Mystery Feed

The Waning Days of 2017: Mini-Review Round-up

The temperatures outside are frightful and there is nothing more delightful than sitting around in my pajamas and not doing much more than reading all day. 

51R5h0q8mzL._SY346_The Pretender by HelenKay Dimon: An occasional art thief with a cause stumbles upon a murder and contaminates a crime scene leading to the wrong person being accused.  He comes back to clear the name of the woman accused and gets a little too close to her.

I struggled with this book at first, the hero's panic at stumbling upon the dying woman, and his desperate flight to flee being discovered were so visceral as was his guilt at causing someone to be wrongly accused meant I struggled to feel fully sympathetic to him, especially as he lies to the heroine about who he is for a great majority of the novel. However Dimon pulls it off and redeems Harrison and establishes a believable  relationship between him and Gabrielle.  The mystery of who killed Gabrielle's estranged sister was gripping and the twists and turns in their investigation were fantastic. (ARC provided by the Publisher for review consideration).51YnLCzPgLL

Beary Christmas, Baby by Sasha Devlin:  Liev has loved Sira for years and years, but despite his unwavering devotion and her reliance on him, Sira has always kept him at arms length. But one late night working together on Christmas Eve, Sira pushes Liev just a bit too far.  Their friends to lovers, dominating boss romance has the added twist of Sira being a dragon shifter with a complicated relationship with her family and Liev,  a big cuddly polar bear shifter, who claimed Sira in his heart when they were kids. 

Devlin delighted me with this story. It is sexy, sweet and super fun.  I am not a huge fan of holiday romances but this is one I will read again. If you have a weakness for prickly and bossy heroines, love a hero who loses his shit but not his love and respect for the heroine, pick this one up. I love the real sense of knowing each other these two characters radiate. They have been around each other for years yet have this huge unspoken thing that believably keeps them apart.

51sl62FwTHLLake Silence by Anne Bishop:  Bishop returns to the broader world of her Others series with a self-contained story set in a small community deep in Wild Country on the edge of the Finger Lakes.  

In her divorce settlement with her gaslighting and emotionally abusive husband Vicky DeVine was granted ownership of run-down rambling inn on the edge of Lake Silence. She has been the last six month working on restoring it and slowly regaining a healthier sense of self.  The peacefulness of her lakeside retreat is shattered when her sole lodger, attempts to microwave a human eye in the Inn's kitchen.

The story is one-part police procedural & one-part women's fiction in a dark fantasy package.  For readers of Bishop's previous Others novels the story will feel very familiar. A wounded woman finding sanctuary and protectors in a community run by supernatural beings, a honest and determined law-enforcement official seeks to solve crimes and protect humans from their own foolishness while walking a tight rope between human laws and powerful beings with their own rules and expectations.  There is even another strong, wounded bookseller with a deep interest in the heroine, although this time that role is filled by Intuit.  

I very much enjoyed getting to know the new characters and community, and appreciated the faster, self-contained pacing.  I didn't expect the story to wrap up in such a satisfying manner after the leisurely pace of Bishop's previous books in this series.  I loved Julian Farrow's character, and the particular ways being an Intuit affected his relationships with non-Intuit humans.  The scenes involving the game of Murder were particularly fantastic, both darkly humorous and suspenseful and I  loved how the  ramifications played later in the of the story.

I'm now deeply curious where else in the World of the Others Bishops plans to write about next. 

(An ARC of Lake Silence was provided by the Publisher for review consideration. Lake Silence is available for Pre-order and its expected publication date is March 6th, 2018.)

51I9-IP+9ALBurn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5) by Patricia Briggs: Bran, the Marrok is away and has left his son Charles in charge, when one of the Marrok's special pack of wolves is attacked.  Charles, Anna and the rest of the pack rush to to avert tragedy and track down a traitor among them.  

The story was intense, full of grief and powerful magics. It is a story about marriages and loss and it was simply beautiful.  The story was filled to the brim with little character moments, full of insight into long-standing relationships in the series. It was completely engrossing and I highly recommend it.  I love these characters and the ways Briggs has lets us grow to get to know them, sometimes transforming the way I thought about a character through small reveal. I had fallen behind in my Mercy Thompson series reading, and this made me eager to catch back up again, although like the previous Alpha and Omega books, its stands apart. (An Arc of Burn Bright was provided by the Publisher for review consideration. Burn Bright's expected publication date is March 6th, 2018 and it is available for pre-order).

51Yqj8CbBbLThe Hookup (Moonlight and Motor Oil #1) by Kristen Ashley

When Eliza Forrester hit the bar in her new hometown in order to get to know people, she wasn't planning on going home with anyone, certainly not Johnny Gamble, not that she knew he was "the Johnny Gamble" , heir to successful local chain of convenience stores and car garages and one half of legendary star-crossed couple.  All she knew was the he was sexy, funny and easy to talk to.  Unused to hookups, her clumsy attempts for a graceful exit, capture Johnny's attention  and prick his pride.  While Eliza tries to play it cool, Johnny makes sure to make that difficult, sending confusing mixed signals, by being sweet and persistent while at the same time resisting sharing much about himself.  Thankfully Eliza's best-friend and co-worker Deanna has all the gossip and acts as a relationship guru.

