good girl. I eventually feel in love with Ruthie Knox's writing, with her flawed heroines's struggles and I recognized the suburban communities they lived in.  I slowly ventured further and further into contemporaries from there, discovering Cara McKenna, MaryAnn Rivers,  Audra North, Delphine Dryden and other of the Wonkmance writers closely associated with Ruthie Knox.  

My current go-to-authors for contemporary romance are Alisha Rai, Lauren Dane, Kristen Ashley, Farrah Rochon, Emma Barry, Molly O'Keefe, Lucy Parker, Laura Florand, Ruby Lang, Victoria Dahl and  Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson are just some my go-to authors writing contemporary romance.  

So who are your go-to-authors? What makes for a good contemporary romance? Is there anything that defines this broad genre?


#RomBkLove Day 8: Heroes and Heroines

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There are all sorts of heroes and heroines. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Aliens, Aristocrats, Assholes and Sweethearts.... Some types come in and out of vogue, others seem perpetually popular? Which ones standout to you and why? What makes them memorable?

I don't think there is just one type of hero or heroine that appeals to me, I've never claimed a book boyfriend or girlfriend, but I do have a weakness for proud, independent heroines. Sasha Duncan (Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh), Kate Daniels (Illona Andrews), Mercy Thompson (Patricia Briggs), Lex Parrino (The Beyond Series, Kit Rocha), Zenobia Fox (Kraken King, Meljean Brook) and Justine DeCabrillac (Joanna Bourne), all have special places in my heart. They  kick ass, fight hard for the people they love and don't give up when facing terrible odds.  Their worlds, values and approaches to life and love vary greatly but at their core, they are all Amazons.

I read a lot of bossy protective heroes, mostly because they are such great foils to kickass independent heroines, but the heroes I remember the most tend to fit different molds.  David Cyprian from KJ Charles's Society of Gentlemen series is morally flexible, devious and too smart for his own good. Julius from Rachel Aaron's Heartstriker series is sweet, earnest and most of all kind while Ash Winters from Alexis Hall's Glitterland is self-destructive and mean,   Judd Lauren from Nalini Singh's Caressed by Ice is cautious, repressed and gentle. Simon Wolfguard  from Anne Bishop's The Others is grumpy, baffled and Wolf. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


#RomBkLove Day 6: Groveling

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Sometimes heroes or heroines really screw up. What does it take to make better?

Groveling isn't something I look for in a romance, however I certainly notice the lack of a good grovel. There is a sense of incompleteness when a wrong is not acknowledged and apology exchanged.  If a protagonist fails to acknowledge the hurt, it will always leave it a bit unfinished for me, like the proverbial gun that is not fired in the third act.

The most recent good grovel I have read is in Tamsen Parker's upcoming The Cartographer. In it Rey has own up to the fears that drove him to send his lover away. He is someone used to making all the choices and has to wait to hear how he has hurt his lover and whether he will be forgiven and trusted again. Their usual relationship dynamics are inverted in the scene and it gives hope that they will be able to build a better relationship going forward.

If you are a person who remembers good grovels which one stand out for you? What do you need from one?


#RomBkLove Day 2: Tropes, Tropes, Tropes

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What are you favorite tropes or the ones you can't stand? Are there tropes you will only read in the hands of favorite author or tropes that you can't resist in any form?

I love a lot of tropes but my favorites are Fake Relationship, Friends-to-Lovers & Enemies-to-Lovers, and Awkward Morning-afters. Give me a variation of any of these tropes and I always at least read through the whole blurb.

HelenKay Dimon's Guarding Mr. Fine is one my favorite Awkward Morning-Afters books.  Seth and Rick have extremely hot one-night stand in night club and then discover the next day that Seth is Rick's new bodyguard.  Lots of suspenseful spy-action happens, including super competent men being bad at feelings (another fave trope) but it is all driven from the initial conflict. The tension it introduces to their working relationship and the lack of perspective they develop for each other all comes from that initial encounter and it is delicious. 

Marriage of Convenience despite it very close relationship to one of my favorite tropes, Fake Relationship is one of the tropes I struggle with the most.  However there are exceptions to everything.

One of my early romance faves is Mary Balogh Slightly Married.  I have just finished re-reading it and I am still re-listening to it and as I did I realized why it worked for me when I struggle with so many MoC's. While I ignore MoCs only works for me when the stakes are even, and not when the hero can simply dump the inconvenient wife off in the country estate and potentially take up with or return to his former lover or mistress. Aiden gives up just as much or possibly even more than Eve in agreeing to the marriage.  They are both so driven by responsibility, so they take their marriage seriously even if they didn't don't expect the other to do so. They find in each other things they thought they lost for ever long before they gave up the last of their dreams to marry.

