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)
Reading has always been a refuge for me. Romance the lifesaver I clung to when my family hit a particularly rough patch. Our country and maybe the whole world is in one such rough patch right now. As a reader I’ve retreated to series and familiar authors. To world or words that felt familiar and comforting.
In the days leading up to the inauguration I binge read G.A. Aiken’s Dragon Kin books. I love Shelly Laurenston/ G.A. Aiken’s absolutely bonkers, and bloodthirsty heroines and her arrogant and frequently befuddled heroes under whatever pen name she is writing under.
In Dragon Actually, the heroine, Annwyl the Bloody is the bastard daughter of tyrant, leading a rebellion against her even more vicious brother. Fearghus The Destroyer, is dragon sick and tired of people, not to mention his large and annoying family, who stumbles upon Annwyl as she cuts down soldiers who had ambushed her. Instead of eating her, Fearghus instead uses his magics and that off his sister’s to heal Annwyl. I loved the friendship & hesitant romance that grows between Annywl and Fearghus.
Laurenston/Aiken’s sense of the ridiculous is spot on as she has Annwyl and Ferghus end up in a unlikely love-lust triangle, as Annwyl slowly falls in love with the Dragon while lusting for the Knight, her trainer, not knowing he is Fearghus in his human form. But that storyline is not simply for laughs and hotness, but it helps flesh out Annwyl’s guarded personality. She feels safe with the Dragon, precisely because he is a dragon and not a man. With the Knight, she can explore her desires and wants in a way she has never been able to before, surrounded by either her brother’s villainy and cruelty or her soldier’s admiration and loyalty.
I eventually blew through the rest of the Dragon Kin stories. I was caught up in the multigenerational saga of that unfolded in the series, and the variety of relationships and courtships Aiken she depicted. I love the friendships that unfold over the series as Annwyl reigns, as their family expands in unexpected ways and they are pulled in new and dangerous directions. This was a fun series that I can wholeheartedly recommend.
2016 has been a hard year for a lot of people. For my family it was a year of transitions, and although we’ve come out on the other side of those changes happier and healthier, there were many points in this past year where I’ve depended on books to provide comfort and light into my life when things were particularly hard. I re-read a lot of old favorites this year or turned to reliable authors who were already known to me when I felt the most emotionally fragile.
However one of my greatest joys as reader is when I discover someone new-to-me and learn they have a backlist full of books for me to enjoy. Instead of doing a traditional best-of list or favorite-books-of-the-year list I thought I would share a list of authors who I discovered this year and whose books brought me joy. Many of these authors are not debut novelists, some in fact are legends in the genre, but were simply new-to-me. I hope you to find someone to discover.
N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season completely rocked my world this year. A sprawling time-hoping science-fiction saga about a woman whose world is literally shaken apart. The story’s focus is on her determination to find and rescue her daughter amid the chaos. Jemisin's world building is masterful and the careful development of all the different relationships and small choices that led to that cataclysm was completely engrossing. I loved the second book, Obelisk Gate was just as much. I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy. Jemisin’s draws a complex world with People of Color at the center of the narrative, and where race, class and gender issues all intersect with incredible skill. If you only read one book of my list this year, read this one but I should warn you that while there are incredible romantic conflicts in this story, it is not a genre romance, HEAs are not guaranteed in any way.
Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson’s Cyberlove collaboration left me squeeing uncontrollably on twitter for days. Emotional, smart, funny, diverse and and scorching hot, these LGBT romances just made me happy. The main characters are quirky, gruff and flawed and incredibly compelling. After reading Strong Signal and Fast Connection, I ran out and bought books off both of their backlists and I continue to be impressed by the quality of their work. Both Hassell and Erickson have sky-rocketed to the top of my must-buy-list.
