Read my review over at Love in Panels!
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.
Reading more authors of color should not be though of as homework or a challenge. These are just great books that you have overlooked. They & their authors are not there to teach you a lesson. They have the same purpose as other romance novels. Enjoy the HEAs!— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) April 4, 2018
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:
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.
Alisha 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.
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.
Rebekah 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.
Do 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.
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.
Mia 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.
Alyssa 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.
I 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
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!).
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.
Beverly 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 .
Lydia 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.
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:
.@LianainBloom—AOC, To Love a Scandalous Duke has a mixed race duke.— Elizabeth Bright (@A_Bright_Lizzie) April 6, 2018
— Mimi Milan (@AuthorMimiMilan) April 6, 2018
I hope you don't mind me throwing a new name in the mix. @VanessaRiley also writes historical. Her Swept Away story was a real page turner! Then again, I enjoy all her books.
Maricela has everyone in Sector One at her beck and call as part of Sector One's ruling family, the Rios and while that might sounds nice, it also means that nearly everyone wants something from her. They want her time, her charity, her affection and most all her attention. Ever since she reached a marriageable age and since her brother, Gideon continues to elude matchmaking mamas, suitors are constantly buzzing around her, hoping to be the one who will succeed in winning an advantageous alliance for their family.
Ivan grew up on the streets, scrounging for food and shelter most days. His uncles betrayed the Prophet by kidnapping his daughter and grandson. Although Ivan was just a child and his mother ignorant of the plot, they lost everything when their family's treachery was uncovered. However Gideon welcomed Ivan into his elite fighting force, the Riders. His only goal in life is to live up to his father's legacy as one the sainted Riders, to restore his family's name by dying in the service of the Rios family. But then he met Maricela and his feeling for her are not innocent adoration and making her happy makes him happy. The only problem is that his job is to keep her safe, not happy and that puts them both in danger.
I have really been loving this new series. Despite sharing a world and continuity with Rocha's Beyond series, these books have completely different kinds of conflicts and tensions. The Rios family run a sector founded by the prophet, Fernando Rios, an opportunistic charlatan who brought stability to the region but abused his spiritual hold in residents for his benefit. His heirs have spent a generation trying to rule it without abusing the faith of Sector One's people, while trying to maintain stability and prosperity for its residents.
While the O'Kanes had to deal with a great deal of political intrigue, the politics of Gideon's Riders are straight up palace/dynastic intrigue. Ever since the fall of Eden, they have responding to a massive refugee crisis while trying to figure out who has been trying to destabilize the sector by targeting the Rios family. This is post-dystopian romantic suspense at its best. There are house parties, and balls disrupted by assassinations attempts, & murders and in the middle of all that two people secretly falling in love, while trying their hardest not to. The novel was very hard to put down and my favorite of this new series so far.
If you haven't tried Kit Rocha before give this series a try. I think Ivan stands well on its own, but if you want to start at the beginning, the first book Ashwin (which I reviewed last year) about a super-soldier who shouldn't have feelings, catching a terrible case of feelings for his former handler, Kora, a gifted healer who he spirited away from the military installation they both grew up in. He tried to train himself to not want her, but he can't keep away. It is on sale of .99 cents right now and you can't go wrong at that price.
I received a copy of Ivan from Kit Rocha for review consideration. You can purchase a copy at all the usual places.
If you have been following me on twitter or reading this blog for any length of time you will know that I adore Kit Rocha's Beyond series. I tried it out the series hesitantly and read the first book, Beyond Shame, almost out of the corner of my eye because it was all a bit too much: The O'kanes, rough and tumble bootleggers, extend their protection to a a young woman expelled from the repressive and hypocritical theocratic city next door who is trying to figure out what she wants for the first time in her life.
Beyond Shame left me curious and intrigued about where they were going with this story beyond hedonism, but after I read and loved Beyond Control I was sold. Because in Beyond Control I realized that beyond the sexiness and fascinating dynamics of Dallas and Lex's relationship all the politics and worldbuilding were going to matter because Rocha was going somewhere with it, and I wanted to be along for the ride. With each book their world expanded and the so did they story they were telling.
