Historical Feed

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (Alastair-Audley 1)

Heyer_These_Old_ShadesThese Old Shades was delightful. I really didn’t know what to make of it when I first started reading.  I love foppish heroes that are deceptive, perspective and dangerous and it was clear from the first page Justin Alastair would be all three.

“He walked mincingly, for the red heels of his shoes were very high. A long purple cloak, rose-lines, hung from his shoulders and was allowed to fall carelessly back from his dress, revealing a full-skirted coat of purple satin, heavily laced with gold; a waistcoat of flowered silk; faultless small clothes; and a lavish sprinkling of jewels on his cravat and breast. A three-cornered hat, point-edged, was set upon his powdered wig and in his hand he carried a long beribboned cane.”

The book opens with Justin, the Duke of Avon buying a young man from his abusive older brother to turn him into his page.  The boy, Léon, is slavishly grateful, to the consternation of everyone but the Duke. The Duke of Avon is known to all as Satanas, He has a terrible reputation for heartlessness and selfishness.  In his youth he recklessly lost one fortune and won another and since then has cut a swath through polite society, careening from one scandal to another. He is untouchable, crowds part for him, and he floats through parties being coldly superior. He does have one good friend, Hugh Davenant, who is both kind and sober and hints that Justin is redeemable hero, but even he is concerned about what Justin might be up to with the boy.  

Of course, Léon does turns out to be Léonie. I am not actually a fan of most “girls in boys pants” books. Too often the books end up having homophobic or transphobic passages where the hero is discomfited by his increasing attraction to the young-man/heroine or angry at being mislead. However this is not just a girl-running-around-in boys-clothes-for-a-lark story.  Léonie has been living as as boy for all of her adolescence and is loathe to return to being a girl. Although she changes her clothes and grows out her hair, she never quite let go of her boyishness. And Avon never goes around objectifying her when she wears her trousers. Although she is much admired as Léon the page, it is accepted as a matter of course that one’s page should be decorative.  It is only Rupert, Avon’s clumsy and sometimes boorish brother that ever makes an overt comment about Léonie figure in her trousers. Img_4807

I did love how Léonie’s “boyish habits” are marked contrasts to Avon. Her impulsive physical responses, her blood-thirstiness contrast against Avon’s cold planning and reserve.  She is forever threatening people with guns or chasing them around with rapiers, while he defeats the villain not by physically overpowering him but by outmaneuvering him through insinuation and storytelling. Léonie is forever chasing or running and Avon is just there at the right time and place looking completely unruffled, his only weapon, his fan. He is masterful and powerful without the over-used masculine signifiers.

I was  amused and a bit surprised by the blatancy of the D/s dynamic in play in Justin and Léon’s interactions. Their is not merely a master-servant relationship as Heyer loves to contrast how Avon’s employee’s respond to him versus how Léon does. No other servant thirst for Avon’s approbation in the same way and he certainly does not pet them.  Maybe it is all the BDSM themed novels I read in the last few years talking, but I couldn’t unsee once I did.  

(Sidenote: Heyer does a fabulous job humanizing the servants both in their scenes below stairs and in their reactions to the many ridiculous tasks they are asked achieve and I particularly like the subtle ways Léon/Léonie interacts with them)

51iKLd8g-CL._AA300_I was worried early on that Heyer wouldn’t address the very real power-differential between them so I could accept Léonie’s ability to fully consent, since he had literally bought her but she managed to do while not abandoning their dynamic. Instead it morphs, Léonie becomes his ward, he informally adopts her and refers to her as his Infant. Thankfully she never calls him Daddy or Papa, Justin is always her “Monseigneur”.  Avon largely removes himself from Léonie’s life, sending her to stay in his country estate and  entrusting her to care of his sister and cousin. Under this arrangement Léonie grows in confidence, and tests out her assertiveness.  While she was Léon, the page,  Avon had already given her more leave to question and be contrary than he did with the rest of his employees, but as his ward, she test out her power against her new guardians, Avon’s sister Fanny, her poor duenna and Rupert.

