There are all sorts of heroes and heroines. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Aliens, Aristocrats, Assholes and Sweethearts.... Some types come in and out of vogue, others seem perpetually popular? Which ones standout to you and why? What makes them memorable?
I don't think there is just one type of hero or heroine that appeals to me, I've never claimed a book boyfriend or girlfriend, but I do have a weakness for proud, independent heroines. Sasha Duncan (Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh), Kate Daniels (Illona Andrews), Mercy Thompson (Patricia Briggs), Lex Parrino (The Beyond Series, Kit Rocha), Zenobia Fox (Kraken King, Meljean Brook) and Justine DeCabrillac (Joanna Bourne), all have special places in my heart. They kick ass, fight hard for the people they love and don't give up when facing terrible odds. Their worlds, values and approaches to life and love vary greatly but at their core, they are all Amazons.
I read a lot of bossy protective heroes, mostly because they are such great foils to kickass independent heroines, but the heroes I remember the most tend to fit different molds. David Cyprian from KJ Charles's Society of Gentlemen series is morally flexible, devious and too smart for his own good. Julius from Rachel Aaron's Heartstriker series is sweet, earnest and most of all kind while Ash Winters from Alexis Hall's Glitterland is self-destructive and mean, Judd Lauren from Nalini Singh's Caressed by Ice is cautious, repressed and gentle. Simon Wolfguard from Anne Bishop's The Others is grumpy, baffled and Wolf.
My Gateway Romances were Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Grave, Nalini Singh's Slave to Sensation and yes, as heretical as it is to say it among some romance purists, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.
Before I found romance I read YA, Fantasy and Urban Fantasy for the romantic arcs. It wasn't till I became a romance reader that I recognized the pattern.
As I was finishing up Grad School and had time to read again I read Twilight at a friend's urging and later read her copy of 50SoG because she had read it and wanted someone to talk to about it. There was certainly more sex on the page than I had ever previously encountered with the possible exception of the Jean Auel books I had to sneak read in middle school. I read a ton of erotica and books with black covers and inanimate objects on the covers immediately afterwards looking for something that would capture my attention in the same way. Most of it it didn't click with me, even though they were certainly hot but I kept trying looking for that X-factor that had caught my attention. In the midst of all them I did find a couple of Charlotte Stein books that told me I was on the right track.
At about the same time I became aware of Felicia Day's Vaginal Fantasy Book club's. I was drawn to the virtual bookclub because identified with Day and the rest of the VF crew as fellow geek girls, women who had read a ton of SF/Fantasy and comics like I did. For someone who never seriously considered reading romance, their enjoyment of genre romance novels was a powerful recommendation. I watched the first half-dozen episodes and started checking out the books. The first two I read on Day's recommendation were Silent in the Grave and Slave to Sensation. They were immediately accessible to me. I had been a Austen and cozy mystery fan, so mystery series with a strong romantic core was in someways very familiar and it started opening the genre to me. Slave to Sensation with its much more overt romantic arc was a bigger leap but Singh's fascinating world building and fast-moving and suspenseful action plot, eased me in.
I immediately read the rest of both those series and as I read them I realized the thing I was looking for was strong emotional conflicts. Thankfully I had access to the NYPL and my local libraries eBook collections and they both had a wide variety of romance eBooks available. They had everything from Harlequins, e-rom, PNR and a gazillion regency romances. When I ran out of Psy-Changelings to read about I ended up trying Stephanie Laurens's Cynster books. The bossy, over-protective heroes in those books had a lot in common with the Singh's changelings. They even worked as a pack, and they were essentially invulnerable. They made it possible for me to transition from binge-reading PNR, which I was still sort of classifying in my head as sexy SF to reading "real" traditional Historical Romances of which my library had hundreds.
I eventually admitted to myself that I that I was a romance reader, not just a Mystery, Fantasy and SF reader crossing over Once I did I started exploring the RITA award winners, and seeking out romance blogs for recommendations. It has been about 5 and half years and my reading preferences have evolved as I was introduced to new authors, tropes and trends but I will always have a fondness in my heart for the books that drew me into the romance genre.
