I am a long-time fan of Ilona Andrews's urban fantasy series. Their books have a great mix of action, humor and often feature hard-working, fiercely independent heroines facing terrible odds.
In the Hidden Legacy series, Nevada Baylor is private investigator, desperately trying to hold on to her family's firm. She lives and works in magic-dominated Houston, while hiding her family's own magical talents. She takes difficult cases, and works with her quirky but loving family. Over the course of the series she has fallen in love with Connor "Mad" Rogan, the hugely powerful telekinetic head of House Rogan, feared by the vast majority of the magical community.
The relationship between Nevada and Connor is difficult, sweet and romantic, as they try to balance Nevada's need for independence and autonomy against Connor's need to protect her from the very dangerous people who are gunning for them both.
In Wildfire, the Baylors and Connor are still trying to track down the members of a dangerous magical conspiracy determined to undermine the current political structure and install their "Caesar"as supreme ruler. The Baylors are also under threat from their powerful and vicious paternal grandmother, who has been looking for them for decades and to complicate matters further Nevada has just been hired by Connor's ex-fiancee to help track down her missing husband.
The Andrews continue to craft stories with multiple-levels of threat, but hang together as a cohesive story line
In this chapter of Nevada and Rogan's romance I loved seeing how their love is maturing. They are learning to trust each other, even as romantic rivals and family obligations place greater pressure on their relationship. Both of them are putting in the effort to bend for each other and the sexual tension and desire continues to hotter than fire.
I love this family but I love this world a ton and I hope we continue to see more stories set in this world, with or without Nevada and Rogan at the center.
I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss +
Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran, Erin Satie, Emma Barry and J.A. Rock contributed to this anthology/guessing game. I have read multiple books by 4 out of these 5 authors, so it was an easy decision to pick up this book. Even not knowing who wrote which story, I could count on enjoying the anthology as whole.
The stories cover a gamut of sub-genres, from fantasy to historical. These stories are clearly experiments by the authors to write outside their usual niches and play with settings and tropes they aren't know for exploring and push the boundaries of the genre.
The book opens with "Lost That Feeling" about rebel witch who has erased 7 years of her life & needs to figure next step when she is rescued by her former rebel leaders. I loved the depiction of magic in this story and how it played with the amnesia trope within a magic fantasy setting. Alma is a living "what if" moment, and is conscious of the possibilities, while confused about the reasons that led her to that moment. I would characterize this story as fantasy with romantic elements because the romance takes a far back seat to the philosophical questions of how to end injustice.
In "A Clear View of You", I adored the angry and cynical fake-psychic grad-student heroine, drowning in college debt. Harmony "Kate" Marsh is estranged from her hippie-magic obsessed mother, Pangaea. North needs Kate's help to retrieve a magical orb in Pangaea's possession. It is a fantastic story about truth, trust and family. I loved the interaction between North and Kate, and how he challenges her entrenched beliefs without forcing or coercing. It had a lot of fun banter and humor through out.
In "Free," Brad is a timid accountant who finally builds up the courage to confront an oblivious biker princess, Wren Masters, about her father's biker club's drug dealing. It is a small town romance about unrequited crushes, growing up and moving on. Of the novellas this was probably the most conventional in tone and style. The subversion is in how it reworks the the typical Biker romance, rejecting slut-shaming tropes, and elevating the law-abiding hero over well-hung arrogant biker. I loved Wren was the sexual instigator and that her motivations are not simple or easy.
It is 1983, and CJ Crespo's band DonJon is falling apart. Donny, her creative but not romantic partner of a ten-years, has exchanged the excesses of the road for the strictures of religious conversion. Their careers are disintegrating but they are finally reaching toward each other. "Chariot of Desire" jumped forward and backward in time and it left me feeling pensive about passion & purpose & not terribly hopeful for CJ and Donny.
