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Love in Panels review of Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole

Duke by Default  beautiful black woman in a colorful dress in the arms of a silver fox man in a grey shirt and black pantsToday I am over at Love in Panels with my review of Duke by Default, the second book in Alyssa Cole's delightful Reluctant Royal's series.  Stop over there to read it!

 

The Hot-mess Heiress and the Sexy Swordbae

Cole continues to please with her second Reluctant Royals series book, A Duke by Default, blending sexiness and emotionally affirming themes with challenging character arcs. 

Portia’s new internship, the one that she has pinned so many of her hopes and dreams on, gets off to the rockiest of starts. Misunderstandings pile upon miscommunications and leave both Portia and her new boss, Tavish, a master sword maker, with the worst of first impressions and a face full of pepper spray. But Portia is determined to make it work, even when Tavish turns out to be as stubborn and frustrating as he is attractive.

Portia was Ledi’s troubled and difficult best-friend in Cole’s A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1). In A Duke by Default, Portia is determined to remake herself. A Jill of all trades, a nomad and a perpetual student, she has dealt with her feelings of insecurity and her fraught relationship with her parents through avoidance and problem drinking. She only starts to forgive herself and start making progress on her “Project Portia”, when her sister sends a her a link to a video about living with ADHD.

Pulled in too many directions and struggling to keep his armory afloat, Tavish is desperate enough to let himself be talked into accepting an apprentice he doesn’t want but he isn’t at all gracious about it. The grumpy wanker is suspicious of change, skeptical of Portia’s methods and hesitant to trust her. He is frankly a terrible boss. However he is determined to keep his commitments to his community so he is eventually persuaded to listen to Portia. However trusting Portia to manage his web presence is one thing, believing the surprising secret she uncovers about his family is something completely different.

Cole takes Portia and Tavish, who are at times both hard to love and have a hard time accepting love on parallel but distinct personal journeys where they have to reexamine the default ways they react to other people and reevaluate what they have come to think about themselves when confronted with life-changing truths that upend everything they thought they knew. I love difficult heroines, so I warmed up to Portia right away, but it took me a long time to warm up to Tavish. I did love, however, how he changes how he speaks to her, once he realizes how Portia is much more vulnerable and easily hurt than she lets on.

World-building is a underappreciated component in contemporary romance and Cole excels at it. She grounds her fantastical premises (the African prince in your spam folder is an actual prince, and you are the secret heir to a dukedom) by crafting a world that looks and feels modern and familiar. Cole uses little things such as how her characters use or avoid social media to the way she describes Tavish’s working class neighborhood, a mix of long-time residents, recent immigrants & affluent gentrifiers uneasily co-existing to build up a sense of place and currentness.

The only fault I found with the story was how quickly things turned for Tavish and Portia in the last quarter of the book. It jarred me so much that they only way I could move forward was to jump to the end and read backwards before I could go back read to their reconciliation. It was sweet, fairytale-like, yet it doesn’t erase the challenges they will face making a life together.

For fans of the previous book, Ledi and Thabiso make several appearances in the book as do other secondary characters from A Princess in Theory, but the book stands alone easily. I wholeheartedly recommend it!


Ocean Light by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling Trinity #2)

Yellow backlight cover of NaliniSingh's Ocean Light a man and a woman in profile  superimposed on the skyline of venice_Ocean Light is the second book in Nalini Singh's second Pys-Changeling series, Psy-Changeling Trinity.  While Silver Silence was successful in becoming an accessible new entry point for readers intimidated by the expansive original Psy-Changeling series, Ocean Light is a much more demanding book.  This book deepens the new series central mystery, expanding the players, establishing new relationships and continuing to grow the world, while at same time having to find way to catch new readers up on Bowen Knight's backstory. I am curious to see how successful this was for new readers. As an established reader, I was well acquainted with Bowen Knight, who has been a long-running secondary  POV characters in the Psy-Changeling series. I felt we got to see a whole new side of him as he falls in love with Kaia, especially learning new information about what has driven him to be so passionate about seeking a way to protect Humans from unscrupulous and predatory Psy via technological interventions.

