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Recent Reads: Mini-Reviews of my April Reading including books by Kristen Ashley, Holley Trent, Lauren Dane and Deanna Raybourn

This surprise novella gives an HEA to a longstanding supporting character in the Rock Chick series, Shirleen, the former poker-game running, black office manager at Lee Investigations, whose over-the-top meddling has incited many a romantic conflicts in the series.  She is now a devoted single foster mother to two teenage boys on the brink of manhood. As a character Shirleen has always been problematic, and this book is no exception.

When a handsome man tries to pick her up at the grocery store, she first runs from his attention and then soaks it in, saving his number despite being determined not to ever call him because she is sure her sketchy past, precludes her from deserving of the HEAs she has helped engineer for her girlfriends have all received.  So the Rock Chicks and the Hot Bunch intervene.

What I really enjoyed about this romance was the care Moses took in building up his relationship with Shirleen. He knows she is skittish with good reason, so he puts in the work. They have long phone-calls, romantic dinners and is there for her breaking down the barriers to her believing she deserves to be happy and that someone can love her despite her complicated history.

Like all anthologies there are some really great stories and some so-so ones and all of them are no longer than a handfuls of pages. My favorites were "Here" by Ronnie Garcia, "Stories from my father" by  Adam Lance Garcia and Heidi Black, "A Broken Promesa" by Rosa Colon and "Blame it on 'Rico" by  Alberto 'Tito' Serrano,  It will be a great document to use try to unpack all the cultural anxieties experienced by Puerto Ricans and the Boricuan Diaspora. I was also once again fascinated by the amount of projection we Puerto Ricans are able channel into Taino imagery as an expression of anti-colonial sentiment. I understand the impulse and desire to reclaim that lost heritage but I feel we run the danger of colonizing them once more with our narratives. Puerto Rico has a lot more wrestling to do in the present with its colonial reality and reading this anthology made me feel a lot less alone, as I recognize so much of the home I grew up in, the worries and hopes I have for it and the murkiness of its future in it.

An abused, low-ranking wolf female jumps at a chance to leave her wretched home back by answering a mating call.  Arriving to a new pack as modern-day mail-order bride of sorts, she has no idea what to expect, and only has the hope that these wolves will be better, less brutal and that her role as wife, rather than a single female will be more secure.  Only when she arrives her assigned mate doesn't want her.  Determined not to go back, she sets out to out-stubborn him.  I quite liked the heroine and her hope and determination. She is practical and clear-eyed about the society she has grown up in, and it was a treat to see her grown in confidence as she realizes her world need not be as small as it was before.  

However I didn't care for the hero or his self-hating about his new disability. His view of himself as lesser and unworthy as mate, and that didn't work for me.  I particularly didn't like how long it took him to realize that his determination to reject her was about overriding her choices. And I didn't like that in the end he was containing to insist in denying her the bite that would allow her to shift fully after reconciling himself to the blessing of having her as his wife. I did like the rest of the world, so I will eventually read the rest of these, but I think I will jump to the Viking Queen's Men book everyone else is raving about first.

I really loved the beginning of this book. I loved how the heroine's dating life was messy and how realistically she responded the attention and interest after her mini-makeover. She basks in the new-found male attention but doesn't lose sight of her boundaries. When one of her dates starts getting possessive, and clingy, she reacts in reasonable ways, mildly rebuking, trying to distance herself while also being aware of the potential danger.  

However I didn't like how much the story relied on portraying women outside the heroine's friendship circle, and in the hero's past as vain and bitchy and how often the heroine had to stake her claim through uncomfortable confrontations. I really hate the trope that the hero has only date terrible women in the past and finally find the one.

 

I continue to enjoy how matter-of-factly lecherous Veronica can be. She owns her sexual desire and has no shame in claiming her extensive sexual history. In this book I did love how she uses her flirtations with Stoker, to soothe or aggravate him depending on what he needs at the time and how she has come to realize that her feelings for him go well beyond wanting to shag him. The mystery however was quite dull and Veronica and Stoker spent too much spinning their wheels.