"The Heart is a Universe", the final novella is epic science fiction/romantic myth. Vitalis and Eleian are heroes to their planets. Vitalis is the Chosen One, the brightest of her generation, chosen by her people as a child to face a deadly task that assures their ability to remain on their planet. Eleian pulled his planet from the brink of chaos, facing off against a tyrant and helping them restore democracy, before retreating from public life. What most don't know is that he has been ill since birth, and only experiences brief moments of health and vitality. He uses one of them to orchestrate a meeting with his hero and inspiration Vitalis. I cried a lot reading this story, sympathetic frustrated tears, mostly as these two, struggled with anger, duty and doubt.
As a whole this anthology was very interesting and ambitious. As a guessing game despite having read 4 out of the 5 authors and knowing for sure who wrote one of the stories, I don't feel any confidence in my authorial guesses but it was fun to read a set of stories without knowing who authored what. As a discovery tool, I will definitely try more books by the one author I had not read previously, J.A. Rock.
I received an ARC for review consideration from the publisher Open Ink Press.
Silver Silence is the first book in a new series by Nalini Singh set in her Psy-Changeling universe. It is special in several ways. First is the start of a new story-line, and although it builds on what has gone before it works a accessible entry-point for those who might not be interested in reading the previous dozen books. Second, this is the first Psy-changeling books to feature bear changelings.
Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series was one of my gateways into Romance. I devoured the original series, although not every book worked for me, I regularly re-read several of the books. However as the series has progressed the over-arching plot had gotten larger and larger, to the point where she had to write an ensemble book, Allegiance of Honor without a central romance to wrap up things. I am going to be honest and say that for me that book was trudge to read, the vignette style, interrupted by the Xavier's diary, was a snooze, despite the fact that I loved the vast majority of the characters. I read about half of it when if first came out and only finished it last month, as I waited for Silver Silence.
My recent re-readings of the Psy-changeling books have been bit uncomfortable as I have changed a lot as reader since I first read this series and I've become more sensitive to problematic choices, for example the near absence of LGBTQ people. While this series has always had racial and religious diversity, LGBTQ people didn't seem to exist in the Psy-Changeling world, and I am no longer comfortable in fictional worlds that erase queer people. So while I was excited to read a new Psy-Changeling book I was also wary.
Silver Silence is the story of Silver Mercant and Valentin Nikolaev. Valentin is the Alpha of the StoneWater Bears, one of the largest bear clans in Russia. Silver Mercant is Psy, a highly gifted telepath and head of a world-wide coordinated disaster response organization Although many Psy are starting to explore their emotions, Silver remains firmly Silent, yet that does not discourage Valentin. After months of largely one-side courtship Valentin gets his big break when he interrupts an assassination attempt on Silver's life. Determined to protect her, he offers her refuge with his clan while she recovers and they work together to uncover who is targeting her and why.
The book was very enjoyable and I ended up re-reading it almost immediately. Despite my wariness, Singh made a lot of good choices in this book. First of all, there was clear LGBTQ inclusion. Two major gay characters were introduced, one is Silver's empath brother, Arwen and the other high-ranking lieutenant in Valentin's clan, Pavel. These characters got a good deal of page time, and a flirtation, that hints at a future romance. It is a small step, but for a world where LGBTQ have been absent it was exciting to see. (I do admit to being very distracted by Arwen's name however).
The second good choice was the ways where Silver Silence mirrored Singh's first Psy-Changeling book, Slave to Sensation and then took things a different direction. In both books a Psy takes refuge with changelings while facing threats on her life. Spending time in close quarters helps breakdown the Psy's ingrained resistance against romantic/sensual experiences. In Slave to Sensation, Lucas frequently pushes Sasha past her comfort zone, deliberately pushing boundaries and overriding her choices.
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."
I am very excited by the new directions and choices Singh is making and I am no longer wary but excited about this new series. If you have never tried a Psy-changeling book this is where I would encourage you to start.
