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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston (Honey Badger Chronicles 1)

    
35534548I read Shelly Laurenston's books for the loud and obnoxious heroines who get caught up in the most bonkers of plots. On that score Hot and Badgered delivered. In the first couple chapters, there is a naked dash away from assassins, a bloody escape from a sanatorium and a car chase that ends with a helicopter being downed by portable rocket launcher. The action never lets up, as the story careens from one over-the-top encounter to another.

    Charlie Taylor-MacKilligan and her half-sisters, Max and Stevie have been an unit, protecting each other from a world out to get them since Charlie's mother was killed. They put each other first and don't tolerate anyone who would seek to hurt or divide them. They tease and taunt each other to distraction but no one should confuse that for a lack of love. Charlie's least favorite person in the world is their father, incompetent scoundrel extraordinaire, Fred MacKilligan, who hasn't yet discovered a con he can't screw up. As usual Fred's machinations send trouble Charlie, Max and Stevie's way.

    Berg Dunn is a big helpful bear. Lumbering, patient and utterly smitten with Charlie from the moment she stumbled into his balcony and expertly commandeered his best gun. When he unexpectedly runs into her again a few days later, he insists on helping her and her sister find a place to hide out for a while and bring them back to the bear-inhabited NYC-suburban neighborhood he lives in. While Charlie busies herself with figuring out what kind of mess their father has embroiled himself in, Berg, quietly and persistently inserts himself in Charlie's life and does his best to get her connected to people who will protect her. He has two siblings of his own and gets what Charlie needs to do, all while making sure someone is there to take care of her at the end of the day. Charlie is a tough nut to crack, devoted to her sister and unable to believe that anyone would want to stick with her after seeing how messed up her family is, but Berg has latched on and is not planning on letting go. He gives her a community she didn't know she wanted and needed.

     I am not sure how intelligible this book will be for new readers, Laurenston drops dozens of characters and organizations from her Pride series unceremoniously into this book, but I routinely read books out of order and my first Laurenston book was 11th Pride book, Bite Me, featuring Charlie, Max and Stevie's distant Honey-Badger cousin Livy and while I was completely lost at times, the voice and humor spoke to me and before long I had gone back to read all of the rest of the Pride books. If you need to know how everyone connects and understand every jokey reference, don't start with this book. Go back and read the Mane Event or at the very least Bite Me and then circle back around to the Honey Badger Chronicles, you will get a great deal more enjoyment from the book if you are intimately familiar with Laurenston's mad cap style and her characters. I am however greatly looking forward to more zany action in future books!

 

I received a review copy of Hot & Badgered from the publisher, Kensington. Hot and Badgered will be available at all the usual vendors, starting next week, March 27, ,2018


A Scandal in Scandinavia by Kelly Maher

Cover of A Scandal in Scandinavia, handsome white man in dark suit and tie with a close-cropped beard. A huge fan of Scandinavian crime novels, Missy is indulging in a long-wished for vacation, exploring the cities her favorite series were set in, after finally severing ties with her long-time best-friend.  The dramatic break-up of their friendship (triggered by an ugly scene in the 2nd Capital Kisses novella, The Bridesmaid and the Hurricane) is having Missy reevaluate much of her life and the many poor relationship choices she has made over the years under her former friend's bad influence.  She is determined to avoid romantic or sexual entanglements on this trip as she has a lot of emotional work to do for herself.

Rik's is trying to breakup an international thieving and smuggling ring that is using his family's tour company as cover, while dodging his mother's determined matchmaking by going undercover on a tour led by the chief suspect. His attention is captured however by Missy and trying to figure her frequently mixed signals.

There was a lot to like in this little novella, the third in the Maher's Capital Kisses series. I particularly appreciated the authentic travel details, including the rhythm of multi-city motorcoach tours. I though Maher captured the tension and tentativeness on faces after friendship implodes and Missy hesitation, and mixed feelings felt believable. She is not yet done sorting through her feelings of regret and has a way to go before she can recapture confidence in her choices. I quite enjoyed the investigation subplot, including its dramatic conclusion the romance itself felt a little unfinished. Although the ending was a promising HFN, and Rik is sweet, A Scandal in Scandinavia, could have benefited from a epilogue as Rik and Missy have a lot of growing and exploring to do before a HEA is assured.

I received a review copy of A Scandal in Scandinavia from the author for review consideration.

 

LAST CALL TO Enter my giveaway of Beyond Temptation! Just comment on the cover reveal post to enter. I'll be selecting a winner tomorrow morning.


