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#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.


Massive RT Review Catch-up Post

I just saw that a bunch of my reviews for RT are no longer behind the paywall!!

These are some of the books I've reviewed in the last few months for them:

 

The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel: Taut Danish Mystery

Silverwolf: by Jacey Bedford: Disappointing fantasy sequel

Fury on Fire by Sophie Jordan:  Started strong and then sort of fizzled.

More than Anything by Kimberly Lang: Vacation fling that gets serious

Waking the Bear by Kerry Adrienne: Fast pace and fun start to the Shifter War series.

Pursuing the Bear by Kerry Adrienne: Ugh, repetitive dialogue and messy plot

Don't Temp Me by Lori Foster : Bad timing, worst first impressions and second-thoughts.

Level Up by Cathy Yardley: Funny and nuanced and great rep for women in technology

 


Clean Breaks by Ruby Lang (Practice Perfect #3)

33844561But 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.


Mini-Reviews: Due South by Tamsen Parker, Hard Core by Dakota Gray, A Crown of Bitter Orange by Laura Florand & Unseen Attraction by KJ Charles

51HMRseJO4L._SY346_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.  

DownloadHard 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. 

17832873A 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.

51su9h-cAaL._SY346_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)

 


Reading Discoveries of 2016

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.

6a00e54ee394bf883301bb08ce8050970d-320wiN.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.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d2065795970c-320wiSantino 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.

Mrfine_250 (1)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.

51dpBCJ-FoL._SX308_BO1204203200_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.

D1VuYrvJItS._SL250_FMpng_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:

 

D1CDcs++wZS._SL250_FMpng_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 6a00e54ee394bf883301bb091bada8970d-120wicivilizations 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.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b7c896be48970b-320wiTS 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 B1qu-MZLx7S._SL250_FMpng_ pack politics with forbidden or inconvenient attraction. The Phoenix and Mercury Pack series are solidly entertaining.




Summer RT Reviews Roundup and Special Announcement!

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.

Worth it All by Claudia Connor -- Slow burn romance between two fiercely independent people.

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.

 ALSO:

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 and Fast Connection (Cyberlove 1 & 2) by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

28561501Strong 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.

30415154Fast 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.