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
An 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.
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.
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.
The 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
I 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
There 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).
I 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.
Paranormal 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
I 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.
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.
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.
Strong Signal (Cyberlove #1): Garrett Reid is serving the last 9 months of his military career deployed in Afghanistan. He spends his precious few hours of downtime playing video games, where one day he is mercilessly destroyed by an overpowering opponent. Angry he decides to virtually track down the Orc only to discover that he is Kai Bannon,a "gaymer" with his own Twitch stream (video gameplay channel) with legions of adoring followers and subscribers. At first Garrett hate-watches the stream, trash-talking in the Chat, but before long he finds himself grudgingly admiring him and starting to feel protective of Kai (after hypocritically benefiting from tumblrs full of stalker/fan-fodder about Kai). He can't resist sending Kai a concerned email. Kai and Garrett then start exchanging initially tense then later, funny and tentatively flirtatious emails, then gchats and more. They have a great opposites-attract dynamic that blossoms into a beautiful sense of compatibility for two people who struggle to be understood, seen and truly known.
There is so much going on in this novel and all of it good. Erickson and Hassell layer emotionally-rich and realistic portrayals of imperfectly loving families, online communities, economic pressures, sexual identity and the tensions and conflicts inherent in building authentic intimacy and friendships while interacting online. While Kai and Garrett's sexual chemistry is hotter than fire it is not enough to overcome the serious obstacles they face in building something permanent. A lasting relationship require they both put in serious work on themselves and the way they communicate in order to make their relationship work.
I have a great deal of respect for how Hassell and Erickson dealt with Kai's mental health issues. Garrett and Kai love each other but that doesn't magically cure anxiety. While having an understanding partner is super important, in the end therapy and medication is how those things are addressed. And it is powerful to have Kai be the one who puts in that work and effort, because he values himself and wants more for himself.
Fast Connection (Cyberlove#2):
Dominic Costigan is at loose ends. Twenty-six and recently out of the military, he feels just as lost and directionless as he was at 18, living in his parents' basement and working the counter at the family bagel shop. At the same time he feels extremely alienated from his old friends, who don't understand why he doesn't simply go back to being the hookup obsessed dude-bro he used to be. Having only recently become aware of his bisexuality, he is completely unsure about how to approach men and signal he is looking for something more than just a one-night stand.
Luke Rawlings only wants one-night stands. After a disastrous relationship wrecked his career and endangered his family he keeps his sexual needs very separate from the rest of his life. But Dominic's charm, persistence and vulnerability wear down Luke in bending and eventually breaking his strict compartmentalization, complicating his life in ways that he never expected to value.
I was again moved by the richness of the storytelling. Erickson and Hassell weave multiple storylines and themes into a very satisfying whole. I loved the centrality of family and how fragile but tangled those bonds can be. Both Dominic and Luke are very protective of their families, despite the very different ways those families operate. I love how Erickson and Hassell portray the tender work necessary to rebuild relationships after meltdowns.
Both these novels illustrate one of my favorite relationship lessons -- Relationships take work and while sex can spark relationships it is the commitments made to walk the hard path together that sustain them. Time and time again Kai & Garrett and Luke and Dominic can get everything right sexually but it is the fact that they come back to each other when things get hard, when apologies need to be made and after things have gotten uncomfortable that builds toward the HEA. Kai, Garrett, Luke and Dominic are broken, flawed people and they are worth of love in that brokenness.
I can't wait to dive into Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson's backlists and I eagerly look forward to Cyberlove #3.
I'm a a semi-reviewing hiatus right now. I've been really tired recently, so instead of staying up reading books or using my time to write reviews I've mostly been sleeping. I'll be back to reviewing soon, as I am starting to feel a little less tired. I've read some really great books last month before I crashed to sleep, so hopefully I'll have the energy to review them here in the next couple of weeks.
These are my most recent reviews for RT (June issue):
I have been eagerly anticipating this romance since we were first introduced to Lord Richard and his trusted valet David Cyprian. Richard is the linchpin around whom all the Ricardians revolve. The Ricardians (bisexual, gay or transgender) all look out for one another, protecting each other from those who would happily send them to the gallows for their orientations, preferences and predilections but it is Richard who sets the standards, provides the listening ear or chastising word if needed and sees that the Ricardians problems are solved.