And it was an awesome ride, so when Bree (who writes with Donna Herren as Kit Rocha and Moira Rogers) asked if I was willing to host a cover reveal for their rebranding, I jumped on it. I don't usually do promo posts but I hope more new readers take the opportunity to try them and get to know and love the Beyond world like I do. I hope you enjoy reading a bit about Bree's process for putting together all these new covers and if you are interested in seeing them all check out the central post they will be updating with links to all the other covers reveals: Beyond Rebranding Cover Reveals
BREE’S COVER NOTES:
When I sat down to redesign the cover of Beyond Temptation, there was one thing I knew Emma was going to need—tattoos. Awesome tattoos. All of the O’Kane women have ink to a greater or lesser degree, but Emma is Ace’s apprentice and a tattoo artist in her own right. Finding a model with bright, vivid, colorful ink was fated!
The background of the cover is one of the more artistic ones of the new series, in that instead of an object, it’s an idea. Or rather, it’s code—a nod to Noah, who has hacked his way through Eden and the sectors to keep her safe and would do it again. And again and again.
(Just don’t zoom in and try to read it. It’s…not good code. LOL)
Hacker Noah Lennox lives in the shadows, fighting a one-man war against the corrupt leader of Sector Five. The only weak spot in his armor is his best friend’s sweet younger sister--the girl he swore to save, even from himself. With her brother dead and a target on their backs, getting her out of the sector--and out of danger--meant giving her up for good.
Or so he thought.
Emma Cibulski has made her own home in Sector Four, as a full member of the O’Kane gang and apprentice to their infamous tattoo artist. When Noah--the first man she ever loved--stumbles back into her life, it’s her chance to have it all. The spark between them burns hotter than ever, and this time her fantasies are far from innocent.
But can they handle the heat...or will Noah’s dark secrets drive them apart forever?
Did you like the sound of that? Do you want a print copy of Beyond Temptation with its vibrant new cover? Donna and Bree are giving one copy away. If you want a chance to win tell me about your favorite Beyond book in the comments or if you have never read them, leave a comment about the cover and a random winner will be selected from all the entries by Feb 14th! This giveaway is open internationally.
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED! A Winner, Carol, was chosen randomly from the commenters and a email sent notifying her of her win! Thank you to all who entered.
and you can get to know Kit Rocha and Beyond Series by visiting them:
or you can read my reviews for many of the books in the series:
and in the Gideon Rider's Series:
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
I read a lot of fantastic Contemporary Romance this year, but three books stood out as giving me all the happy sighs.
My 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).
My 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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you read Shira Glassman? I thought her recent f/f which was sweet was incredibly tender. It was all courtship.— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) September 11, 2017
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.
Alyssa 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.
Lisa 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.
However 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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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!
For the #readRchatawards I submitted a single nominee in the SF romance category and that was Ashwin by Kit Rocha. Kit Rocha books have a special place in my heart, their themes and recurring motifs are exactly my catnip & Eden and the Districts one of my favorite places that I would never want to live in.
If I had taken advantage of 3 books per category rule, I could filled by ballot with only Kit Rocha books, since their other 2 releases this year, Deacon and Beyond Forever were also fantastic. Kit Rocha's books are my very short list of "books I will drop everything for".
The new Gideon's Riders series, continues to explore Kit Rocha's favorite themes of chosen families, of self-exploration and recognizing and accepting love. I reviewed Ashwin back in March when it came out. Spoiler alert, I loved it and I recommend it to anyone who hasn't tried Kit Rocha books before and doesn't want to invest in reading their fantastic backlist.
Ashwin is about a engineered super-soldier who has grown so emotionally unstable his handlers fear him. He has never felt fully human, but a weapon. The one person that makes sense in his life is Kora. But Kora doesn't make sense to herself, her past a jumble of secrets and lies. Together they find the courage to untangling the secrets of their pasts and finding security and understanding in a person most should and do fear.
Although many of the characters might be familiar to long-time Kit Rocha readers, this is a great jump on point for new readers, as the status quo has radically changed in the Sectors and Kit Rocha doesn't assume you've spent several years reading their previous novels (like I have).
-My review of Ashwin in March
I didn't read a lot of Fantasy Romances published this year, instead I've been binge reading a lot of Ilona Andrews Urban Fantasy series, the Inn Keeper Chronicles and the Edge series and trying out some of Jeffe Kennedy's Twelve Kingdoms books. I read a lot of books that straddled the fuzzy line between fantasy and PNR, books like Spectred Isle and Etched in Bone. However Stephanie Burgis's Snowspelled was undeniably fantasy and undeniably delightful.
