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Day 9 #RomBkLove: Insta-Love

Day 9: Insta-Love

Frannie Cassano, RWA's 2018 Librarian of the year is here today. She absolutely loves Insta-Love romances and has a fantastic set of recommendations for you.

#RomBkLove: But What If Insta-Love IS Your Catnip?
by Frannie Strober Cassano

Hi Everyone! I am so happy that Ana invited me to #RomBkLove. Today I’m talking about my most favorite, cat nippy tropes: Insta-Love.

There is something about the gaze from across the room. A spark, a pull-toward, or a click. That instant feeling they were meant to be yours which defies all logic, reason, and reality. But that’s the thing. It’s chemistry. It’s a gut deal. It touches you and you are happily never the same.

Sure the attraction is instant. But there is something a bit decadent in the gaze, not in the sense of being objectified but by first by being desired and then wholly accepted by a mate that one hopes is destined to be fated.

I believe elements of Insta-Love are the bedrock to of all Romances and Erotica. That is how we, as readers, believe the unbelievable. These elements are what progresses the story along…and what also stops the story cold. Whether characters have no prior history with one another, are over the top (OTT), obsessive, growly, or are wolves or bears.

I always like to toss in some recs that patron/readers can get lost in someone’s eyes and let go for the entire length of the novel.

When we think Insta-Love, some authors who come to mind might be E.L. James, Sylvia Day, Alexa Riley, J.R. Ward, Renee Rose, Ruby Dixon, Kresley Cole, Nalini Singh, Kristen Ashley, Aurora Rose Reynolds, and more recently, Madame de Boudoir.

Today, I’m going to explore Insta-Loves from Katy Regnery, Jodi Ellen Malpas, Robin Lovett, Emma Chase, and Brenda Jackson:

Cover of Katy Regnery's The Vixen and the Vet, bare chest and torso at side angle, of a man wearing dog tags.The Vixen and the Vet by Katy Regnery

Perhaps the most literal of my Insta-Love picks, Katy Regenry’s retelling of Beauty and the Beast hits every right mark. Savannah and Asher are both deeply broken in their own ways. She is a disgraced journalist (through no fault of her own) and he is a war hero, disfigured by a bomb. Savannah returns home and is also helping to plan her sister’s wedding when she receives an offer to write a human interest piece for another paper. Asher lives life as a recluse on his rolling estate, with only the kindly Mrs. Potts (!) to help care for him.

Savannah hopes to interview Asher as her piece. And though hidden, as soon as her eyes lock into his from afar, that moment is what sets this story on its path. Not only that, as soon as they touch, they cannot stop holding one another in some manner. Becoming friends is one thing, but Regnery crafts a deeply moving, Insta-Love tale, where Savannah and Asher fall hard and fast before they know what they are getting themselves into. Though tormented and affected, Asher wants to push himself with Savannah as his inspiration. And Savannah wrestles with what her article brings with it and what her feelings for Asher bring with that. There are a lot of painful passages, but Regnery is never heavy-handed. She treats Asher with the utmost care and does not deliver a cure-all for the varying degrees of wounds examined here. While the Insta-Love is literal, the reality is also very real. Savannah and Asher need one another to soothe their traumas and their instant connection is one to root all the way for.

Man in a black suit carries a blonde white woman in a black dress and stilletos, Cover of the Protector by Jodi Ellen MalpasThe Protector by Jodi Ellen Malpas

Ex-military man, Jake Sharp barely lives life fueled by meaningless sex, drinking and his assignments to numb the effects of his PTSD. Socialite Camille Logan is wrestling with independence from her father and the pain of her recent past with an ex. When her life gets threatened, Camille’s father hires Jake to be her 24/7 bodyguard. Neither are particularly jazzed by the idea, until the moment they meet. Each time Camille tries to evade Jake, he’s two step ahead. Then, pretty soon it’s clear to both that the instant attraction they felt is much, much more.

Camille is not at all as fame presents her as. Her warm demeanor reaches places Jake forgot existed. When he refers to Camille as “his fate” and that protecting her is now “instinct” it is believable and the tough road they face will have readers on bated breath. With super-hot scenes, serious suspense, and an ideal, emotionally wounded Alpha hero, Malpas totally delivers.

A man wearing a hooding looking straight at the camera, Cover of Stranger by Robin LovettStranger by Robin Lovett

There is something about stalkers in Romance. The piercing glances from afar, the combination hints of danger and possibility. But stalkers and Dark Romances can be tricky for some readers.

Stranger is billed as “not supposed to be a love story” and one of revenge. But there are strong elements of Insta-Love, especially from the POV of the heroine, Penny Vandershall. Lovett shows us Penny’s side of the story first and foremost, almost at all times. And while one might argue that Penny appears as a doormat or desperate, that really isn’t the case.

Lovett’s compelling heroine owns her desire. I have often said that Penny knows who she is and what she wants at all times. She explores her own darkness and that sense of her agency pays off. She stares back and likes it. She explores those desires back and likes it. Logic be damned.

The hero, Logan, undertakes a dark road of would-be revenge by sucking Penny in by his gaze. He wants her to want him so that he can exact his plot and usurp her safe world. Logan seems obsessive and very intense, but as the story progresses, his plans get thwarted because of his feelings for Penny…in spite of himself.

Often, these “stalkers” aren’t what we think of as actually menacing. It is a Romance after all. And Lovett cares about who she is writing for. Her characters are as self-aware as they are fixated, and they embark on individual journeys to embrace the truth of their desires.

Cover of Royally Matched by Emma Chase, White man with built body lounges on carved chair without a shirt.Royally Matched by Emma Chase

While you might argue that this snicker-induced Royal romp might not qualify as a typical Insta-Love, there are a zillion reasons why it also does. Prince Henry is beyond a player/cad/rake and Sarah is a classic Brit-Literature loving librarian with a paralyzing disorder brought on by sudden loud noises. He’s the suitor on a Chris Harrison-like TV show called ‘Matched: Royal Edition’. She’s there to accompany her sister, a contestant, as her assistant. It takes a long time for the hero and heroine to meet and it’s quite by accident during a shot set up.

