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March RT Reviews

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.

All Chained Up by Sophie Jordan This RS-tinged romance lost all momentum in the last few chapters and ended with a deflated whimper.


Four-Novella-Day Mini-Reviews

Saturdays are usually crazy hectic at our house. We run our girls to different activities, choir, karate & other social events and then often head out ourselves in the evening.  This Saturday I had a great excuse to stay in my PJs all day as my youngest daughter was feverish but recovering from a mini-bout of flu. She wanted company but not conversation so I sat next to her and read novella after novella. I enjoyed an eclectic but solidly good mix.

41AD8Zm7tCL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I started my morning with Play With Me by Alisha Rai.  It is really book 1 in the Bedroom Games triology but the romantic arc in this first novella is satisfying & hopeful enough that it can be read as a stand-alone. Tatiana and Wyatt were each other's first lovers. They had a passionate seven year relationship that broke down dramatically for lots of reasons that carry little weight anymore.  When Tatiana's newly discovered brother makes a horrible mistake, stealing in desperation from Wyatt's casino, she rushes to intervene.  This short is heavily in the erotic side of erotic romance, but I really loved the romantic turn in the last half, when Wyatt and Tatiana surface from their lust-filled night to untangle their feelings for each other and explore if they want more from each other than a one-night reunion now that they can play as equals.

51K7Ugb1xbL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Blizzard Bliss by Kelly Maher was written and published during Storm Jonas and it was a delightful sexy little story. Two co-workers are finally able to break the ice and get together after months of secretly crushing on each other.  When Cecilia is stranded in DC, Rory offers her a place to stay.  The story is sweetly flirtatious as they go out sledding together and share kisses in the snow.  There is not a lot of tension in the book because it is clear fairly early on that they both like each other and just needed an excuse to get to know each other outside of work. I would love read more books related to this one, as there were a lot of intriguing hints to deeper backstories. 

518qU1Z85wL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_Next, I read Tessa Dare's latest Spindle Cove story, Lord Dashwood Missed Out.  Miss Nora Browning grew up loving Dash, the wild orphaned boy-next-door, that was her brother's best-friend and her quiet comfort after his unexpected death.  When he unexpectedly and cruelly dashes all her hopes,  treating her abominably during her first season, then departs without notice on five-year cartographic mission, Nora pours all her disappointment and frustration into a pamphlet titled: Lord Ashwood Missed Out. The pamphlet becomes hugely popular with young overlooked misses and Nora refashions her life around writing and speaking for young women, finding new purpose and passions through it.  She is on her way to Spindle Cove for a speaking engagement when she unexpectedly runs into a livid Dashwood, who has just recently returned to England to find his reputation in tatters.  A series of storm-related travel mishaps strands Nora and Dash together in a frigid gamekeeper's hut, where they have to confront all their hurt feelings and searing attraction.   When Nora fails to arrive in Spindle Cove, Dare reunites several previous heroes in a comedic quest to rescue the missing visiting authoress.  The last few chapter's bordered on mad-cap ridiculousness and farce but remained grounded through the sincerity of Dash and Nora's conflicted feelings for each other.  

26067203After finishing these three novellas by mid-morning I struggled to find another book to read.  I started and abandoned several good books after a few chapters because I wasn't in the right mood before sinking into K.J. Charles' A Fashionable Indulgence. The first book in her new Regency-era series is about the son of political radicals that is plucked from his working-class life by his domineering aristocratic grand-father. His cousin recruits a friend and consummate dandy, Julius, to help Harry learn how to dress and navigate high-society. It started out very strong but I had a niggling feeling that I was missing something. I did some googling and discovered that Charles had released a short-story set before the first book. The short-story is not a prequel, but did offer just enough backstory on Richard Vane and the Ricardians that I feel more secure in returning to A Fashionable Indulgence after reading it.

The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh is a enemies-to-lovers story.  Ash is the somewhat hapless, unloved youngest son of a Duke.  He loses his whole fortune in one very ill-advised night of gambling against Francis Webster, a long-time enemy of his older brother. He is contemplating suicide or fleeing to the France when Webster summons him. Unexpectedly Webster offers him an opportunity to win back his fortune. The tension and conflict in this face-off was fantastic. I loved how slowly Ash comes around to realizing what Francis really wants from him and how long he has wanted it himself. I am very glad I went back and read this as I adore enemies to lovers.

These four novellas were really very different but they were just what I need to read yesterday. 


RT Review Round-up December

Everything at Last by Kimberly Lang 

Nice Small town romance, that was easy to enter despite being the third? book in a series.  But it was a tricky review to write. There is a surprise revelation pretty far into the novel that I couldn't spoil. I struggled with how to address it.  

