Contemporary Feed

Time to Set it aside: Mini-DNF reviews

Earlier this month in a bid to become more aware of what I have piling up in my ARC and Impulse-buy TBR, I spent a evening sorting through 67 pages of books on my kindle.  It was a good exercise. I found a bunch of good books that I forgotten I had bought and I rediscovered more than a few books that I had started but didn't finish for one reason or another. The ones that I still think I will re-start and finish went into my In-progress folder to wait for a new day and a different mood.  However for a fair number of ARCs that just won't working for me or I was done with even if I didn't actually finish it.

34820952The Cartographer by Tamsen Parker.  I believe this is the final book in the Compass series.  Rey is everyone's match-maker & kink coach and he falls for a guy that has way too many other things going on his life and really doesn't want Rey to manage him. I highly anticipated Rey's book and  I was enjoying it right up to the point where Rey screws up everything up. Or is about to. You know how you get a sense that everything is good, so the big dark moment is coming. Rey had worked so hard to build Allie's trust in him, that I knew whatever he did was just going to be infuriatiating. I got such a strong sense of anxiety, I had to jump to the end.  I ended up reading several of the final chapters, seeing if I could make it back to the center but I couldn't go back enough to see Rey hurt Allie.  I got too anxious even having just read the HEA. So I am just going to admit that I am done and content myself with knowing that he was able to fix it. ( I received an ARC for review consideration).  51SqybFmhDL

Dirty Deeds by HelenKay Dimon: I have very much enjoyed the previous two books in in Dimon's Tough Love m/m romantic suspense series. However this one fell flat for me from the beginning. I even hated the cover.  What is happening there. Is he checking the tag to try to figure out why his pants are falling off?  The set-up required the extremely smart, tactical and pragmatic Alec to abandon all previous characterization and behave like lust-crazed driven doofus. Everyone his life in the first few chapters including him can't believe he is being so stupid. I put it down and I am not even midly curious about how it turned out.  This is a rare dud, in what has been a great-run of books by Dimon in the past year. ( I received an ARC for review consideration from the publisher). 

51JzsloGFVL._SY346_Spellbinder by Thea Harrison:  This is another story where I have read nearly 85 to 90 % of it but not in order.   In Spellbinder we follow the villain of the previous book, Moonshadow, Morgan, who is enslaved by the capriciously evil Isabeau. Morgan exploits a badly phrased order by Isabeau to carve out a brief time away from her court in Avalon. During that time he stumbles upon a incredibly gifted musician, Sidonie Martel, becoming fascinated with her from afar. But his interest does not go unnoticed and she soon becomes a pawn of those who want to destroy Morgan and through him Isabeau.  This story was absolutely brutal. Sidonie goes through a harrowing ordeal in Isabeau's court and she is in peril for the vast majority of the book.  Although I believed Morgan and Sidonie's romance, appreciated the way Harrison complicated our understanding of Morgan, how they built up intimacy and found faith in eachtother, in the midst of tense and dangerous setting, but it was just so dark that I couldn't keep coming back. Maybe one day I will see how they faced Isabeau and destroyed her, but I haven't been able to build up enough forward momentum.

( I received an ARC for review consideration).

51aEVUzczWLBlood Guard by Megan Erickson I absolutely adore Erickson's contemporary romances so I was super excited to read her PNR romances. However I am not 0/2. I bailed on Daring Fate (Silver Tip Pack 1)  early on, I found the first few chapters simultaneously info-dumpy and bewildering.  However my issues with Blood Guard were wholly different. I was enjoying the book up to the point we met the hero. The heroine was fascinating and so was her world. But she is yanked right out of it by Athan, reveals to her that she contains powerful life-giving blood meant to be his brother's. Athan is bewildered by his confusing attraction to Tendra and by Tendra's insistence on not being treated as object.  This is bewildering to Athan because although he uses human women for blood and sex, he has not ever talked to one before.   It was just so jarring and stupid. I couldn't quite get past it. I have read plenty of heroes that share this character trait, but I guess I didn't expect it here and it annoyed me too much to want to continue.   I think the book did promise action, had a good sense of fun and ridiculous and was building great tension between the hero and heroine  but it just isn't for me. ( I received an ARC for review consideration from the publisher).

 

I didn't click with these books but maybe they will work for you!

 

 

 

 

 


RT Book Review Summer 2017 Round-up: Worth the Wait by Lori Foster & The Chesapeake Bride by Mariah Stewart

Summer is over for me! I am back at work today.  I made a dent in a my ARC pile but I still have lots of reviews to write. However, these are a couple of reviews I wrote for RT that are no longer behind the paywall, enjoy!

 

Worth the Wait by Lori Foster  -- Closes out the Guthrie Brother's duology with a packed book with dual romances.

The Chesapeake Bride by Mariah Stewart -- The romance is oddly lacking in urgency and tension.