I mildly enjoyed this story. It has its share of misdirection and foiled expectations as the anticipated love-triangle never really materializes, Johnny drops his tortured-by-past-heartbreak persona pretty quickly and they manage to resolve most of their issues by simply talking them out.  Most of the drama, including a pulse-pounding manhunt is connected to the secondary storyline featuring Eliza's sister.  Honestly I am not quite sure what to make of this story.  There was a lot a liked, much that reminded me of the old KA magic but not quite. It was solid but not cracky.

This is just a sampling of what I've been reading this month, so there are more reviews to come! 

 

 

 

 


The Best of 2017: The Whole List!

Best Contemporary 

I read a lot of fantastic Contemporary Romance this year, but three books stood out as giving me all the happy sighs.

34217566My favorite book of the year is Alisha Rai's "Wrong to Need You" It came out this week. And I need everyone to finish reading it so they can also nominate it.  While I loved "Hate to Want You", the first book in Rai's Hidden Hearts series, the emotional core of this books is so much stronger. I loved the conflict between Sadia and Jackson, the depth of the family tensions and the HEA left me happily wrung out.  

 Jackson and Sadia grew up together, each other's most trusted and true friend. But it was Jackson's big brother, Paul, who stole her heart.  Ten years later, Paul is dead, Sadia is struggling to keep the cafe they ran together afloat, when Jackson, now a chef with global-following unexpectedly arrives back in town after a decade of ignoring her emails to insist on helping her.

They have a ton of deep unspoken issues to resolve, secrets to discover and so much sexual tension to work out. As Jackson and Sadia rediscover each other, learn how life has changed them and marked them, they also have their individual issues to resolve with their own families, which deepen rather than distract from their romance.. It was a delicious sexy angst-fest that doesn't feel manufactured in any way.

I almost always fall in love with Rai's heroines and Sadia is no exception for I adored her, bisexual,widowed mother & cocktail historian. While Jackson has the more dramatic family drama to resolve, Sadia's complex relationships with her sisters, her parents, who love her & judge her and how they cause her to defend and questions her life choices gripped me. 

All I can say is  GO READ IT. (I received a ARC from the author for review consideration).

32613865My second nomination in the Best Contemporary Romance category was Lucy Parker's "Pretty Face". I loved Parker's first West End-set novel, Act Like It, and this turned me into a full-blown Parker fangirl, as there is just such great backstage intrigue, full of gossip and melodrama. 

Lily Lamprey dreams of escaping the vampy TV roles that have made her a household name for serious career on the stage and in film. But her new director, Luc Savage, nearly refuses to cast her, worried that she is nothing more than a pretty face.  Their relationship starts out adversarial and there is no one more surprised than they when they start acknowledging a mutual attraction.  Like in Wrong To Need You, Luc and Lily's contrasting family relationships add some much depth to romance.  This book has a great big Grovel and it was wonderful and well earned.

51pUnzjaXkL._SY346_I rounded out my nominations in Best Contemporary Romance, with a nod to Laura Florand's A Kiss in Lavender.  Lucien is the long-lost cousin, who struggles to believe that he belongs in the Rosier Valley and Elena is the much shuffled and abandoned foster child, who idealizes a homecoming for Lucien and struggles to understand how he might not long to stay in their welcoming arms. The real meat of their conflict however is about identity and how much they value their careers.

 

 

 

 

For Best Short Romance/Novella my nominees were Kissing and Other Forms of Sedition from Rogue Desire by Emma Barry, &  Shira Glassman’s Knit One, Girl Two. 

 

51+1cQit23L._AC_US218_I loved watching The Rogue Desire anthology move from idea into reality in the days after election. The collection as a whole was quite strong and at one point I intended to review it all but sadly life intervened.

My favorite story in the collection was Emma Barry's. Her story, Kissing and Other Forms of Sedition is about two VA legislative staffers, who when the President seems determined to trigger nuclear war via twitter finally confess their mutual desire and then set out on a road-trip to DC so they might attempt to persuade a Federal Cabinet official to consider evoking the 25th amendment.  It is nerdy, funny and incredibly sexy.  

51At-pLns8L._SY346_I read Glassman's fluffy and colorful short with the rest of the "Not-a-bookclub" crew.   In it indie yarn dyer is inspired by the colorful paintings of a local artists and reaches out to her so they might collaborate on project.   It is a story about creativity, inspiration, and falling in love, full of nerdy knit-culture and fan-culture details and crammed full of interesting supporting characters. It was just the dash of sweetness and hope that I needed in midsummer.

 

 

511ISHXQmPL

For Best Historical Romance my nominees were Fair, Bright and Terrible by Elizabeth Kingston, An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole, & Lisa Kleypas’s A Devil in Spring but if I could nominated five I would have also nominated The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare and K.J. Charles 's An Unnatural Vice.