It is about Cassandra, who spent her life fighting her society's prejudice against women casting spells, eventually becoming one of the most promising magicians of her age, only run into a the sharpest of glass ceilings.
Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, Cassandra tries a risky spell that robs her of ability to cast spells, and four months later she still struggles to go through the motions of daily life. When her beloved but matchmaking sister-in-law has commits them to attend house party where her ex-fiance will also be attending, Cassandra is resigned and determined not to let anyone see her pain, least of all the fiance she intentionally drove away. But her personal discomforts soon fall in priority when she gets caught up in a tricky Elven plot. Politics, diplomacy and detection are three things Cassandra has never had bother with before, but she is determined to solve the mystery she stumbled upon.
-My review from last month.
My favorite part of this book is Cassandra's trajectory from someone who saw herself as "not-like-other-girls" to someone who recognizes and values other women and their work and starts to rebuild her life in a way to honors both her talents and passion for Magic with a better understanding of what is at stake for everyone. She find a new vocation, a new mission and a new respect for the obstacles and ambitions of others. It is a story we need to see more in Fantasy.
Deacon by Kit Rocha (Gideon's Rider's #2) and Sanctuary by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards & Bondage #2)
Both these books had unapologetically badass heroines. They can kick ass, and save themselves (just like Emma in the Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare which I also read this week), but although they can do it alone, they find people who want to share the load, who want them as partners without diminishing them, who love and respect them. There is give and take, trust and respect and HEAs to fill you heart to the brim with. These are HEA's for amazing women of color, who carry heavy loads all by their lonesome. They deserve love and partners who value and support them, and reading these HEA's was just what I needed this week.
Deacon is the second book in Kit Rocha's new spin-off series, Gideon's Riders. It is set in Sector One, where the Rios family rules over devoted flock. The books follow the Gideon Rios's best, the sector's guardians, the Riders. They ride out to solve problems and to represent him in other sectors.
Ana was over living inside other people's boxes.
Ana is the first ever female Rider. She trained from childhood at her father's side for the opportunity. She keenly feels the weight of responsibility, that comes from being the first. She knows the sacrifices she is making to be a Rider but it is all she has ever wanted. She worries that she will be the last or the only. That if she screws up, no other little girls in Sector One will have the same opportunity. That keen awareness of the importance of her role make her super wary of her attraction to Deacon, but she is never not aware of him and her private weakness for him. But she can't make a move, not when it could destroy everything she has worked for.
Deacon has been leading the Riders for nearly 20 years. But before he came to Sector One, and pledged his loyalty and life to Gideon, he had been a contract killer and mercenary, but only Gideon knows about his past. When his past finally comes back to haunt him, it shatters the trust his fellow Riders had in him and when Deacon wants to handle it alone, Ana and the other Riders won't let him.
While the book is named after Deacon and it is his past actions and his past associates that drive the action, it is as much Ana's story as it is Deacon's and I loved Ana's story. Rocha did a fantastic job at highlighting how lonely and hard it is to be first. How much pressure it is to be a trailblazer. The Riders might be superheroes, but they are lonely ones. Deacon and Ana need each other, need to know that they can fail and that isn't the end of the world. That they don't have to do things alone. That they have each other and the rest of the Riders at their side, that they are worthy of love and that love is not something they need to sacrifice in order to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
I am so glad I can continue to read to stories in the Sectors, and to get to know this corner of it.
I received an ARC from the authors for review consideration.
It is available at all the usual places, starting today Aug 29,2017 for $4.99
Sanctuary by Rebekah Weatherspoon is the second book in her Beards and Bondage series. Like Haven before it, the book open with an absolutely engrossing and intense set of chapters. Liz Lewis is a lawyer with a pissed off client, one so angry and petty that he has sent a contract killer after her. I could not put the book down. Weatherspoon's depiction of their encounter and its aftermath were absolutely riveting. I was particularly moved by Liz's inability to turn to her closest friends, because it would mean surrendering part of her identity, that of mother hen or protector. Her self-imposed isolation in those early hours were so incredibly painful.