HelenKay Dimon is a romantic suspense legend, but because I generally avoid books with buff Navy SEALs on the covers and if I am honest most romantic suspense, I had never read one of her novels till this year. I tried several, including some of her older M/F rom suspense novels but the series that made me a fan is her new M/M romance series from Loveswept, Tough Love, featuring deadly dangerous men secretly saving the world. The team dynamics are fantastic and the supporting casts full and entertaining. The romances were full of competence porn featuring witty bickering couples great at their jobs but terrible at feelings.
To my eternal shame I hadn’t read any of Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances until this year. I knew of her, met her at RWA and read books by her literary daughters but I had not actually read one of her books. I read Forbidden with the #notabc, (not-a-book-club) twitter reading group. I was awed by the richness of Ms. Jenkins books, and how she seamlessly layers historical and cultural details while crafting beautiful romantic HEAs for black men and women. If like me you find yourself primarily reading a very narrow slice of historical romance (for example: white m/f regency roms) I urge you to read Ms. Jenkins and see what you have been missing and then check out Piper Hugely, Kianna Alexander, Lena Hart & Alyssa Cole for more awesome historical romance.
I started out the year reading one of Melissa Blue’s contemporary romances, "Under His Kilt" and ended it reading her Dakota Gray erotic romance, Perv about man with a fetish for oral sex and the woman determined to teach him a lesson for the callous way he treated her best-friend. Whether she is writing as Melissa Blue or Dakota Gray her books were a ton of fun, very sexy with strong believable conflicts. I’ve already pre-ordered the next book in her Filth series out at the end of January, Hardcore on the strength of Perv.
I can’t fail to talk about the Kindle Unlimted authors, Anna Carven, Ruby Dixon, TS Joyce & Suzanne Wright that caught my attention this year, since I spent a great part of this year binging on their books. This summer I treated myself to Kindle Unlimited subscription and gave myself permission to declare ARC backlog bankruptcy and read for fun without the pressure to review. It was glorious and just what I needed.
Because of the economics of KU, I was more willing to try books with weird covers, crazier concepts and indulge in a trope-heavy erotic romances that just made me giggle at first and later surprised me with the quality of their worldbuilding. These books are certainly a cut above the average KU book, but I probably wouldn't have read them all had I been buying the books individually and not accessing them via KU. If you have a powerful need for some hot SFR and paranomal romaances and already have a KU subscription check these out:
Ann Carven’s Dark Planet Warriors series is suspenseful and action packed. A space station is taken-over by seemingly hostile group of super-powerful aliens, but the real threat are the giant cockroach-like creatures they are chasing. Complex imperial politics, interplanetary diplomacy and a clash of civilizations is the backdrop in these romances. The stories are far from perfect but I wasn’t bored reading them.
Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet Barbarians with their big blue hunter-gatherer aliens has grown into expansive family drama, as much about community dynamics as it is about people learning how to love across cultural and language barriers and surviving in a brutal environment with few resources.
TS Joyce’s Lumberjack shifters are funny and trope-heavy, but I got attached to kooky trailer-park inhabiting shifters because of the multi-generational community full of strong friendships Joyce develops.
Suzanne Wright’s books are the most traditional of this quartet, featuring wolf shifters trying to balance pack politics with forbidden or inconvenient attraction. The Phoenix and Mercury Pack series are solidly entertaining.
Make Love not War goes the 60’s refrain but that is not a choice the lovers in these two books can make. War is raging and they can’t retreat or escape it. Their choice is to make love and war.
Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha is the final book in their dystopian epic series about a band of free-loving bootlegging gangsters that were push too far and too long and refuse to roll-over and die. They tried just carving a little piece of the world for themselves but the world wouldn’t leave them alone, so they had to make their world just a bit bigger.
Nessa in Beyond Surrender is everyone’s little sister, most especially Dallas’ . She has been with him since before there were any other O’kanes. Her skill at making Liquor is the heart of his operation. And no one is more aware of that than Nessa. Life has taught her that only two kinds of men ever make a move on her, thoughtless lunks who don’t know enough to be scared of the O’kanes and manipulative liars who see her as asset to be seduced away. Nessa has been waiting a long time to find someone who will hold her attention and who is worth her time. Ryder terrifies her. He is everything she wants, and she has absolutely no idea what he really wants.