I adored Kingston's The King's Man, so I was really looking forward to the sequel,  Fair, Bright and Terrible by Elizabeth Kingston. I was shocked however to learn that the heroine would be Eluned, Gwellian's rebel mother, who was one of the chief antagonists in the King's Man. Kingston however compelled me to fall in love for this revenge-minded and vicious heroine.  It is a second chance at love story, as after the death of her mad abusive husband in the Holy Lands, King Edward seeks to solidify his hold on Welsh lands by forcing her to marry one his men, Robert de Lascaux.  Eluned and Robert had a costly affair when they were both young and Robert has never stopped loving her.  Eluned however paid a deep price for their love affair and is not eager to give up her power, lands and position to a new English Lord, even if he was once her beloved lover. Their journey from vengeance and pain to trust and love was amazing.  I loved the richness of Kingston's storytelling, the way she handles religion, personal faith and politics is intricate and remarkable. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it and if you are an audio fan, both the books are superbly narrated by Nicholas Boulton, one of the best romance narrators around.

516WEHK17LLAlyssa Cole's An Extraordinary Union is a spy-thriller set in the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Ellie Burns's photographic memory once made her performer on the abolitionist circuit , but the former slave now serves the Union as part of the Loyal League, a network of black spies. She has infiltrated the home of a Confederate politician when her mission is endangered by the arrival of another Union spy, Malcom McCall, a Scottish immigrant and one of Pinkerton's agents.

I loved Ellie, righteous anger and disgust and incredibly bravery.  She is witty, cynical about men, white men in particular and determined to do all she can to make sure the Union wins. 

61DtVTVlHSLLisa Kleypas's Devil in Spring is the sequel I didn't really mean to read but that I loved anyway. I was distinctly underwhelmed by the first book in this series, as the hero and heroine hardly spent anytime together, and although I bought Marrying Winterbourne, I didn't ever get around to reading it. However, after hearing interesting things from trusted romance reading friends, I decided to try the sample and I was delighted by Pandora. One of the wild Ravenel sisters that steal the first book, Pandora is determined to avoid marriage, so she may launch her own game-manufacturing company. However an act of kindness and clumsiness entrap both Pandora and  Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, the son of Evie and Sebastian from Kleypas's treasured classic Devil in Winter, in an engagment.

This book has some flaws, mostly in the third half when the plot goes sideways, but Pandora is one of the most enjoyable Regency heroines I have read in a good while.

51P7cOTXSrLHowever I could have easily nominated Tessa Dare's delightful and fanciful, The Duchess Deal. The Duchess Deal is more fairy-tale than Regency romance, as many almost fantastical events move the plot forward but the romance was just so tender and sweet that like most Tessa Dare romances, it overcomes all sorts of ridiculous premises. It doesn't quite matter how ridiculous it would be that a Duke would insist on marrying an impoverished seamstress so that he may spite the fiancee that abandoned him when he returned dramatically scarred from the Continental Wars, because story feels right.  The book leans into the ridiculous at points, with Emma giving the Duke new nicknames each day and Ashbury's adventures as a nighttime vigilante.

I very  much enjoy Dare's sense of humor and find her fun to read. She frequently makes me laugh, which is something I look for in fluffy reads, but she also tackle a great deal emotional territory. I particularly appreciated the scene where the Duke struggles to understand and comfort the Emma when she is having a panic attack. It wasn't gritty or eloquent but it felt very very familiar.

She clung to his waistcoat. “This just h-happens sometimes.” He tightened his arms about her. “I’m here,” he murmured. “I’m here.” He didn’t ask her any further questions, but he couldn’t help but think them.

 

51EKw4JefHL._SY346_I adored K.J.Charles's Sins of the Cities series ( I reviewed the whole series for RT). The books are set in a colorful and diverse London that is rarely depicted in romance novels and never as vividly. An Unnatural Vice is the story of Nathaniel Roy, an investigative journalist pressured by his boss to take on the incredibly popular spiritualists, who were all the rage in Victorian London. His skepticism meets its match in Justin Lazarus, the gifted amoral grifter known as the Seer of London, and one my favorite K.J. Charles characters yet.  

K.J.Charles did a fantastic job juggling the overarching series mystery with the more personal and deadly danger Justin and Nathan find themselves caught up in.  I was fascinated by the way Charles was able to resolve the conflicts between Justin and Nathan, to provide them with a believable HEA. 

 

My nominations for Best Paranormal Romance were Wildfire (Book 3 in the Hidden Legacy series), Silver Silence by Nalini Singh (Book 1 in her new Psy-Changeling Series, Trinity) and Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop.

27422533There are very few authors for whom I consistently pay full price for on release day, no questions asked, that small circle includes these authors.

I have consistently enjoyed Gordon and Ilona Andrew's Urban Fantasy and PNR novels but the Hidden Legacy series has all the elements that made the other series work for me mixed together in just the right way.  I love Nevada, her self-sacrifice, and determination to take care of her family. I love her family, her wacky sisters, her funny cousins, and her quirky and determined mom and grandmother.  I really like Rogan and the arc the Andrews have given to him, from almost feral despot, to a dangerous and still unpredictable leader who trust Nevada as partner in all ways, and is determined to make sure the Nevada and her family have all the choices they deserve.