However, once Henry and Sarah do meet, they cannot stop thinking of one another. There is a lot of “snapping” into one another’s eyes and “pinning” one another’s gaze. It doesn’t matter how much of a horny/sexually-charged, inappropriately-thought filled hottie the prince is. We are led to believe he’s basically in insta-lust with any woman he sees. But staying with it, it makes sense. He’s bored and scared and Sarah challenges what he thinks he desires. We believe that he is totally captivated by her.

The bawdiness of Chase’s novel is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Sarah is so adorable; she is for sure what I call “Book Bestie” material (as well as one of this librarian’s new-to them favorite librarian characters). It is super fun to see her stand her ground while also uncomfortable by Henry’s demeanor. Even though she is always looking forward, it’s clear she has some demons to slay. And Henry is totally believable seeking Sarah out as a sort of refuge while also teasing her as he falls for her in return.

The symbolism and the changes they endure for one another is a super fun road to travel. From forced celibacy for show purposes to Sarah allowing Henry to share her room at night away from the cameras. What starts off as jolly good fun, ends up touchingly sweet.

A red curtained window, with a man and woman embracing in the background. A red settee, a yellow dress and a cowboy hat in the fore-ground.Hot Westmoreland Nights by Brenda Jackson

I am SO hitting an amazing backlist for this category favorite. The novel opens with Chloe noticing the most attractive man she has ever seen from outside her window. She really checks him out, from Stetson to “powerful legs” to lips. And while we might buy that she points him out to her friend/the Denver manager of her magazine, the reader catches on pretty quickly that she is by far smitten. Over the phone, Ramsey is not at all interested, so Chloe pays him a visit in hopes of changing his mind. Mistaken for a replacement cook at his ranch, Chloe uses the opportunity to “fill in”, so that she might finally persuade and land Ramsey for her magazine later. Because she does happen to have experience cooking large scale while spending summers working at a homeless shelter…the fact that she learned from a Mama Francine is pure coincidence ;)

And here is where trouble of the best kind ensues…as well as super-hot sexytimes! Jackson offers another example of Insta-Love where we get the heroine, Chloe’s POV first. However, when we get to Ramsey’s POV, whoa! When he first sees her, he feels not only lust, but he literally feels her in his gut. From those moments forward, the heat between the two sizzle off the page. Jackson does chemistry right in her Westmoreland stories, but there is something about Ramsey and Chloe that stays with the reader. We believe the instant attraction and the daydreaming that follows. Ramsey is not the typical ladies’ man like others in his family (as they start off, anyway). There is something about Chloe that gets in deep with him.

And sure, we’ve got misunderstanding, conflict, how-do-we-overcome-betrayal, pain of the past, do I trust him/her/myself?…but this is Brenda Jackson. Hot Westmoreland Nights is one of my go-to recs for a quick, get lost in the story read, “stay up until 3am to finish”, and/or “getting out of your reading slump”. On a personal note, Jackson’s stories have been books my patrons and I have turned to for years before I even started working on the Romance Collection. She gets Insta-Love right on so many levels that you aren’t even aware of what’s happening until you’ve already fallen for the characters…and that is really what Insta-Love hopes to accomplish. Bam! Hooked.

I can keep you here all day talking Insta-Love. From gazes from across the room to that *click* to a safe place where logic/reason/reality can melt away. Whatever stories appeal to you, #RomBkLove has got you covered. Get lost in them. And if you want to discuss even more Insta-Love, come find me any time.

2018 RWA Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year recipient Frannie Strober Cassano first stumbled into the romance section of her local drugstore as a teen, then found herself back there during the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. You can find her discussing Happily Ever Afters for All over at her Reference Desk or over on Twitter at @FranniesRomance.

 

 


The Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton (Stubborn Hearts 2)

36456623Tom's best-friend and roommate has accepted a promotion and left town and he has left behind an empty room and a big hole in Tom's life.  The thought of finding a roommate as easy to live with as Josh while he waits for his own promotion and salary bump fills Tom with dread but it is a necessary evil if he doesn't want to burn through his savings. He is sure however he doesn't want Flick as a roommate.  She is just too much, too bright, too energetic, too loud, too everything and he knows it will never work.

Flick needs a place to stay, just for 3 months before she heads to Washington and the dream job she has been working towards all of her life. Tom has the room, and she gets things done, even if its maneuvering a big mountain of a man into renting her the room, after all she sells ideas for a living.

This odd couple start out their weeks as roommates doing their best not to run into each other but it doesn't last and soon they are aggravating each other just like they expected too, only Tom does seem to protest too much, especially as the more Flick teases the more he finds himself wanting to kiss her.

 I really enjoyed this banter-filled story. Flick and Tom spark in all the right ways but it isn't just a romp. Both Flick and Tom have some serious baggage from their childhoods (Tom had a distant demanding father and Flick's family is hugely dysfunctional and she is walloped by grief when a dear friend gets to some terrible news).  Master communicators, Flick and Tom excel as misdirection and distraction, doing their best to sound like they have it all together when they absolutely don't. The coupons which may sound gimmicky make total sense in story as these struggle to make sort out their feelings and choices as the deadline of Flick's departure draws ever closer.

Chicago-area residents like @jenreadsromance are right to point the one thing that didn't work in this story, Tom's love of hiking. He frequently goes away to hike, off to the mountains, but there just aren't any real good options for doing that in Chicago.  Mentally I relocated them to Denver and moved because geographical realities aside, I was totally sucked in by this sexy and emotional romance. .The choices made by Flick and Tom made sense to me and I felt they really saw each other and the ending was absolutely satisfying. 

 

 

    


Who should you try? Some of my favorite WOC authors:

Last year I wrote a post breaking down the RITA finalists list against the books I happened to read the year before (2017) and looking at the list to see which books were in my TBR in order to move them up before the annual ceremony in July.  This year when the list was announced there were a few first time finalists that made me super happy (Congratulations, Alexis Daria and Priscilla Oliveras & KJ Charles) but there were so many fabulous books especially by Authors of Color that didn't final this year that at the end of day, I didn't feel a great RITA bounce.

This past month and half has been rough in Romancelandia. First were the waves of revelations of abuse and harassment in m/m, that affected a lot of readers and writers I read, then the RITAs announcement day came and went, and it just highlighted how segregated Romancelandia can be. Since then Black authors have been sharing incredibly painful stories of exclusion.  These stories are not new, but hopefully more people will hear them this time around.