David Cyprian however is really the person who makes it all happen. Officially as valet he makes sure Richard always looks flawless but unofficially he the person that pays the bribes, gathers the illicit information and makes sure Richard has absolutely everything in his life go smoothly. He is the rogue with all the connections, who fixes the problems before Richard even has any inkling of them. He is incredibly proud of how far he has risen in life, but has not risen so far that he doesn't know how to work on the street.
The one wrinkle in David and Richard's relationship is that while Cyprian is beyond devoted to Richard & Richard trusts him like he trusts no other their mutual attraction has become impossible to ignore. While David is more than willing enter into a liaison with Richard, Richard is resolute to never importune someone in his employ (unlike his father, who used and abuse anybody under his power). Their facade of mutual indifference crumbles completely in the aftermath to a surprise death-bed summons from Richard's estranged mother.
Once their mutual attraction is no longer something they can ignore, Richard ends up hurting David while trying not to hurt him and as a result he is deprived of David when he and the Ricardians need him most. Richard must convince David to return and if they all survive, help him figure out how they can be together.
I loved this romance. I usually avoid boss-employee/servant-master romances for all the reasons for all the same reasons Richard wants to avoid one. KJ Charles however has a great handle on the issues of consent, agency, dignity and the nature of partnership that are such a large stumbling block in their relationship. I loved how hard it was for Richard to unbend, and realize he was wrong. Richard has to eat a lot of humble pie, and comes truly appreciate and recognize all that he has taken for granted in David. David also grows, setting boundaries and demanding Richard truly see him and value him. He is able to demonstrate that his love is not servile even if he is Richard's servant.
Charles exploits the intimacy of David's role as Richard's valet to explore the anguish of denial and build sexual tension but the biggest loss they feel when they are apart is for each other's companionship. I loved that despite the deep chasm between them, it is the absence of their easy relationship, the effortless conversation, that wrecks them both.
Like all the endings in the Society of Gentlemen series, I believe in David and Richard's love and felt hopeful for them despite having a great awareness of the many risks they continually face. Charles also provides a great pulse pounding and satisfying conclusion to the overarching series plot. I highly recommend this whole series.
I received a review copy via NetGalley from the publisher Loveswept. A Gentleman's Position by KJ Charles will be available starting April 5th.
K.J. Charles has built a fascinating magical Victorian world through her numerous Charm of Magpies related novels. I'm not completely caught up on the main Charm of Magpie books, but I couldn't resist jumping ahead to read this one because is features victorian era black hero. A Queer Trade is the prequel to Rag and Bone which was released last week and I am currently in the middle of reading.
Crispin Tredarloe's master dies while he is away visiting family and returns to discover his master's heir have started emptying the house and have disposed of many magical papers. He is desperately searching for the paper waste man that hauled away his masters' spells before they can harm someone and expose him. This particularly urgent because Crispin Tredarloe isn't simply a magician's apprentice but an illegal warlock. If the blood magic is exposed and traced back to him, his life might be forfeit.
Ned Hall's trade might be unusual trading in paper, recycling people's old letters, and discarded notes into wrapping and packing, but it is honest work, and its freed him destitution after his family cast him out for being gay. His attraction to Crispin is quickly tested by Crispin's casual snobbishness and likely insanity.
I love how Charles's is aware of and then layers various impediments and conflicts into Ned and Crispin's relationship, race and class differences on one end, and then give them a shared understanding of familial rejection. I look forward to reading more about these two.
Knit Tight by Annabeth Albert I love knitting. I always carry a project with me and knit at every opportunity. I was equal parts wary and excited when I started reading this romance but I loved it. It got the knitting right and I found the romance very lovely and honest, especially as they struggled to make time for each other and to accept love. I will be looking for more of Annabeth Albert's work in the future.
Duty Before Desire by Elizabeth Boyce I was initially really enjoying this story. I am sucker for the rake reformed & fake relationship tropes but I ended up deeply disappointed with it.