I am so incredibly thankful to everyone who provided feedback, prompt suggestions and encouragement. I look forward to a great month of romance-related conversations. Feel free to respond to these prompts however you want starting on May 1st. It can be a tweet, a blog post, an IG post, just add the #RomBkLove hashtag. You can also comment with a link to your blog and I will post a round-up of everyone participating during the first week. I just want to hear from you and fill my timeline with romance-related chatter!
1: Gateway Romance 2: Tropes, Tropes, Tropes 3: Meet Cute 4: Secondary Characters 5: Romantic Elements 6: Groveling 7: Diverse Romance 8: Heroes & Heroines 9: Category Romance 10: Pets 11: Historical 12: Most Read or Reread 13: Contemporaries 14: Covers 15: Bicker and Banter 16: Dark Moment 17: Dukes, Dukes, Dukes 18: Not a Duke in sight 19: Romantic Suspense 20: Unforgettable Line 21: Auto-buy 22: Adaptation 23: Romancelandia 24: All in a day's work 25: Series Love 26: PNR, SFR, Fantasy 27: Romance Icons 28: Novellas/Shorts 29: Friendships 30: Old School/Classics 31: HEAs
It is a story about finding a safe harbor, working toward self-acceptance, and starting over. There really great depictions of female friendships, a richly drawn small town community and little femdom kink to spice things up.
Uma has been on the run for months, hiding from her abusive ex. She has comes to Blackwood, VA, because the small town has a clinic that offers free laser tattoo removal treatments to domestic violence victims. Her gas gauge is on empty literally and metaphorically when she answers a very odd ad for a living-in-helper to a cantankerous old lady.
Ivan is the ex-con next-door, a gentle giant, that helps teaches self-defense courses along with his sister at the local gym and makes his living as iron-worker/blacksmith. He carries a lot of emotional baggage of his own, but works very hard to make sure he is someone Uma can trust with her body and her heart.
I really liked that while Ivan suffers from white-knight syndrome, in his desire to fix up Uma, he isn't the one that saves her and that he realizes that he can't do that work for her. In the end Uma saves herself and Ivan.
I really enjoyed this and immediately picked up the 2nd book. Under Her Skin is currently on sale for 99 cents, and it includes a seven chapter preview of book 2, so don't be alarmed when Under Her Skin start wrapping up around the 67% mark.
(Uma is a white, despite her Indian name, her mom is a hippie who lives in India at a Ashram).
This book revisits a lot of the same themes present in the first book, self-forgiveness, finding a community and people who see past the marks of violence to see the person underneath.
I don't think this book will work for everyone as it is a Doctor/Patient romance, where ethical boundaries are certainly crossed. There were definitely many moments where my eyebrows almost flew off my face. I
Clay Navarro, is an undercover ATF agent who comes to Blackwood to to hide out and get some tattoos removed while he waits for a big court date against the big biker gang he had infiltrated. He has serious PTSD issues, that he is self-medicating with vodka and is not sure whether his worries about mole in his office are PTSD-related paranoia or a legitimate concern. He has cut himself off his team and is struggling to figure out who he is anymore.
Dr. Georgette Hadley is pumping herself full of hormones as she prepares to be artificially inseminated with her late husband's sperm. She questions her instincts and feelings when she agrees to start treating Clay, off the book and after-hours. Her attraction to Clay, despite his undisclosed but certainly dangerous background, makes her recall her reckless youth, and how her life almost derailed once.
I don't think this book was completely successful at untangling consent issues but I did like that while both George and Clay are fucked up emotionally, they are still worthy of love. They are not over their pains or issues at the end of the book but they have made a commitment to figuring those things out together rather than rejecting each other because they see themselves as too broken.
I am a little disappointed that book three is not about Jessie (Ivan's sister and George's neighbor). She is begging for a HEA.