Make Love not War goes the 60’s refrain but that is not a choice the lovers in these two books can make. War is raging and they can’t retreat or escape it. Their choice is to make love and war.
Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha is the final book in their dystopian epic series about a band of free-loving bootlegging gangsters that were push too far and too long and refuse to roll-over and die. They tried just carving a little piece of the world for themselves but the world wouldn’t leave them alone, so they had to make their world just a bit bigger.
Nessa in Beyond Surrender is everyone’s little sister, most especially Dallas’ . She has been with him since before there were any other O’kanes. Her skill at making Liquor is the heart of his operation. And no one is more aware of that than Nessa. Life has taught her that only two kinds of men ever make a move on her, thoughtless lunks who don’t know enough to be scared of the O’kanes and manipulative liars who see her as asset to be seduced away. Nessa has been waiting a long time to find someone who will hold her attention and who is worth her time. Ryder terrifies her. He is everything she wants, and she has absolutely no idea what he really wants.
Ryder doesn't either, he has been training and preparing for this war his whole life. The only person that has made him want to consider what comes after is Nessa.
I enjoyed the romance, and I love the dynamics of Nessa and Ryder’s relationship as they both try to figure out what they want and how much they want it. They are deliciously awkward at times and undeniably sexy. However the main draw for me in this book was seeing how Bree and Donna were going to wrap up this war, and series, keeping up the tension and stakes and not destroy a bunch of HEA’s in the process. I was sucker punched at points and just generally impressed at how they were able to really show the cost of this war on the O’kanes while not betraying romance expectations. There was a cost and many tears and scars because to this war. There are many storylines I am eager to follow into their new Gideon’s Riders series but I was also satisfied that I had read something that hung together as cohesive if expansive story. The O’kanes and their struggle have always connected with me deeply and I think this was a good way to end their story. ( I received ARC of Beyond Surrender from Kit Rocha).
Beyond Surrender ended a series but Moonshadow opens one.
Moonshadow by Thea Harrison is the start of a new series in the Elder Races world.
I took refuge in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races novels during the run up to the election. They were a fantastic escape, worth the hefty price tag. However unlike my experience with the Beyond books, where I always wanted to see how things connected and check in with Dallas and Lex, I was way less interested in the political intrigue arcs and the central couple of Dragos and Pia. I wanted less of the meta story and more romance. In Moonshadow, Thea Harrison stays in the same world and mythos of her Elder Races novels but goes in more romance-heavy direction (and much more reasonable price point).
Some things were very familiar, Nikolas, a soldier for Oberon’s Dark Court is powerful, dangerous and unreasonably attracted to the heroine. Despite being overmatched physically by the dark commanding hero, the heroine, Sophie Ross, tolerates zero BS and challenges the hero at every turn. There is tons of delicious bickering, some hate sex and lots of stomping around and trying to ignore inconvenient feelings.
Sophie is at a major crossroads in her life. She is recovering from a terrifying encounter that has left her unable to face returning to her old life as Witch-consultant with the LAPD, when she is offered a piece of her past and given chance to inherit an impregnable magical house, if she can break into it. On her way there she rescues a hurt creature that is not quite what he seems, bringing her to Nikolas’s attention. He and his ever-dwindling fighting brothers has been stranded and on the run for centuries and have almost forgotten what peace feels like. Sophie and her magical house, built on the site of their greatest defeat offers a glimmer of hope and her un-orthodox magical practices an edge they have never had before. Sophie and Nikolas must learn to fight side by side, even when it terrifies them. In the end Sophie and Nikolas have to make a choice to treasure love despite inconvenient timing and their own doubts about their capacity love or give up before they have even gotten started.
I am hopeful of this new direction. The romance still got a bit lost in all the intense action of the last third of the book but it was restored to its proper focus in the closing chapters. I am eager to spend more time in this corner of the Elder Races world. ( I received a ARC of Moonshadow from Thea Harrision via NetGalley).
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.
Stoker 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.