I also really struggle with secret baby books, but Carolyn Crane's Into the Shadows (Associates #3) is a secret baby that I could completely understand. Nadia and Thorne are both in terrible places when the baby comes along, and Nadia is completely sensible to believe that huge, unstable gang member would not be a good father and having him to know about the baby could be a huge dangerous mistake.  How it all plays out when he learns about her child is fantastically emotional and I was riveted.

What tropes always attract you? What books have worked for you despite you usually hating a trope? 


#RomBkLove Day 1: Gateway Romance

 

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My Gateway Romances were Deanna Raybourn's  Silent in the Grave, Nalini Singh's  Slave to Sensation and yes, as heretical as it is to say it among some romance purists, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.

Before I found romance I read YA, Fantasy and Urban Fantasy for the romantic arcs. It wasn't till I became a romance reader that I recognized the pattern.

As I was finishing up Grad School and had time to read again I read Twilight at a friend's urging and later read her copy of 50SoG because she had read it and wanted someone to talk to about it. There was certainly more sex on the page than I had ever previously encountered with the possible exception of the Jean Auel books I had to sneak read in middle school. I read a ton of erotica and books with black covers and inanimate objects on the covers immediately afterwards looking for something that would capture my attention in the same way. Most of it it didn't click with me, even though they were certainly hot but I kept trying looking for that X-factor that had caught my attention. In the midst of all them I did find a couple of Charlotte Stein books that told me I was on the right track.

At about the same time I became aware of Felicia Day's Vaginal Fantasy Book club's. I was drawn to the virtual bookclub because identified with Day and the rest of the VF crew as fellow geek girls,  women who had read a ton of SF/Fantasy and comics like I did.  For someone who never seriously considered reading romance, their enjoyment of genre romance novels was a powerful recommendation. I watched the first half-dozen episodes and  started checking out the books. The first two I read on Day's recommendation were Silent in the Grave and Slave to Sensation. They were immediately accessible to me. I had been a Austen and cozy mystery fan, so mystery series with a strong romantic core was in someways very familiar and it started opening the genre to me.  Slave to Sensation with its much more overt romantic arc was a bigger leap but Singh's fascinating world building and fast-moving and suspenseful action plot, eased me in.

I immediately read the rest of both those series and as I read them I realized the thing I was looking for was strong emotional conflicts.  Thankfully I had access to the NYPL and my local libraries eBook collections and they both had a wide variety of romance eBooks available. They had everything from Harlequins, e-rom, PNR and a gazillion regency romances. When I ran out of Psy-Changelings to read about I ended up trying Stephanie Laurens's Cynster books.  The bossy, over-protective heroes in those books had a lot in common with the Singh's changelings. They even worked as a pack, and they were essentially invulnerable. They made it possible for me to transition from binge-reading PNR, which I was still sort of classifying in my head as sexy SF to reading "real" traditional Historical Romances of which my library had hundreds. 

I eventually admitted to myself that I that I was a romance reader, not just a Mystery, Fantasy and SF reader crossing over Once I did I started exploring the RITA award winners, and seeking out romance blogs for recommendations.  It has been about 5 and half years and my reading preferences have evolved as I was introduced to new authors, tropes and trends but I will always have a fondness in my heart for the books that drew me into the romance genre.


#RomBkLove Prompts

I am so incredibly thankful to everyone who provided feedback, prompt suggestions and encouragement.  I look forward to a great month of romance-related conversations. Feel free to respond to these prompts however you want starting on May 1st. It can be a tweet, a blog post, an IG post, just add the #RomBkLove hashtag.   You can also comment with a link to your blog and I will post a round-up of everyone participating during the first week. I just want to hear from you and fill my timeline with romance-related chatter!

#RomBkLove (3)

The Prompts:

1: Gateway Romance
2: Tropes, Tropes, Tropes
3: Meet Cute 
4: Secondary Characters
5: Romantic Elements
6: Groveling
7: Diverse Romance
8: Heroes & Heroines
9: Category Romance
10: Pets
11: Historical
12: Most Read or Reread
13: Contemporaries
14: Covers
15: Bicker and Banter
16: Dark Moment
17: Dukes, Dukes, Dukes
18: Not a Duke in sight
19: Romantic Suspense
20: Unforgettable Line
21: Auto-buy
22: Adaptation
23: Romancelandia
24: All in a day's work
25: Series Love
26: PNR, SFR, Fantasy
27: Romance Icons
28: Novellas/Shorts
29: Friendships
30: Old School/Classics
31: HEAs

 


Beards and Baggage Binge: Under Her Skin & By Her Touch by Adriana Anders and Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon

This weekend I indulged in a mini-binge of books that can be summed up as beards and emotional baggage.

UnderherskinFirst off I read Adriana Anders, Under Her Skin (Blank Canvas 1)

It is a story about finding a safe harbor, working toward self-acceptance, and starting over.  There really great depictions of female friendships, a richly drawn small town community and little femdom kink to spice things up.