Cold Fusion by Harper Fox

This was a hard book to review. I really liked parts of it, but some elements were really problematic.  Really liked the setting and premise.  I don't know if it just me, but I found the names in this book very odd.


Queer Romance Month: HEA's for All of Us to Read

We All Need Stories badgeAt RWA this summer, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a bunch of amazing interesting women (Elisabeth Lane, Carolyn Crane, Joanna Bourne, Rose Lerner and Sarah Lyons) at a small french restaurant. During lunch  Sarah Lyons extended an invitation to all us on behalf of Alexis Hall to write a post for this year's Queer Romance Month.

My first thought was YES! soon followed by oof. I read and enjoy Queer romance, wanted to celebrate it and I review it here on my blog. The oof was from trying to think about how to approach it.  I've spent a large part of my year thinking about how to support those with queer identities as a cis straight parent and friend. I've tried very hard to shut up and listen and be there for them in every way I can, whether it be in celebration and laughter or pain and tears. So my post is about how reading Queer Romance has helped see  HEA's for people I love whose stories didn't get told when I was growing up.  I am not sure when the post will be live today but I believe sometime around dinner time.  I'll add a link here once it is up.  

Happily-Ever-Afters For All Us to Read

There have been so many great posts this month about identity, discovery, and life, so please check them out.

 


Lead Me Not by Ann Gallagher

LeadMeNot_500x750Issac Morris followed his father in to ministry. He has a passion for bringing people to Christ but his father's church is particularly focused on calling "Sodomites"out of their sinful lifestyle by confronting them with their sin through loud and aggressive protests. Issac has grown increasingly frustrated with their inability to persuade people to listen to them.  When he learns that one of his nephews is struggling with homosexual desires he is convinced that they have to try something new and different. He and his sister Ruth set out to film a documentary, one that will document his choice to become gay and then become straight again in order to convince homosexuals they too can choose to leave the lifestyle.  Although his family is hesitant to see him take such a dangerous and risky path, they reluctantly agree to support his endeavor. Ruth and Issac relocate to Seattle and Issac sets out to enter the gay lifestyle.

Coming out to his parents at 14, propelled Colton Roberts into a nightmare. After his family's rejection he spent the majority of his teen years alone on the street, raped, pimped, abused and addicted.  He found acceptance and Christ's love in the persons of Pastor Mike and his wife Gail who rescued him from the streets.  Faith, therapy, rehab and the love and support of the South Street Community Church have held him together through many struggles. He juggles bartending shifts at CapitolOUT with evenings working with at-risk LGBQT youth at the his church's youth shelter.  

Issac and Colton meet when Issac is assaulted by homophobic thugs outside of CapitolOUT. Colton can't help but feel concern for Issac as he is clearly overwhelmed and inexperienced. Sympathetic upon learning that Issac has only recently come out, Colton agrees to help Issac learn to navigate the gay community in Seattle and they slowly build a friendship that eventually blossoms into something more. 

Gallagher (who also publishes for Riptide as L.A. Witt), took on quite a challenge with this book. The novel is equal parts a story of self-discovery as it is as romance novel.  Issac's journey toward realizing that he is gay and struggling to figure out how he can reconcile it with his faith and call to ministry is tortuous.  I thought Gallagher did a great job illustrating how hard and painful it is for Issac to slowly realize that he isn't choosing to be gay for the sake of the documentary but instead for the first time in his life acknowledging his identity.  He is under incredible pressure from his family, which makes him extremely conflicted and confused. The way things unfolded in the later half after some fateful/unavoidable confrontations was for the most part believable, especially the lure denial hold for Issac.

The romance was gentle grounded in growing attraction born out of friendship and affection. While they are both certainly attracted from the beginning, Colton's cautiousness leads to take things very slow letting them building trust and intimacy long before they ever even kiss.  Issac's deception and betrayal have significant consequences and although I felt Issac should have groveled even more, their HEA developed in the extensive epilogue was perfect.

I couldn't help reading Lead Me Not through the filter of the current conversations and movements in the Evangelical community toward greater acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ people.  While Issac does have many conversations and reads one book (published in the 70s!) on how reconcile his faith and his sexuality I wished Gallagher had Issac engage with more current books and scholarship than he does in Lead Me Not. Books like God and the Gay Christian specifically address some of the issues Issac most struggles with, specifically the bad fruit his anti-gay ministry is bearing (inspiring attacks,  the rejection of vulnerable children & suicides) and tackling how the Bible can and has been reinterpreted without it losing its authority.  