I'm a a semi-reviewing hiatus right now. I've been really tired recently, so instead of staying up reading books or using my time to write reviews I've mostly been sleeping. I'll be back to reviewing soon, as I am starting to feel a little less tired. I've read some really great books last month before I crashed to sleep, so hopefully I'll have the energy to review them here in the next couple of weeks.
These are my most recent reviews for RT (June issue):
I have been eagerly anticipating this romance since we were first introduced to Lord Richard and his trusted valet David Cyprian. Richard is the linchpin around whom all the Ricardians revolve. The Ricardians (bisexual, gay or transgender) all look out for one another, protecting each other from those who would happily send them to the gallows for their orientations, preferences and predilections but it is Richard who sets the standards, provides the listening ear or chastising word if needed and sees that the Ricardians problems are solved.
David Cyprian however is really the person who makes it all happen. Officially as valet he makes sure Richard always looks flawless but unofficially he the person that pays the bribes, gathers the illicit information and makes sure Richard has absolutely everything in his life go smoothly. He is the rogue with all the connections, who fixes the problems before Richard even has any inkling of them. He is incredibly proud of how far he has risen in life, but has not risen so far that he doesn't know how to work on the street.
The one wrinkle in David and Richard's relationship is that while Cyprian is beyond devoted to Richard & Richard trusts him like he trusts no other their mutual attraction has become impossible to ignore. While David is more than willing enter into a liaison with Richard, Richard is resolute to never importune someone in his employ (unlike his father, who used and abuse anybody under his power). Their facade of mutual indifference crumbles completely in the aftermath to a surprise death-bed summons from Richard's estranged mother.
Once their mutual attraction is no longer something they can ignore, Richard ends up hurting David while trying not to hurt him and as a result he is deprived of David when he and the Ricardians need him most. Richard must convince David to return and if they all survive, help him figure out how they can be together.
I loved this romance. I usually avoid boss-employee/servant-master romances for all the reasons for all the same reasons Richard wants to avoid one. KJ Charles however has a great handle on the issues of consent, agency, dignity and the nature of partnership that are such a large stumbling block in their relationship. I loved how hard it was for Richard to unbend, and realize he was wrong. Richard has to eat a lot of humble pie, and comes truly appreciate and recognize all that he has taken for granted in David. David also grows, setting boundaries and demanding Richard truly see him and value him. He is able to demonstrate that his love is not servile even if he is Richard's servant.
Charles exploits the intimacy of David's role as Richard's valet to explore the anguish of denial and build sexual tension but the biggest loss they feel when they are apart is for each other's companionship. I loved that despite the deep chasm between them, it is the absence of their easy relationship, the effortless conversation, that wrecks them both.
Like all the endings in the Society of Gentlemen series, I believe in David and Richard's love and felt hopeful for them despite having a great awareness of the many risks they continually face. Charles also provides a great pulse pounding and satisfying conclusion to the overarching series plot. I highly recommend this whole series.
I received a review copy via NetGalley from the publisher Loveswept. A Gentleman's Position by KJ Charles will be available starting April 5th.
Beyond Ruin is the seventh book in the gritty and erotic post-apocalyptic romance series by Kit Rocha. I have an unapologetic love for this series, and I loved this book but you won't love it as much as I did if you haven't invested in reading the previous books in the series. Luckily Bree Bridges and Donna Herren, the writing duo known as Kit Rocha have made it easy to catch up by offering discounted book bundles and fantastic website with a great character directory.
In Beyond Ruin all the seeds of conflict between Eden and the sectors that have been planted from the very beginning are bearing fruit. The tensions that rock the central romance between Mad, Doc, Jade & Scarlet is inseparable from this conflict.
Mad, Adrian Maddox Rios, is the grandson of Prophet who built a powerful religious dynasty in Sector One. He is somewhat estranged from his family, having fled to Sector Four and joined the O'Kanes, rather than taking up leadership there and face the suffocating love the of Prophet's followers, who would gladly give their lives for him, and wear his sainted mother's image on their bodies.