14456161609Avon delights in spoiling Léonie, and letting her have her way, and she delights in provoking him into chastising her. His friends and family don’t fail to notice the dynamic is as much romantic as it is paternal and they debate whether the 20 year age gap in their ages is a pro or a con.  Avon persists in thinking of himself as unworthy of her because of those tarnished years till the end but for Léonie all younger men seem to be merely boys at play, when she only has eyes for him, her protector and provider.

I didn’t grow up re-reading dog-eared hand-me down copies of Heyer novels but I have really grown to love her wit and love for understatements to show the depth of emotion. The “Not entirely’, he said, and forgot to drawl.”  nearly killed me in that climatic scene, his cool demeanor collapsing as he tries convince Léonie she shouldn’t waste her love on him.

I also continue to be enchanted with her narrative voice as it is both indulgent & lightly sarcastic and her ability to creates a crowded yet vibrant cast of secondary characters. In this novel I particularly loved the little solo scenes she gives to the Marlings and Merivales. Their relationships are incredibly different than Léonie and Avon’s, but they are no less loving.  And best of all when I finished These Old Shades I had to immediately re-open Devil's cub and re-read that first chapter again, now that I know who all those people are.

INVITATION:

Every year in Aug Not-a-Book-Club (#notabc) reads a Heyer novel.  I was not a founding member of this book club but I crashed their discussion of Venetia that first year and they haven’t been able to get rid of me since. Our pick for this Aug is These Old Shades, if you have read this novel and want to discuss it please join us on Aug 20th (8PM EST) when we will discuss it on Twitter.


Beauty Like the Night by Joanna Bourne (The Spymaster Series)

51ed+EIhtsL Severine de Cabrillac is a "retired" spy, cultivating a reputation as untouchable spinster who uses her clandestine skills as private inquiry agent. Although surrounded by family and loyal retainers she is haunted by the dark choices she made in the service of Military Intelligence during the wars in Spain.

Like Severine, Raoul Deverney bears the scars of his years in Spain and the consequences of the risky and youthful choices he made there during the wars. He needs Severine's help to find his late wife's child, Pilar, missing since her mother's murder. However he does not approach Severine as a client would instead confronting her in the dark of her bedroom, because he knows exactly how dangerous she is, she nearly cost him his life in a incident she claims to not remember.

Severine becomes intrigued by the case, determined to find Sanchia's killer and the missing child but she is also frustratingly captivated by the mysterious Raoul. Their courtship is all biting mistrustful flirtations, and unspoken feelings. They spar and get more and more entangled in each other as they grudgingly work to unravel why his estranged wife was killed and why Pilar would carve Severine's name before disappearing. 

"She used  light words that didn't say what she was thinking. He was doing the same. They leaned on each other and everything important between them went unsaid."

Raoul like her Papa Doyle and her brother-in-law Adrian Hawkhurst, respects her skills and talents. He is dangerous and skilled himself and able to taunt her in ways few others can, but he recognizes and values her sharp mind and the connections she can make and never attempts to diminish her. 

"One did not, he suspected, write poems to Severine's eyebrows. One slew dragons for her, or stood slightly to the left, holding her spare lance and buckler, while she did they slaying."

I adore the slightly off-kilter dynamics of the Bourne's families. Although Severine has been cultivating a deliberately "sensible, useful, careful life" since her return from Spain, and her family knows that everything is far from right with her. they trust her to heal and give the time to do so. They all  know she is made for more and they trust that she will want to live fully again someday.  So while Doyle and Hawker might want to shelter, protect her and even fuss over her they know better than to try. They just love her in wordless but powerful ways.

"At least she's armed,"
"A cogent summation of the women of my family."

I loved Pilar, yet another in a long line of children who find unlikely refuge and champions in these novels.  So many people hate children in romance novels but Bourne excels at creating sharply-smart vulnerable children surviving in dangerous situations. Severine was such a child before Doyle and Marguerite made room for her in their family.  Bourne never forgets that however remarkable they are, they are children.

Spymaster Series by Joanna Bourne is one of romance's modern classics and one of my all-time favorite series. The series is beautifully written, darkly suspenseful and incredibly romantic, and this highly anticipated installment does not disappoint.   