At the same time my friend Jen (@jenreadsromance) had started work on website full of romance novel recommendations: https://www.jenreadsromance.com/, a place where a reader could find starter romances in many of romance's rich sub-genres. She is intentionally working on creating an inclusive list that is searchable by theme and time period. It is something I wish I had stumbled upon when I was first starting. I started by exploring my library's ebook collection first and that collection was mostly white, assembled by purchasing from the RITA finalists lists.

Eventually I left that mostly-white corner of Romancelandia behind, but not before I had developed the mistaken notion that African American and other POC simply didn't write the books I was looking for.  Instead I accepted the crumbs of having white writers who would very occasionally throw in a token or stereotypical CoC into their books, when looking for characters like me.  While I was growing bored, restless and increasingly angry with these book and I kept saying I wish, someone would write X but with POC. It took me a ridiculously long time to realize I was the problem because I was the one limiting myself. The problem wasn't that no one was writing that, it was that I wasn't looking at what POC writers were doing. The books were out there waiting for me, but I didn't know where to find them or who to ask. That was no one's problem but my own.  I had to change how I discovered books.  Some of it was organic, as I got more involved in Romancelandia, I met more PoC readers, as I followed them, I became exposed to authors and books I hadn't encountered before.  

As I moved into reviewing I became more intentional about reading outside the narrow corner of Romancelandia I had first landed in.  Some of it was unintentional, because I am not a big blog, I didn't just depend on what I saw available in Netgalley or Edelweiss, several authors that have grown into favorites approached me, sending in a review request . I am not going to pretend that my blog is this diverse wonderland but being willing to review what I buy for myself and accepting author pitches has certainly exposed me to tons of authors I would have never reviewed otherwise.

This week  has reminded how other folks might end up just not knowing about great books and great authors of color because no one in their immediate circle talks about them. I might think everyone knows who Farrah Rochon or Alisha Rai  or Beverly Jenkins is but honestly too many people don't. They might not see their books in  bookstores, they might not see them listed as read-a-likes.  Ask me how weird it was to walk into a B&N last year and have to hunt around to find just a couple of non-white authors on the shelves. So many of my faves were missing and it was a wake-up call about just how much further we need to go as industry to be inclusive despite how affirming my own twitter TL might be.

I can't fix the whole industry or those who don't actually want to read awesome books but I can talk about some of fantastic authors of color publishing right now. It is not a hardship to come up with fabulous Authors of Color to recommend, it is a hardship to stop.

 

 So who should you try? If you follow this blog the names I mention here should not surprise you. But if this is your first visit here:

 These are some of my favorites:

C1rYF-xYAVS._SL250_FMpng_Farrah Rochon (Contemporary & Sports Romance):  Rochon writes contemporary romance set in the south.  Most of her books take place in small town and cities not far from New Orleans. My favorite is her Moments in Maplesville Series, they are about people seeing their towns grown and change, worrying about big box stores moving in and whether they should move to bigger cities for better opportunities. The first book in The Moments in Maplesville series (which can be read as standalones),A Perfect Holiday Fling is about temporary single dad (his widowed sister is deployed overseas, so the former naval pilot moves in to take care of his nephew) and the recently divorce veterinarian he meets when they discover an abandoned cat. 

    She also wrote sports romance for Kimani, so if you are looking for football romance that are not improbably all-white check those out. She is a huge Broadway fan, so I hope one days she gives us Broadway-set romance. 

Alisharai Forbidden Heart coversAlisha Rai(Contemporary & Erotic Romance) has been on my favorite author list for a long time. I read and enjoyed a lot of her erotic romances, Serving Pleasure & Gentleman in the Street but I have adored her Forbidden Hearts series for Avon (Reviews for Hate to Want You, Wrong to Need You,  Hurts to Love You.) She tackles huge themes, creates a fantastic family saga that takes three books to resolve and left me wanting more while doing an amazing job portraying the many faces of anxiety and depression.  These people are complicated and fascinating and I loved them. So if you like angsty romance novels where lots of tropes are subverted and upended in swoony ways, check Alisha Rai's books out.

Clean breaks, a couple lays on a picnic blanket.Ruby Lang (Contemporary) writes smart, funny contemporary romances with strong female friendships and prickly heroines. I've liked each book in her Practice Perfect series better than the one before and I quite liked the first, Acute Reactions.  I loved Hard Knocks, book 2 and suddenly I got her, then Clean Breaks, and now Lang is one of those authors, I auto-buy. Most recently I simply adored her story in Rogue Acts, The Long Run.

So-sweet2-200x300Rebekah Weatherspoon's (Contemporary, Erotic Romance & PNR) Beards and Bondage series books Haven and Sanctuary start off with a bang, each of these RS-tinged contemporary romances feature the heroine surviving attempts on their lives. The openings are intense and gripping and immediately caught my attention but the meat of the books are these strong black women falling for big gruff mean that are secret marshmallows and are people they can lean and depend on.  I also really enjoyed her Sugar Baby series of novellas about a woman, Kayla, desperately trying to make ends meet, whose roommate convinces her to Sugar Daddy mixer event, in hopes of finding someone who will be happy to help pay some of her bills in exchange for a little companionship. Totally miserable at the event, she tries to hide out in side room and ends up meeting the organizer of the event, and they have to figure out how to negotiate a real relationship. This is not a trope that typically appeals to me but this series was delightful, and Kayla and Michael are adorable and I loved spending time with them as they figured out their HEA.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b7c8bf9c92970b-120wiDo you enjoy geeky heroes and heroines or raunchy stories of sexy revenge?  Well Melissa Blue/Dakota Gray writes them both! (Contemporary & Erotic Romance)  In early 2016, I read Under His Kilt, about co-workers who have fling and I ended up searching out the rest of her backlist and it so worth reading.  I  have to admit to hesitating in trying Perv when a few people on my TL started recommending it, I didn't know at the time that Dakota Gray was another pen name for Melissa Blue, and I was frankly put off my the hero's aggressive cockiness in the blurb. But I finally gave in after a good friend whose recs I trusted raved. It so fun. I am heroine-centric reader and I adored the heroine, Robyn, she is not here for the hero's shit, she is hero to teach him a lesson and it all gets very sexy and complicated.