As a romance, I loved how play played a huge part of Kaia and Bowen's courtship. While Kaia starts out deeply suspicious and wary of Bowen, just like the rest of BlackSea, she gets to know him better challenging and teasing him. His natural curiosity pushes him to try to figure out Kaia and make sense of her relationships with other BlackSea packmates.

I loved meeting the BlackSea changelings, and comparing and contrasting their way of behaving as pack and how it differs from the SnowDancer and DarkRiver (both more communal and more individualistic) and exploring the ways the Human Alliance has grown into its own kind of pack under Bowen's leadership.

Once aspect of the story that I am going to have to sit with a bit longer and tease out my feelings about was the way Kaia's long-term anxiety issues was used narratively. While I loved that her anxiety issues were not easy to resolve and were not simply something she could will or power away for the sake of love, I wasn't entirely comfortable about how contained and specific it was.  I wish her struggles with Anxiety had been introduced less obliquely earlier in the novel rather than packed into an already frenetic second-half as an unexpected obstacle to their HEA.

As a long-time fan of Nalini Singh's Psy-changeling series -- I've been reading her books for as long as I have been reading romance -- I love that we are exploring parts of the Psy-Changeling world that had not been previously explored, and that she continues to correct the erasure of queer identities in her previous books by making little mentions here and there.  I really liked the casual way Kaia's mom explicitly acknowledges and accepts that Kaia could fall for a boy or a girl, as she whispers a loving warning to her baby about her family's predisposition for falling hard and fast in love. These little mentions are small steps, but they make feel more welcomed in the world that I've read for so long and it affirms that the changes she made in Silver Silence were not one offs.

 

 

I received a ARC for review consideration from the Publisher via NetGalley.


Shadow of Doubt by Linda Poitevin

44. Shadow of Doubt by Linda Poitvien. (ARC, 5/10) RomSuspense. Started out promising but too much of the emotional conflict was the MCs arguing if it was too risky for the RCMP heroine to keep helping the framed DEA agent hero on the run. #ttr #bkbrk https://t.co/0rfLpBBgLs

— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) June 3, 2018

 

51BEYqNiYELI really loved the start of this book. A RCMP officer find a bullet-ridden man on a rain-soaked back road on a stormy night and is forced to bring him home.  Kate Dexter is all business, practical, wary and very very suspicious. She doesn't have time to ogle the handsome and extremely well built victim.  She worries about how dangerous it makes him.

Poitevin captured the extreme tension within Kate as she tries to decide how to respond to situation. Her instincts are at war with the police procedures and every minute she hesitate the bigger the cost to her career.   Poitevin carries that tension over  to the intense action and suspense scenes.  

However while the action kept Jonas Burke, a framed ATF agent on the run, and Kate ricocheting around Ontario and the Northeast United States,  the romance stalled.  I was frustrated by the repetitive nature of Kate and Jonas arguments.  While Poitevin eventually gives us the backstory as to why Jonas is so fiercely and stubbornly independent, I was too bored with Jonas continued insentience that Kate stop helping him, and his doubts about her abilities even though she consistently proved herself extremely capable.  Jonas's realization of the errors of his ways came much too late for me and while the epilogue was sweet and perfect, I still think Kate should have smacked him and walked away, because she endured too much from Jonas as he tried to push her away. I thought Kate should have hooked up with her ex or her fabulously supportive partner instead.

Shadow of Doubt had a fantastic heroine, gripping action and a frustrating lug of a hero, who tried to pushed away the best partner he could have ever hope to have found.

 

I received a ARC from the author for review consideration.

 

 


A Scandal in Scandinavia by Kelly Maher

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

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

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

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

 

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


Best of 2017 Part 3: Best SF and Fantasy Romances

51N3CgGOTQL._SY346_ For the #readRchatawards I submitted a single nominee in the SF romance category and that was Ashwin by Kit Rocha. Kit Rocha books have a special place in my heart, their themes and recurring motifs are exactly my catnip & Eden and the Districts one of my favorite places that I would never want to live in.