I really hope we see way more books set in this world. I am pretty done with Rogan and Nevada as leads, but I am eager to follow so many of the other characters in this series into magical mayhem.  These books are also excellent audio books. Renee Raudman once again pairs up with Andrews to deliver an engrossing performance.

51kN6kL1f7L._SY346_I was thrilled to see Nalini Singh embrace a new more inclusive direction in the her new Psy-Changeling series, Trinity.  Silver Silence is the story of Silver Mercant and Valentin Nikoleav.

Valentin is sweet, determined Bear Shifter who is determined to breakthrough Silver' icy silence, but he gets consent.  

In Silver Silence, Valentin does not proceed without Silver's explicit consent. He is blunt, determined and stubborn but he respects Silver's choices even when it hurts him.  He encourages her and makes sure she has everything she needs. His protectiveness does not make her world smaller. Silver is presented as more powerful than Valentin in all ways but the physically, and that he is not threatened by her prominent global position but instead actively supportive of it.  Valentin's love for Silver is self-sacrificial, and constant when many would have given up. Singh does a great job presenting this as fidelity not simply stubbornness.

"Who are you to me?" 
"Yours," he said, "I'm yours."

From my July 2017 review

51l5ne9mCDL._SY346_ Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop is the last book of a fascinating but often frustrating series for romance readers like myself who are used to more romantic progression and heat. But the series and its sprawling cast captured my heart and imagination.

In this novel Bishop resolves Meg and Simon's long-standing but unacknowledged love for one another. The whole world is changed by their relationship even if they don't know quite how to articulate what they are one another.  I left the series feeling satisfied and impressed after a few re-reads of the whole series highlighted to me how many themes and threads from the first books are tied up in the fifth book. 

However the book was also partly a set up for Bishop future novels set in the world of the Others as she expands the focus away from the Courtyard to new satellite communities.  I am eager to see what dangers and wonders those stories will dwell on.

29772444Best Romantic Suspense

I don't read a lot of romantic suspense anymore but when I do, it is by HelenKay Dimon. The genre as whole has gone very dark but I can count on Dimon to build tension and menace without more gore or gruesomeness than I can handle.

I loved Guarding Mr. Fine one of the runners up in this year's #readRchatawards, when I read it almost a year ago and it has one of the best awkward morning after run-ins ever. But my favorite of Dimon's current series is her "Games People play" series about a close-knit group of guys, who are as awkward as they are dangerous. My favorites in the series were The Fixer, which came out the last week of last year and The Enforcer, which came out in the spring.  The heroines are fabulous, hostile, suspicious and not willing to give these guys an inch.   

These books hit my sweet spot of fun, sexy and suspenseful and I had a hard time putting it down to get other stuff done this week.

    --From my review in May


6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d27ac453970c-120wiBest Erotic Romance

This was a really tough category for me this year.  I used to read so many that fell under this heading but I have instead been reading a lot more hot contemporary. However when I do read Erotic Romance it is written by Rebekah Weatherspoon. I loved her Beards and Bondage series, particularly the second book, Haven.  Weatherspoon's heroines are the best but she writes wonderfully superficially grumpy and gruff heroes who are truly sweet and creates communities around the protagonists that dynamic, realistic and believable.

Rebekah Weatherspoon continues to succeed in crafting stories that are emotionally layered and full of humor. I loved the whole cast, even when they don't love each other.

--From my review in April

 

51CGyb5IqjLBest Debut Romance

The #readRchatawards debut romance nominee list read like the top of my TBR.  I was particularly thrilled to see nominations for two great up and coming Latina writers, Priscilla Oliveras and Alexis Daria

I really enjoyed reading Daria's "Take the Lead" and there is just something so special about seeing someone with a name and background like your own (my mom shares a last name with Daria's heroine,  Gina Morales) getting their HEA.  Gina is strong, principled and determined to succeed in a difficult soul-eating industry. I loved her intensity. Although I have never watched a minute of Dancing with the Stars or any other celebrity Dancing competition I found the whole story highly enjoyable, with great behind the scene details (OMG, the spray-tan scene!).

51CaU6ISGfL._SY346_In the debut category I also loved reading Adriana Anders, "Under Her Skin".  

"" a story about finding a safe harbor, working toward self-acceptance, and starting over.  There really great depictions of female friendships, a richly drawn small town community and little femdom kink to spice things up.

--From my review in April

She has had a  stellar year, with two additional releases and a great short story anchoring in the Rogue Desire Anthology, that you need pick up if you love heroes and heroines who are part of the #resistance and fight for trust, justice, freedom and equality.

 

 

I needed great books to read this year more than I usually do. They provided precious hours of entertainment, uplift and inspiration. I hope you had a great year of reading, and I hope the coming new year is filled with fantastic books for all of us to enjoy!


#RomBkLove Day 5: Romantic Elements

IMG_6964

 Romantic Elements Which ones do you love? How much romance do you need?

I came to romance from other genres. Whether I was reading mystery, fantasy or science fiction I was always drawn to books with a strong romance storyline. 

I read  a lot of Urban Fantasy with central romantic relationships, one of my favorites is Patricia Briggs' Alpha & Omega series. Charles and Anna's relationship beautiful and powerful and constantly tested but they persevere.