D1wYve0bxCS._SY135_Priscilla Oliveras (Closed-door Contemporary Romance) RITA nominated debut, His Perfect Partner and its newly released follow-up Her Perfect Affair should be on your TBR if you want to read emotional romances, centered on sisterhood and family. It was such a joy to read a heroines who shared so much with me, who respond in such believable ways. These stories might be closed door but they don't lack in tension and sexiness. I am really looking forward to the third book, coming out later this year.

51qO-ZAMi6L Y648Mia Sosa writes great tropey Contemporary romances. I have really enjoyed her Love on Cue series for Avon Impulse. In the first two books she has mashed a lots of great tropes ( secret identity, vacation fling, best-friend's little sister, fake relationship) and combined them with great premises and an interesting and diverse cast of supporting characters to create highly-enjoyable romances.

Acting on Impulse features an Afro-Puerto Rican fitness trainer who has just gotten dumped on the radio by her politician boyfriend and decides to jet off for an island getaway. On the plane she meets Carter Williamson, a television star traveling incognito to an island resort after a grueling film schedule. Carter tries to make a play for Tori knowing she doesn't recognize him and when she finds out she is not happy and she puts him through his paces before she lets him into her heart.

Sosa has a new book coming out next week, Pretending He's Mine that I was lucky enough to read early (I have been beta reading for Mia for a couple of years) featuring Carter's agent and best friend Julian and Carter's little sister Ashley.

516WEHK17LL Princessintheory-hires RsAlyssa Cole has rightly has gained a lot praise for her excellent historical romances, some of my favorites are An Extraordinary Union, Let it Shine and Let us Dream and she also has fantastic new series of royal themed contemporary romances, Reluctant Royals, on the go right now, but the first series I read from Alyssa was the first book in  dystopian series, Off the Grid, Radio Silence.  That just shows you a little of the range of stories Cole is able to tell. What all those stories have in common of fantastic engaging heroines, who are bright, determined and ready to kickass.

A-Study-In-Scarlet-Women-350x525I have been reading Sherry Thomas (Historical Fiction, Mystery with Romantic Elements, Fantasy and Contemporary Fiction) for a long time. Remember that mostly-white collection of RITA finalists stuffed ebooks collection I mentioned in the intro? In it was Sherry Thomas so as a result I had the opportunity to read a lot of her historical fiction. I am huge fan of her current mystery-with-romantic elements series, Lady Sherlock. Her prose is beautiful and I adore the moral dilemmas and complications they have tackle. I really enjoyed her story in the Sight Unseen anthology which was the galactic romantic myth "The Heart is a Universe", that reminded I really need to get around to reading her Burning Sky series sometime soon.

This is just a smattering of fantastic Authors of Color. There are so many more, some with huge fan bases and others with smaller followings, I hope you find someone on this list to try.  

 

Update 4/6/2018:  I have been asked if I have some more historical romance authors to recommend

 

C1tEZX44+-S._SL250_FMpng_Courtney Milan writes really fantastic UK and American set historical romances. My absolute favorite of hers is The Countess Conspiracy, a fantastic friends to lovers story. The whole Brothers Sinister series excels at showcasing how sexy and romantic affirmative consent is. Start with the Governess Affair  and don't forget to pick up the novellas, like Talk Sweetly to Me with its fantastic black British heroine (There is a bundle that has all of them!). 

4138IRy-ZYL._SL500_SX145_Piper Huguley. I loved Piper's story in The Brightest Day Anthology a collection of beautiful historical romances by African American authors, like Lena Hart, Kianna Alexander and Alyssa Cole.  Her story there is connected to her Migrations of the Heart Series. Many of stories her stories include a strong spiritual/religious elements without being preachy, just powerful.

51TFTz2KV0L._SY346_ 513A-UBIcmL 51UqNwUj8xLBeverly Jenkins is the Slayer of Words and amazing mentor to
the current generation
 of African American historical and contemporary authors.  Her love for research and her ability to teach history through her writing is unparalleled.  The first book of hers that I read was Forbidden just blew me away. And I have loved the rest of the series that has followed, Breathless and Tempest .

51ofF1WqwOLLydia San Andres is Dominican author writing historical fiction set in the Spanish Caribbean. I really enjoyed her "Infamous Miss Rodriguez" in which a young woman trapped in engagement she does not want tries to make herself scandalous and the man tasked with saving her reputation ends up falling for her instead.  

51S44mYlkbL 51zPfcpXrTL._SY346_Jeannie Lin's Chinese Tang-Dynasty set historical mystery romance series, The Lotus Palace and the  Jade Temptress helped break me out a historical genre slump back in 2014. These stories are beautiful, suspenseful and absolutely worth your time. Also if you are a fan of steampunk make sure you don't miss Gunpowder Alchemy and the Gunpowder Chronicles series as they are one my favorite alternate history romances.

and two more recs!

These two authors are on my TBR but I haven't yet read their books but they come highly recommended and might be perfect for those looking for AOC written historical set in the UK:

  51kcbtyjaWL

and

51xEK1xADkL 5130nVJfovL I picked her Riley's The Bittersweet Bride just last month because I love widowed heroines and second chance at love stories.

 


Whiskey Sharp: Unraveled by Lauren Dane

9780373799381_smp_FC-142x225In historic building in a trendy part of Seattle Maybe Dolan and Alexsei Petrov work side by side at Alexsei's Bar/Barber Shop, Whiskey Sharp.  Two years ago, Maybe talked herself into a job and has slowly been getting under Alexsei's skin. It has been 9 months since his engagement to a family friend, Rada, disintegrated, and he is finally talking himself into taking the risk and asking Maybe out when she asks him out instead, not willing for them to continue to ignore the sparks they have felt for years.

"Not his type, or what he'd always thought was his type until he met her."