Uma has been on the run for months, hiding from her abusive ex. She has comes to Blackwood, VA, because the small town has a clinic that offers free laser tattoo removal treatments to domestic violence victims. Her gas gauge is on empty literally and metaphorically when she answers a very odd ad for a living-in-helper to a cantankerous old lady.    

Ivan is the ex-con next-door, a gentle giant, that helps teaches self-defense courses along with his sister at the local gym and makes his living as iron-worker/blacksmith.  He carries a lot of emotional baggage of his own, but works very hard to make sure he is someone Uma can trust with her body and her heart.

I really liked that while Ivan suffers from white-knight syndrome, in his desire to fix up Uma, he isn't the one that saves her and that he realizes that he can't do that work for her.  In the end Uma saves herself and Ivan.

I really enjoyed this and immediately picked up the 2nd book.  Under Her Skin is currently on sale for 99 cents, and it includes a seven chapter preview of book 2, so don't be alarmed when Under Her Skin start wrapping up around the 67% mark.

(Uma is a white, despite her Indian name, her mom is a hippie who lives in India at a Ashram).

51DI1vY3rQLBy Her Touch by Adriana Anders

This book revisits a lot of the same themes present in the first book, self-forgiveness, finding a community and people who see past the marks of violence to see the person underneath.

I don't think this book will work for everyone as it is a Doctor/Patient romance, where ethical boundaries are certainly crossed.  There were definitely many moments where my eyebrows almost flew off my face. I

Clay Navarro, is an undercover ATF agent who comes to Blackwood to to hide out and get some tattoos removed while he waits for a big court date against the big biker gang he had infiltrated. He has serious PTSD issues, that he is self-medicating with vodka and is not sure whether his worries about mole in his office are PTSD-related paranoia or a legitimate concern. He has cut himself off his team and is struggling to figure out who he is anymore.  

Dr. Georgette Hadley is pumping herself full of hormones as she prepares to be artificially inseminated with her late husband's sperm.  She questions her instincts and feelings when she agrees to start treating Clay, off the book and after-hours.  Her attraction to Clay, despite his undisclosed but certainly dangerous background, makes her recall her reckless youth, and how her life almost derailed once. 

I don't think this book was completely successful at untangling consent issues but I did like that while both George and Clay are fucked up emotionally, they are still worthy of love. They are not over their pains or issues at the end of the book but they have made a commitment to figuring those things out together rather than rejecting each other because they see themselves as too broken. 

I am a little disappointed that book three is not about Jessie (Ivan's sister and George's neighbor). She is begging for a HEA.

 (Clay is of Peruvian decent and he faces a lot racial and ethnic-based abuse as part of his undercover work in criminal biker gangs)

518ve87qrmLHaven (Beards and Bondage 1) by Rebekah Weatherspoon.

Haven was a great book to end this mini-binge with.  Haven was an emotionally intense and surprisingly fun story  about finding an unlikely but deep connection in traumatic circumstances.  The pacing through out was fantastic but particularly in the pulse-pounding early chapters.  The dynamics of Claudia and Shep's relationship are complex, as they are hyper-aware of how wary everyone is of intensity & of the limited nature of their acquaintance. They honestly wrestle with how fraught it can be to untangle their actual experience of each other from what they have both built up about each other in their heads.  They struggle to give each other what they need and things don't go smoothly in vividly believable ways.   They are both unabashedly kinky, but that it isn't a cure or a reaction, but still a complication as they try to figure out if they can fit into each other's lives.  I wish there had been just a little more grovel at the end, but the reactions were completely within character. 

Shepherd Olsen's quiet and solitary life is dramatically disrupted when a bloody and shrieking black woman runs up to his isolated cabin near Federal park lands in Northern California. He springs into action, rescuing her and making sure she gets the help she needs, even as they are separated by the intense investigation.

Not only did Claudia Cade lose her brother Miles on the mountain, she also lost her way. She thought getting back to her job and her home in NYC would help but she can't quite fit back into her old life. Things that were comfortable before chafe, and fail to satisfy. She is disconnected from herself and her friends and her mind keeps going back to the mountain man, who held her and kept her safe on the worst day of her life. 

Shep's life has not gone back to normal. Maybe because Claudia was gone before he could say good-bye, his mind frequently goes back to her and the life he hopes she has been able to return to. He is shocked and confused when she shows back up on the mountain needing something from him that is she is scared to articulate.

Claudia and Shep are not perfect people, they fail, struggle and nearly give up. They need help from more than just each other but they find something in each other worth working for.  

Rebekah Weatherspoon continues to succeed in crafting stories that are emotionally layered and full of humor. I loved the whole cast, even when they don't love each other.