I really appreciated the attention Gallagher paid to the power of family relationships to affect a person's well-being. Colton struggles with accepting his parents' rejection for years. Issac works to reconnect with family members he has shunned, while wrestling with the family who fear losing him. Although the book asserts you can't choose who you love, it really meant who you fall in love with. Both Colton and Issac's family consistently stopped acting in a loving way toward those they disapprove of.  The novel does really illustrates is that while you can't choose who you are attracted to, your identity, are related to, or who you fit with most, you can choose to love them even when you disagree.

Inspirational romances are not generally something I enjoy reading. I struggle to not get stuck on some minor point of theology or get annoyed easily if I think something is being misrepresented but I think overall Lead Me Not succeed in being both a credible inspirational romance and a satisfying love story. I rolled my eyes occasionally but not enough to diminish my enjoyment of the story.

 

Disclosure: At RWA I had opportunity to meet Sarah Frantz Lyons,  Editorial Director of Riptide Publishing who is friend of my friend Elisabeth Lane. During one of our conversations Sarah mentioned being excited about Lead Me Not, because it was something that they had never done at Riptide or to her knowledge anywhere else, a M/M sweet inspirational.  I was immediately intrigued because although I am not typically an inspie reader, I am very interested in the intersection of the Faith community and the LGBT community so I knew I had to read it.  Check out the #FaithfullyLGBT hashtag on twitter if you want to know more about LGBT people who are working to live out their faith.

I received review copy of Lead Me Not from Riptide via Netgalley.


Signal Boost (Off the Grid #2) by Alyssa Cole

Signal Boost is the second novel in Alyssa Cole's post-apocalyptic series Off the Grid for Carina Press.  A mysterious event has damaged  the world's or at least North America's electrical grid and crippled communication systems.  In Radio Silence, John leads his best friend Arden out of Rochester, NY to his family's well stocked remote cabin.  There John's big brother Gabe and Arden unexpectedly fall in love.  Signal Boost is John's story and a continuation of the post-apocalyptic plot.

Pre-Flare, John or Jang-wan as he known to his family was a happy gay man, studying computer science and sharing an apartment with Arden. Post-Flare, his life has become stifling and monotonous, he lives for his pre-dawn conversations with Arden before the rest of the family wakes.  The predictable routine of his Post-Flare life is upset when he tackles an intruder trying to pilfer tomatoes from their vegetable garden.

Mykhail was an astro-physics graduate student Pre-Flare, home on extended leave to take care of ailing relative. His Post-Flare life has been incredibly traumatic. He hasn't had any of the comforts the Seong family has enjoyed. He has experienced the horrible things since the Flare and has very little to live for. The one thing that keeps him going is the hope that if he find his way back to his former college campus he can  help get the grid up and running again. Mykhail is convinced his former professor and graduate adviser was one of the few people prepared to respond to this event.  

Jang-wan & Mykhail immediately hit it off.  Mykhail is funny, interesting and they connect over long conversations about the cosmos while stargazing. Jang-wan jumps at the opportunity to be of  use. His orienteering skills can get Mykhail to Burrell where his computer skills might be again be of use. 

On the road Jang-wan & Mykhail get to know each other a lot better and face perilous situations. Jang-wan learns all about Mykahail's complicated family, and the life choices.  The heightened emotional situations they experience on the road eventually breakdown Mykhail's resistance to his attraction and admiration for Jang-wan.  The story takes a big shift at this point, moving from trek-road-trip romance to romantic suspense. Many things don't seem right at Burrell College and  Mykhail's will to pursue their relationship is very quickly tested.

I was really looking forward to this book. I enjoyed Radio Silence a great deal and the teaser chapter for Signal Boost was fantastic. But uneven pacing & world building issues tripped me up.  I liked the characters, but I liked the idea of them together more than I liked the execution of it.  Jang-Wan and Mykhail's lengthy conversations about the stars and astrophysics felt like they had been cribbed straight from Neil Degrasse Tyson's Cosmos series.  Jang-Wan & Mykhail's complex emotional and relationship issues  were abandoned in the last quarter of the novel, replaced by a larger set of issues. The action scenes and intrigues were exciting but I felt Mykhail & Jan-Wan's romantic arc suffered.  

 There was a lot of great potential in this story but it did not quite live up to my expectations.

I received a review copy of Signal Boost from Carina Press via NetGalley


My Favorite Books Published in 2014

I read a lot of good books this year, some really great ones, and a lot of okay ones. This is purely subjective list of  some of my favorite books from this year. Not all the book on this list were 5 star books for me, but they are books that I still think about & I am genuinely glad I read in 2014.