Dylan "Doc" is a self-destructive pain-pill addict, who once was a sought after physician in Eden before he learned too many secrets and found himself a captive forced to oversee torture sessions. Dylan's family had sacrificed everything so he could get an education, but he became nothing but a tool to masters of Eden. He lost them and the position they had wanted for him and now he feels he has nothing left to lose. Once reckless and rootless, he has found some solace and comfort in Mad's embrace.
While Dylan and Mad are together they long for Jade and Scarlet, dreaming and fantasizing about them but unable to figure out how to approach them. They are caught in a tug of war of desire and fear, wanting and wishing but never quite acting on the flirtation, dancing frustrated circles around each other.
Jade came to Sector 4, fragile and strung-out, after being betrayed by the Cerys the head of Sector Two. She once used her training as an Orchid-trained prostitute to be serve as a spy, pleasing and manipulating powerful men in Eden with sex and submission. When her patron discovered the truth, he nearly killed through drugs and abuse. She has found comfort and love in Scarlet's arms but has not yet lowered the walls around her own heart enough to truly give and accept that love.
Scarlet is orphaned singer from the bombed-out Sector Three. She feels keenly out-classed by her lovers, never having lived in anything like the luxury and privilege they have all come from. They all adore her open-hearted embrace of life and sensation.
Beyond Ruin is probably the most plot heavy book Kit Rocha have ever written. A hell of a lot stuff happens, both to the central quartet and to Eden and the sectors. There are attacks, rescue missions, assassinations and the steady build-up toward war, all while Jade, Scarlet, Mad and Dylan try to figure out if their coming together as foursome can be maintained. There are a lot of moving parts to their relationship and they have to figure out how they can be there for each other beyond wrecking themselves with pleasure in bed. Kit Rocha excels at building toward some seriously dark wrenching relationship moments that are 100% earned and consistent to who the characters are. The push and pull of their ambitions, self-protection and instinctual drives, come up against the desire to truly accept, trust and belong to each other.
The stars of the book for me where Jade and Mad because they both struggle so much and respond so differently to very similar situations. I was fascinated by Jade's internal struggle to let herself be truly seen by her lovers and her agonizing sense of responsibility over all the girls from the pleasure houses in Sector Two. Raised from childhood to feign desire and pleasure, to mimic affection and care in order to manipulate and control, she constantly questions her reactions and responses, as she works to reclaim her authentic self. I felt Mad's anxiety and claustrophobia in Sector One, and his desire for and fear of wielding power over others. He is a true prophet in how clearly he saw his grandfather's corruption and is struggling with untangling his desire to protect, save from his grand-father's power-hungry appetites. His struggle is how to love and care without controlling and self-martyr-ship.
The sex in these books continues to be inventive, hot but most importantly emotionally meaningful. The storyline continues to build with great payoff for longtime readers and I am on the edge of my seat waiting to see what the future holds for the O'Kanes as their world is shaken once more.
I received a review copy for Beyond Ruin from one of its authors and was happily immersed into it.
Ranulf Ombrier earned his lands with blood. He murdered his foster father and the king's rival as a teenager, earning himself the king's favor and the scorn and suspicion of all others. That his foster father was an abusive monster was well known but you simply didn't kill a man in his bed. Since then Ranulf has faithfully done Edward's bidding, but when Ruardean armed party stumbles upon him and nearly kills him, he is deep in Wales far from the court, ignoring the king's summons. Ranulf is a haunted man seeking peace and redemption but trapped by a reputation and legacy of dishonor and brutality.
Gwenllian of Ruardean is the chief of that armed party. She is the daughter of an absent mad Marcher Lord and an ambitious Welsh noblewoman who holds his lands in his place. She leads a mighty armed forced and has many reasons for wanting Ranulf Ombrier dead. But instead of letting him die, she nurses him back to health only to forcibly escort him back to Edward. Gwenllian is a consummate warrior but is just as trapped as Ranulf when they arrive at court. Her loyalties and ethics are deeply tested.