One of the things I love about the Alpha and Omega series is that while the stories are full of great crime solving/detective/action adventure elements, the stories in the end are really about Anna and Charles’s relationship.  Briggs does not flinch as she has portrays the many hurdles and difficulties pair have to overcome to be happy together.  Briggs strength in these books is that she has balanced the portrayals of conflict, pain, with those of growth and joy.  


#RomBkLove Day 1: Gateway Romance

 

IMG_6959

My Gateway Romances were Deanna Raybourn's  Silent in the Grave, Nalini Singh's  Slave to Sensation and yes, as heretical as it is to say it among some romance purists, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.

Before I found romance I read YA, Fantasy and Urban Fantasy for the romantic arcs. It wasn't till I became a romance reader that I recognized the pattern.

As I was finishing up Grad School and had time to read again I read Twilight at a friend's urging and later read her copy of 50SoG because she had read it and wanted someone to talk to about it. There was certainly more sex on the page than I had ever previously encountered with the possible exception of the Jean Auel books I had to sneak read in middle school. I read a ton of erotica and books with black covers and inanimate objects on the covers immediately afterwards looking for something that would capture my attention in the same way. Most of it it didn't click with me, even though they were certainly hot but I kept trying looking for that X-factor that had caught my attention. In the midst of all them I did find a couple of Charlotte Stein books that told me I was on the right track.

At about the same time I became aware of Felicia Day's Vaginal Fantasy Book club's. I was drawn to the virtual bookclub because identified with Day and the rest of the VF crew as fellow geek girls,  women who had read a ton of SF/Fantasy and comics like I did.  For someone who never seriously considered reading romance, their enjoyment of genre romance novels was a powerful recommendation. I watched the first half-dozen episodes and  started checking out the books. The first two I read on Day's recommendation were Silent in the Grave and Slave to Sensation. They were immediately accessible to me. I had been a Austen and cozy mystery fan, so mystery series with a strong romantic core was in someways very familiar and it started opening the genre to me.  Slave to Sensation with its much more overt romantic arc was a bigger leap but Singh's fascinating world building and fast-moving and suspenseful action plot, eased me in.

I immediately read the rest of both those series and as I read them I realized the thing I was looking for was strong emotional conflicts.  Thankfully I had access to the NYPL and my local libraries eBook collections and they both had a wide variety of romance eBooks available. They had everything from Harlequins, e-rom, PNR and a gazillion regency romances. When I ran out of Psy-Changelings to read about I ended up trying Stephanie Laurens's Cynster books.  The bossy, over-protective heroes in those books had a lot in common with the Singh's changelings. They even worked as a pack, and they were essentially invulnerable. They made it possible for me to transition from binge-reading PNR, which I was still sort of classifying in my head as sexy SF to reading "real" traditional Historical Romances of which my library had hundreds. 

I eventually admitted to myself that I that I was a romance reader, not just a Mystery, Fantasy and SF reader crossing over Once I did I started exploring the RITA award winners, and seeking out romance blogs for recommendations.  It has been about 5 and half years and my reading preferences have evolved as I was introduced to new authors, tropes and trends but I will always have a fondness in my heart for the books that drew me into the romance genre.


Massive RT Review Catch-up Post

I just saw that a bunch of my reviews for RT are no longer behind the paywall!!

These are some of the books I've reviewed in the last few months for them:

 

The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel: Taut Danish Mystery

Silverwolf: by Jacey Bedford: Disappointing fantasy sequel

Fury on Fire by Sophie Jordan:  Started strong and then sort of fizzled.

More than Anything by Kimberly Lang: Vacation fling that gets serious

Waking the Bear by Kerry Adrienne: Fast pace and fun start to the Shifter War series.

Pursuing the Bear by Kerry Adrienne: Ugh, repetitive dialogue and messy plot

Don't Temp Me by Lori Foster : Bad timing, worst first impressions and second-thoughts.

Level Up by Cathy Yardley: Funny and nuanced and great rep for women in technology

 


A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn

51NzMcKLDSL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_I love historical fiction, mystery and adventure stories and this book had all of that and a touch of romance. This is the first book in a new mystery series set near the end of the Victorian Era, around the time of the Queen's Jubilee by Deanna Raybourn.  I loved Raybourn's Lady Jane mysteries and this series looks to be even more interesting.

Veronica Speedwell, a naturalist, who specializes in hunting rare butterflies, has just buried her last remaining relative, her adoptive aunt, in a small rural village. When she returns home to pack up her belongings and set off on her own she is attacked in her cottage by an intruder and rescued by a mysterious old German baron, who insists that her life is in danger and he is here to protect her. She reluctantly agrees to go with him to London (mostly to save herself the train fare) because he claims to have known her mother and might be able to tell her who her father was. He is however killed before he can tell her after leaving her in the care of a trusted associate, a gruff-disgraced former naturalist and adventurer, known as Stoker.