While Bourne's novels benefit from re-reading, you don't need to re-read or even read any of  the previous novels in order to love Sevie and Raoul's story. Everything you need to follow their courtship and become fascinated with the mystery of Pilar's disappearance and the missing Deverney locket is in this novel.  But I guarantee that you will want to find all the previous novels when you are done, especially Doyle, Hawker and Pax's stories. I suggest when you do go looking, you start with The Forbidden Rose, which I consider the narrative heart of the series.

 

I received an ARC for review consideration from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley.

Expected date of Publication is Aug 1, 2017 and it will be available at all the usual places in audio, print and ebook.

 


Sight Unseen: A Collection of Five Anonymous Novellas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mini-RT Book Review Round up: Danced Close by Annabeth Albert & KJ Charles's An Unnatural Vice

My reviews for Danced Close by Annabeth Albert and KJ Charles's An Unnatural Vice are now available for everyone to read: 

Danced CloseDanced Close:

Albert’s Portland Heat series continues to charm. Albert’s balances the excitement of  infatuation and romantic discovery with the tension and uncertainty of a new not-quite-defined relationship to craft a story that is both romantic and nearly-heartbreaking. Todd and Kendall are fascinating and frustrating as they struggle to define their feelings and reach beyond their self-imposed boundaries. ...for more go to RT BookReviews

51EKw4JefHLAn Unnatural Vice:

The fierce and frantic enemies-to-lovers romance in K.J. Charles second Sins of the Cities novel was a surprising contrast to the first book’s gentle friends-to-lovers story. Animosity and attraction surge in equal measures when Nathaniel Roy, investigative journalist, faces off against Justin Lazarus, the Seer of London. Their opposing vocations and radically different backgrounds create a powerful and fascinating conflict. Although An Unnatural Vice can be read as a stand-alone, Charles continues to build tension and add menace by deepening the overarching mystery introduced in the first novel. The series is building to a fire-cracker conclusion. ...for more go to RT BookReviews.


#RomBkLove Day 11: Historical Romance

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Phaetons & Petticoats; Wallpaper or Detailed? Who, what, when, where?

When I first really dove into reading romance I did it by binge reading Julia Quinn, Mary Balogh, Stephanie Laurens, Christina Dodd, Amanda Quick and Lisa Kleypas, whose English Regency and Victorian-set romances, were immediately accessible to me as reader of Austen & Bronte and avid watcher of many British-set costume dramas. As I read these I accumulated little tidbits of shared world-building, from Brummell's fashion-setting ways to the vagaries of the English postal system.  These tidbits might or might not have been historically accurate but they read as if they were and thus they informed how I read the next book and the one after that.  Eventually I had read one too many and I needed a break and I fled into contemporaries.

But I kept trying, for a year I challenged myself to at least read one Historical Romance a month, which led me to finally break out of my Regency rut and read something set in another time and place and not featuring aristocrats. It  helped me realize that I wasn't done with Historical Romance but instead need to read new voices.  

Now my historical reading is more varied. I read in many more eras and about different kinds of people. I fell for Jeannie Lin's Chinese Tang dynasty-set romances & Courtney Milan's feminist vision. I found that I could love westerns  like Victoria Dahl, Edie Harris, Beverly Jenkins,  and Molly O'Keefe's if they didn't gloss over ugly parts of our expansionist history. Alyssa Cole interracial historical romances span eras from the Civil rights period to Medieval (Agnes Moor's Wild Knight) and they just get better and better. I am currently reading her most recent, An Extraordinary Union, set during the Civil War and I highly recommend it.  Piper Hugley Reconstruction-era romances, wrestle with faith and hope in unsettled times, and Emma Barry & Genevieve Turner's Space-Race set romances are fascinating and fun read in a little explored era.   Other new favorites include K.J. Charles & Cat Sebastian, whose queer stories, are beautifully written and rich in historical detail; Elizabeth Kingston's  Medievals are full of political intrigue and genuine emotion, Erin Satie's heroines are flinty and ambitious, and Rose Lerner & Joanna Bourne  continually prove that you can still tell fresh-stories in familiar settings, when you focus on people outside the Ton and the Regency is no exception. And when I do feel like reading  about Lords and Ladies, it is Tessa Dare I turn to because it has to be fun and just a little meta.

If you haven't yet tried some of these authors, please give them a try!

 

 


#RomBkLove Day 1: Gateway Romance

 

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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.