Twice in a Lifetime by Jodie Griffin

two women look out toward the sea at a boardwalk their back to the viewer.
Twice in a Lifetime Cover

Talia lost her husband of 20 years suddenly more than 4 years ago.  She has grieved, coped and started to move on.  However on the first day at her new job as Community Liaison for the city police department, she didn't expect the sharp zing of awareness she feels when she meets her new boss, Eve.    There is recognition, wariness and undeniable interest for both Eve and Talia, and a lot of hesitation and worry about whether or not to acknowledge, let alone act on those feelings.

Griffin does a lovely job developing their romance with sweet quiet moments,full of teasing banter and humor while ratcheting up their sexual tension with brief passion-filled but interrupted interludes. Griffin really excels at building up the tension and angst around how Eve and Talia should handle acknowledging their relationship publicly and at work.  The climatic dark moment took me by surprise with its intensity. It was not out of left field as Griffin had established the threat in the background throughout the book but because other tensions had taken priority for Eve and Talia, it was shocking and surprising when it came to pass. I loved the resolution, which felt like a wonderful warm hug.

I really loved this story. It was such a breath of fresh air with which to start the year. I really connected with both Eve and Talia as older heroines.  They have history, families, baggage, fears and most of all passion. I loved the way it dealt with Talia's late in life acceptance of her bisexuality, and how she is only now exploring that part of her identity after the death of her husband. and I hope I have a chance to read much more like it in the future.

 

I received a eARC from the author, Jodie Griffin.  It will be available at all the usual retailers on Jan 22, 2018 and is already available at Riptide.


Biker B*tch by Andie J Christopher

Cover of Biker B*tch, blonde woman in leather jacket, heavy make-up looking aggressive.My Biker romance tastes are very specific and narrow. The biker has to be tough, dangerous and dirty but not truly a bad apple and the heroine has to have a lot autonomy to gives as good as she get and has to have a pretty darn good reason for getting involved with said Biker. There are not a lot Biker romances that work for me but Christopher wrote one that fit in that very narrow niche and was an emotionally satisfying ride.

Skylar’s left Sebastopol right after graduation, but she has never been able to leave behind the pain of her father’s betrayal and the fear that his criminal past has tainted her life for ever. His descent from beloved town doctor to calloused drug-pushing biker nearly took her down with him and it cost her high-school crush, Abner Travis, his brother. On her last night in Sebastopol, they find mutual comfort and escape each others arms, but when Travis pulls back at the last minute, it leaves her feeling embarrassed and rejected. She left her mark on his cheek and left town heartbroken. 

10 years have passed and Skylar is back working to resuscitate her career as Vintner on the lands that once were the Travis Family's vineyards. A prestigious Ivy league education and a decade building her reputation in Europe doesn't mean much to the suspicious townsfolk who remember her as the Diablos Santos MC's princess, who may or may not have known what her father was up to.  When she runs into Travis and find him as attractive as ever, despite the fact that he is unexpectedly wearing a MC's cut, Skylar is truly torn about whether she has made the best or worst decision in her life by returning to Sebastopol.

Christopher plays with a lot of tropes I liked in this story: Rekindled crushes, people who are terrible at feelings and carry a lot of insecurities despite appearing like they have it all together, and my fave,  folks looking for redemption and a home.  But there is a lot of plot and occasionally the story meandered more than it needed to. It is clear that Christopher was laying the groundwork for a whole series in this book, so she opens a lot of storylines for secondary characters that she clearly intends to resolve in later books but they came to feel one too many rabbit trails. While I would love to read more about Sara, her war vet and possibly bisexual brother Chevy, and the conflicted and apparently kinky Deacon with his secretive and obscure motivations for running with the Diablo Santos, I found the story line with Ian (Skyler's boorish and smug ex) and Michael (Skyler's closest friend, & emotional mess) mostly boring.  I will say however that Michael's story in the upcoming Rogue Acts Anthology which I just stared is so far highly entertaining.

Early on I was super excited when Ginger, Travis's most recent and regular former lover and Skylar run into each other at a bar the first night, Skylar is out with Travis. They end up short circuiting what could have been a jealousy and envy driven scene, by simply choosing not to be terrible to each other.  However a few chapters later, that envy and anger does lead to a confrontation, that makes them both look bad which was disappointing. Ginger and Travis do have a good encounter later in the book where he has to admit to having been a selfish asshole and how his indifference hurt her. Ginger is not evil or slut shamed but it didn't overcome my disappointment at having the promise of catfight-less story not pan out. 