Ryder doesn't either, he has been training and preparing for this war his whole life. The only person that has made him want to consider what comes after is Nessa.
I enjoyed the romance, and I love the dynamics of Nessa and Ryder’s relationship as they both try to figure out what they want and how much they want it. They are deliciously awkward at times and undeniably sexy. However the main draw for me in this book was seeing how Bree and Donna were going to wrap up this war, and series, keeping up the tension and stakes and not destroy a bunch of HEA’s in the process. I was sucker punched at points and just generally impressed at how they were able to really show the cost of this war on the O’kanes while not betraying romance expectations. There was a cost and many tears and scars because to this war. There are many storylines I am eager to follow into their new Gideon’s Riders series but I was also satisfied that I had read something that hung together as cohesive if expansive story. The O’kanes and their struggle have always connected with me deeply and I think this was a good way to end their story. ( I received ARC of Beyond Surrender from Kit Rocha).
Beyond Surrender ended a series but Moonshadow opens one.
Moonshadow by Thea Harrison is the start of a new series in the Elder Races world.
I took refuge in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races novels during the run up to the election. They were a fantastic escape, worth the hefty price tag. However unlike my experience with the Beyond books, where I always wanted to see how things connected and check in with Dallas and Lex, I was way less interested in the political intrigue arcs and the central couple of Dragos and Pia. I wanted less of the meta story and more romance. In Moonshadow, Thea Harrison stays in the same world and mythos of her Elder Races novels but goes in more romance-heavy direction (and much more reasonable price point).
Some things were very familiar, Nikolas, a soldier for Oberon’s Dark Court is powerful, dangerous and unreasonably attracted to the heroine. Despite being overmatched physically by the dark commanding hero, the heroine, Sophie Ross, tolerates zero BS and challenges the hero at every turn. There is tons of delicious bickering, some hate sex and lots of stomping around and trying to ignore inconvenient feelings.
Sophie is at a major crossroads in her life. She is recovering from a terrifying encounter that has left her unable to face returning to her old life as Witch-consultant with the LAPD, when she is offered a piece of her past and given chance to inherit an impregnable magical house, if she can break into it. On her way there she rescues a hurt creature that is not quite what he seems, bringing her to Nikolas’s attention. He and his ever-dwindling fighting brothers has been stranded and on the run for centuries and have almost forgotten what peace feels like. Sophie and her magical house, built on the site of their greatest defeat offers a glimmer of hope and her un-orthodox magical practices an edge they have never had before. Sophie and Nikolas must learn to fight side by side, even when it terrifies them. In the end Sophie and Nikolas have to make a choice to treasure love despite inconvenient timing and their own doubts about their capacity love or give up before they have even gotten started.
I am hopeful of this new direction. The romance still got a bit lost in all the intense action of the last third of the book but it was restored to its proper focus in the closing chapters. I am eager to spend more time in this corner of the Elder Races world. ( I received a ARC of Moonshadow from Thea Harrision via NetGalley).
Brenna Nakmura left the corporate world behind to train as massage therapist. It cost her fiancee but she loves her job and doesn't regret her choices despite how hard it is to make ends meet while getting her small business off the ground. Every job matters and she won't do anything endanger the referrals she gets, even if her newest drop-dead handsome client is extremely attractive and wants to invite her for a coffee afterwards she won't cross that line. Turning down his invitation to dinner is a few weeks later when they unexpectedly bump into each other again is much harder to do, especially when it is clear that neither of them have stopped thinking about each other.