  • Private Politics by Emma Barry: 
    Friends (or friend of a friend) to lovers story, Liam is a beltway blogger who has unrequited crush Alyse a fundraiser for girls' literacy non-profit. He tries to hide the extent of his crush so he can help her unravel a possibly dodgy donation scam at her non-profit without it getting truly awkward.

    Why is it a favorite? Liam was my favorite hero this year. He is shlubby, earnest, smart and hugable. His quiet competence is  the anti-dote to every alphahole hero out there.

  • Satisfaction by Sarah Mayberry.
    Maggie has never had an orgasm & wants to use Rafael for sex and is scared of wanting more with him since he might not be over his ex.

    Why is it a favorite? It has one my favorite romantic scenes. I just loved that Rafael wanted read the heroine's favorite book (a romance) because he wants to get to know her better. My husband did the same when we first started dating. We still trade recommendations 20 years later.  

  • Think of England by KJ Charles:
    Opposites attract, historical romantic suspense where country-house mystery tropes are up-ended.

    Curtis has come back from the war maimed and determined to find out who responsible. When he first spots DaSilva he can't stand him, seeing in him everything he mistrust as Daniel is dark, jewish, gay & a modernist poet, but as the novel progresses Curtis comes to realize that DaSilva is a true hero of great worth and has to rethink ing his prejudices and assumptions about himself. 

    Why is it a favorite?
    I smiled so much reading this book, loved the wit and language in the book. I loved that we only had Curtis POV, and that he had to grow and rethink his whole life.

  • The Kraken King serial by Meljean Brook:
    I am just going to be honest and say that I have yet to read a book by Meljean that I haven't loved.

    Zenobia is spinster writer, who has decided to go on the run, traveling the world under an assumed name to stay ahead of kidnappers who would love to use her against her brother, Archimedes Fox, a treasure hunter whose adventures she has made famous in her books. When Ariq, the Kraken King, rescues her from her sinking ship, she is launched into her greatest adventure. 

  • Why is it a favorite? Action, Adventure, Romance! I love that Meljean keeps expanding her sprawling, diverse & vibrant world.

  • Hard Time by Cara Mckenna:
    Anne Goodhouse is a outreach librarian in a depressing Michigan small town. Every week  her job brings her to the Cousins Correctional Facility where an inappropriate infatuation with an inmate turns into secret scorching epistolary relationship that neither is sure can survive once he is released.

    Why is it a favorite?
    The letters! They are simply amazing. Anne was sure she couldn't want or desire again, but Collier reawakens her. The letters are beautiful,romantic, raw, intimate and hot.

  • Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett:
    Winter Magnusson is a bootlegger, rich, powerful, & dangerous in 1920's San Fransisco. But when an unknown rival curses him with a plague of ghosts, he turns to Aida, a nomadic medium, who can see ghosts and repel them, to save him. Together they must figure out who is trying to kill Winter before they succeed.

    Why is it a favorite? 2014 is the year where I tried to and tried to fall back into love with historicals, which meant I read a lot of non-regency historicals. I loved the time period, setting & multicultural cast. I also enjoyed Grim Shadows (Book 2) & I can't wait for the 3rd book coming next year, with a Chinese American hero.

  • Countess Conspiracy & Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan.
    Both this novel and novella featured women who have passions for science & math but work in obscurity and the men who recognize how brilliant they are & do all they can so they shine. The obstacles these couples face are huge, the stakes felt real and I was very invested in their HEAs.

    Why are these a favorite?  Loved Sebastian in Countess Conspiracy, his patient/sacrificial devotion for Violet was so romantic. Rose Sweetly was a fascinating character, smart, guarded & determined. I loved that the book gives us a glimpse of a little featured segment of British society, the black Victorian middle class.

  • Code Runner & Binary Witness by Rosie Claverton:
    Book 1 & 2 of the Amy Lane Mystery series, the books are set in modern-day Cardiff and follow Amy, an agoraphobic hacker and consultant for the Cardiff police force and Jason Carr her house-cleaner/Guy Friday, who is a  former street tough and felon. They have a gentle and unlikely partnership.

    Why is it a favorite? The mysteries are smart and engaging. But what sold me on the series was the relationships. I loved watching Jason and Amy grow to depend on each other and how their relationship challenges and strains their relationships with others. I can't wait to read more from Claverton because I don't think she is scared of letting the relationships continue to grow and change.
  • Into the Shadows (The Associates #3)by Carolyn Crane:
    Nadia, the daughter of a deposed crime-boss, is searching for her mother by raiding her father's former holdings with the help of her former bodyguard and some mercenaries. Thorne is her former lover, a double agent within the most dangerous of the gangs who claimed her father's crime empire.

