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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 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.

 

 

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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 3: Best SF and Fantasy Romances

51N3CgGOTQL._SY346_ 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

 

6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d2bdd1b5970c-320wiI 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.

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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

 

51-h-Y2+csLSanctuary 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

 


Ashwin (Gideon's Riders #1) by Kit Rocha

Gideonsriders1If 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. 


Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha & Moonshadow by Thea Harrison

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.

51VepsJ+oeL._SY346_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_Thea_Harrison_Moonshadow_HiRes_1575x2475-652x1024Moonshadow 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).


Beyond Ruin by Kit Rocha

Beyondruin-400Beyond 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.


Reading in 2015: 12 Favorite Reads of 2015

My reading year has been pretty fabulous.  I read a lot of good books and I had the opportunity to talk about those books with other people on twitter, on blogs and in person. Talking about books even disagreeing about them is one of my favorite things. Thank you so much for being part of my reading community.

These are some of my favorite books I read this year.

  

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Party Lines by Emma Barry

Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The Orphan Pearl by Erin Satie

Beyond Innocence by Kit Rocha

Serving Pleasure by Alisha Rai

The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology with stories by Lena Hart, Kianna Alexander, Piper Hugley & Alyssa Cole

The Spymaster Lady by Joanna Bourne

Giving it Up by Audra North

The Martian by Andy Weir

Seduced by Molly O'Keefe

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

 


Recent Reads, great books by Lauren Dane, Rachel Aaron & Kristen Ashley

Opening Up (Ink and Chrome #1) by Lauren Dane: I read Dane for her heroines. She also writes complex, sometimes heavy family relationships, hot & interesting heroes but her heroines are just amazing. PJ is the grand-daughter of a racing legend and the black-sheep of her car-parts selling family. At work she is marginalized by her sexist asshole father and managed by her siblings. PJ follows her heart out of the company and launches her own car customizing business. PJ might be young but she is smart, tenacious and knows what she wants, and she wants Asa. Asa is gorgeous and sexy. He respects her work and finds her delightful but doesn't want to saddle her with his demons (abandonment issues & hardscrabble childhood). There was relatively little relationship angst in this book after their initial dance around each other as PJ's family/work conflict dominates but the romance was sexy and satisfying. I can't wait to read more Ink and Chrome books,

Nice Dragons Finish Last (Heartstrikers 1) by Rachel Aaron. Julius's mother is a legendary and powerful dragon. She rules her large family through fear and manipulation. Impatient with Julius's lack of ambition, she drags him out of his room and away from his video games and drops him in the middle of the DFZ (Detroit Free Zone), without his powers and money and tells him he has a month to prove himself worthy of his family name or he dies.

Marci is almost a certified Mage, only a few week away from her degree when her father's vicious employer kills him and sets out to kill her too.

Both Marci and Julius are trying to stay alive in the DFZ and build a unlikely partnership as they team up to track down a runaway dragon.

This is the first book in a fun, imaginative and engaging Urban Fantasy series. I loved the whole thing, from Julius and Marci's fledgling flirtation to Julius large, dangerously unpredictable family.

Ride Steady (Chaos #3) by Kristen Ashley : I devoured this book. I think it is the best of the series so far. As a kid, Carson grew up learning how to take a hit, and keep his head down. He learned to plot, plan and keep his dreams to himself. Eight years after leaving town after one last confrontation with his father, Joker is where he wants to be. He is brother in Chaos, where he turns his art into customized bikes. He thinks he has left his past behind till he runs into his teenage crush Carissa on the side of the road.

Carissa was a cheerleader and the quarterback's girlfriend, but she didn't play the mean girl games and always had a smile for Carson. While Joker's life has been in a upward trajectory, Carissa has fallen far from her high school glory. After the loss of her sister and her mother's death, all Carissa has ever wanted was to have a family. So she held on to her jerk boyfriend for dear life. Eight years later she has been dumped by her lawyer husband who has replaced her with an even younger fiancée, she is desperately trying to make ends meet, working overtime as grocery clerk, caring for her toddler son while trying to figure out how to hold on to custody. Her ex wants to scrape her from his life and take their son with him. While Carissa is initially wary of getting help from a biker, she soon recognizes what a good man Joker is, even if she doesn't realize, this beared, lean and shaggy haired man is her old crush, Carson.