If I had taken advantage of 3 books per category rule, I could filled by ballot with only Kit Rocha books, since their other 2 releases this year, Deacon and Beyond Forever were also fantastic. Kit Rocha's books are my very short list of "books I will drop everything for".  

The new Gideon's Riders series, continues to explore Kit Rocha's favorite themes of chosen families, of self-exploration and recognizing and accepting love. I reviewed Ashwin back in March when it came out.   Spoiler alert, I loved it and I recommend it to anyone who hasn't tried Kit Rocha books before and doesn't want to invest in reading their fantastic backlist. 

Ashwin is about a engineered super-soldier who has grown so emotionally unstable his handlers fear him. He has never felt fully human, but a weapon. The one person that makes sense in his life is Kora.  But Kora doesn't make sense to herself, her past a jumble of secrets and lies. Together they find the courage to untangling the secrets of their pasts and finding security and understanding in a person most should and do fear.

 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).

                                                        -My review of Ashwin in March

 

6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d2bdd1b5970c-320wiI didn't read a lot of Fantasy Romances published this year, instead I've been binge reading a lot of Ilona Andrews Urban Fantasy series, the Inn Keeper Chronicles and the Edge series and trying out some of Jeffe Kennedy's Twelve Kingdoms books. I read a lot of books that straddled the fuzzy line between fantasy and PNR, books  like Spectred Isle and Etched in Bone. However Stephanie Burgis's Snowspelled was undeniably fantasy and undeniably delightful.

It is about Cassandra, who spent her life fighting her society's prejudice against women casting spells, eventually becoming one of the most promising magicians of her age, only run into a the sharpest of glass ceilings.  

 Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, Cassandra tries a risky spell that robs her of ability to cast spells, and four months later she still struggles to go through the motions of daily life. When her beloved but matchmaking sister-in-law has commits them to attend house party where her ex-fiance will also be attending, Cassandra is resigned and determined not to let anyone see her pain, least of all the fiance she intentionally drove away. But her personal discomforts soon fall in priority when she gets caught up in a tricky Elven plot. Politics, diplomacy and detection are three things Cassandra has never had bother with before, but she is determined to solve the mystery she stumbled upon.

                                                            -My review from last month.

 

My favorite part of this book is Cassandra's trajectory from someone who saw herself as "not-like-other-girls" to someone who recognizes and values other women and their work and starts to rebuild her life in a way to honors both her talents and passion for Magic with a better understanding of what is at stake for everyone. She find a new vocation, a new mission and a new respect for the obstacles and ambitions of others.  It is a story we need to see more in Fantasy.

 


Best of 2017 Part 2: Best Historical Romance and Paranormal Romance

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When I dove into romance I binged on Historical Romance to the point I burnt out. I had to challenge myself to read Historical Romance. Eventually I discovered that I needed to start reading outside Regency-wallpaper romances to rekindle my love for the sub-genre.  The last couple of years have been particularly rich in fantastic historical romance that goes beyond ballrooms and dukes. 

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.

 Next up:  Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Romance!


Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

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Cassandra Harwood fought her whole life for the chance to study magic at the Great Library.  She excelled at Magic despite long-standing tradition reserving its practice to men. But despite admittance to the Great Library and although she might have been the most talented magician of her age, she was still a woman and no one wanted to hire a Lady Magician. Everyone in Anglasia knows a woman's place is in Boudicate, governing the nation, not casting spells. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, Cassandra tries a risky spell that robs her of ability to cast spells, and four months later she still struggles to go through the motions of daily life. When her beloved but matchmaking sister-in-law has commits them to attend house party where her ex-fiance will also be attending, Cassandra is resigned and determined not to let anyone see her pain, least of all the fiance she intentionally drove away. But her personal discomforts soon fall in priority when she gets caught up in a tricky Elven plot. Politics, diplomacy and detection are three things Cassandra has never had bother with before, but she is determined to solve the mystery she stumbled upon.