Their courtship is sweet and romantic as Alexsei surprises Maybe every step of the way with his thoughtfulness and attentiveness. He might be gruff and grumpy but he has been paying attention to Maybe's chattering all along. While Maybe is thrilled to have Alexsei's big sexy body in her bed, and they enjoy easy rapport, full of teasing, due to their years of co-working friendship, deeper intimacy takes longer. Alexsei's sees Maybe in a way no one she has ever dated has before. This is both joyous and uncomfortable for Maybe, but through patience and persistence Alexsei is slowly able gain her full trust and learn the source of her secret hurts.

"He's like a grotesque villain from a Gothic novel" Vic said quietly. "I still can't believe he said all that to her. About her, I wanted to punch him at least ten times"

While I really enjoyed this book, the romance was nearly overshadowed by the conflict between 51ncktpnyvLMaybe and Rachel and their abusive father. There is very little interpersonal conflict between Maybe and Alexsei. They talked through most of their issues, and while there is tension around how Alexsei's ex Rada, tries to rile up and exclude Maybe, it was never something that threatened Maybe and Alexsei's relationship.  Alexsei's recognizes the seriousness of his feelings for Maybe from the start and never hesitates to show it.  The conflict that drives everything in the story is Maybe's Father's cruelty and unhinged fixation on his older daughter Rachel. While there is a mini-climax for that story it is left mostly unresolved to carry over into the next book, Whiskey Sharp: Jagged, which will feature Rachel and Alexsei's cousin Vic.

I plan to pick up the rest of the series because I really enjoyed getting to know Maybe and her sister Rachel and seeing them learn to set boundaries, and be there for each other and I enjoy all the family interactions with the rest of the Orlov clan, including Alexsei's meddling aunt, Vic's mother Irishka.

 

 

 

 


Cover Reveal! A new cover for Kit Rocha's Beyond Temptation.

Reveal-3.5If you have been following me on twitter or reading this blog for any length of time you will know that I adore Kit Rocha's Beyond series.  I tried it out the series hesitantly and read the first book, Beyond Shame, almost out of the corner of my eye because it was all a bit too much: The O'kanes, rough and tumble bootleggers, extend their protection to a a young woman expelled from the repressive and hypocritical theocratic city next door who is trying to figure out what she wants for the first time in her life.

Beyond Shame left me curious and intrigued about where they were going with this story beyond hedonism, but after I read and  loved Beyond Control I was sold. Because in Beyond Control I realized that beyond the sexiness and fascinating dynamics of Dallas and Lex's relationship all the politics and worldbuilding were going to matter because Rocha was going somewhere with it, and I wanted to be along for the ride. With each book their world expanded and the so did they story they were telling.

And it was an awesome ride, so when Bree (who writes with Donna Herren as Kit Rocha and Moira Rogers) asked if I was willing to host a cover reveal for their rebranding, I jumped on it. I don't usually do promo posts but I hope more new readers take the opportunity to try them and get to know and love the Beyond world like I do.  I hope you enjoy reading a bit about Bree's process for putting together all these new covers and if you are interested in seeing them all check out the central post they will be updating with links to all the other covers reveals: Beyond Rebranding Cover Reveals

 

BREE’S COVER NOTES:

When I sat down to redesign the cover of Beyond Temptation, there was one thing I knew Emma was going to need—tattoos. Awesome tattoos. All of the O’Kane women have ink to a greater or lesser degree, but Emma is Ace’s apprentice and a tattoo artist in her own right. Finding a model with bright, vivid, colorful ink was fated!

The background of the cover is one of the more artistic ones of the new series, in that instead of an object, it’s an idea. Or rather, it’s code—a nod to Noah, who has hacked his way through Eden and the sectors to keep her safe and would do it again. And again and again.

(Just don’t zoom in and try to read it. It’s…not good code. LOL)

3 Point Five -Temptation-700

 

Hacker Noah Lennox lives in the shadows, fighting a one-man war against the corrupt leader of Sector Five. The only weak spot in his armor is his best friend’s sweet younger sister--the girl he swore to save, even from himself. With her brother dead and a target on their backs, getting her out of the sector--and out of danger--meant giving her up for good.

Or so he thought.

Emma Cibulski has made her own home in Sector Four, as a full member of the O’Kane gang and apprentice to their infamous tattoo artist. When Noah--the first man she ever loved--stumbles back into her life, it’s her chance to have it all. The spark between them burns hotter than ever, and this time her fantasies are far from innocent.

But can they handle the heat...or will Noah’s dark secrets drive them apart forever?

Did you like the sound of that? Do you want a print copy of Beyond Temptation with its vibrant new cover? Donna and Bree are giving one copy away.  If you want a chance to win  tell me about your favorite Beyond book in the comments or if you have never read them, leave a comment about the cover and a random winner will be selected from all the entries by Feb 14th! This giveaway is open internationally

 

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED! A Winner, Carol, was chosen randomly from the commenters and a email sent notifying her of her win!  Thank you to all who entered.

 

BeyondTemptationYou can find Beyond Temptation at all the usual places:

AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo,  Apple and Google

and you can  get to know Kit Rocha and Beyond Series by visiting them:

Website: http://www.kitrocha.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thebrokencircle

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/kitrocha

Merch: http://www.okaneforlife.com

 

or  you can read my reviews for many of the books in the series:

Beyond Shame 

Beyond Addiction

Beyond Possession

Beyond Innocence 

Beyond Ruin

Beyond Surrender

and in the Gideon Rider's Series:

Ashwin

Deacon


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.  

 

 


The Best of 2017: The Whole List!

Best Contemporary 

I read a lot of fantastic Contemporary Romance this year, but three books stood out as giving me all the happy sighs.

34217566My favorite book of the year is Alisha Rai's "Wrong to Need You" It came out this week. And I need everyone to finish reading it so they can also nominate it.  While I loved "Hate to Want You", the first book in Rai's Hidden Hearts series, the emotional core of this books is so much stronger. I loved the conflict between Sadia and Jackson, the depth of the family tensions and the HEA left me happily wrung out.  

 Jackson and Sadia grew up together, each other's most trusted and true friend. But it was Jackson's big brother, Paul, who stole her heart.  Ten years later, Paul is dead, Sadia is struggling to keep the cafe they ran together afloat, when Jackson, now a chef with global-following unexpectedly arrives back in town after a decade of ignoring her emails to insist on helping her.