(Clay is of Peruvian decent and he faces a lot racial and ethnic-based abuse as part of his undercover work in criminal biker gangs)
Haven was a great book to end this mini-binge with. Haven was an emotionally intense and surprisingly fun story about finding an unlikely but deep connection in traumatic circumstances. The pacing through out was fantastic but particularly in the pulse-pounding early chapters. The dynamics of Claudia and Shep's relationship are complex, as they are hyper-aware of how wary everyone is of intensity & of the limited nature of their acquaintance. They honestly wrestle with how fraught it can be to untangle their actual experience of each other from what they have both built up about each other in their heads. They struggle to give each other what they need and things don't go smoothly in vividly believable ways. They are both unabashedly kinky, but that it isn't a cure or a reaction, but still a complication as they try to figure out if they can fit into each other's lives. I wish there had been just a little more grovel at the end, but the reactions were completely within character.
Shepherd Olsen's quiet and solitary life is dramatically disrupted when a bloody and shrieking black woman runs up to his isolated cabin near Federal park lands in Northern California. He springs into action, rescuing her and making sure she gets the help she needs, even as they are separated by the intense investigation.
Not only did Claudia Cade lose her brother Miles on the mountain, she also lost her way. She thought getting back to her job and her home in NYC would help but she can't quite fit back into her old life. Things that were comfortable before chafe, and fail to satisfy. She is disconnected from herself and her friends and her mind keeps going back to the mountain man, who held her and kept her safe on the worst day of her life.
Shep's life has not gone back to normal. Maybe because Claudia was gone before he could say good-bye, his mind frequently goes back to her and the life he hopes she has been able to return to. He is shocked and confused when she shows back up on the mountain needing something from him that is she is scared to articulate.
Claudia and Shep are not perfect people, they fail, struggle and nearly give up. They need help from more than just each other but they find something in each other worth working for.
Rebekah Weatherspoon continues to succeed in crafting stories that are emotionally layered and full of humor. I loved the whole cast, even when they don't love each other.
(Claudia is black woman from the Caribbean, she immigrated from Grenada as a child. I though Weatherspoon did a fantastic job in weaving this into her story.)
I received an ARC of Haven via Netgalley from the author. Haven will be released April 25th, 2017 and is available for pre-order at all the usual places.
If you look through this blog you will find a half-dozen reviews for Kit Rocha's Beyond Series. I have huge love for that series and was very pleased and satisfied with the way the series ended in Beyond Surrender.
Bree Bridges and Donna Herren, who co-write as Kit Rocha, are moving on from Sector 4 and the bootlegging & orgiastic O'Kanes to a very different corner of their world. Although many of the characters might be familiar to long-time Kit Rocha readers, this is a great jump on point for new readers, as the status quo has radically changed in the Sectors and Kit Rocha doesn't assume you've spent several years reading their previous novels (like I have).
Ashwin Malhotra is a genetically modified super-soldier, one of the Makhai, brutally trained to act without emotion. He is fearsome, solitary and has been growing increasingly unstable. The source of his instability is his forbidden fixation on one of his former doctors, Kora Bellamy. Ashwin smuggled her away from their base and arranged for the O'Kanes to hide and protect her, even from himself. Fearing he would harm her, he submitted himself to a tortuous process to rid himself of his fixation. Once again considered fit for duty his generals have sent him on a infiltration and reconnaissance mission into the heart of Sector One.
Sector One is run by the Rios Family, descendants of a powerful self-styled prophet, who built a powerful cult around himself. Gideon Rios, a grandson of the prophet is the political leader of Sector One, having given control of their church to his sister Isabela. Despite this the religious devotion and loyalty of the residents of Sector One, still belong almost absolutely to Gideon, which troubles the Generals as the refugees fleeing Eden are walking straight to Rios Family-run temples for help.
Kora Bellamy's whole life has been dedicated to caring and medicine. Trained for infancy by her his distant but over-protective father, she has never shied away from bucking authority and risking her life in order to make sure the people around get the help they need. During the war she found refuge in Sector One with the Rios family, who helped her establish hospitals and accepted her as a sister. But she hasn't really considered it home, till Ashwin walks in after being missing for months. Seeing Ashwin again raises tons of questions for her and throws them both into turmoil.
This romance is all about conflicted loyalties, accepting unexpected welcome & forgiveness and like all Kit Rocha books, about chosen families. Ashwin and Kora have a lot of secrets from each other, lots of fears and insecurities about their mental states, their feelings and their identities. They have long been pawns in other people's grand schemes and they need to figure out who they are and what they want before they can fully claim each other. They must satisfy their longing for each other while trying to unpack what they truly feel and then they will have to figure out how to keep each other safe from those who want to use them.