Who should you try? Some of my favorite WOC authors:

Last year I wrote a post breaking down the RITA finalists list against the books I happened to read the year before (2017) and looking at the list to see which books were in my TBR in order to move them up before the annual ceremony in July.  This year when the list was announced there were a few first time finalists that made me super happy (Congratulations, Alexis Daria and Priscilla Oliveras & KJ Charles) but there were so many fabulous books especially by Authors of Color that didn't final this year that at the end of day, I didn't feel a great RITA bounce.

This past month and half has been rough in Romancelandia. First were the waves of revelations of abuse and harassment in m/m, that affected a lot of readers and writers I read, then the RITAs announcement day came and went, and it just highlighted how segregated Romancelandia can be. Since then Black authors have been sharing incredibly painful stories of exclusion.  These stories are not new, but hopefully more people will hear them this time around.

At the same time my friend Jen (@jenreadsromance) had started work on website full of romance novel recommendations: https://www.jenreadsromance.com/, a place where a reader could find starter romances in many of romance's rich sub-genres. She is intentionally working on creating an inclusive list that is searchable by theme and time period. It is something I wish I had stumbled upon when I was first starting. I started by exploring my library's ebook collection first and that collection was mostly white, assembled by purchasing from the RITA finalists lists.

Eventually I left that mostly-white corner of Romancelandia behind, but not before I had developed the mistaken notion that African American and other POC simply didn't write the books I was looking for.  Instead I accepted the crumbs of having white writers who would very occasionally throw in a token or stereotypical CoC into their books, when looking for characters like me.  While I was growing bored, restless and increasingly angry with these book and I kept saying I wish, someone would write X but with POC. It took me a ridiculously long time to realize I was the problem because I was the one limiting myself. The problem wasn't that no one was writing that, it was that I wasn't looking at what POC writers were doing. The books were out there waiting for me, but I didn't know where to find them or who to ask. That was no one's problem but my own.  I had to change how I discovered books.  Some of it was organic, as I got more involved in Romancelandia, I met more PoC readers, as I followed them, I became exposed to authors and books I hadn't encountered before.  

As I moved into reviewing I became more intentional about reading outside the narrow corner of Romancelandia I had first landed in.  Some of it was unintentional, because I am not a big blog, I didn't just depend on what I saw available in Netgalley or Edelweiss, several authors that have grown into favorites approached me, sending in a review request . I am not going to pretend that my blog is this diverse wonderland but being willing to review what I buy for myself and accepting author pitches has certainly exposed me to tons of authors I would have never reviewed otherwise.

This week  has reminded how other folks might end up just not knowing about great books and great authors of color because no one in their immediate circle talks about them. I might think everyone knows who Farrah Rochon or Alisha Rai  or Beverly Jenkins is but honestly too many people don't. They might not see their books in  bookstores, they might not see them listed as read-a-likes.  Ask me how weird it was to walk into a B&N last year and have to hunt around to find just a couple of non-white authors on the shelves. So many of my faves were missing and it was a wake-up call about just how much further we need to go as industry to be inclusive despite how affirming my own twitter TL might be.

I can't fix the whole industry or those who don't actually want to read awesome books but I can talk about some of fantastic authors of color publishing right now. It is not a hardship to come up with fabulous Authors of Color to recommend, it is a hardship to stop.

 

 So who should you try? If you follow this blog the names I mention here should not surprise you. But if this is your first visit here:

 These are some of my favorites:

C1rYF-xYAVS._SL250_FMpng_Farrah Rochon (Contemporary & Sports Romance):  Rochon writes contemporary romance set in the south.  Most of her books take place in small town and cities not far from New Orleans. My favorite is her Moments in Maplesville Series, they are about people seeing their towns grown and change, worrying about big box stores moving in and whether they should move to bigger cities for better opportunities. The first book in The Moments in Maplesville series (which can be read as standalones),A Perfect Holiday Fling is about temporary single dad (his widowed sister is deployed overseas, so the former naval pilot moves in to take care of his nephew) and the recently divorce veterinarian he meets when they discover an abandoned cat. 

    She also wrote sports romance for Kimani, so if you are looking for football romance that are not improbably all-white check those out. She is a huge Broadway fan, so I hope one days she gives us Broadway-set romance. 