#RomBkLove Prompts

I am so incredibly thankful to everyone who provided feedback, prompt suggestions and encouragement.  I look forward to a great month of romance-related conversations. Feel free to respond to these prompts however you want starting on May 1st. It can be a tweet, a blog post, an IG post, just add the #RomBkLove hashtag.   You can also comment with a link to your blog and I will post a round-up of everyone participating during the first week. I just want to hear from you and fill my timeline with romance-related chatter!

#RomBkLove (3)

The Prompts:

1: Gateway Romance
2: Tropes, Tropes, Tropes
3: Meet Cute 
4: Secondary Characters
5: Romantic Elements
6: Groveling
7: Diverse Romance
8: Heroes & Heroines
9: Category Romance
10: Pets
11: Historical
12: Most Read or Reread
13: Contemporaries
14: Covers
15: Bicker and Banter
16: Dark Moment
17: Dukes, Dukes, Dukes
18: Not a Duke in sight
19: Romantic Suspense
20: Unforgettable Line
21: Auto-buy
22: Adaptation
23: Romancelandia
24: All in a day's work
25: Series Love
26: PNR, SFR, Fantasy
27: Romance Icons
28: Novellas/Shorts
29: Friendships
30: Old School/Classics
31: HEAs

 


Indiscreet by Mary Balogh (Horsemen Trilogy Book 1)

51doIQDN7mL._SY346_Mary Balogh's Indiscreet  (1st book in the Horsemen Trilogy) was reissued last fall and I bought it last month when it went on sale ($2.99)

Balogh  was one of the first romance novelists I encountered when I started raiding my library's ebook collection in 2011.  Although I usually enjoy her novels, I found myself distressed about a quarter of the way into Indiscreet:

Indiscreet is the story of Catherine Winters and Rex Adams.  Catherine is a widow living  a quiet life in a small village.  Catherine lives alone in a small cozy cottage, has a playful dog and a peaceful routine of piano lessons and visiting shut-ins. Although no one in town knows much about Catherine's past, she has up to now given everyone little cause to speculate.

Rex disturbs all that. Rex has come with his friends to visit his twin brother Claude, resident of the grand manor home in the area. He is resigned to enduring two weeks of his sister-in-law's matchmaking efforts in order to enjoy some quality time with his brother and sister.  But as they parade through town his catches on the young widow when he receives Catherine's misdirected curtsy and smile (she thinks she is greeting Claude), and he sees in it invitation and flirtation. Seeing an opportunity for a convenient liason with the local widow, Rex eagerly pursues her.  Catherine is confused, mortified, offended and to her consternation a little turned on by  Rex attentions.

Catherine is lonely, and struggling with her aloneness in ways she hasn't had to struggle for the five years since she moved to the little village. She had thought those feelings and desires would no longer trouble her and even though she dislikes Rex's presumptions and assumptions she finds herself enjoying his kisses.  But in the end, she has too much to lose and he has too little respect for her and her concerns.

But it is too late, Rex in his self-centered pursuit, has taken too little care with guarding Catherine's reputation, and rebuffs his sister-in-law's efforts at matchmaking (she is set on pairing him with her younger sister) with little grace.  He fails to realize till much to late what kind of target he has placed on Catherine. 

I very much hated him at this point in the novel. His frustrated and hurtful words whenever she rejects him, are sharp and prick her more deeply than he knows because he knows nothing of her history.  At that point in the novel, I wasn't quite sure I could go on.  I just wasn't sure how he could grow enough, or do enough to make me have like him. My usual trick of jumping to the back of them book wasn't very effective and I was about to abandon it, despite adoring Catherine, because she is just the kind of heroine I adore. Prickly, wounded, but full of pride and determination and  above all fiercely independent.   Thankfully Janine Ballard happened to be on twitter right then. She is a huge fan of this book and she insisted that Balogh would address all the things that made me upset. The slut-shaming, the privilege and the callousness would all matter.   Thus encouraged I persevered.

 I have to agree with Janine. It was effective and powerful. Catherine's fall in the eyes of the community was sharp, painful and so believably rendered. But I am so thankful for Balogh's inclusion of Miss Downess, the late rector's spinster daughter, who reaches out to Catherine when no else does. Who risks her own reputation to show kindness and love to her.  That was such a magnificent grace note, that balanced the extreme viciousness of Mrs. Adams's behavior. Daphne and Clay's compassion was also genuine and necessary.