ACB-350Stoker and Veronica reluctantly team-up and they together and go on the run from those pursuing Veronica and work to solve the Baron's murder. The plot is twisty and the dialogue very clever and funny. Veronica and Stoker have great sexual/romantic tension as they forge their tentative partnership and I love the push/pull of their relationship. Neither of them are easy people, and both have lots of emotional baggage to overcome.  I enjoyed the colorful locations (a cluttered warehouse, a traveling carnival, a ramshackle ballroom stuffed with scientific treasure) where Veronica and Stoker take refuge and unusual  supporting characters  very much.  I am looking forward to reading Veronica and Stoker's future adventures.

I listened to this as an audiobook and the performance by the narrator, Angele Masters was fantastic, as she gave each character a distinctive voice without being distracting.


Gambled Away: A Historical Romance Anthology

51S13AejBxL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

I loved this anthology. Rich characterization and intriguing stories about resourcefulness, resilience and redemption that are never repetitive despite sharing a common plot element.

As this anthology includes many of my favorite authors I hope many people take a chance and explore some of their other novels and that they team up again in the future.

All or Nothing by Rose Lerner: This story was surprising, engrossing and emotionally complex. It is a story about lust, longing, trust, hope and how important it is to hold on to truth.  Maggie da Silva's life is outwardly glamorous. She and her best-friend and lover Henny host a small gambling den, where together they charm aristocrats into emptying their pockets for chance to be singled out to gamble on winning Maggie's sexual favors.  Simon Radcliffe-Gould is a struggling architect and terrible gambler who can't resist coming every week because he is infatuated with Maggie. He is titillated and mortified when he wins Maggie. Torn between honorable intentions and desire, he persuades Maggie to pose as his mistress at house-party hosted by Simon's ex-lover, so he can complete a commission without getting sucked back into a relationship with him.  

Lerner is masterful in balancing the emotional tension in this story, as both Maggie and Simon have a lot they need to figure out about themselves, their needs and what they are unwilling to compromise on before they can even consider how to turn their temporary entanglement into something lasting. I don't think I will be done thinking about Simon and Maggie and the truths they hold on to for a very long time. I was particularly moved by Maggie determination to reclaim her Jewish faith. Maggie's feelings about her faith are rich and complex as she seeks away to live authentically despite the challenges of growing up without any access to those who might have taught her the traditions her family was forced to abandon because of religious persecution and forced conversion.

“The Liar’s Dice” by Jeannie Lin

Set during the Tang Dynasty, Lin's novella is part of her fantastic Lotus Palace series and features many familiar characters as secondary characters while still being completely accessible to those who have  not be lucky enough to read the previous books.

Wei-wei, Lady Bai, has always been a dutiful daughter but she has grown restless and seeks to experience a little of bit of the freedom that would have been hers if she had been born a boy. After borrowing her brother's scholar's robes she sneaks into her sister-in-law's tea house to experience for herself what she has only ever read about. On her way back home she runs into Gao a shady acquaintance of her brother  and together they stumble upon murder victim. Worried that the murder might be connected to her brother's recently uncharacteristic behavior and could inadvertently destroy her brother's newfound joy, they team up to solve the murder.

The Liar's Dice was essentially a mystery novella with a touch of romance. Wei-wei tests the limits of her freedom, confronts her brother and gets to know a mysterious but unsuitable man in Gao. The ending of their flirtation is hopeful but far from assured. As a mystery novella it was highly enjoyable, full of fantastic and fascinating detail but as romance it left me somewhat unsatisfied.

“Raising The Stakes” by Isabel Cooper  As Okies stream into 1938 California, desperate as dust storms and drought push them off their land, Sam, a card-shark, wins a magical flute that allows her to summon a otherworldy fae warrior to come to her aid.  After the initial shock wears off, the clever and shrewd, Sam enlists Talathan's aid in conning a greedy revival preacher in order to save her family farm from foreclosure. Sharp, cunning Sam bewilders and tempts Talathan with her forthrightness and hidden vulnerabilities and makes them both long for something more than temporary team-up.

Cooper grounds her fantasy with great period detail and sells the partnerships between the nomadic gambler and fairy warrior through humor and snappy dialogue, but the romance between them still felt tentative by the end.

“Redeemed” by Molly O’Keefe 

Guilt-ridden Dr. James Madison is struggling to figure out how to rebuild his life, camping out in a brothel and turning away his friends. Addiction has wrecked his career and nearly destroyed the life of his assistant, but it is the daily grind of recovery and re-integration into society that is wearing him down. 

When Helen Winters, the caged singing star of the titillating traveling "Northern Spy" act  arrives in to town, James can't decide if he should intervene when it seems that Helen is being drugged and possibly held against her will by her manager and guardian. 

Like the previous stories in O'Keefe's fantastic post-Civil War western series, Into the Wilds, Redeemed explores the complicated legacy of the Civil War on its survivors.  All the characters are richly drawn and the romance was emotional and heart-wrenching.

“Gideon and the Den of Thieves” by Joanna Bourne When Gideon Gage a trader and mercenary infiltrates the lair of London's most powerful crimelord,  Lazarus, he finds unlikely allies in Hawker and Aimee, two of Lazarus's most loyal subjects.