Alisharai Forbidden Heart coversAlisha Rai(Contemporary & Erotic Romance) has been on my favorite author list for a long time. I read and enjoyed a lot of her erotic romances, Serving Pleasure & Gentleman in the Street but I have adored her Forbidden Hearts series for Avon (Reviews for Hate to Want You, Wrong to Need You,  Hurts to Love You.) She tackles huge themes, creates a fantastic family saga that takes three books to resolve and left me wanting more while doing an amazing job portraying the many faces of anxiety and depression.  These people are complicated and fascinating and I loved them. So if you like angsty romance novels where lots of tropes are subverted and upended in swoony ways, check Alisha Rai's books out.

Clean breaks, a couple lays on a picnic blanket.Ruby Lang (Contemporary) writes smart, funny contemporary romances with strong female friendships and prickly heroines. I've liked each book in her Practice Perfect series better than the one before and I quite liked the first, Acute Reactions.  I loved Hard Knocks, book 2 and suddenly I got her, then Clean Breaks, and now Lang is one of those authors, I auto-buy. Most recently I simply adored her story in Rogue Acts, The Long Run.

So-sweet2-200x300Rebekah Weatherspoon's (Contemporary, Erotic Romance & PNR) Beards and Bondage series books Haven and Sanctuary start off with a bang, each of these RS-tinged contemporary romances feature the heroine surviving attempts on their lives. The openings are intense and gripping and immediately caught my attention but the meat of the books are these strong black women falling for big gruff mean that are secret marshmallows and are people they can lean and depend on.  I also really enjoyed her Sugar Baby series of novellas about a woman, Kayla, desperately trying to make ends meet, whose roommate convinces her to Sugar Daddy mixer event, in hopes of finding someone who will be happy to help pay some of her bills in exchange for a little companionship. Totally miserable at the event, she tries to hide out in side room and ends up meeting the organizer of the event, and they have to figure out how to negotiate a real relationship. This is not a trope that typically appeals to me but this series was delightful, and Kayla and Michael are adorable and I loved spending time with them as they figured out their HEA.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b7c8bf9c92970b-120wiDo you enjoy geeky heroes and heroines or raunchy stories of sexy revenge?  Well Melissa Blue/Dakota Gray writes them both! (Contemporary & Erotic Romance)  In early 2016, I read Under His Kilt, about co-workers who have fling and I ended up searching out the rest of her backlist and it so worth reading.  I  have to admit to hesitating in trying Perv when a few people on my TL started recommending it, I didn't know at the time that Dakota Gray was another pen name for Melissa Blue, and I was frankly put off my the hero's aggressive cockiness in the blurb. But I finally gave in after a good friend whose recs I trusted raved. It so fun. I am heroine-centric reader and I adored the heroine, Robyn, she is not here for the hero's shit, she is hero to teach him a lesson and it all gets very sexy and complicated.

D1wYve0bxCS._SY135_Priscilla Oliveras (Closed-door Contemporary Romance) RITA nominated debut, His Perfect Partner and its newly released follow-up Her Perfect Affair should be on your TBR if you want to read emotional romances, centered on sisterhood and family. It was such a joy to read a heroines who shared so much with me, who respond in such believable ways. These stories might be closed door but they don't lack in tension and sexiness. I am really looking forward to the third book, coming out later this year.

51qO-ZAMi6L Y648Mia Sosa writes great tropey Contemporary romances. I have really enjoyed her Love on Cue series for Avon Impulse. In the first two books she has mashed a lots of great tropes ( secret identity, vacation fling, best-friend's little sister, fake relationship) and combined them with great premises and an interesting and diverse cast of supporting characters to create highly-enjoyable romances.

Acting on Impulse features an Afro-Puerto Rican fitness trainer who has just gotten dumped on the radio by her politician boyfriend and decides to jet off for an island getaway. On the plane she meets Carter Williamson, a television star traveling incognito to an island resort after a grueling film schedule. Carter tries to make a play for Tori knowing she doesn't recognize him and when she finds out she is not happy and she puts him through his paces before she lets him into her heart.

Sosa has a new book coming out next week, Pretending He's Mine that I was lucky enough to read early (I have been beta reading for Mia for a couple of years) featuring Carter's agent and best friend Julian and Carter's little sister Ashley.