As Kit Rocha veteran, I am loving all the background political maneuverings and the exploration of the intersection between politics, power and religion in Sector One as the post-Eden world is reshaped. I love seeing this world from a different perspective and I can't wait to get to know the other Riders.
DISCLAIMER: I am unapologetic Kit Rocha fangirl. I pretty much dropped everything else I was reading when Bree emailed me this ARC. I follow and chat with Bree on twitter all of time because I really respect her views of romance, writing and fandom.
Due South by Tamsen Parker: I love Tamsen Parker’s Compass series but this story can stand alone, and I highly recommend it if you have not read any of the others. As I said on twitter it is the sexiest book you will ever read about two people working crazy hours to rewrite a presentation on municipal bonds. Long hours, too much coffee and frustrated mutual attraction boil over one night, changing everything. Lucy and Evans, are both highly competent but not terribly confident, but in each other they find someone to trust, someone with which intimacy & vulnerability lead to empowerment.
Hard Core by Dakota Gray: I did not love this. I adored Perv and was really looking forward to Duke’s story but although I love his friendship with his battle-axe paralegal Gwen, and I thought Kennedy was interesting and fun, Duke was too much of chore. Although his downward spiral and grovel was epic, I wish the POVs had been switched and we would have seen this story from Kennedy’s point of view rather than Duke’s boringly stubborn head. I’ll still be back for Tarek’s story however because I still find the writing fun even if it didn’t sell me on the romance.
A Crown of Bitter Orange (La Vie en Roses bk 3) by Laura Florand A novel about family heritage, about coming home, and finding a home in someone. Malorie tried to walk away from her family’s disgraceful history and make a place for herself on her own. But when her grandmother dies, she comes home to make decisions on behalf of her scattered sisters about what to do with what is left behind. Tristan the youngest of the Rosier cousins, is waiting for her. He in fact has been waiting for to come home for a very long time. Safely grounded in the fertile soil of the Rosier Family, Tristan has to learn how to communicate and love Malorie in a way she understand, to climb the walls of her loneliness and overcome her suspicions. I loved the organic growth of their relationship and how the resolution to their conflict was natural and believable.
Unseen Attraction by KJ Charles: I absolutely loved this book. I reviewed it for RT so I can’t post a full review here or link to the one I wrote for them since it is behind a paywall. However I can say that I loved it. KJ Charles excels at populating her worlds with interesting, complex people. Her Victorian London is gritty and colorful, with visible immigrants & people of color and people of all economic classes are represented. I adored the romance between Clem and Rowley blossomed out of friendship and mutual care. (ARC provided by Loveswept for review consideration, expected publication date Feb 21, 2017)
2016 has been a hard year for a lot of people. For my family it was a year of transitions, and although we’ve come out on the other side of those changes happier and healthier, there were many points in this past year where I’ve depended on books to provide comfort and light into my life when things were particularly hard. I re-read a lot of old favorites this year or turned to reliable authors who were already known to me when I felt the most emotionally fragile.
However one of my greatest joys as reader is when I discover someone new-to-me and learn they have a backlist full of books for me to enjoy. Instead of doing a traditional best-of list or favorite-books-of-the-year list I thought I would share a list of authors who I discovered this year and whose books brought me joy. Many of these authors are not debut novelists, some in fact are legends in the genre, but were simply new-to-me. I hope you to find someone to discover.
N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season completely rocked my world this year. A sprawling time-hoping science-fiction saga about a woman whose world is literally shaken apart. The story’s focus is on her determination to find and rescue her daughter amid the chaos. Jemisin's world building is masterful and the careful development of all the different relationships and small choices that led to that cataclysm was completely engrossing. I loved the second book, Obelisk Gate was just as much. I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy. Jemisin’s draws a complex world with People of Color at the center of the narrative, and where race, class and gender issues all intersect with incredible skill. If you only read one book of my list this year, read this one but I should warn you that while there are incredible romantic conflicts in this story, it is not a genre romance, HEAs are not guaranteed in any way.
Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson’s Cyberlove collaboration left me squeeing uncontrollably on twitter for days. Emotional, smart, funny, diverse and and scorching hot, these LGBT romances just made me happy. The main characters are quirky, gruff and flawed and incredibly compelling. After reading Strong Signal and Fast Connection, I ran out and bought books off both of their backlists and I continue to be impressed by the quality of their work. Both Hassell and Erickson have sky-rocketed to the top of my must-buy-list.
HelenKay Dimon is a romantic suspense legend, but because I generally avoid books with buff Navy SEALs on the covers and if I am honest most romantic suspense, I had never read one of her novels till this year. I tried several, including some of her older M/F rom suspense novels but the series that made me a fan is her new M/M romance series from Loveswept, Tough Love, featuring deadly dangerous men secretly saving the world. The team dynamics are fantastic and the supporting casts full and entertaining. The romances were full of competence porn featuring witty bickering couples great at their jobs but terrible at feelings.
To my eternal shame I hadn’t read any of Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances until this year. I knew of her, met her at RWA and read books by her literary daughters but I had not actually read one of her books. I read Forbidden with the #notabc, (not-a-book-club) twitter reading group. I was awed by the richness of Ms. Jenkins books, and how she seamlessly layers historical and cultural details while crafting beautiful romantic HEAs for black men and women. If like me you find yourself primarily reading a very narrow slice of historical romance (for example: white m/f regency roms) I urge you to read Ms. Jenkins and see what you have been missing and then check out Piper Hugely, Kianna Alexander, Lena Hart & Alyssa Cole for more awesome historical romance.
I started out the year reading one of Melissa Blue’s contemporary romances, "Under His Kilt" and ended it reading her Dakota Gray erotic romance, Perv about man with a fetish for oral sex and the woman determined to teach him a lesson for the callous way he treated her best-friend. Whether she is writing as Melissa Blue or Dakota Gray her books were a ton of fun, very sexy with strong believable conflicts. I’ve already pre-ordered the next book in her Filth series out at the end of January, Hardcore on the strength of Perv.
I can’t fail to talk about the Kindle Unlimted authors, Anna Carven, Ruby Dixon, TS Joyce & Suzanne Wright that caught my attention this year, since I spent a great part of this year binging on their books. This summer I treated myself to Kindle Unlimited subscription and gave myself permission to declare ARC backlog bankruptcy and read for fun without the pressure to review. It was glorious and just what I needed.
Because of the economics of KU, I was more willing to try books with weird covers, crazier concepts and indulge in a trope-heavy erotic romances that just made me giggle at first and later surprised me with the quality of their worldbuilding. These books are certainly a cut above the average KU book, but I probably wouldn't have read them all had I been buying the books individually and not accessing them via KU. If you have a powerful need for some hot SFR and paranomal romaances and already have a KU subscription check these out:
Ann Carven’s Dark Planet Warriors series is suspenseful and action packed. A space station is taken-over by seemingly hostile group of super-powerful aliens, but the real threat are the giant cockroach-like creatures they are chasing. Complex imperial politics, interplanetary diplomacy and a clash of civilizations is the backdrop in these romances. The stories are far from perfect but I wasn’t bored reading them.
Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet Barbarians with their big blue hunter-gatherer aliens has grown into expansive family drama, as much about community dynamics as it is about people learning how to love across cultural and language barriers and surviving in a brutal environment with few resources.
TS Joyce’s Lumberjack shifters are funny and trope-heavy, but I got attached to kooky trailer-park inhabiting shifters because of the multi-generational community full of strong friendships Joyce develops.
Suzanne Wright’s books are the most traditional of this quartet, featuring wolf shifters trying to balance pack politics with forbidden or inconvenient attraction. The Phoenix and Mercury Pack series are solidly entertaining.
Make Love not War goes the 60’s refrain but that is not a choice the lovers in these two books can make. War is raging and they can’t retreat or escape it. Their choice is to make love and war.
Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha is the final book in their dystopian epic series about a band of free-loving bootlegging gangsters that were push too far and too long and refuse to roll-over and die. They tried just carving a little piece of the world for themselves but the world wouldn’t leave them alone, so they had to make their world just a bit bigger.