They have a ton of deep unspoken issues to resolve, secrets to discover and so much sexual tension to work out. As Jackson and Sadia rediscover each other, learn how life has changed them and marked them, they also have their individual issues to resolve with their own families, which deepen rather than distract from their romance.. It was a delicious sexy angst-fest that doesn't feel manufactured in any way.

I almost always fall in love with Rai's heroines and Sadia is no exception for I adored her, bisexual,widowed mother & cocktail historian. While Jackson has the more dramatic family drama to resolve, Sadia's complex relationships with her sisters, her parents, who love her & judge her and how they cause her to defend and questions her life choices gripped me. 

All I can say is  GO READ IT. (I received a ARC from the author for review consideration).

32613865My second nomination in the Best Contemporary Romance category was Lucy Parker's "Pretty Face". I loved Parker's first West End-set novel, Act Like It, and this turned me into a full-blown Parker fangirl, as there is just such great backstage intrigue, full of gossip and melodrama. 

Lily Lamprey dreams of escaping the vampy TV roles that have made her a household name for serious career on the stage and in film. But her new director, Luc Savage, nearly refuses to cast her, worried that she is nothing more than a pretty face.  Their relationship starts out adversarial and there is no one more surprised than they when they start acknowledging a mutual attraction.  Like in Wrong To Need You, Luc and Lily's contrasting family relationships add some much depth to romance.  This book has a great big Grovel and it was wonderful and well earned.

51pUnzjaXkL._SY346_I rounded out my nominations in Best Contemporary Romance, with a nod to Laura Florand's A Kiss in Lavender.  Lucien is the long-lost cousin, who struggles to believe that he belongs in the Rosier Valley and Elena is the much shuffled and abandoned foster child, who idealizes a homecoming for Lucien and struggles to understand how he might not long to stay in their welcoming arms. The real meat of their conflict however is about identity and how much they value their careers.

 

 

 

 

For Best Short Romance/Novella my nominees were Kissing and Other Forms of Sedition from Rogue Desire by Emma Barry, &  Shira Glassman’s Knit One, Girl Two. 

 

51+1cQit23L._AC_US218_I loved watching The Rogue Desire anthology move from idea into reality in the days after election. The collection as a whole was quite strong and at one point I intended to review it all but sadly life intervened.

My favorite story in the collection was Emma Barry's. Her story, Kissing and Other Forms of Sedition is about two VA legislative staffers, who when the President seems determined to trigger nuclear war via twitter finally confess their mutual desire and then set out on a road-trip to DC so they might attempt to persuade a Federal Cabinet official to consider evoking the 25th amendment.  It is nerdy, funny and incredibly sexy.  

51At-pLns8L._SY346_I read Glassman's fluffy and colorful short with the rest of the "Not-a-bookclub" crew.   In it indie yarn dyer is inspired by the colorful paintings of a local artists and reaches out to her so they might collaborate on project.   It is a story about creativity, inspiration, and falling in love, full of nerdy knit-culture and fan-culture details and crammed full of interesting supporting characters. It was just the dash of sweetness and hope that I needed in midsummer.

 

 

511ISHXQmPL

For Best Historical Romance my nominees were Fair, Bright and Terrible by Elizabeth Kingston, An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole, & Lisa Kleypas’s A Devil in Spring but if I could nominated five I would have also nominated The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare and K.J. Charles 's An Unnatural Vice.

I adored Kingston's The King's Man, so I was really looking forward to the sequel,  Fair, Bright and Terrible by Elizabeth Kingston. I was shocked however to learn that the heroine would be Eluned, Gwellian's rebel mother, who was one of the chief antagonists in the King's Man. Kingston however compelled me to fall in love for this revenge-minded and vicious heroine.  It is a second chance at love story, as after the death of her mad abusive husband in the Holy Lands, King Edward seeks to solidify his hold on Welsh lands by forcing her to marry one his men, Robert de Lascaux.  Eluned and Robert had a costly affair when they were both young and Robert has never stopped loving her.  Eluned however paid a deep price for their love affair and is not eager to give up her power, lands and position to a new English Lord, even if he was once her beloved lover. Their journey from vengeance and pain to trust and love was amazing.  I loved the richness of Kingston's storytelling, the way she handles religion, personal faith and politics is intricate and remarkable. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it and if you are an audio fan, both the books are superbly narrated by Nicholas Boulton, one of the best romance narrators around.

516WEHK17LLAlyssa Cole's An Extraordinary Union is a spy-thriller set in the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Ellie Burns's photographic memory once made her performer on the abolitionist circuit , but the former slave now serves the Union as part of the Loyal League, a network of black spies. She has infiltrated the home of a Confederate politician when her mission is endangered by the arrival of another Union spy, Malcom McCall, a Scottish immigrant and one of Pinkerton's agents.

I loved Ellie, righteous anger and disgust and incredibly bravery.  She is witty, cynical about men, white men in particular and determined to do all she can to make sure the Union wins. 

61DtVTVlHSLLisa Kleypas's Devil in Spring is the sequel I didn't really mean to read but that I loved anyway. I was distinctly underwhelmed by the first book in this series, as the hero and heroine hardly spent anytime together, and although I bought Marrying Winterbourne, I didn't ever get around to reading it. However, after hearing interesting things from trusted romance reading friends, I decided to try the sample and I was delighted by Pandora. One of the wild Ravenel sisters that steal the first book, Pandora is determined to avoid marriage, so she may launch her own game-manufacturing company. However an act of kindness and clumsiness entrap both Pandora and  Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, the son of Evie and Sebastian from Kleypas's treasured classic Devil in Winter, in an engagment.

This book has some flaws, mostly in the third half when the plot goes sideways, but Pandora is one of the most enjoyable Regency heroines I have read in a good while.

51P7cOTXSrLHowever I could have easily nominated Tessa Dare's delightful and fanciful, The Duchess Deal. The Duchess Deal is more fairy-tale than Regency romance, as many almost fantastical events move the plot forward but the romance was just so tender and sweet that like most Tessa Dare romances, it overcomes all sorts of ridiculous premises. It doesn't quite matter how ridiculous it would be that a Duke would insist on marrying an impoverished seamstress so that he may spite the fiancee that abandoned him when he returned dramatically scarred from the Continental Wars, because story feels right.  The book leans into the ridiculous at points, with Emma giving the Duke new nicknames each day and Ashbury's adventures as a nighttime vigilante.