    Why is it a favorite? I was trying to break up with tortured heroes and then Crane upped the ante, with Thorne & sucked me into a secret baby story  (which I normally hate). Nadia and Thorne are broken in such interesting ways. They are both looking for redemption while fearing they can never earn it.  I couldn't help but root for these two souls to find love & acceptance with each other.

  • The Others by Anne Bishop.
    This is sort of a cheat because only one of the three The Others novels I read this year was actually published in 2014, Murder of Crows, Book #2, (Written in Red, was published March 2013 & Vision in Silver will be out March 2015) but I loved this series too much to leave it off my list.

    This Urban Fantasy/Alternate History series,  this is the story of Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet who flees an institution where rich and power humans cut into her for profit, claiming a name and life for herself. She is taken in by a community of Terra Indigene, the elementals and shape-shifters who rule vast portions of Thasia. Her interactions with the Terra Indigene, and with Simon Wolfguard in particular will change the history of humanity in their world.


    Why it is a favorite? The friendship and budding romance between Simon and Meg is lovely. I have no assurance they will have a HEA but I have grown deeply attached to them, and I love seeing Meg curiosity and desire for life transform her world.

 I hope you had a wonderful year of reading in 2014 and I hope you find books that inspire, comfort and awaken you in 2015.


Winter Rain (Love in the Rain Book 2)

Winter Rain cover

Winter Rain is the second anthology of short stories published by Pink Kayak press benefiting RAINN. I read and reviewed Summer Rain earlier this year. Like most anthologies this collection showcased a lot of variety in terms of style, tone & setting. My favorite stories in this collection, Suleikha Snyder's Spice and Sand & Tamsen Parker's Needs were very different from each other but stood out from the rest by packing strong emotion, character growth & romance into small packages.

Dream by Delphine Dryden -- Robin's best days are the first Tuesday of every month when she takes time off work to visit her therapist George and her voice coach, Celia. When rains from a storm trap Robin in Celia's house, they finally truly see each other. It is a story of connection and how powerful it can be to have someone see through our veneer of competence, to our imperfect selves and accept those flaws, hurts & baggage. Both Celia and Robin have a lot of mental health issue to resolve, but they are full of hope they can figure things out together.

4 stars

Sales Tax Not Included by Inara Scott -- Nash Hanover tried to runaway from the mess his father made but after near fatal bout of malaria he is right back in the small town he grew up in. He has become obsessed with catching the attention of Chloe the cashier at dollar store down the block from his apartment. Chloe is determined to ignore him because she can't see one good thing coming from his attention. This story moved a bit too fast for me and would been better served by a longer word count. The story was too compressed for me to quite believe in the couple at the end, even as an HFN.

3 stars

Exposure by Serena Bell: Jenny was publicly embarrassed and romantically disappointed after sending an inappropriate tweet from her boss's account and ran away to work as temporary caretaker at campground deep in the woods. Six months of licking her wounds later, Beck her childhood friend & crush has been commissioned by her parents to try to bring her back. This story was working really well for me, till the first sex scene where the Bell does some distracting handwaving to justify the characters having unprotected sex. It kicked me out of the story in a major way, and I couldn't recover to enjoy the end.

3 stars

Sand Dollar Cinderella by Amber Lin-- When Jaime was a teen a private picture of herself circulated around her high school and pretty much killed her dating life. It is years later and she is ready to leave that behind and move on with the rest of her life. First thing in her agenda is to rid herself of her virginity. When her original plan is foiled by a well meaning friend, she decides to pick up her brother's old friend who just came back to town and doesn't recognize her. She doesn't know however how much he wants to leave his one-night stand days behind him. I liked that he figured out pretty quickly that she wasn't being honest with him, and that he didn't let things drag on. Overall the story felt like it was setting up a series, or at the very least a sequel featuring Jamie's brother and her best friend Mirabelle.

3 stars

Behind the Mask by Alexis Hall -- Pretty standard super-villain origin story premise with a m/m romance twist. Masquerade created his persona to give Justin a purpose after he returned from war still grieving his closeted quarterback boyfriend . As a longtime superhero comic fan the premise didn't seem new or interesting nor the resolution satisfying.