Clarissa and Claude Adams were an incredibly fascinating secondary characters.  Claude and Rex are twins, who used to be close and still share an emotional bond but have vastly different lives.  Claude married and settled down young. He has two children and doting wife. He is content.  Rex might have the title, and its vast inheritance but he has what Rex once though he wanted.   Another writer might have drawn Clarissa without any redeeming features, but in Balogh's hand she is dangerously petty, blind in her privilege and position and extremely vicious, but she is also a loving wife.  Her despair as she realizes how deeply she has disappointed Claude and how her behavior might cause lasting harm to her marriage was real. 

"They had discovered something new about each other during the past few weeks. He had discovered that in addition to the selfishness and arrogance that he had been able to tolerate with some humor down the years, she could occasionally be vicious. She had discovered that despite his kindness and indulgent nature, he could sometimes be implacable and unforgiving. It was not a happily-ever-after in which they lived." From Chapter 15

Clarissa like Rex will come to know real regret and remorse. While Clarissa and Claude encounter this threat to their marriage 10 years in,  Rex and Catherine face it at the start.  Can they come to love, respect and treasure each other when all they have tying them together is duty & guilt?

Balogh goes all in on guilt.  Catherine does not magically become less reticent and Rex is not magically less pushy. They grate on each other, they misunderstand each other, and above all they don't trust each other for a great deal of the novel.  Yet, a delicate relationship starts to develop and somewhere along the way their desire to make it work overcomes their desire for self-preservation.

 Rex's guilt and remorse are not a debilitating thing but a trans-formative force.  He seeks to restore to Catherine what has been taken from her, not just by himself but by others long before.  At one point in my conversation with Janine, I quipped that he better make her damn happy and in the end they are happy but not because he made her so. Instead he sets in motion actions that remind her of the the fire and life she used to want, the person she used to be and she is the one who stops being passive, and defeated.  The fact that she doesn't have to do this once but several times, it part of what makes Balogh a master. Nothing was simple or straight forward. Their victories are precarious and fragile things, their love is a fragile thing.  I could have smacked Rex again in that last chapter for putting Catherine through what he did but it was out of desire to set things right, instead of selfishness.

It was particularly interesting to read this novel on Easter. The beats of loss, sacrifice, despair, resurrection and restoration were very familiar and part of what keeps me reading romance.


RWA RITA Review Round-up 2017

I love the RITA finalist day on twitter. It is so fun to see author reacting to getting their calls or eagerly congratulating others. I know it must be hard to send your book out and not get that call but the overwhelming responses seem to be celebration and discovery.

Romance is a huge genre with many niches and it never more evident than when I sit and read through the list and see how many books I haven't even heard of and I read a lot of books and pay way more attention than I should to what is published.  

On this year'a list: RWA RITA 2017 Finalists, there are 83 books, I have read 5 all in different categories.  I have own several more but just haven't gotten to them yet.

Pansies-alexis-hallThe Breakdown by category:

Best First Book: 0/6

I haven't read a single one. =(

Contemporary Romance: Long: 0/7

I do have Alexis Hall's "Pansies" in my gigantic TBR.

Contemporary Romance: Mid-Length: 1/10

30415154I adored "Fast Connection" by Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell. I reviewed it along with "Strong Signal", the first book in that CyberLove series in July.

In this category I plan on tracking down Virginia Kantra and Roni Loren's books. I have enjoyed Kantra's books in the past and I saw a lot of love for Loren's books on twitter from readers I trust.

Contemporary Romance: Short: 0/10 

I have Lorelie Brown's "Far from Home" on my TBR. I bought it after reading Jazz Baby (her m/f 1920's set historical).  I love the fake relationship trope so a f/f green-card romance should be right up my alley.

Erotic Romance: 0/5

30306869There was a time where I read a lot of ERom, but I have not read any of these.

Historical Romance: Long: 0/4

Loretta Chase is hit or miss with me. I have to be in just the right mood, so I didn't pick up this one. Maybe I should have.