516WEHK17LL Princessintheory-hires RsAlyssa Cole has rightly has gained a lot praise for her excellent historical romances, some of my favorites are An Extraordinary Union, Let it Shine and Let us Dream and she also has fantastic new series of royal themed contemporary romances, Reluctant Royals, on the go right now, but the first series I read from Alyssa was the first book in  dystopian series, Off the Grid, Radio Silence.  That just shows you a little of the range of stories Cole is able to tell. What all those stories have in common of fantastic engaging heroines, who are bright, determined and ready to kickass.

A-Study-In-Scarlet-Women-350x525I have been reading Sherry Thomas (Historical Fiction, Mystery with Romantic Elements, Fantasy and Contemporary Fiction) for a long time. Remember that mostly-white collection of RITA finalists stuffed ebooks collection I mentioned in the intro? In it was Sherry Thomas so as a result I had the opportunity to read a lot of her historical fiction. I am huge fan of her current mystery-with-romantic elements series, Lady Sherlock. Her prose is beautiful and I adore the moral dilemmas and complications they have tackle. I really enjoyed her story in the Sight Unseen anthology which was the galactic romantic myth "The Heart is a Universe", that reminded I really need to get around to reading her Burning Sky series sometime soon.

This is just a smattering of fantastic Authors of Color. There are so many more, some with huge fan bases and others with smaller followings, I hope you find someone on this list to try.  

 

Update 4/6/2018:  I have been asked if I have some more historical romance authors to recommend

 

C1tEZX44+-S._SL250_FMpng_Courtney Milan writes really fantastic UK and American set historical romances. My absolute favorite of hers is The Countess Conspiracy, a fantastic friends to lovers story. The whole Brothers Sinister series excels at showcasing how sexy and romantic affirmative consent is. Start with the Governess Affair  and don't forget to pick up the novellas, like Talk Sweetly to Me with its fantastic black British heroine (There is a bundle that has all of them!). 

4138IRy-ZYL._SL500_SX145_Piper Huguley. I loved Piper's story in The Brightest Day Anthology a collection of beautiful historical romances by African American authors, like Lena Hart, Kianna Alexander and Alyssa Cole.  Her story there is connected to her Migrations of the Heart Series. Many of stories her stories include a strong spiritual/religious elements without being preachy, just powerful.

51TFTz2KV0L._SY346_ 513A-UBIcmL 51UqNwUj8xLBeverly Jenkins is the Slayer of Words and amazing mentor to
the current generation
 of African American historical and contemporary authors.  Her love for research and her ability to teach history through her writing is unparalleled.  The first book of hers that I read was Forbidden just blew me away. And I have loved the rest of the series that has followed, Breathless and Tempest .

51ofF1WqwOLLydia San Andres is Dominican author writing historical fiction set in the Spanish Caribbean. I really enjoyed her "Infamous Miss Rodriguez" in which a young woman trapped in engagement she does not want tries to make herself scandalous and the man tasked with saving her reputation ends up falling for her instead.  

51S44mYlkbL 51zPfcpXrTL._SY346_Jeannie Lin's Chinese Tang-Dynasty set historical mystery romance series, The Lotus Palace and the  Jade Temptress helped break me out a historical genre slump back in 2014. These stories are beautiful, suspenseful and absolutely worth your time. Also if you are a fan of steampunk make sure you don't miss Gunpowder Alchemy and the Gunpowder Chronicles series as they are one my favorite alternate history romances.

and two more recs!

These two authors are on my TBR but I haven't yet read their books but they come highly recommended and might be perfect for those looking for AOC written historical set in the UK:

  51kcbtyjaWL

and

51xEK1xADkL 5130nVJfovL I picked her Riley's The Bittersweet Bride just last month because I love widowed heroines and second chance at love stories.

 


Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs and Lake Silence by Anne Bishop

A blonde blue-eye woman peeks face half-submerged in waterLake 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 spent 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 who she didn't realize is a Crow, 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,humans who have a uncanny ability to sense the future.  

I very much enjoyed getting to know the new characters and community of Lake Silence, and I 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 scene in which Julian ends up playing game of Murder (very similar to Clue) with several Others was particularly fantastic, both darkly humorous and suspenseful and I  loved how those scenes had ramifications that played out 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. 