2 stars

Spice and Sand by Suleikha Snyder -- I don't know a lot of Hindu mythology but that didn't stop me from greatly enjoying this story. Rambha is nymph whose dancing can shake the earth. She has been cruelly separated from her husband, Nalakuvara, for centuries. Even though she lives pleasure-filled heaven, she longs to be reunited with him. She risks displeasing her demon king Indra by refusing to dance and challenges him for an opportunity to claim her husband. He lets her have the opportunity but when she finds him, Nalakuvara is living as composer for Bollywood films, Nicky Kohli . He has no memory of Rambha, although he is hugely attracted to her. Rambha however knows she can not be satisfied with only his desire, it would be torture and cruel substitution to have him with him knowing who she is so she flees, hoping he will seek her and come to know her. Snyder did a great job weaving the mystical and the fantastical with the earthy and the modern. Rambha is proud, bold and sensual, and deeply devoted to her husband. Their relationship has weathered violence & separation, and she will not let it die. Nicky moves through feelings of fascination, incredulity and desperation as he starts to see who she had been to him and once again risks all to have her. This is one of the highlights of this collection.

5 stars.

Remembering Yesterday by Stacy Reid -- This was a plot straight from soap opera, complete with cartoonishly conniving family. Ava survived a serious car accident that left her with partial amnesia. With her memories fractured, Ava feels broken, unable to move on with her life even if she is going through the motions for the sake of her parents. When Devlin walks past her something clicks into place, and soon fragmented context-less memories are flooding her. Confused but determined, Ava confronts Devlin, to find out what he used to mean to her, and why he isn't in her life. Ava will learn more about herself than she bargained for. This is not a trope I enjoy and this story did not impress me enough to overcome that. I found Ava to be incredibly immature and not simply because she is only 23. Devlin remains largely a blank slate, even as Ava starts to remember him. I had too many questions for the plot to work for me.

2 stars.

Sometimes it Storms by Cole McCade I couldn't finish this story so I won't give it a rating. Ethan is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the story chronicles his struggle with sexual intimacy, and Aurelie's patient love through the painful process. The backstory, presented in vivid flashbacks was so dark I just couldn't make it all the way through.

No rating

Needs by Tamsen Parker -- As soon as she could Ryn left the family farm in rural Iowa for the lights of the city and never wants to go back. Ryn is a city planner with a long list of exes, when she meets Sam, handsome, cultured & interesting. Rather than fall into another boring conversation about their careers, they playfully choose to make the topics of their professions off-limits. One date leads to another, and soon Ryn is falling hard for him till she learns something about him that stops her in her tracks. I loved this story. Sam is sexy, patient & a true grownup. Ryn had to grow up in a couple of ways and I loved her grovel and the HEA.

5 stars

 


Fall Reading

Between work conferences and family visits I have gotten too far ahead on my review reading and fallen behind on my review writing so  I had all these mini-reviews floating around in my head. These are some of the books I read and enjoyed reading in October and November that I haven't had a chance to post about.

 

Intrusion by Charlotte Stein:

 Noah and Beth are both survivors of violence. They have been deeply traumatized by the torture they endured, Noah at the hands of serial killer who he once profiled and Beth at the hands of stalker turn rapist. Told from Beth's point of view in Stein’s fantastically absorbing first-person style, their love story is highly unconventional.

The novel is a story of repression and an ode to anticipation and dirty talking. Stein does a fantastic job building tension as Beth, who questions everything tries to figure out if the attraction she feels for Noah is one sided and Noah, who fears his own desires and wants, is affecting detachment and distance while radiating need. If you like your heroes tortured and vulnerable and your heroines determined and courageous, you will want to read this. Never have fingers grazing meant so much.

I am grateful for the review copy of Intrusion published by Avon I received directly from the author, Charlotte Stein.

4.5 stars

 

Think of England by KJ Charles:

Curtis is a man’s man in the early 20th century England, raised by his bachelor uncles and the British boarding school system, he is now a former soldier recently returned from war, maimed. Lost and aimless for the first time in his life, Curtis is determined to find out the truth about the possible sabotage that destroyed his battalion and cost him most of the fingers of his right hand. His quest brings him to house party at an isolated country estate, whose secrets purposes are more sinister than Curtis could have ever imagined. He must ally himself with the slimiest of snakes, Daniel DaSilva, a effete poet, whose modern ideas, tight clothing and ultra-sophisticated manner un-nerve and and unsettle Curtis.

This novel was amazing, told from Curtis’s point of view is was fantastic to see how his perception of the people around him and himself shift as he falls in love with DaSilva. This book is a treat for anyone fond of early-20th century country house mysteries and novels. The characters were perfect, the romance breathtaking and the writing was delicious. I am so glad I read it, and I can’t wait to start Charles’ fantasy-romance series, A Charm of Magpies next month.

5 stars

 

 

Beyond Possession by Kit Rocha:

 Tatiana is a survivor. She has learned everything she has needed about know about life in Sector 4, through surviving her father’s abusive dictatorial rule and destruction of his empire by Dallas O’Kane. At great personal cost Tatiana has built for herself a growing business and shepherded her sister into adulthood pampered, sheltered and un-scathed. The lessons she learned in those early days, when she had nothing made her incredibly determined to be independent and self-reliant.