Historical Romance: Short: 1/6

I am saving the Tessa Dare entry, "Do You Want to Start a Scandal"  for my next reading slump. The Castles Ever After series has been tons of fun. (It is currently on sale for $1.99, so this is a good time to snap it up).

26804433I did read and enjoy "Duke of Sin" by Elizabeth Hoyt. I loved how Hoyt didn't attempt to reform Val as much as redirect him. He is terrible person with very little empathy, but he does truly fall for Bridget and she loves and understands him, without condoning his past bad actions.  There were a couple of thing I didn't love in this book. The one POC character, a young Turkish boy's poor understanding of English is played for laughs, and  he adores Val as his white savior (Val rescued him from a terrible situation). That whole storyline was hugely uncomfortable.  I was also disappointed that Hoyt teased us with rumors that  VaI might be bisexual, and then back away.  I didn't ever review it, but talked about it plenty on twitter. I also exchanged enough DMs about it with Elisabeth Lane that she can spot me talking about it without context.

Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance: 0/4

I am sort of surprised I have nothing in this category, since I really enjoy books in other genres that have strong romantic elements.

32177538Paranormal Romance: 1/8

I read the "Leopard King" by Ann Aguirre but I didn't review it because it I didn't get it as an ARC and I didn't love it and I hard time figuring out why. There was a lot of cool things happening in this book, very interesting world building but romance didn't really work for me. It has a lot of tropes I usually enjoy,  widower falling in love again, fake relationships, and political intrigue but I didn't like how much guilt played into both their feelings and the whole storyline with her ex's jealousy after stringing her along for years because she couldn't shift and she still struggled with having hurt him was infuriating.  I am curious to read more in this world however.

Romance Novella: 1/7

51uCFej9HCLI adore Alyssa Cole and this novella "Let us Dream" appeared in "Daughters of a Nation" a great anthology that reunited her with Kianna Alexander, Piper Huguley and Lena Heart, whose previous anthology, "The Brightest Day" was also fantastic.  It pairs a black cabaret owner in Harlem and dedicated suffragette and Muslim Indian immigrant chef.  Politics, social action and a love fused into a delicious romance.

In this category I also have "Her Every Wish" by Courtney Milan deep into my TBR.  I'm not sure why I didn't read it when I bought it, but I am going to simply thank my past-self for buying it.

Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements: 0/4

I haven't read a single one these, or much of any that would fall under this category.

51fUMIX+7GL._SY346_Romantic Suspense: 1/8

"Mr. & Mr. Smith" by HelenKay Dimon is part of her m/m Tough Love series and I've enjoyed reading reading that series a ton. Great action, conflict and romance.

Young Adult Romance 0/4

 None here either!

Best of luck to all the RITA and Golden Heart Finalists. May many readers find your books, this year and in the future.

 

 

 


Reading Discoveries of 2016

2016 has been a hard year for a lot of people.  For my family it was a year of transitions, and although we’ve come out on the other side of those changes happier and healthier, there were many points in this past year where I’ve depended on books to provide comfort and light into my life when things were particularly hard.  I re-read a lot of old favorites this year or turned to reliable authors who were already known to me when I felt the most emotionally fragile.

However one of my greatest joys as reader is when I discover someone new-to-me and learn they have a backlist full of books for me to enjoy. Instead of doing a traditional best-of list or favorite-books-of-the-year list I thought I would share a list of authors who I discovered this year and whose books brought me joy.  Many of these authors are not debut novelists, some in fact are legends in the genre, but were simply new-to-me. I hope you to find someone to discover.

6a00e54ee394bf883301bb08ce8050970d-320wiN.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season completely rocked my world this year. A sprawling time-hoping science-fiction saga about a woman whose world is literally shaken apart. The story’s focus is on her determination to find and rescue her daughter amid the chaos. Jemisin's world building is masterful and the careful development of all the different relationships and  small choices that led to that cataclysm was completely engrossing. I loved the second book, Obelisk Gate was just as much. I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy.  Jemisin’s draws a complex world with People of Color at the center of the narrative, and where race, class and gender issues all intersect with incredible skill.  If you only read one book of my list this year, read this one but I should warn you that while there are incredible romantic conflicts in this story, it is not a genre romance, HEAs are not guaranteed in any way.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d2065795970c-320wiSantino Hassell and Megan Erickson’s Cyberlove collaboration left me squeeing uncontrollably on twitter for days. Emotional, smart, funny, diverse and and scorching hot, these LGBT romances just made me happy. The main characters are quirky, gruff and flawed and incredibly compelling.  After reading  Strong Signal and Fast Connection, I ran out and bought books off both of their backlists and I continue to be impressed by the quality of their work. Both Hassell and Erickson have sky-rocketed to the top of my must-buy-list.