P.S. For those familiar with the Finger Lakes area of NY, my guess is that Lake Silence is so supposed to be Honeoye Lake.

 

(An ARC of Lake Silence was provided by the Publisher for review consideration. Lake Silence is available through all the usual outlets, with a publication date of March 6th, 2018.)

A woman embraces a wolf while tangled up in flower vinesBurn 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.  

This story starts as Brigg's Mercy Thompson's Silence Falls ends and 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.  After going off and catching up, I found it particularly fascinating how Charles and Mercy revisit memories of the same time period, persons and relationships and see them so differently.

I understand two more Mercy Books and one more A&O book, with Moira and Tom are under contract and I am eager for more stories in this world.

(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 at all the usual places).

 

(I had previously published slightly shorter versions of these reviews in my The Waning Days of 2017: Mini-Review Round-up)


Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews #TBRChallenge #RomBkLove Reads challenge review

51w4wjxiUZL._SY346_I love authors with long backlists because I am binge reader and I love being able to immerse myself in the worlds they create.  Every so often however I flounder in the middle of a series and just lose track of where I left off. While I adore the Kate Daniels series, I had somehow gotten stuck.  In this case the unavailability of the audiobook for Magic Rises via my libraries, which meant I was sidetracked into other of Andrews series that they did have available in Audio.  With the final book in the Kate Daniel's series by Ilona Andrews is coming out later in the Spring  Jennifer Porter's recent massive PNR twitter thread inspired me to get myself unstuck in this series before the last book came out.  

In Magic Rises, Kate and Curran have been living together for about a year. Kate has settled into her role as Consort of the Beast Lord's massive Atlanta Pack. She trains her adopted daughter, Julie, runs her private detective/problem solving business while everyday getting to know the Pack's needs. Once a nearly feral, solitary fighter, Kate has become a partner, a mother and leader of a pack, but is about to be tested in a way she has never been before. When Julie's best friend is Mattie is unable to control her shape and has a stress-induced reaction to the virus that causes shapeshifting, she is facing a death sentence.  Seeing Mattie's mother's and Julie's grief consume Kate and make determined not to see another child in the pack lost this way, especially when know there is a treatment.

Curran has also had enough. At that moment he will face any challenge, if it means bringing end to this pain for his pack, even if it means walking into a dangerous trap, because it is then that Curran and his Consort, Kate have been invited to serve as protector and arbitrator for complex family drama in a remote castle on the edge of the Black Sea. They promise Panacea, the herbal cure that would heal Mattie and protect the youngsters in the pack from Loupism.

Kate and Curran surround themselves with their most trusted friends and other powerful players in the Pack. The secure alliances and then travel together, knowing that once they arrive they will be under constant pressure and unable to freely communicate with each other. The Andrews do a fantastic job setting up the traveling party, tensions, the unease and the determination.  They feel ready and then they are surprised and jolted out of that confidence in quick succession when they arrive to the castle. 

I was frustrated with Curran and Kate at point but they reacted in believable and understandable ways to the threats Hugh and Lorelei represented. I sympathized so much with their anger and frustration, that painful level of mad that you can only reach with someone you love more than your life. I laughed at their pettiness and felt their pain.  I was particularly moved by how Kate processed her hurts and how it highlighted how important belonging to the pack, and her role in as Consort had become to her.  She never really believes in Curran's purported/seeming betrayal till it seems like he is saying she doesn't truly belong, that she is somehow a burden, which cuts her right were she is most vulnerable. My only annoyance with this storyline was the bizarre focus on marriage the European packs had, especially in light of Desandra's temporary and less than solid marriage alliances. That piece of the conflict didn't gel well.

I though Hugh was fascinating. His arrogance grated on Kate, but she also recognized him in a deeper way than she expected. It was uncomfortable for her to fit so well, to be understood so well but someone she finds abhorrent. He is cruel, murderous, yet he thinks like her, shares so many common experiences with her, that it added a layer of thread, the promise of understanding and belonging, that had not been previously present.

Lorelei was in the end an unsubstantial distraction but I am left curious about whether she escaped the burning castle during the final conflict or not.  I am curious about what will become of her, and whether she will face any consequences for her actions.