Zan is one of Dallas O’Kane’s men, and while he has long admired and wanted to be closer to Tatiana, his loyalty to O’Kane and his awareness of the power dynamics of being an O’Kane in Sector 4, has meant that he restrained himself to casual conversations and friendly visits, so as not to even unintentionally coerce Tatiana into a relationship with him. But the political landscape in Sector 4 is in danger of changing  once again, when a dangerous rabble-rouser seduces Tatiana’s sister as part of play for power and Zan must try to figure out a way, where he can secure Tatiana’s support for the O’Kanes without ending any chance they might have at building a relationship.

I really liked how much time this book spent on Tatiana. We really got to know how she thought, and why she thought they way she did. Her concerns are not trivial ones, and while Zan, Lex and Dallas upend her expectations by behaving in ways she could not anticipate based on her life experience, we never see her as wrong-headed. I particularly liked how the ending continued to show how much the O’Kane world is changing.

 I am grateful for the review copy of Beyond Possession I received from the authors.

 4 stars

 

 

Her Holiday Man by Shannon Stacey:

 Will ran away from his life after his pregnant wife was killed in a car accident. He has been drifting ever since working short-term contracts all around the country. After his father's unexpected death and with the holidays coming, he packs up all his gear and head back home to be there for his mom. But home has changed since he left. His mother is not as lonely as he expects her to be. She has taken under her wing, Christina and Nathaniel,  a divorced mother and son, who live across the street. As his initial suspicious reaction to Christina and Nathaniel fade, he becomes uncomfortably aware of his strong attraction to her. Christina is new to town, having relocated there after her ex-husband bankrupted them when his financial pyramid scheme collapsed. Without family and friends to depend on she has fallen a long way from society wife to convenience store attendant. It is has been a very long time since she has felt the pull of attraction too but the last thing she wants is to get involved with a man that might pick up and leave when things get tough.

Over multiple encounters Christina and Will try to ignore their attraction before eventually they settle one of my favorite tropes, the “we both know this is going nowhere but” secret sexual relationship. Will’s grief and Christina’s trust issues mean they both are scared of getting involved again but can’t help getting attached. Of course Christina’s son Nathaniel and Will’s mom Gail are not oblivious to what is really going on and Christina and Will might hope.

I cried buckets reading this book. Stacey did a wonderful job presenting Will’s grief and the underlying fears he is struggling with. I thought their big conflict was incredibly believable, it sounded like a real fight, and I believed their emotions.  And after putting me through the wringer it had a wonderful resolution that still makes me smile.

 I am grateful for the review copy of Her Holiday Man I received from Carina Press via NetGalley.

 4.5 stars

 

 

One in a Million by Jill Shalvis

 With this book Jill Shalvis’ Lucky Harbor series is drawing to a close, and I will miss Lucky Harbor and its slightly kooky residents. Lucille has been a geriatric pest throughout the series, and while occasionally she has pulled too much time and attention from the main characters with her antics, she appears just the right amount in this book despite the fact that it is Lucille’s unpredictable antics that has brought Callie to Lucky Harbor. Callie is Lucille’s grand-daughter and her busy parents have sent her to check up on her grandmother. Callie grew up in Lucky Harbor and left after she was jilted by her fiancee. She turned her heartbreak into a successful virtual wedding planning business, and even though she never got her big day, she ensures other brides’s days go off without a hitch without ever having to leaving her her apartment. Relocating to Lucky Harbor to check up on her grandmother is not without its perks. The biggest is being able to watch Tanner swim in the bay from her window. She used to have a huge unrequited crush on Tanner. Tanner is not as oblivious to it as she thought then and he has certainly noticed her looking now. Tanner like Callie has heartbreak in his past. He gave up college scholarship and married young to provided for his girlfriend and their unplanned son Troy. He served in Navy, and then worked on the oil rigs, providing them financially but failing to be there physically and emotionally. He feels like a failure as father and husband and hasn’t gotten seriously involved with anyone since.

There was a lot going on in this book, but I enjoyed it. Everything from Callie slowly realizing she is full of shit when she says she doesn’t believe in love or want it, to Tanner working to reconnect with his teenage son Troy and not let Callie slip away. Their flirting was fun, and I enjoyed reading about them .