For the last 8 years Calvin Wilcox has been un-waveringly focused on making partner as his late father's lawfirm. He is on the verge of finally reaching his goal but suddenly he is much more interested in trying to persuade Brenna to date him, despite the fact that she has little spare time and the live in different cities. Cal's persistence, charm and a willingness to spend a lot of time on commuter shuttles, soon convinces Brenna to take a chance on him despite the fact that they are both incredibly busy and live in different cities. He holds himself back however, intentionally keeping things outwardly casual, which leads him to act in a unthinkingly hurtful manner.
I thought Rowan did a great job building up and then resolving the tension over Brenna's professional ethics. I loved how realistically conflicts caused by their long-distance relationship was handled. I really felt for Brenna as she is torn between growing her business and unconsciously responding to Cal's unvoiced desire that she be available when he was around. It was a small moment, but that highlighted for me the hidden costs of their relationship, that comes back to bite them later, when the all the resentments and expectations of their not-quite-serious-relationship finally bubble over. I thought Cal's grovel was great as was Brenna's simultaneous but confusing feelings of frustration and softening she feels towards him as she receives each gesture.
Winning Her Over was very charming and insightful debut, and I would be happy to read more Alexa Rowan in the future.
I received a review copy of Winning Her Over from Alexa Rowan's publisher Jasmine Press.
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):
Level Up by Cathy Yardley: Every so often I'm assigned a book for RT that I actually already own but hadn't read. Level Up was already on my TBR based on twitter recommendations by Courtney Milan and Bree Bridges on twitter. The book exceeded my expectations. I found it fun and honest.
I've been in a fantasy mood recently so I ventured out of the relatively safe world of genre romance to read the first book in N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series. The Fifth Season was in turns heartbreaking, jaw-dropping and thanks to its immaculate pacing, absolutely gripping. I was listening to the audiobook and it was hard to turn off the car and stop listening each morning and evening when my car rides ended. Yesterday I listened to the last fours hours all in one go because I could not stop.
The Stillness is a massive, extremely geologically active continent dotted with large and small communities, remnants of a once mighty empire whose lore on how survive the not-infrequent periods devastating climate change, known as the seasons, provide a foundation for its common culture.
In the Stillness, the Orogenes are people whose inborn ability to manipulate geological forces makes them an object of fear to the general population. To be an unsanctioned, unregistered Orogene is to be a Raga, a monster, bearing the curse of Father Earth, facing a death sentence if discovered. The alternative is to be a Fulcrum trained Orogene, raised from childhood into a regime of control and suppression, only allowed to express their extraordinary powers at the Fulcrum's command and under its strict guardianship.
The Fifth Season is the extremely personal story of the making of continent wide-cataclysm in the Stillness. We enter the story through Essun, a raga, whose family has fallen apart days before the Cataclysm takes place. When her husband discovers his young son's orogenic powers, he kills him and leaves town with their daughter. Essun is desperately trying to track down her murderous husband and rescue their daughter. We also follow Syenite and Damaya. Syenite is an ambitious fulcrum-trained orogene who is increasingly angry and chafing under the Fulcrum's insidious control over every part of her life. Her new partner and mentor is Alabaster, quite possibly the most powerful oregene under Fulcrum control. Damaya is a young girl, rescued from her parents and brought to the Fulcrum for training. The Fulcrum is both a safe place and a dangerous one for Damaya, as she learns to control her powers. The story jumps back & forth through time till all the stories converge in moments of breathtaking clarity where what was left unexplained in one story is suddenly central and important in another. Together the story is one of immense heartbreak, grief, survival and transformation and it is only getting started.
The novel was flawlessly intersectional, deeply aware of the overlapping layers of race, class, and gender that play into the way people move in the world and respond to it. The world itself is richly developed & vibrantly diverse. The story centers on POC, including LGBTQ characters that are fully realized. It was just so amazingly refreshing to read, even if it took me through the emotional ringer, because the story is so deeply meaningful. I will be eager awaiting the release of The Obelisk Gate in August.
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.