I very  much enjoy Dare's sense of humor and find her fun to read. She frequently makes me laugh, which is something I look for in fluffy reads, but she also tackle a great deal emotional territory. I particularly appreciated the scene where the Duke struggles to understand and comfort the Emma when she is having a panic attack. It wasn't gritty or eloquent but it felt very very familiar.

She clung to his waistcoat. “This just h-happens sometimes.” He tightened his arms about her. “I’m here,” he murmured. “I’m here.” He didn’t ask her any further questions, but he couldn’t help but think them.

 

51EKw4JefHL._SY346_I adored K.J.Charles's Sins of the Cities series ( I reviewed the whole series for RT). The books are set in a colorful and diverse London that is rarely depicted in romance novels and never as vividly. An Unnatural Vice is the story of Nathaniel Roy, an investigative journalist pressured by his boss to take on the incredibly popular spiritualists, who were all the rage in Victorian London. His skepticism meets its match in Justin Lazarus, the gifted amoral grifter known as the Seer of London, and one my favorite K.J. Charles characters yet.  

K.J.Charles did a fantastic job juggling the overarching series mystery with the more personal and deadly danger Justin and Nathan find themselves caught up in.  I was fascinated by the way Charles was able to resolve the conflicts between Justin and Nathan, to provide them with a believable HEA. 

 

My nominations for Best Paranormal Romance were Wildfire (Book 3 in the Hidden Legacy series), Silver Silence by Nalini Singh (Book 1 in her new Psy-Changeling Series, Trinity) and Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop.

27422533There are very few authors for whom I consistently pay full price for on release day, no questions asked, that small circle includes these authors.

I have consistently enjoyed Gordon and Ilona Andrew's Urban Fantasy and PNR novels but the Hidden Legacy series has all the elements that made the other series work for me mixed together in just the right way.  I love Nevada, her self-sacrifice, and determination to take care of her family. I love her family, her wacky sisters, her funny cousins, and her quirky and determined mom and grandmother.  I really like Rogan and the arc the Andrews have given to him, from almost feral despot, to a dangerous and still unpredictable leader who trust Nevada as partner in all ways, and is determined to make sure the Nevada and her family have all the choices they deserve.

I really hope we see way more books set in this world. I am pretty done with Rogan and Nevada as leads, but I am eager to follow so many of the other characters in this series into magical mayhem.  These books are also excellent audio books. Renee Raudman once again pairs up with Andrews to deliver an engrossing performance.

51kN6kL1f7L._SY346_I was thrilled to see Nalini Singh embrace a new more inclusive direction in the her new Psy-Changeling series, Trinity.  Silver Silence is the story of Silver Mercant and Valentin Nikoleav.

Valentin is sweet, determined Bear Shifter who is determined to breakthrough Silver' icy silence, but he gets consent.  

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."

From my July 2017 review

51l5ne9mCDL._SY346_ Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop is the last book of a fascinating but often frustrating series for romance readers like myself who are used to more romantic progression and heat. But the series and its sprawling cast captured my heart and imagination.

In this novel Bishop resolves Meg and Simon's long-standing but unacknowledged love for one another. The whole world is changed by their relationship even if they don't know quite how to articulate what they are one another.  I left the series feeling satisfied and impressed after a few re-reads of the whole series highlighted to me how many themes and threads from the first books are tied up in the fifth book. 

However the book was also partly a set up for Bishop future novels set in the world of the Others as she expands the focus away from the Courtyard to new satellite communities.  I am eager to see what dangers and wonders those stories will dwell on.

29772444Best Romantic Suspense

I don't read a lot of romantic suspense anymore but when I do, it is by HelenKay Dimon. The genre as whole has gone very dark but I can count on Dimon to build tension and menace without more gore or gruesomeness than I can handle.

I loved Guarding Mr. Fine one of the runners up in this year's #readRchatawards, when I read it almost a year ago and it has one of the best awkward morning after run-ins ever. But my favorite of Dimon's current series is her "Games People play" series about a close-knit group of guys, who are as awkward as they are dangerous. My favorites in the series were The Fixer, which came out the last week of last year and The Enforcer, which came out in the spring.  The heroines are fabulous, hostile, suspicious and not willing to give these guys an inch.   

These books hit my sweet spot of fun, sexy and suspenseful and I had a hard time putting it down to get other stuff done this week.

    --From my review in May


6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d27ac453970c-120wiBest Erotic Romance

This was a really tough category for me this year.  I used to read so many that fell under this heading but I have instead been reading a lot more hot contemporary. However when I do read Erotic Romance it is written by Rebekah Weatherspoon. I loved her Beards and Bondage series, particularly the second book, Haven.  Weatherspoon's heroines are the best but she writes wonderfully superficially grumpy and gruff heroes who are truly sweet and creates communities around the protagonists that dynamic, realistic and believable.

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.

--From my review in April

 

51CGyb5IqjLBest Debut Romance

The #readRchatawards debut romance nominee list read like the top of my TBR.  I was particularly thrilled to see nominations for two great up and coming Latina writers, Priscilla Oliveras and Alexis Daria

I really enjoyed reading Daria's "Take the Lead" and there is just something so special about seeing someone with a name and background like your own (my mom shares a last name with Daria's heroine,  Gina Morales) getting their HEA.  Gina is strong, principled and determined to succeed in a difficult soul-eating industry. I loved her intensity. Although I have never watched a minute of Dancing with the Stars or any other celebrity Dancing competition I found the whole story highly enjoyable, with great behind the scene details (OMG, the spray-tan scene!).

51CaU6ISGfL._SY346_In the debut category I also loved reading Adriana Anders, "Under Her Skin".  

"" 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.

--From my review in April

She has had a  stellar year, with two additional releases and a great short story anchoring in the Rogue Desire Anthology, that you need pick up if you love heroes and heroines who are part of the #resistance and fight for trust, justice, freedom and equality.

 

 

I needed great books to read this year more than I usually do. They provided precious hours of entertainment, uplift and inspiration. I hope you had a great year of reading, and I hope the coming new year is filled with fantastic books for all of us to enjoy!