A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Recently Audible had one of their not-too-infrequent sales, for which I am always a sucker.  As I browsed the Fantasy section I stumbled upon this series.  I remembered quite a lot of buzz for it among the fantasy and Lit-Fic crowd when the first book came out and I was curious. A fair number of my twitter book friends had read it and many recommended it with the caveat that it had pacing problems.

A Discovery of Witches is about ambitious and determined academic, Diana Bishop who had forsaken her family's magical heritage to devote herself to the study of history, particularly the birth of scientific thought. She is in Oxford researching Alchemical texts tracing when Chemistry and Alchemy branched off from each other, when she calls up a book long thought lost. Her interactions with the book act like a catalyst, sparking a chain reaction of events that dramatically turn her world upside down and catch the attention of a whole cohort of dangerous creatures.

One such dangerous creature is Matthew Claremont, ostensibly a brilliant but reclusive scientist, who is fact a extremely old and powerful vampire, who has been chasing the secrets hidden in the book  Diana inadvertently opens.  But Matthew quickly becomes fascinated with the curiously un-witchy witch. 

This book was in equal parts fascinating and frustrating. There were a lot of ideas and characters that I adored but the pacing and storytelling left me unsettled and dissatisfied. I love books with a great sense of place and setting, and on that front Harkness over-delivers. Whether she is describing the Bodelian's reserve reading rooms, a grand fortress in the French countryside or ghost-haunted house in Upstate New York,  it is described in intricate detail. I am not a very visual reader but I am sure I could sketch out each of these locations with a great deal of accuracy after reading the book.  This would not be a con for me, if not for the number of times where I had to re-read or re-listen to a brief pivotal scene buried at the end of one these extensively descriptive chapters. Maybe were are supposed to feel as bewildered as the hyper-observant Diana feels but mostly it left me feeling impatient.

I loved a ton of the secondary characters, who were vibrant and distinctive. I loved Matthew's weary, resentful vampires family initially bristling with hostility, and his daemon best-friend, Hamish who is pushy and patient, tolerant and judgy.  I also loved Diana's beloved aunts, Sarah and Em, who are prickly, suspicious, loyal and devoted to each other.  I also liked the revelations in the second half that make Diana radically alter her relationship with her magic.  I especially loved that it did not become as I initially feared, Matthew doling out wisdom and insights about her powers, instead he is often more wary and perplexed by them than she is.

There were however many elements about her relationship with Matthew that were uncomfortable. At one point I started highlighting every time, Diana took responsibility for something that triggered, unbalanced or affected Matthew. She is hyper-aware of being his prey and as result, is constantly monitoring his mood, and his reactions.  It is a survival instinct of course, but it is one that should put a greater strain on their relationship than it does. 

I was also repulsed by the deeply patriarchal vampire culture, which condones and affirms Matthew's desire to control and command.  While the story pays lip-service to how assertive, willful and independent Diana, she is incrementally cedes more and more control to Matthew even as she grows into more of her power.  

I read a lot of book with caring protective alpha-male heroes, but this was just too much for me to like Matthew for Diana. I feel like his love is suffocating rather than nurturing. I wish I was reading about Diana's parents, whose relationship seems vastly more balanced.  I am not sure I would be planning on reading the second book if didn't already own it.


Romance Novel Meetup 2017 #MTLRom

A week ago I was walking around Montreal with a band of romance readers and writers. Stopping to shop and eat while discussing our favorite romance novels, twitter culture and just generally enjoying each other's company. I am still a bit amazed it actually came together.

Last August my husband and I took a trip to Quebec. Our kids were away at camp so we had an opportunity to travel on our own.  As soon as my husband suggested Montreal I messaged Kay (@miss_batesreads) about meeting up.  Kay was generous with her advice as I planned, giving us great suggestions for our sightseeing itinerary and hotel suggestions near downtown.  When we arrived in Montreal Kay graciously introduced us to her city, and we had a lot of fun together.  It was fabulous to have the time to chat face to face about romance after reading each other's reviews for years.  When we tweeted about our trip, our mutual friend Elisabeth expressed jealousy and how she wished she could have joined us.  We casually joked that it would be a fun thing to do again and that maybe Elisabeth could join us. And the bam all sorts of other twitter friends expressed an interest in going, if we could organize something. So we did.