Deacon by Kit Rocha (Gideon's Rider's #2) and Sanctuary by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards & Bondage #2)

Both these books had unapologetically badass heroines. They can kick ass, and save themselves (just like Emma in the Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare which I also read this week), but although they can do it alone, they find people who want to share the load, who want them as partners without diminishing them, who love and respect them.  There is give and take, trust and respect and HEAs to fill you heart to the brim with. These are HEA's for amazing women of color, who carry heavy loads all by their lonesome. They deserve love and partners who value and support them, and reading these HEA's was just what I needed this week.

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Deacon is the second book in Kit Rocha's new spin-off series, Gideon's Riders. It is set in Sector One, where the Rios family rules over devoted flock.  The books follow the Gideon Rios's best, the sector's guardians, the Riders. They ride out to solve problems and to represent him in other sectors.

Ana was over living inside other people's boxes. 

Ana is the first ever female Rider. She trained from childhood at her father's side for the opportunity. She keenly feels the weight of responsibility, that comes from being the first. She knows the sacrifices she is making to be a Rider but it is all she has ever wanted. She worries that she will be the last or the only. That if she screws up, no other little girls in Sector One will have the same opportunity.  That keen awareness of the importance of her role make her super wary of her attraction to Deacon, but she is never not aware of him and her private weakness for him.  But she can't make a move, not when it could destroy everything she has worked for.

Deacon has been leading the Riders for nearly 20 years.  But before he came to Sector One, and pledged his loyalty and life to Gideon, he had been a contract killer and mercenary, but only Gideon knows about his past. When his past finally comes back to haunt him, it shatters the trust his fellow Riders had in him and when Deacon wants to handle it alone, Ana and the other Riders won't let him.

While the book is named after Deacon and it is his past actions and his past associates that drive the action, it is as much Ana's story as it is Deacon's and I loved Ana's story. Rocha did a fantastic job at highlighting how lonely and hard it is to be first. How much pressure it is to be a trailblazer. The Riders might be superheroes, but they are lonely ones.  Deacon and Ana need each other, need to know that they can fail and that isn't the end of the world. That they don't have to do things alone. That they have each other and the rest of the Riders at their side, that they are worthy of love and that love is not something they need to sacrifice in order to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

I am so glad I can continue to read to stories in the Sectors, and to get to know this corner of it.

I received an ARC from the authors for review consideration.

It is available at all the usual places, starting today Aug 29,2017 for $4.99

 

51-h-Y2+csLSanctuary by Rebekah Weatherspoon is the second book in her Beards and Bondage series.  Like Haven before it, the book open with an absolutely engrossing and intense set of chapters.  Liz Lewis is a lawyer with a pissed off client, one so angry and petty that he has sent a contract killer after her. I could not put the book down. Weatherspoon's depiction of their encounter and its aftermath were absolutely riveting.  I was particularly moved by Liz's inability to turn to her closest friends, because it would mean surrendering part of her identity, that of mother hen or protector.  Her self-imposed isolation in those early hours were so incredibly painful.

Liz is a tall, big-boned black woman, and the world don't let her forget that for a second. All the micro-aggressions and plain old-aggression she endures at the hands of law enforcement are just heartbreaking and it left a deep impression on me, because it is an experience I rarely see represented. I have never wanted to hug a heroine more, or smack around those who so casually disrespect her. Fear and lack of confidence in those who are purportedly charged with protecting her drive her to accept Scott's, her one brown office friend, offer of a hiding place upstate.

Silas can't stand his brother, hasn't been able to stand to be in the same room with him for years, so he is understandably enraged when he summons him with little explanation and dumps Liz's on his doorstep for an indefinite period of time.  Worst yet is that in order to explain away her presence he has to pretend to be her online boyfriend.

 I loved how Silas and Liz struggle to understand each other. How Liz's trauma-enduced rawness, means that she doesn't shrug off Silas' rudeness or grin and bear it. She confronts his bluntness and rudeness head on as she has simply reached her breaking point.  Although Silas is undeniably gorgeous and attractive, that doesn't override their conflict,  they have the hard uncomfortable conversations, set boundaries before they go further.  I adored how Silas's admiration and desire were so unvarnished. He doesn't mince words and they reach Liz when she needs them most.

Like Haven, the sex is hot and if you love a good femdom book, grab this one.  Liz, knows what she wants and doesn't hesitate to demand it.  But sex doesn't solve shit, not on its own. Liz has stuff to work out, and so does Silas and I love the Weatherspoon gives them both the room and time to do so before their HEA. 

I received an ARC from the authors for review consideration.

It is available at all the usual places, starting today Aug 29,2017 for $4.99

 


Too Cracktastic to quit?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  • Morality, justice and vengeance in KA books. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn't now."

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

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

 

I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Hate to Want You was Published July 25th.

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I received a ARC via Netgalley from the author.