 I am grateful for the review copy of One in a Million I received from Grand Central via NetGalley

 4 stars


Dance Hall Days & Five Dates by Amy Jo Cousins

Recently I had the opportunity to read two m/m novellas by Amy Jo Cousins. In both the stories the main characters have to strip away protective layers of prejudice and defensiveness in order to move beyond sexual chemistry to real intimacy and the possibility of love. All the characters have access to plenty of sexual partners for casual encounters but want more. The tension lies not in whether they will notice each other and find sexual release together but whether that moment is one that marks the end of the relationship or its start. 

Dance Hall Days is the the second to last novella in Dreamspinner Press’ “All in a Day’s Work” Anthology. Frank Armstrong is a bouncer at a dance hall catering to gay men in Depression era London. Large, solid and serious, his job is to watch the door, but he can’t keep his eyes from wandering all over Laurie. Laurie is a singer who performs in glittering drag and not all the kind of man Frank usually goes for. Laurie is not circumspect or conflicted about his interest in Frank and ends up unequivocally dedicating a torch song to him. Instead of reciprocating, Frank flees the dance floor, retreating back to his post. Embarrassed and vulnerable Laurie nurses his broken-heart by going home with all the wrong men. Feeling used & teary after yet another empty and specially hurtful encounter with a posh patron, Laurie is mortified when Frank finds him in the coat-room sniveling. Frank is gruffly and awkwardly trying to comfort Laurie when they hear the terrifying high-pitched whistles that signal a police raid. In desperation, Laurie hurriedly forces Frank into a hidden closet so they can avoid being arrested. In the dark of the closet it is Laurie’s turn to comfort and be strong for Frank who suffers from claustrophobia. There Frank accepts Laurie’s caresses but Frank and Laurie will both have to strip off their prejudice and misconceptions about each other if they want more than a few moments of sexual release with each other.

Cousins did a wonderful job re-creating both the glittering yet grimy ambiance of the illicit dance hall, both refuge and ghetto. She captures the isolation, desperation and loneliness of living on the fringes of society, sought after and used. How differently Frank and Laurie respond to the pressures of being gay in society that doesn't accept it makes it difficult for them to reach for each other. My happiness as they walk off together into the night is tempered by worry and wonder about what the future holds for them.

From the Anthology I can also recommend reading My OTP by Bru Baker and Not Quite 1776 by Therese Woodson.

 My OTP by Bru Baker  is about a pair of myth-busting TV personalities, whose easy chemistry and camaraderie inspire fans to fill tumblr with saucy gifs. But it is not just the fans who are shipping them and hoping to figure out if they are really a couple. Fun and breezy, a lovers to more story.

Not Quite 1776 by Therese Woodson was also worth reading. Henry is a historical interpreter who excels at one-night stands and flees from emotional entanglements in pursuit of his own vision of liberty. Owen is the sexy historical reenactor that inspires him to want something a little bit deeper and to not retreat from his offer of more. 

I appreciated receiving a review copy of “All in a Day’s Work” from the author, Amy Jo Cousins.

 

4.5 stars for Dance Hall Days

 

DownloadFive Dates:

Devin is an amazing older brother. Ten years ago, he stepped in to defend his pregnant sister Lucy, deflecting the brunt of his parents wrath by coming out. He then dropped out his master’s program to take a job that would help him pay their bills. Since then he has been active uncle and generally put his own life on the back burner. Other than trips to the gym he rarely makes times for himself, and contents himself with occasional casual hookups. When he loses yet another bet to his sister, he finds himself on a blind date with a beautiful young man he would never dream of approaching otherwise, the first of 5 dates to be arranged by his sister to settle his debt.

Jay is young, hip and incredibly angry when he discovers that Devin’s sister used a ten-year old photo on the dating site profile. While Jay does find Devin attractive, he is not at all the kind of man he is looking for anymore. Jay is adamant about not wanting to date another “daddy”, having just ended a painful relationship with a older more educated man who subtly and consistently denigrated him.

An embarrassed and apologetic Devin is able to convince him to stay for the dinner & Devin’s persistence and good nature eventually pierce Jay’s angry bubble and they end up enjoying each others company despite the awful start and then share a scorching parting kiss. Devin is well aware of Jay’s confusion and anger with himself so he leaves it up to Jay to make the next move, despite being completely infatuated with him. What follows are a series of false starts, sexy texts,interrupted dates, self-torture, & bad moves as Jay tries to reconcile his fears about getting involved with an older man and his attraction and growing feelings and desire for Devin. 

This novella was fun despite touching on many serious background issues such as  teen pregnancy, familial rejection, racism, stereotyping and power inequalities in some gay relationships because the main characters are more than a collection of hurts.  There is a HEA, with the promise of more but it just feels like the beginning of a story to me.  They have fallen in like for each other, but they will need to have a lot more dates before they fall in love.

 4 stars for Five Dates.