2017-08-11 12.28.24_censoredWe polled people to decide a date, opened up a little website to collect itinerary ideas and post hotel suggestions, we put together a very infrequent newsletter. We envisioned a casual and informal gathering.  All the chatting and meal sharing we love at conferences without the sessions. We understood some folks would be traveling with spouses, friends, children or have other commitments so everything would be optional.  Although only a fraction of the people who expressed interest were able to make it at the end of the day we were amazed how many people actually made the trip.  (and incredibly thankful it wasn't much larger...getting dinner reservations for our crew was challenging enough!).

Most of us at #MTLrom were from the eastern half of the continent (Susanna Kearsley, Rain Merton, Laura Curtis, Elisabeth Lane, Tamsen Parker and me) but Super Wendy came to us from LA and  ValancyBlu and VaVeros made the incredibly long trip from Australia.

2017-08-10 20.43.27We opened up our trip by meeting for dinner at a very casual fish and chips restaurant downtown and after dinner we ended up wandering down the nearby streets, enjoying the street art near the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and walking through the McGill campus. We eventually made it back to our hotels and crashed for the night.

The next morning Kay lead most of us to The Libertine Bakeshop where we spent a great deal of the morning laughing and talking while enjoying delicious pastries.

 We eventually headed to Old Montreal and walked the tourist filled streets and after a few tries found a quiet little place for lunch.

2017-08-11 17.43.58We stayed well past when we should have left and it was only Elisabeth's well tuned ear that noticed that the kitchen sounds had turned into closed up/cleaning up sounds. The staff had been remarkably gracious and let us camp out at our table well past closing.  Kay then led us in an excursion through The Underground City, the interconnecting passages that connect many buildings downtown, finally bringing us to the romance section at the Indigo Bookstore downtown. We had fun finding our favorite authors on the shelves or grousing about the shrunken HQN Category section.We shared recommendations with each other and eventually with unsuspecting readers that stumbled upon us while we were occupying the aisles.

We eventually dragged ourselves away, and made it in time to meet the rest of group for dinner at fancy burger place not far from the hotel. We stuff ourselves silly with fries, onion rings  and groused about books over cocktails and beers before resting our aching feet for the night.

2017-08-12 12.25.57Saturday morning started at another coffee house, Cafe Myriade before we piled into the metro explore Boulevard St. Laurent and the attractive neighborhoods nearby.  We visited a giant mural of Leonard Cohen, and stopped in at Guillaume Bakery. We then chatted with some very nice firefighters and found a nice lunch at Dieu deu Ciel! (which got incredibly busy shortly after we arrived!)

2017-08-12 16.23.04 2017-08-12 16.23.04After lunch there was more shopping and then a bus ride up to Mount Royal Park, the volcanic hill around which Montreal is built.  We spent several hours just resting in the lush green park, enjoying the sounds of families enjoying picnics all around us.  We chatted about romance (of course) but also health care, patriarchy and families.  We finally got caught in a fast moving torrential rainstorm as we waited for our bus back to downtown.  We had been incredibly lucky up to that point. The weather outlook for the weekend had called for lots of rain but we only had been sprinkled once early and were able to find shelter quickly during the second storm.  A little damp, and a bit mud-splattered we made it to Fiorellino for dinner. Despite the hilariously tall tables I enjoyed dinner immensely.  It was simply a joy to look around the table and see everyone in conversation, and to overhear the wide ranging topics being discussed.  It is just so fabulous to chat with my "invisible" friends in person, to hear the sound of their laughter, or observe their most intent expressions. 2017-08-13 15.03.38 Many of commented on how great it is to be able to read a tweet and hear it in the voice of our friend now that we have spent time together.