I am so happy I picked up this series again. I've already downloaded the next book, and I am looking forward to catching up with the rest of the series.  Kate, Curran and the pack have been changed by this adventure and I am curious to see where they go next.

 

 

Quick Spoilers below about a Character Death:

The cut that cut me the deepest was Aunt Bea's death. She had been such a fantastic secondary character. Tough, multifaceted and so damn interesting. She was the mother Kate never had. Like Kate she used all her skills to protect the misfits she loved and I know Kate will still keep learning from her, hearing her voice in her head, just like she does Voron's

 

Spoilers over!

 


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!


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

511ISHXQmPL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my July 2017 review

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

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

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

 Next up:  Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Romance!


A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Returning to reading, Part 2

10747637I am long time fan of Lauren Dane's contemporaries. I particularly love her Brown Family books. I also have a soft spot for her vampire-themed UF, The Goddess with a Blade series.  However before this year I hadn't read any of her paranormals.  I've been sampling some of her werewolf books as they have been re-released by Carina and while many of them have lots of elements I liked along, none of them have really clicked with me, mostly for nitpicky world-building issues.  The ones I have really liked however have been her witch-led ones. I am loving her small-town witch falls for wolf series, Diablo Lake.

Last month I read the first in her Bound by Magick novel, Heart of Darkness.  The heroine was fantastic. I loved Meriel Owen from the start. She is second in line in the leadership of the powerful  Owen Witch Clan. She hasn't yet grown into the fullness of her power but wields what she has with meticulous control. She knows herself and what she can do. She doesn't let anyone push her around, including her bossy mother. 

Dominic is unaffiliated witch, skimming power from a clan-owned font to protect his nightclub. He recognizes her strength and power when she walks through the door and wants a taste of it.

I loved how Dane handled consent and power issues in this book. Meriel has all the advantages due to her knowledge and training and she works to make sure that any relationship she and Dominic form will be one he felt he entered willingly and enthusiastically. The action plot was dark and suspenseful and the supporting cast fun and interesting. I am hoping the other books in this series eventually go on sale too (the first is currently $2.99), I have my sale alerts set.

41TLHlxyeQLThe most recent book I finished was Kristen Ashley's Heaven and Hell. Kini mentioned loving this book during our Kristen Ashley Addicts book chat, Too Cracktastic to quit?  Before her rec I had been under the mistaken impression that it was one KA's paranormals, with which I've had little success.  I had no idea it was a stand-alone contemporary, set in the same universe as her Rock Chick and  'Burg novels (Lee Nightingale, Joe Callahan & Tanner Layne all make brief appearances).

It is the story of Kia Clementine.  Kia is an abused wife, whose husband is gunned down by his lover's irate husband.  After his death she learns, she has inherited 5 million dollars from an insurance policy she didn't know her husband had taken out.  This unexpected windfall leads to her uncovering a larger conspiracy at the same time as it liberates her to live a whole new life.

She splurges on dream vacation where she meets fantastic people, wears fantastic clothes and meets her long-time celebrity crush, Samson Cooper, former football player, former army ranger and secret commando. The storyline is super-wacky and every bit of a roller coaster I need.  

Like most KA novels it has many super problematic elements, like the undeniably overbearing machismo each of her heroes is doused in, and problematic racial rep, for example Sam is biracial and of Hispanic heritage, however both he and his mother are completely estranged from their heritage. He has no contact with his abusive father's black family and his mother was abandoned in poverty with her white mother by her Mexican american father.  The dual absences and estrangements are eye-brow raising but unexpected.

I was here for the over-the-top melodrama, and I got it.  There are dramatic breakups, and even more dramatic reunions. Jealousy, possessiveness and domineering behavior are glorified but it was also fun. I am glad that Kia gain the confidence and power to walk away from Sam, till Sam was able to come back give himself fully to her.  That was a worthy HEA for them, and hard fought, as she had to relearn that she was worth it.

Not a perfect book by any means but the engrossing roller-coaster I needed, and I recommend it to any other fan of KA's contemporaries who somehow missed reading it.

I've tentatively started reading some of my many backlogged ARCs, so I look forward to reviewing more books soon!