There are not a lot of medieval romances on the market anymore but even if there was a crowded field Elizabeth Kingston's The King's Man would rise to the top. I listened to the audiobook narrated by the industry legend, Nicholas Boulton. I was riveted and not just because Boulton is an excellent narrator. I was reduced to manufacturing errands so I could justify staying in my car a little longer to listen. In the end I ended up listening to the audiobook while my children were in the car with me because the build up to the final conflict and tension was so great I couldn't bear to stop and I didn't have a copy of the ebook to switch to.
The novel is rich in political and interpersonal conflict as these two protagonists are physically powerful people who have to learn to be vulnerable to each and put each other first defying everyone's expectations. I absolutely loved Gwenllian and Ranulf and the unlikely and hesitant bond they develop. Their relationship is at times awkward, frantic, rough and deeply passionate. Their commitment and loyalty despite their own fear and insecurity was remarkably compelling.
I would absolutely love to read a series related to King's Man. I would love to see more of Gwenllian and Ranulf and the many rich secondary characters Kingston created. I loved Gwenllian's Ruardean men, faithful, steadfast soldiers, loyal to her and wary of the future. Gwenllian's ambitious mother, with her machinations and political games, born to rule. All of them have feel like they have some much solidity and promise for more.
The King's Man was the January selection of "The Not-a-bookclub" twitter discussion group I participate in. We discussed it together last Sunday and I have embedded below the tweets from our discussion. It is extremely rare for all of us to love the same book but we did. The King's Man just pleased us all so much. Rich in historical detail, powerful story, and compelling characters.
Almost every year I manage to sneak down to Puerto Rico for a week during the second half of Christmas Break. The long plane rides and longer layovers allow me to have guilt-free dedicated reading time at the end of a very busy season of concerts, extra services and gatherings.
The very first book I read on my vacation was Tessa Dare's When a Scot Ties the Knot
I really love Dare's Castle Ever After series. They are deliciously meta about fandom & writing, while remaining joyfully romantic.
Madeline Gracechurch is paralyzing shy and makes up fake fiance, an army captain heading to war, in order to avoid having to endure a season of balls and dinners with strangers. Creating a fictional fiance gave her time to grow and mature but at same time distanced her from her family as the burden of her lie grew. For years Madeline sends confessional letters to her fake fiance before killing him off when the deception was too much to maintain. Madeline retires to castle in Scotland as spinster, where she can concentrate on her nature studies and life-drawings. When her fake fiance shows up at her door, ready to claim her and her lands there is no one more shocked.
Logan Mackenzie was mere private when Madeline's letters started arriving. The letters and their odd intimacies sustained him through the worst days of the wars and trapped him in a deception of his own. He is resentfully fascinated with Madeline, whose motivations he can barely understand. With the wars over he returns to a greatly changed Scotland. His damaged men are landless and un-welcomed and Madeline's lands and the fiction of their long anticipated reunion is the only hope he can offer them.
I love fake engagements, especially those that turn into grudging marriage of conveniences because the lovers are both accomplices and antagonists, creating fantastic tension. Logan and Madeline must get to know each other in order to working together but also in order to try to outwit each other in the tug-of-war of their relationship. They start falling in love the more they discover about each other, untangling the truth from the fictions.
I loved the way Dare explores the complicated relationship we have with truth and love in all the storylines, the lies we speak to protect ourselves and those we love from hurt and disappointment, lies of hope and lies of pain. Logan and Madelines's lies isolate them but also draw them together and eventually they come to each other in genuine love that allows them to see each other truthfully and accept each others failures, failings and vulnerabilities.
When a Scot Ties the Knot is deceptively light read whose conflicts and questions stayed with me long after I finished it.