On Sunday we went many different directions. Some folks started heading home or went off to explore on their own, others went to church with Kay, or traveled with me to the knitting shop next to it before heading to the Jean-Talon Market for lunch.  We eventually found our way to 2017-08-13 19.32.16Kay's lovely apartment, and the amazing meal she had assembled for us there.  There were sweet and savory Greek delights,  lots of books to rummage through and even more talking to do. Wendy, Vassiliki & Kay explained category romance to the rest of us, and then we all decided that Kay and Vassiliki really need to write one with an authentically Greek hero (Greek hero that doesn't dance, pshaw!).   I am incredibly thankful that Montreal's Metro runs late into the night because we didn't venture back to our hotel till quite late. I don't think anyone really wanted to say goodbye.

 

2017-08-13 16.43.29_censoredThere is just no way sum up the fun we had last weekend. I learned a lot, I laughed a lot and I am just so incredibly grateful to share this time with other people who care so much about genre.

On our drive out Montreal, Elisabeth and I were in agreement that we loved the weekend and both want to do this again. We are both willing to organize another meet-up next year.  However we are thinking of taking the meet-up to a new city, (possibly Chicago) with the idea that it could rotate around.  It is just a happy notion at this point, but so was this meet-up, so maybe this idea will take off too!


Spectred Isle (Green Men 1) by K.J. Charles

51MgWXJAakL._SY346_In Spectred Isle, the porous veil that separates the mundane from the magical worlds was almost completely shredded by the terrible choices magic users made during the war. Unusual magical phenomena is more common than it was before the war, and there are less skilled occultists around, since many like Simon Feximal (from Charles’s The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal) were lost or went missing during the war.

Saul Lazenby is a talented archaeologist whose career and life have been derailed by a dishonorable discharge from the army. The only job he can find is as secretary for a man obsessed with finding sites of magical significance.  Although skeptical he dutifully follows his employer's whims and fancies, tracking down these allegedly magical sites throughout London, till disturbing things begin occurring in alarming regularity. He is particularly disturbed to keep running into Randolph Gylde, who he suspects knows more than he is letting on.

Randolph Glyde is the arrogant and sly scion of a magical house devastated by the war. He is desperately trying to fulfill the duties his family has kept for generations, while ignoring his deep grief at their catastrophic and preventable loss during the war. He is at first suspicious of and then grows increasingly concerned for Saul safety as he persist in blundering into situations he has no preparation to face.

This series is a sequel of sorts to The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, set in the same world but not directly picking where the Casebook left off. Instead The Green Men series is set in the interwar period immediately after World War I. This is  the fragile yet glittering era of the Bright Young Things, where a war scarred generation tries to pick up the pieces in a world that has been radically changed by the war.  Although Sam Caldwell, Feximal’s adopted son is one of the supporting characters and the bureaucratic Shadow Ministry also returns to serve as Randolph’s nemesis in this novel, you don’t actually have to have read The Casebook in order to follow the story.

I enjoyed how Charles wove together history, elements of horror stories and folklore together to create incredibly menacing situations for Saul and Glyde to encounter. I also loved how Saul's Green Man magic worked, and how despite Randolph's magical pedigree he is really bumbling about since he is  trying to take over the roles left vacant by his family for which he has no training.

Both Randolph and Saul are vulnerable and lost in their own ways. Saul is deeply ashamed about what he has done in search of love before and Randolph has a lot of unresolved grief to deal with. I loved that Randolph and Saul are deeply suspicious of each other for incredibly legitimate reasons.  And I loved that they both long for yet struggle to picture what a lasting gay relationship would look like. They have take chances and be brave and name what they want, and let go what they have understood before. 

The supporting characters all need fleshing out, there where too many scenes with Green Men (the independent  occultists, ghost hunters and magic users, Glyde has aligned himself with in order to oppose the Shadow Ministry) where I couldn’t tell one from another. The only exception was Sam who by virtue of being a returning character, has an established history and his own distinct trauma. I look forward to reading the Green Men's individual stories but they are largely ciphers with dark backstories at this point. It was still very interesting, engaging start to a series that is sure to grow in intensity and depth.


I received a ARC for review consideration from the author, K.J. Charles

Expected Publication date Aug 3, 2017