Best of 2017 Part 4: Best Romantic Suspense, Erotic Romance & Debut Romances

29772444Best Romantic Suspense

I don't read a lot of romantic suspense anymore but when I do, it is by HelenKay Dimon. The genre as whole has gone very dark but I can count on Dimon to build tension and menace without more gore or gruesomeness than I can handle.

I loved Guarding Mr. Fine one of the runners up in this year's #readRchatawards, when I read it almost a year ago and it has one of the best awkward morning after run-ins ever. But my favorite of Dimon's current series is her "Games People play" series about a close-knit group of guys, who are as awkward as they are dangerous. My favorites in the series were The Fixer, which came out the last week of last year and The Enforcer, which came out in the spring.  The heroines are fabulous, hostile, suspicious and not willing to give these guys an inch.   

These books hit my sweet spot of fun, sexy and suspenseful and I had a hard time putting it down to get other stuff done this week.

    --From my review in May


6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d27ac453970c-120wiBest Erotic Romance

This was a really tough category for me this year.  I used to read so many that fell under this heading but I have instead been reading a lot more hot contemporary. However when I do read Erotic Romance it is written by Rebekah Weatherspoon. I loved her Beards and Bondage series, particularly the second book, Haven.  Weatherspoon's heroines are the best but she writes wonderfully superficially grumpy and gruff heroes who are truly sweet and creates communities around the protagonists that dynamic, realistic and believable.

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.

--From my review in April

 

51CGyb5IqjLBest Debut Romance

The #readRchatawards debut romance nominee list read like the top of my TBR.  I was particularly thrilled to see nominations for two great up and coming Latina writers, Priscilla Oliveras and Alexis Daria

I really enjoyed reading Daria's "Take the Lead" and there is just something so special about seeing someone with a name and background like your own (my mom shares a last name with Daria's heroine,  Gina Morales) getting their HEA.  Gina is strong, principled and determined to succeed in a difficult soul-eating industry. I loved her intensity. Although I have never watched a minute of Dancing with the Stars or any other celebrity Dancing competition I found the whole story highly enjoyable, with great behind the scene details (OMG, the spray-tan scene!).

51CaU6ISGfL._SY346_In the debut category I also loved reading Adriana Anders, "Under Her Skin".  

"" 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.

--From my review in April

She has had a  stellar year, with two additional releases and a great short story anchoring in the Rogue Desire Anthology, that you need pick up if you love heroes and heroines who are part of the #resistance and fight for trust, justice, freedom and equality.

 

 

I needed great books to read this year more than I usually do. They provided precious hours of entertainment, uplift and inspiration. I hope you had a great year of reading, and I hope the coming new year is filled with fantastic books for all of us to enjoy!


Returning to reading, Part 2

10747637I am long time fan of Lauren Dane's contemporaries. I particularly love her Brown Family books. I also have a soft spot for her vampire-themed UF, The Goddess with a Blade series.  However before this year I hadn't read any of her paranormals.  I've been sampling some of her werewolf books as they have been re-released by Carina and while many of them have lots of elements I liked along, none of them have really clicked with me, mostly for nitpicky world-building issues.  The ones I have really liked however have been her witch-led ones. I am loving her small-town witch falls for wolf series, Diablo Lake.

Last month I read the first in her Bound by Magick novel, Heart of Darkness.  The heroine was fantastic. I loved Meriel Owen from the start. She is second in line in the leadership of the powerful  Owen Witch Clan. She hasn't yet grown into the fullness of her power but wields what she has with meticulous control. She knows herself and what she can do. She doesn't let anyone push her around, including her bossy mother. 

Dominic is unaffiliated witch, skimming power from a clan-owned font to protect his nightclub. He recognizes her strength and power when she walks through the door and wants a taste of it.

I loved how Dane handled consent and power issues in this book. Meriel has all the advantages due to her knowledge and training and she works to make sure that any relationship she and Dominic form will be one he felt he entered willingly and enthusiastically. The action plot was dark and suspenseful and the supporting cast fun and interesting. I am hoping the other books in this series eventually go on sale too (the first is currently $2.99), I have my sale alerts set.

41TLHlxyeQLThe most recent book I finished was Kristen Ashley's Heaven and Hell. Kini mentioned loving this book during our Kristen Ashley Addicts book chat, Too Cracktastic to quit?  Before her rec I had been under the mistaken impression that it was one KA's paranormals, with which I've had little success.  I had no idea it was a stand-alone contemporary, set in the same universe as her Rock Chick and  'Burg novels (Lee Nightingale, Joe Callahan & Tanner Layne all make brief appearances).

It is the story of Kia Clementine.  Kia is an abused wife, whose husband is gunned down by his lover's irate husband.  After his death she learns, she has inherited 5 million dollars from an insurance policy she didn't know her husband had taken out.  This unexpected windfall leads to her uncovering a larger conspiracy at the same time as it liberates her to live a whole new life.

She splurges on dream vacation where she meets fantastic people, wears fantastic clothes and meets her long-time celebrity crush, Samson Cooper, former football player, former army ranger and secret commando. The storyline is super-wacky and every bit of a roller coaster I need.  

Like most KA novels it has many super problematic elements, like the undeniably overbearing machismo each of her heroes is doused in, and problematic racial rep, for example Sam is biracial and of Hispanic heritage, however both he and his mother are completely estranged from their heritage. He has no contact with his abusive father's black family and his mother was abandoned in poverty with her white mother by her Mexican american father.  The dual absences and estrangements are eye-brow raising but unexpected.

I was here for the over-the-top melodrama, and I got it.  There are dramatic breakups, and even more dramatic reunions. Jealousy, possessiveness and domineering behavior are glorified but it was also fun. I am glad that Kia gain the confidence and power to walk away from Sam, till Sam was able to come back give himself fully to her.  That was a worthy HEA for them, and hard fought, as she had to relearn that she was worth it.

Not a perfect book by any means but the engrossing roller-coaster I needed, and I recommend it to any other fan of KA's contemporaries who somehow missed reading it.

I've tentatively started reading some of my many backlogged ARCs, so I look forward to reviewing more books soon!

 


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.

51uT07ne9LL._SY346_

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