Nessa in Beyond Surrender is everyone’s little sister, most especially Dallas’ . She has been with him since before there were any other O’kanes. Her skill at making Liquor is the heart of his operation. And no one is more aware of that than Nessa. Life has taught her that only two kinds of men ever make a move on her, thoughtless lunks who don’t know enough to be scared of the O’kanes and manipulative liars who see her as asset to be seduced away. Nessa has been waiting a long time to find someone who will hold her attention and who is worth her time. Ryder terrifies her. He is everything she wants, and she has absolutely no idea what he really wants.
Ryder doesn't either, he has been training and preparing for this war his whole life. The only person that has made him want to consider what comes after is Nessa.
I enjoyed the romance, and I love the dynamics of Nessa and Ryder’s relationship as they both try to figure out what they want and how much they want it. They are deliciously awkward at times and undeniably sexy. However the main draw for me in this book was seeing how Bree and Donna were going to wrap up this war, and series, keeping up the tension and stakes and not destroy a bunch of HEA’s in the process. I was sucker punched at points and just generally impressed at how they were able to really show the cost of this war on the O’kanes while not betraying romance expectations. There was a cost and many tears and scars because to this war. There are many storylines I am eager to follow into their new Gideon’s Riders series but I was also satisfied that I had read something that hung together as cohesive if expansive story. The O’kanes and their struggle have always connected with me deeply and I think this was a good way to end their story. ( I received ARC of Beyond Surrender from Kit Rocha).
Beyond Surrender ended a series but Moonshadow opens one.
Moonshadow by Thea Harrison is the start of a new series in the Elder Races world.
I took refuge in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races novels during the run up to the election. They were a fantastic escape, worth the hefty price tag. However unlike my experience with the Beyond books, where I always wanted to see how things connected and check in with Dallas and Lex, I was way less interested in the political intrigue arcs and the central couple of Dragos and Pia. I wanted less of the meta story and more romance. In Moonshadow, Thea Harrison stays in the same world and mythos of her Elder Races novels but goes in more romance-heavy direction (and much more reasonable price point).
Some things were very familiar, Nikolas, a soldier for Oberon’s Dark Court is powerful, dangerous and unreasonably attracted to the heroine. Despite being overmatched physically by the dark commanding hero, the heroine, Sophie Ross, tolerates zero BS and challenges the hero at every turn. There is tons of delicious bickering, some hate sex and lots of stomping around and trying to ignore inconvenient feelings.
Sophie is at a major crossroads in her life. She is recovering from a terrifying encounter that has left her unable to face returning to her old life as Witch-consultant with the LAPD, when she is offered a piece of her past and given chance to inherit an impregnable magical house, if she can break into it. On her way there she rescues a hurt creature that is not quite what he seems, bringing her to Nikolas’s attention. He and his ever-dwindling fighting brothers has been stranded and on the run for centuries and have almost forgotten what peace feels like. Sophie and her magical house, built on the site of their greatest defeat offers a glimmer of hope and her un-orthodox magical practices an edge they have never had before. Sophie and Nikolas must learn to fight side by side, even when it terrifies them. In the end Sophie and Nikolas have to make a choice to treasure love despite inconvenient timing and their own doubts about their capacity love or give up before they have even gotten started.
I am hopeful of this new direction. The romance still got a bit lost in all the intense action of the last third of the book but it was restored to its proper focus in the closing chapters. I am eager to spend more time in this corner of the Elder Races world. ( I received a ARC of Moonshadow from Thea Harrision via NetGalley).
I lost most of July and August to KU shifter and SFR romance novels. I don't regret it. They were for the most part highly enjoyable, just the right mix of fun WTFery and genuine emotional conflicts. Fun, quick and generally satisfying.
I still find KU very hard to navigate, so I tend to read books recommended to me by other Shifter and SFR fans. Elisabeth Jane brought this series to my attention via an instagram post.
I started my bear shifter/T.S. Joyce binge with the Damon's Mountain Series books: These interconnected books feature Bear, Avian, Dragon and Gorillas!!? lumberjack shifters.