Hawker and Aimee are conspiring to protect the ailing Lazarus from challengers, through a campaign of distraction and misdirection  because they know that Lazarus's perceived strength is all that keeps their little band of street urchins and waifs from utter destruction. Lazarus might be the devil but he is the devil they know and count on.

Bourne's novella is set is near the very beginning of her Spymaster's series chronology.  A very young Hawker, at his most  vicious, sarcastic and feral and Aimee, french refugee who works as Lazarus' s fence, is everything her heroines usually are, independent, resourceful and deeply scarred by her past.  I enjoyed the novella's focus on Aimee and Hawker's friendship and their relationship with Lazarus.

 

The anthology is currently available for free through Kindle Unlimited but it is more than worth its regular $2.99 price tag.  I received advance copy from the authors for review consideration.

 


Mini-Reviews: Reaper's Fall, Glory in Death, Fool Me Twice and A Midnight Clear

24582414Reaper's Fall (Reapers MC #5) by Joanna Wylde:  Levi "Painter" Brooks, is the king of mixed messages. While he undeniably lusts after her, he pushes Mel Tucker away at every opportunity. Their romances becomes a complicated  on-but-never-quite-off five year plus slog, as these two dance around each other, failing to trust or communicate. She fears being abandoned, and Painter is a master at being wishy-washy.  I think I am pretty much over these books.  There were really good moments in this, but I skimmed the long involved biker politics plot, I didn't like the sexual dynamics between Mel and Painter (he continues to sleep with who ever he wants while claiming to be with Mel, and trying to interfere in her dating life).   It honestly read more like a cautionary tale, "don't sleep with possessive but wishy-washy bikers"

268601Glory in Death (In Death #2) by JD Robb  Eve faces off against a serial killer targeting prominent and powerful women, while questioning her increasingly serious relationship with Roarke and her fear of learning more about her past.  Once again I figured out who the murder was very early on, and I once again didn't care. I am here for the romance and watching Eve struggle with figuring out how to let herself have normal emotions and relationships while continuing to be good at her job. There were some odd and uncomfortable depictions of people of color and racial dynamics in this one.  I wasn't sure what Robb was going for but it made me uncomfortable and sad.

18143986Fool Me Twice (Rules for the Reckless #2) by Meredith Duran  Olivia Mather goes undercover in the recently-widowed and reclusive Duke of Marwick's house in order to steal some incriminating information the Duke has on a man that has been threatening her life for almost a decade.  Her plans are complicated when she discovers that the household is in utter disarray with the Duke refuses to leave his room. I hate listened to the first half of this book. I really couldn't stand how Olivia became infatuated with the dangerously gaunt Alistair. The book didn't begin to click for me till around chapter 10, when Alistair discovers why Olivia has been in his house.   The book really picked up steam for me at that point, and I really found the second half very very strong, with great conflict and characterization.

27505814A Midnight Clear by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner: This novella is set in Annapolis in 1949, a dozen years before Star Dust and is the story of Joe Reynolds (another Perseid astronaut) and Frances Dumfries.    Frances is an Admiral's daughter, who constantly must fend of the attentions of ambitious midshipmen who want to rub shoulders with her father.  Joe, while ambitious and dedicated only has eyes for Frances.  The novella is sweet and romantic, as Joe sets out to impress Frances with his desire to seek her happiness above his own.  The conflict and resolutions both seemed real and believable. Barry and Turner did a wonderful job developing a great supporting cast without stealing any time from the young lovers.


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.


The Secret Heart & The Lover's Knot by Erin Satie

The Secret Heart:


In The Secret Heart, we are introduced to Caroline Small, a mercenary debutante, the daughter of a dissolute Viscount. Caro was raised by his mistress Giselle, a former ballerina he had installed in their home as governess. She armed Caro with a cynical world view, coquettish charms and the exacting discipline of ballet. Caro is determined to secure a wealthy husband so she can provide for her younger brother Robin and herself in the ways her father hasn’t. She is flinty, determined but honest in her intentions. She has been invited to spend time with Daphne, niece to the Duke of Hastings at the family’s country estate. The visit is welcome respite from depredations she experiences in her father’s home, and when she meets Adam Spark, Lord Bexley, the Duke’s son alone one night, she sets her sights on him, but first she runs from him frightened by his thuggish appearance.

Bexley is not tall but he is imposing and brutish. Secretly a bare-knuckle boxer, Bexley buries the pain of his sister’s disappearance and presumed death and the betrayal of his best-friend by training as boxer and pounding into laborers at late-night fights under an assumed identity.

Caro and Bexley’s romance is not at all straightforward. Adam has grown up under the thumb of the Duke of Hastings, a power-hungry manipulative man who seeks to control everyone dependent on him, and Adam has made it his life’s ambition to financially free himself from him. He has saved every penny and it is on the verge of achieving it, when Caro enters his life. Caro is a grasping opportunist and sees in Adam first someone she can blackmail, later someone to entrap to win herself the comfort she has always wanted before she comes to see him as person whose hopes and dreams she can crush. Adam is initially disgusted by her machinations as much as he is attracted by her beauty and attentions. He plays along with her games of seduction hoping to scare her off, before he can no longer resist her lure. While incredibly angry at her he eventually able to recognize the vulnerability & fear that drives her and to see her as a treasure not a trap. The panic and dread Caro feels as she realizes that Adam is not simply a mark to be manipulated & that she has started to fall in love is perfect.