 


Time to Set it aside: Mini-DNF reviews

Earlier this month in a bid to become more aware of what I have piling up in my ARC and Impulse-buy TBR, I spent a evening sorting through 67 pages of books on my kindle.  It was a good exercise. I found a bunch of good books that I forgotten I had bought and I rediscovered more than a few books that I had started but didn't finish for one reason or another. The ones that I still think I will re-start and finish went into my In-progress folder to wait for a new day and a different mood.  However for a fair number of ARCs that just won't working for me or I was done with even if I didn't actually finish it.

34820952The Cartographer by Tamsen Parker.  I believe this is the final book in the Compass series.  Rey is everyone's match-maker & kink coach and he falls for a guy that has way too many other things going on his life and really doesn't want Rey to manage him. I highly anticipated Rey's book and  I was enjoying it right up to the point where Rey screws up everything up. Or is about to. You know how you get a sense that everything is good, so the big dark moment is coming. Rey had worked so hard to build Allie's trust in him, that I knew whatever he did was just going to be infuriatiating. I got such a strong sense of anxiety, I had to jump to the end.  I ended up reading several of the final chapters, seeing if I could make it back to the center but I couldn't go back enough to see Rey hurt Allie.  I got too anxious even having just read the HEA. So I am just going to admit that I am done and content myself with knowing that he was able to fix it. ( I received an ARC for review consideration).  51SqybFmhDL

Dirty Deeds by HelenKay Dimon: I have very much enjoyed the previous two books in in Dimon's Tough Love m/m romantic suspense series. However this one fell flat for me from the beginning. I even hated the cover.  What is happening there. Is he checking the tag to try to figure out why his pants are falling off?  The set-up required the extremely smart, tactical and pragmatic Alec to abandon all previous characterization and behave like lust-crazed driven doofus. Everyone his life in the first few chapters including him can't believe he is being so stupid. I put it down and I am not even midly curious about how it turned out.  This is a rare dud, in what has been a great-run of books by Dimon in the past year. ( I received an ARC for review consideration from the publisher). 

51JzsloGFVL._SY346_Spellbinder by Thea Harrison:  This is another story where I have read nearly 85 to 90 % of it but not in order.   In Spellbinder we follow the villain of the previous book, Moonshadow, Morgan, who is enslaved by the capriciously evil Isabeau. Morgan exploits a badly phrased order by Isabeau to carve out a brief time away from her court in Avalon. During that time he stumbles upon a incredibly gifted musician, Sidonie Martel, becoming fascinated with her from afar. But his interest does not go unnoticed and she soon becomes a pawn of those who want to destroy Morgan and through him Isabeau.  This story was absolutely brutal. Sidonie goes through a harrowing ordeal in Isabeau's court and she is in peril for the vast majority of the book.  Although I believed Morgan and Sidonie's romance, appreciated the way Harrison complicated our understanding of Morgan, how they built up intimacy and found faith in eachtother, in the midst of tense and dangerous setting, but it was just so dark that I couldn't keep coming back. Maybe one day I will see how they faced Isabeau and destroyed her, but I haven't been able to build up enough forward momentum.

( I received an ARC for review consideration).

51aEVUzczWLBlood Guard by Megan Erickson I absolutely adore Erickson's contemporary romances so I was super excited to read her PNR romances. However I am not 0/2. I bailed on Daring Fate (Silver Tip Pack 1)  early on, I found the first few chapters simultaneously info-dumpy and bewildering.  However my issues with Blood Guard were wholly different. I was enjoying the book up to the point we met the hero. The heroine was fascinating and so was her world. But she is yanked right out of it by Athan, reveals to her that she contains powerful life-giving blood meant to be his brother's. Athan is bewildered by his confusing attraction to Tendra and by Tendra's insistence on not being treated as object.  This is bewildering to Athan because although he uses human women for blood and sex, he has not ever talked to one before.   It was just so jarring and stupid. I couldn't quite get past it. I have read plenty of heroes that share this character trait, but I guess I didn't expect it here and it annoyed me too much to want to continue.   I think the book did promise action, had a good sense of fun and ridiculous and was building great tension between the hero and heroine  but it just isn't for me. ( I received an ARC for review consideration from the publisher).

 

I didn't click with these books but maybe they will work for you!