The titles are totally corny (Lumberjack Werebear, Woodcutter Werebear, Timberman Werebear, Sawman Wearbear, etc), but don't let that keep you away from these trailer-park living, brawling lumberjacks who fall for brash, quirky and not-all-helpless heroines. The series eventually works its way through all the associated camps of lumberjack bears on or connected to Damon's Mountain ( Saw Bears, Gray Backs, Boarlanders, and Fire Bears), rehabilitating them one tropey romance at a time and I read every single one of them. To figure out what order in which to read them check out TS Joyce's website, incredibly helpful website. I loved that she frequently updated it and contained a clear reading order guide and links to all the series, clearly labeled.
These novellas were just the right length, giving me just enough romance, characterization and conflict. Their shared backstory and the expanding world drew me in while the stories were different enough that I didn't get tired of them. T.S. Joyce hit a particular KU sweet-spot with these books keeping me engaged in expanded world without burning me out. The one disappointment I have in the series is how little diversity there was. None of the heroes were POC and there wasn't a heroine of color till the second book in the Harper's Mountains series (Bloodrunner Bear) which is about 24 books into that expanded universe.
My favorite of the romances was Grayback Broken Bear (Gray Back Bears Book 4). The romance is between a berserker bear and a raven shifter that has secretly loved him since they were both children. Aviana's escape from her oppressive and abusive community and the fragile link between she and Easton was very moving.
Another fave in the series was Axman Wearbear (Saw Bears 5) book, where Bruiser is blackmailed by the Damon Daye (the last immortal dragon and guardian of the mountain) in marrying his daughter, Diem, because his dragon-mixed lineage means they might be able to breed a dragon child together. There is a huge problem with this plan outside of the fact that Diem and Bruiser are both being coerced into the marriage, and that is that the pregnancy is likely to prove fatal for Diem. This serious conflict has ramifications in later books that are very credibly executed.
I blew through these books, reading about two a day, so eventually I ran out of them. Thankfully Joyce wrote two spin-off series: Harper's and Kane's Mountains books that follow a second generation of bears, dragons and birds and are a loose continuation of the Damon Mountain books. Dragon shifters can unbalance battles in almost deux ex machina way due to their overwhelming power advantage over other shifters, yet Joyce manages to keeps the stakes high despite increased number of dragon shifters, finding credible ways to limit them or builds the imbalance into the conflict.
There is also a related but standalone Vampire series called Winterset Coven that is a spin-offs of these spin-offs, It is just getting started but the first book's premise was intriguing and I just added the second book to my TBR.
Once I worked through all the spin-offs, standalone and interconnected and I was forced to seek out Joyce's previous series.
I first tried Joyce's Bear Valley Shifter series about a human woman on the run from the mob who unknowingly seeks sanctuary in secretive bear shifter community. I bailed after the first book, The Witness and The Bear. While there was some interesting characters, the series was cliffhangery, angsty and grittier than I wanted.
The Bears Fur Hire series, was closer to what I wanted, but much more serious that Damon Mountain books. The shifters in these books are more animal than the shifters in the Damon's Mountain's books. They are much more affected by the cycles of animal life and the necessity & dangers of bear hibernation is a major plot point series.
Husband for Hire, was as much about the challenges of Alaskan homesteading as it was about bear shifters and it was my favorite of this series. I really enjoyed Elyse's give-no-fucks attitude and Ian's desire to protect her and his frustration at not being able to. Elyse is the hero in the book. She has had a tough time, is only human, but just doesn't give up, protecting Ian when he can't even protect himself. I read and enjoyed the rest of the books in the series, featuring Ian's brothers and their friends, bears and wolves but I was annoyed at with the inter-connecting backstory that was at times both convoluted and confusing.
I was distracted by vague and shifting and changing mythology in the Hells Canyon Shifter series. These books featured a lot of conflict over how inappropriate and inconvenient mating bonds affected pack and inter-pack politics. I ended up reading them all but they were just okay and none of them was a particular favorite because the romances felt de-centered.
While these earlier series were not quite as charming, fun or cracky as the Damon's Mountain books they did help tame my raging bear shifter addiction. I am happy to say that I haven't read a bear shifter book in almost a month!