In some ways, The Secret Heart felt like historical NA because both Caro and Adam, have to wrestle with their fathers’ emotional baggage in order to become better adults than any one intends them to be. For their happy ending to be believable and achievable, Caro and Adam first learn to stand independently, and figure out how to get the better of all who will try to control them without playing the same destructive games. Their victory in the end depends on the fact that they gamble on each other and win.

While I loved th whole novel, one element in which Satie excelled in was in her world-building. She pours beautiful detail into this book, showing obvious care and research as she presented Caro and Adam’s passions for boxing and ballet. It is in all the little details she drops in to highlight Caro’s relative poverty (her need to sponge hems, rather than being able to change into new dresses like Daphne does) and how she describes the estate and surrounding community. The details ground the novel in a specific time and place and remind us that that these characters are not modern people playing dress up.

5 stars


The Lover’s Knot

The second novel in the No Better Angels series is only loosely connected to the first through the appearance of a supporting character from the first book and the mention of another. Initially I was dismayed by this as I had just finished the Secret Heart and didn’t want to leave those characters behind. But I shouldn’t have worried. Once again the heroine completely caught my attention because she doesn’t behave like a romance heroine should. The story also departs from the usual romantic narrative arc. It is as much a murder mystery, and novel of memory & grief as it is a romance novel.


The book opens with the arrival of a new Duke. Julian Swann is an unlikely heir to a dukedom, once a ward of the Duke, he was seventh in line to inherit, but all the other men ahead of him have died without leaving sons or other heirs. The previous duke did leave a suicide note that Julian immediately recognizes as a fake. He runs off to confront Sophie Roe, his former fiancee and the only person in the vicinity with the skills to forge the letter.


Sophie Roe was once a lady, a young woman with a promising future and doting fiancee. Now is she is small business owner, a tradeswoman much to the embarrassment of her aunt and uncle. She distills ink and sells custom nibs to customers all over England out her small shop, Iron & Wine. Her hands are ink-stained, her clothing plain and her face scarred & tattooed. She hasn’t seen Julian since the night of their engagement ten years before, a night she barely remembers, but that left her indelibly marked, the night when she was injured, discovered her fortune had been lost, and she forsook Julian.


The Lover’s Knot centers on memory and fictions and how we can come to believe in lies more deeply than truth. Sophie is an orphan who can’t rely on her memory. While she can remember her distilling recipes and techniques, conversations and events start fading almost as soon as they happened. She obsessively journals, and sends herself letters written in her parents handwriting to comfort herself. These false letters mingle with her faint recollections to utterly muddle her memory. But Sophie is not the only one carefully self-deluding herself, just the most obvious. Julian deludes himself constantly about Sophie’s interest, motivations and intentions, The Duke’s daughter, his widowed second-wife, his old friends, all choose to dwell on one memory or fiction to justify their actions in the wake of the Duke’s death.


Julian is determined to uncover the truth about the Duke’s too convenient death, convincing Sophie that she has inadvertently aided a killer. He also hopes that through their work together he can finally learn why she rejected him and put it behind him.


Like in The Secret Heart, the secondary characters’ relationships and motivations are not secondary to the plot. The complexity of familial relationships, the ties of duty and fealty are essential to unraveling not only the mystery of the duke’s death but what happened on the night Julian and Sophie’s relationship was destroyed.


I really liked Sophie even when she was less than sympathetic. I liked her independence and single-mindedness, even if it made her blind to Julian’s needs. I enjoyed Julian’s frustration with her at her inability to behave how he expects her to, although I struggled with his destructive rages. I had a harder time with Julian. He is ruthless, angry, haunted and lonely, isolated by his physical beauty, and self-destructively obsessed with Sophie. He prefers a crumb of her attention to the full focus of anyone else, all the while building up resentment that for a great deal of the novel Sophie is fails to recognize. Their relationship is deeply unbalanced for a great part of the novel, because Sophie doesn’t realize how much he needs and wants from her and how much he does for her, that her success is not quite as independent as she thought.


After I finished this book I spent a lot of time thinking about unbalanced relationships, a theme in both novels and how people can try to earn love (Julian), manipulate it (Caro), avoid it (Adam), abuse it (Sophie) and how other seek to use money and power to force devotion perverting families ties, all the while being convinced of the rightness of what they are doing. It is one of the many interesting themes present in these novels and I can’t wait to read the next two books.

5 Stars


Disclosures:

I’ve been following Erin Satie on Twitter for more than a year and she follows me. I started following her before I realized she was working on self-publishing her novels, because I enjoyed her responses to twitter conversations I was participating in. When her first novel The Secret Heart came out I ordered it almost automatically, but didn’t read it right away (my TBR is huge). I was caught off guard when I saw that her second novel was on Netgalley soon after that and ready for release. The premise of the second story caught my interest more than the first, so I requested it and decided to read  the novels back to back.

I am incredibly happy that I did.