Sight Unseen: A Collection of Five Anonymous Novellas

Sight-unseen-b-small-2-377x600Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran, Erin Satie, Emma Barry and J.A. Rock contributed to this anthology/guessing game. I have read multiple books by 4 out of these 5 authors, so it was an easy decision to pick up this book.  Even not knowing who wrote which story, I could count on enjoying the anthology as whole.

The stories cover a gamut of sub-genres, from fantasy to historical. These stories are clearly experiments by the authors to write outside their usual niches and play with settings and tropes they aren't know for exploring and push the boundaries of the genre.

The book opens with "Lost That Feeling" about rebel witch who has erased 7 years of her life & needs to figure next step when she is rescued by her former rebel leaders. I loved the depiction of magic in this story and how it played with the amnesia trope within a magic fantasy setting. Alma is a living "what if" moment, and is conscious of the possibilities, while confused about the reasons that led her to that moment.  I would characterize this story as fantasy with romantic elements because the romance takes a far back seat to the philosophical questions of how to end injustice.

In "A Clear View of You", I adored the angry and cynical fake-psychic grad-student heroine, drowning in college debt. Harmony "Kate" Marsh is estranged from her hippie-magic obsessed mother, Pangaea.  North needs Kate's help to retrieve a magical orb in Pangaea's possession.  It is a fantastic story about truth, trust and family. I loved the interaction between North and Kate, and how he challenges her entrenched beliefs without forcing or coercing.  It had a lot of fun banter and humor through out.

In "Free," Brad is a timid accountant who finally builds up the courage to confront an oblivious biker princess, Wren Masters, about her father's biker club's drug dealing. It is a small town romance about unrequited crushes, growing up and moving on.  Of the novellas this was probably the most conventional in tone and style. The subversion is in how it reworks the the typical Biker romance, rejecting slut-shaming tropes, and elevating the law-abiding hero over well-hung arrogant biker.  I loved Wren was the sexual instigator and that her motivations are not simple or easy.

It is 1983, and CJ Crespo's band DonJon is falling apart. Donny, her creative but not romantic partner of a ten-years, has exchanged the excesses of the road for the strictures of religious conversion. Their careers are disintegrating but they are finally reaching toward each other. "Chariot of Desire" jumped forward and backward in time and it left me feeling pensive about passion & purpose & not terribly hopeful for CJ and Donny.

"The Heart is a Universe", the final novella is epic science fiction/romantic myth. Vitalis and Eleian are heroes to their planets.  Vitalis is the Chosen One, the brightest of her generation, chosen by her people as a child to face a deadly task that assures their ability to remain on their planet.  Eleian pulled his planet from the brink of chaos, facing off against a tyrant and helping them restore democracy, before retreating from public life. What most don't know is that he has been ill since birth, and only experiences brief moments of health and vitality.  He uses one of them to orchestrate a meeting with his hero and inspiration Vitalis.  I cried a lot reading this story, sympathetic frustrated tears, mostly as these two, struggled with anger, duty and doubt.  

As a whole this anthology was very interesting and ambitious. As a guessing game despite having read 4 out of the 5 authors and knowing for sure who wrote one of the stories, I don't feel any confidence in my authorial guesses but it was fun to read a set of stories without knowing who authored what. As a discovery tool, I will definitely try more books by the one author I had not read previously, J.A. Rock.


The Bridesmaid and The Hurricane: A Capital Kisses story by Kelly Maher

30ish White man in white button up shirt and loose tie. Cover for Kelly Maher's The Bridesmaid and the Hurricane About a year and half-ago I spent a whole day reading novellas while keeping my youngest daughter company.  One of the novellas was Maher's Blizzard Bliss.  I found it quite charming and I was intrigued by a lot of the supporting characters.  One of the characters I wanted to know more about was Radhika O'Leary, Rory's older sister who was stranded at downtown hotel during the whole of Blizzard Bliss.

Turns out Radhika had a blizzard fling of her own with Malcolm "Colm" Jones, a national weather reporter in town to cover the storm. Eighteen months have passed with no contact but Colm is about to blow right back into Radhika's life and complicate it in ways neither of them expected.

When I asked for Radhika's story, it didn't expect this one, but that isn't a complaint.  Maher delivered a story about workplace politics, toxic co-workers, relationship baggage and the necessity to taking emotional risks.  I really liked the romance between Colm and Radhika, especially her wariness at getting involved with him, despite how much she liked and still likes him. Neither of these characters are perfect, but they are both trying very hard and they have friends and family to push them the right direction when they screw up.  

One of the things I really appreciate about Maher is her attention to detail and her strong sense of place however there were a few scenes that could have been tighter, as the pacing of the story slowed to accommodate the detail. That is a small nitpick in what was a fresh and interesting take on the return of a rebound two-night stand. 

I received ARC for review consideration from the author.


#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?