Liz is a tall, big-boned black woman, and the world don't let her forget that for a second. All the micro-aggressions and plain old-aggression she endures at the hands of law enforcement are just heartbreaking and it left a deep impression on me, because it is an experience I rarely see represented. I have never wanted to hug a heroine more, or smack around those who so casually disrespect her. Fear and lack of confidence in those who are purportedly charged with protecting her drive her to accept Scott's, her one brown office friend, offer of a hiding place upstate.
Silas can't stand his brother, hasn't been able to stand to be in the same room with him for years, so he is understandably enraged when he summons him with little explanation and dumps Liz's on his doorstep for an indefinite period of time. Worst yet is that in order to explain away her presence he has to pretend to be her online boyfriend.
I loved how Silas and Liz struggle to understand each other. How Liz's trauma-enduced rawness, means that she doesn't shrug off Silas' rudeness or grin and bear it. She confronts his bluntness and rudeness head on as she has simply reached her breaking point. Although Silas is undeniably gorgeous and attractive, that doesn't override their conflict, they have the hard uncomfortable conversations, set boundaries before they go further. I adored how Silas's admiration and desire were so unvarnished. He doesn't mince words and they reach Liz when she needs them most.
Like Haven, the sex is hot and if you love a good femdom book, grab this one. Liz, knows what she wants and doesn't hesitate to demand it. But sex doesn't solve shit, not on its own. Liz has stuff to work out, and so does Silas and I love the Weatherspoon gives them both the room and time to do so before their HEA.
I received an ARC from the authors for review consideration.
It is available at all the usual places, starting today Aug 29,2017 for $4.99
If you look through this blog you will find a half-dozen reviews for Kit Rocha's Beyond Series. I have huge love for that series and was very pleased and satisfied with the way the series ended in Beyond Surrender.
Bree Bridges and Donna Herren, who co-write as Kit Rocha, are moving on from Sector 4 and the bootlegging & orgiastic O'Kanes to a very different corner of their world. Although many of the characters might be familiar to long-time Kit Rocha readers, this is a great jump on point for new readers, as the status quo has radically changed in the Sectors and Kit Rocha doesn't assume you've spent several years reading their previous novels (like I have).
Ashwin Malhotra is a genetically modified super-soldier, one of the Makhai, brutally trained to act without emotion. He is fearsome, solitary and has been growing increasingly unstable. The source of his instability is his forbidden fixation on one of his former doctors, Kora Bellamy. Ashwin smuggled her away from their base and arranged for the O'Kanes to hide and protect her, even from himself. Fearing he would harm her, he submitted himself to a tortuous process to rid himself of his fixation. Once again considered fit for duty his generals have sent him on a infiltration and reconnaissance mission into the heart of Sector One.
Sector One is run by the Rios Family, descendants of a powerful self-styled prophet, who built a powerful cult around himself. Gideon Rios, a grandson of the prophet is the political leader of Sector One, having given control of their church to his sister Isabela. Despite this the religious devotion and loyalty of the residents of Sector One, still belong almost absolutely to Gideon, which troubles the Generals as the refugees fleeing Eden are walking straight to Rios Family-run temples for help.
Kora Bellamy's whole life has been dedicated to caring and medicine. Trained for infancy by her his distant but over-protective father, she has never shied away from bucking authority and risking her life in order to make sure the people around get the help they need. During the war she found refuge in Sector One with the Rios family, who helped her establish hospitals and accepted her as a sister. But she hasn't really considered it home, till Ashwin walks in after being missing for months. Seeing Ashwin again raises tons of questions for her and throws them both into turmoil.
This romance is all about conflicted loyalties, accepting unexpected welcome & forgiveness and like all Kit Rocha books, about chosen families. Ashwin and Kora have a lot of secrets from each other, lots of fears and insecurities about their mental states, their feelings and their identities. They have long been pawns in other people's grand schemes and they need to figure out who they are and what they want before they can fully claim each other. They must satisfy their longing for each other while trying to unpack what they truly feel and then they will have to figure out how to keep each other safe from those who want to use them.
As Kit Rocha veteran, I am loving all the background political maneuverings and the exploration of the intersection between politics, power and religion in Sector One as the post-Eden world is reshaped. I love seeing this world from a different perspective and I can't wait to get to know the other Riders.
DISCLAIMER: I am unapologetic Kit Rocha fangirl. I pretty much dropped everything else I was reading when Bree emailed me this ARC. I follow and chat with Bree on twitter all of time because I really respect her views of romance, writing and fandom.
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.
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).