(Claudia is black woman from the Caribbean, she immigrated from Grenada as a child. I though Weatherspoon did a fantastic job in weaving this into her story.)

I received an ARC of Haven via Netgalley from the author. Haven will be released April 25th, 2017 and is available for pre-order at all the usual places. 

 


RWA RITA Review Round-up 2017

I love the RITA finalist day on twitter. It is so fun to see author reacting to getting their calls or eagerly congratulating others. I know it must be hard to send your book out and not get that call but the overwhelming responses seem to be celebration and discovery.

Romance is a huge genre with many niches and it never more evident than when I sit and read through the list and see how many books I haven't even heard of and I read a lot of books and pay way more attention than I should to what is published.  

On this year'a list: RWA RITA 2017 Finalists, there are 83 books, I have read 5 all in different categories.  I have own several more but just haven't gotten to them yet.

Pansies-alexis-hallThe Breakdown by category:

Best First Book: 0/6

I haven't read a single one. =(

Contemporary Romance: Long: 0/7

I do have Alexis Hall's "Pansies" in my gigantic TBR.

Contemporary Romance: Mid-Length: 1/10

30415154I adored "Fast Connection" by Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell. I reviewed it along with "Strong Signal", the first book in that CyberLove series in July.

In this category I plan on tracking down Virginia Kantra and Roni Loren's books. I have enjoyed Kantra's books in the past and I saw a lot of love for Loren's books on twitter from readers I trust.

Contemporary Romance: Short: 0/10 

I have Lorelie Brown's "Far from Home" on my TBR. I bought it after reading Jazz Baby (her m/f 1920's set historical).  I love the fake relationship trope so a f/f green-card romance should be right up my alley.

Erotic Romance: 0/5

30306869There was a time where I read a lot of ERom, but I have not read any of these.

Historical Romance: Long: 0/4

Loretta Chase is hit or miss with me. I have to be in just the right mood, so I didn't pick up this one. Maybe I should have.

Historical Romance: Short: 1/6

I am saving the Tessa Dare entry, "Do You Want to Start a Scandal"  for my next reading slump. The Castles Ever After series has been tons of fun. (It is currently on sale for $1.99, so this is a good time to snap it up).

26804433I did read and enjoy "Duke of Sin" by Elizabeth Hoyt. I loved how Hoyt didn't attempt to reform Val as much as redirect him. He is terrible person with very little empathy, but he does truly fall for Bridget and she loves and understands him, without condoning his past bad actions.  There were a couple of thing I didn't love in this book. The one POC character, a young Turkish boy's poor understanding of English is played for laughs, and  he adores Val as his white savior (Val rescued him from a terrible situation). That whole storyline was hugely uncomfortable.  I was also disappointed that Hoyt teased us with rumors that  VaI might be bisexual, and then back away.  I didn't ever review it, but talked about it plenty on twitter. I also exchanged enough DMs about it with Elisabeth Lane that she can spot me talking about it without context.

Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance: 0/4

I am sort of surprised I have nothing in this category, since I really enjoy books in other genres that have strong romantic elements.

32177538Paranormal Romance: 1/8

I read the "Leopard King" by Ann Aguirre but I didn't review it because it I didn't get it as an ARC and I didn't love it and I hard time figuring out why. There was a lot of cool things happening in this book, very interesting world building but romance didn't really work for me. It has a lot of tropes I usually enjoy,  widower falling in love again, fake relationships, and political intrigue but I didn't like how much guilt played into both their feelings and the whole storyline with her ex's jealousy after stringing her along for years because she couldn't shift and she still struggled with having hurt him was infuriating.  I am curious to read more in this world however.

Romance Novella: 1/7

51uCFej9HCLI adore Alyssa Cole and this novella "Let us Dream" appeared in "Daughters of a Nation" a great anthology that reunited her with Kianna Alexander, Piper Huguley and Lena Heart, whose previous anthology, "The Brightest Day" was also fantastic.  It pairs a black cabaret owner in Harlem and dedicated suffragette and Muslim Indian immigrant chef.  Politics, social action and a love fused into a delicious romance.

In this category I also have "Her Every Wish" by Courtney Milan deep into my TBR.  I'm not sure why I didn't read it when I bought it, but I am going to simply thank my past-self for buying it.

Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements: 0/4

I haven't read a single one these, or much of any that would fall under this category.

51fUMIX+7GL._SY346_Romantic Suspense: 1/8

"Mr. & Mr. Smith" by HelenKay Dimon is part of her m/m Tough Love series and I've enjoyed reading reading that series a ton. Great action, conflict and romance.

Young Adult Romance 0/4

 None here either!

Best of luck to all the RITA and Golden Heart Finalists. May many readers find your books, this year and in the future.

 

 

 


Madly by Ruthie Knox (New York #2)

Cover105513-mediumIt 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.