If Christopher does come out with more Heaven's Sinners books, I will pick them up.  The romance between her prickly heroine and sweet dirty hero held my interest, the sex was very sexy and more importantly emotionally meaningful and erotically charged. I enjoyed the complexity of the feelings Travis and Skylar have for each other and how they struggle to name it love.  Biker B*tch was compelling if not perfect and a promising introduction to an author I will happily read again in the future.  

 

 


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!

 

 

 

 

 


#RomBkLove August Week 4: Food

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#RomBkLove August Week 4: Food. Hunger, Want, Thirst, Desire... Who combines food & romance to delicious effect?

Food is a big part of my family life, we have a lot traditions built around food. There are dishes we only prepare at Christmas (Coquito or Christmas Log) or foods (Pink beans and rice) we always have on hand. There are the soups or teas we always turn to when we are getting sick. How, when and what we eat at family reflects a lot of what is going on in our lives. If we are stressed and under pressure a lot prepared foods from Wegmans, but the more time we have, the more creative and fun it is.   I can't say I am like my mom who expresses her love through cooking but cooking is certainly one way I express my Puerto Rican identity. I have a hand-painted plate up in my kitchen that states that my kitchen is Puerto Rico, step in there and expect to find all the pilones, plantains, garlic, adobo, gandules and rice you might ever need.  

There are a thousand cupcake baking heroines but food in romance can play other roles, sometimes is it a caretaking act, providing warmth and comfort when it is needed, or sometimes and exploration or rediscovery of personal tastes and desires that in tandem with sexual desire and sometimes an expression of creative energy beyond simple sustenance.

Nessa the heroine in Kit Rocha's Beyond Surrender has one overriding passion in life. She has taken up and abandoned a thousand hobbies but the only thing that has held her attention for the whole of her life is making Bourbon. But the fact that her skill makes her incredibly value to O'Kane gang and their competitors means she has had to fend of too many suitors who are not interested in her personally, making her incredibly suspicious and wary.  I love this scene from Beyond Ecstasy, where that tension and conflict is highlighted.

In Fast Connection  by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell, Costigan's insistence in making himself a sandwich post hookup with Luke, highlights both his vulnerability and obliviousness. He wants to build a connection, make something more of his encounter with Luke, all while Luke is trying to usher him out of his house so he can keep his life strictly compartmentalized. The Costigan family bagel shop is also a source a lot of tension in the book, as Dominic struggles to work alongside his father again after leaving the military. *( note: 3.9.18 -- Since this was published allegations have come to light that the author known as Santino Hassell, Catfished and mislead, co-authors, fans and others)

In Clean Breaks by Ruby Lang there are a ton of scenes food,one a turf war over a favorite sushi restaurant, an insane but cathartic food fight between siblings but my favorite and most fascinating was when Jake and Sarah take Jake's dad to a white-run Taiwanese restaurant, and how differently they react to the experience. This is not a book about food but like in my life food has a role in a lot of the most important scenes.

In Beverly Jenkins's Forbidden cooking is not just something that provides sustenance for Eddy it is a skill that can give her a way out of poverty. She stubbornly holds on to her cookstove, when she is abandoned in the desert, because without it she has not way to provide for herself. In the book the meals she shares Rhine while she is recovering at his place establish intimacy and his stubborn desire to care for her. The role of food plays in community comes up again and again in the book.

Laura Florand writes a lot of books that feature chefs or chocoletiers.  These books use food in classically romantic and seductive ways. If you want a romance that will make you want to order fancy chocolates or make your own hot chocolate from scratch you need to find her books.    

I really enjoyed Sabrina Sol's Delicious Desire series.  The first, Delicious Temptation is about a Mexican-American pastry chef who returns home to help keep her parent's traditional bakery alive, but it is a thankless sacrifice as they resent all her suggestions to update the menu. She then falls for a guy with a terrible rep.

In Kristen Ashley's books food is ever present. Sweets, junk food and above all comfort foods are sprinkled through each of these books, (for example Hillglosss Donuts, Sunny and Shambles's moist cakes, junk food football Sundays), and fancy restaurants are often sites of romantic confrontations and showdowns.  She has a recipe section on her site because you can't help but want to try some of these foods after reading. 

If you love food competitions and older protagonists you should read  A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson . The heroine has been struggling since her husband's death and her daughters enter her in a reality cooking competition as a way to shake her out of her grief. The competition and one particular competitor in particular help her remember who she was before.