Mrfine_250 (1)HelenKay Dimon is a romantic suspense legend, but because I generally avoid books with buff Navy SEALs on the covers and if I am honest most romantic suspense, I had never read one of her novels till this year. I tried several, including some of her older M/F rom suspense novels but the series that made me a fan is her new M/M romance series from Loveswept, Tough Love, featuring deadly dangerous men secretly saving the world.  The team dynamics are fantastic and the supporting casts full and entertaining.  The romances were full of competence porn featuring witty bickering couples great at their jobs but terrible at feelings.

51dpBCJ-FoL._SX308_BO1204203200_To my eternal shame I hadn’t read any of  Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances until this year. I knew of her, met her at RWA and read books by her literary daughters but I had not actually read one of her books.  I read Forbidden with the #notabc, (not-a-book-club) twitter reading group. I was awed by the richness of Ms. Jenkins books, and how she seamlessly layers historical and cultural details while crafting beautiful romantic HEAs for black men and women. If like me you find yourself primarily reading a very narrow slice of historical romance (for example: white m/f regency roms) I urge you to read Ms. Jenkins and see what you have been missing and then check out Piper Hugely, Kianna Alexander, Lena Hart & Alyssa Cole for more awesome historical romance.

D1VuYrvJItS._SL250_FMpng_I started out the year reading one of Melissa Blue’s contemporary romances, "Under His Kilt"  and ended it reading her Dakota Gray erotic romance, Perv about man with a fetish for oral sex and the woman determined to teach him a lesson for the callous way he treated her best-friend. Whether she is writing as Melissa Blue or Dakota Gray her books were a ton of fun, very sexy with strong believable conflicts. I’ve already pre-ordered the next book in her Filth series out at the end of January, Hardcore on the strength of Perv.

I can’t fail to talk about the Kindle Unlimted authors, Anna Carven, Ruby Dixon, TS Joyce  & Suzanne Wright that caught my attention this year, since I spent a great part of this year binging on their books. This summer I treated myself to Kindle Unlimited subscription and gave myself permission to declare ARC backlog bankruptcy and read for fun without the pressure to review. It was glorious and just what I needed.

Because of the economics of KU, I was more willing to try books with weird covers, crazier concepts and indulge in a trope-heavy erotic romances that just made me giggle at first and later surprised me with the quality of their worldbuilding. These books are certainly a cut above the average KU book, but I probably wouldn't have read them all had I been buying the books individually and not accessing them via KU. If you have a powerful need for some hot SFR and paranomal romaances and already have a KU subscription check these out:

 

D1CDcs++wZS._SL250_FMpng_Ann Carven’s Dark Planet Warriors series is suspenseful and action packed. A space station is taken-over by seemingly hostile group of super-powerful aliens, but the real threat are the giant cockroach-like creatures they are chasing. Complex imperial politics, interplanetary diplomacy and a clash of 6a00e54ee394bf883301bb091bada8970d-120wicivilizations is the backdrop in these romances.  The stories are far from perfect but I wasn’t bored reading them.  


Ruby Dixon
’s Ice Planet Barbarians with their big blue hunter-gatherer aliens has grown into expansive family drama, as much about community dynamics as it is about people learning how to love across cultural and language barriers and surviving in a brutal environment with few resources.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b7c896be48970b-320wiTS Joyce’s Lumberjack shifters are funny and trope-heavy, but I got attached to  kooky trailer-park inhabiting shifters because of the multi-generational community full of strong friendships Joyce develops.

Suzanne Wright’s books are the most traditional of this quartet, featuring wolf shifters trying to balance B1qu-MZLx7S._SL250_FMpng_ pack politics with forbidden or inconvenient attraction. The Phoenix and Mercury Pack series are solidly entertaining.