Alisha Rai's Pleasure series books, Glutton for Pleasure and Serving Pleasure feature sisters who run a Indian restaurant. The books are filled with rich flavors and savory smells, but the heroines are both starving for affection and touch and find love with unconventional men.

In Truly by Ruthie Knox the heroine has stabbed her former boyfriend with shrimp fork for proposing in the worst way possible. She meets the hero (beekeeper and chef with anger management problems) in a bar where she stranded without her IDs and credit cards, after her dramatic break up, where his offer of a drink turns into dinner that turns into more, and before they know it they have entangled themselves in each other's life like neither of them expected.

My last rec is isn't a book, it the review blog of one my dear friends, Elisabeth Lane.  Elisabeth combines her baking and writing talents in Cooking up Romance where she posts for fantastic recipes inspired by the books she reviews . And check out her instagram because it is drool worthy (and more frequently updated) and treat yourself to literary and culinary treat. 

 


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.

 


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.


Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity, Book 1) by Nalini Singh

Silver-silence-186x300Silver Silence is the first book in a new series by Nalini Singh set in her Psy-Changeling universe. It is special in several ways. First is the start of a new story-line, and although it builds on what has gone before it works a accessible entry-point for those who might not be interested in reading the previous dozen books. Second, this is the first Psy-changeling books to feature bear changelings.

Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series was one of my gateways into Romance.  I devoured the original series, although not every book worked for me, I regularly re-read several of the books.  However as the series has progressed the over-arching plot had gotten larger and larger, to the point where she had to write an ensemble book, Allegiance of Honor without a central romance to wrap up things.  I am going to be honest and say that for me that book was trudge to read, the vignette style, interrupted by the Xavier's diary, was a snooze, despite the fact that I loved the vast majority of the characters.  I read about half of it when if first came out and only finished it last month, as I waited for Silver Silence.

My recent re-readings of the Psy-changeling books have been bit uncomfortable as I have changed a lot as reader since I first read this series and I've become more sensitive to problematic choices, for example the near absence of LGBTQ people. While this series has always had racial and religious diversity, LGBTQ people didn't seem to exist in the Psy-Changeling world, and I am no longer comfortable in fictional worlds that erase queer people. So while I was excited to read a new Psy-Changeling book I was also wary. 

Silver Silence is the story of Silver Mercant and Valentin Nikolaev.  Valentin is the Alpha of the StoneWater Bears, one of the largest bear clans in Russia.  Silver Mercant is Psy, a highly gifted telepath and head of a world-wide coordinated disaster response organization   Although many Psy are starting to explore their emotions, Silver remains firmly Silent, yet that does not discourage Valentin.  After months of largely one-side courtship Valentin gets his big break when he interrupts an assassination attempt on Silver's life. Determined to protect her, he offers her refuge with his clan while she recovers and they work together to uncover who is targeting her and why.

The book was very enjoyable and I ended up re-reading it almost immediately. Despite my wariness, Singh made a lot of good choices in this book.  First of all, there was clear LGBTQ inclusion. Two major gay characters were introduced, one is Silver's empath brother, Arwen and the other high-ranking lieutenant in Valentin's clan, Pavel. These characters got a good deal of page time, and a flirtation, that hints at a future romance. It is a small step, but for a world where LGBTQ have been absent it was exciting to see.  (I do admit to being very distracted by Arwen's name however).

 The second good choice was the ways where  Silver Silence mirrored Singh's first Psy-Changeling book, Slave to Sensation and then took things a different direction. In both books a Psy takes refuge with changelings while facing threats on her life.  Spending time in close quarters helps breakdown the Psy's ingrained resistance against romantic/sensual experiences.  In Slave to Sensation, Lucas frequently pushes Sasha past her comfort zone, deliberately pushing boundaries and overriding her choices. 

 In Silver Silence, Valentin does not proceed without Silver's explicit consent. He is blunt, determined and stubborn but he respects Silver's choices even when it hurts him.  He encourages her and makes sure she has everything she needs. His protectiveness does not make her world smaller. Silver is presented as more powerful than Valentin in all ways but the physically, and that he is not threatened by her prominent global position but instead actively supportive of it.  Valentin's love for Silver is self-sacrificial, and constant when many would have given up. Singh does a great job presenting this as fidelity not simply stubbornness.

"Who are you to me?" 
"Yours," he said, "I'm yours."

 

I am very excited by the new directions and choices Singh is making and I am no longer wary but excited about this new series. If you have never tried a Psy-changeling book this is where I would encourage you to start.