There a great versions of familiar KA motifs, fun cameos by other KA characters, and a surprisingly mature and beautiful romance, where the hero and heroine solve problems and share concerns with each other. It is one of those rare books that at 640 pages I was left wanting more.


Spy Rom: Ripped by Edie Harris & Beyond Innocence by Kit Rocha

BloodMoneyRipped-189x300Ripped is the second book in Edie Harris's romantic suspense series "Blood Money" for Carina Press, continuing the romantic suspense plot from Blamed.

Tobias Faraday is the head of old, powerful, secretive and family-run Faraday Industries. Faraday Industries is huge power in military and intelligence circles, leveraging their inventions and innovations into political power and access for over 200 years.

But that power and access made one of their own a target. After Tobias's sister Beth was taken and tortured in Blamed in retribution for her involvement in assassination attempt gone wrong, he concentrates all his efforts into rescuing her and destroying those who hurt her.

Chandler McCallister knew too much and said too little. Trapped in a brutal undercover assignment, she didn't intervene and in fact assisted those who targeted Beth. The information she provided the Faradays almost came too late. Her career at MI6 is in tatters, and her life might soon be over.

 

Her only play is to help Tobias infiltrate the inner circles of Kedrov's organization so that he might exact his revenge. She trades her cooperation in what is likely a suicide mission for the chance to stand by her sister Pippa's side on her wedding weekend to ensure lurid secrets from their family's past don't derail the wedding.

Harris played with some of my favorite tropes, enemies to lovers & pretend relationship, when Tobias chooses to pose as Chandler's plus one at Pippa's wedding. Pretending to be lovers soon proves a dangerous temptation that has them both dangerously off balance.

I quite liked this book. The action was very intense but not as triggers as in Blamed, the connection, attraction and trust between Tobias and Chandler was fast but still believable. They are both professionally cold for a living, protective of their siblings and isolated. I loved how themes of atonement, forgiveness and sacrifice, some of my favorites, kept resurfacing in their relationship. However, this is only the second of an interconnected multi-book series, and there is a lot of time spent introducing secondary characters, and seeding future plots that are likely to bear fruit as the series progresses. While the characters are intriguing, some of the introductory scenes with these secondary characters bogged down the narrative. 

A review copy of Ripped was provided by Carina Press via NetGalley.

 

Beyondinnocence-400Beyond Innocence is the 6th full-length book in Kit Rocha's fantastic dystopian erotic romance series (there have also been 3 fantastic novellas). In this dark future, Eden is one of the few cities to survived a cataclysmic event. It is a oasis of wealth and luxury but personal freedom is scarce as city is run by a cabal of religious politicians who use strict morality rules to control the population in collusion with the military. Outside the closely monitored walls of Eden are the sectors, loosely governed regions that compete to supply and trade with Eden.

The O'Kanes run a Sector 4. Originally, the O'Kanes were a brawling & sexing bootlegging operation that controlled trade and provided security for Sector 4 merchants. They have become increasingly interested and involved in inter-sector politics and diplomacy due to increasing incursions and interference by opportunistic parties in Eden and rival sectors. As the series has progressed the O'Kanes have become more sophisticated and politically savvy and more of threat to those in power in Eden. More than ever the O'Kanes need information and intelligence rather than relying on their brawn to save the day. Beyond Innocence is a romance between two new and non-traditional O'Kane allies during a dangerous and pivotal moment for the O'Kanes.

Bree Bridges and Donna Herren (who jointly write as Kit Rocha) jokingly refer Beyond Innocence as their Duke/Spy book. Jared, the hero of Beyond Innocence is in some ways that archetype, wealthy, immaculately dressed, a huge contrast to the rough, scarred and tattooed O'Kane heroes that have dominated the series. But Jared gained all that wealth and access to highest echelons of Eden by working as whore, rising from a childhood on the streets to wealth and luxury by providing the repressed women of Eden a romantic fantasy and multiple orgasms at very high price. He has agreed to spy for the O'Kanes for a multitude of complicated reasons, but due to the covert nature of his work, he is still an outsider in the cozy O'Kane community.

Lili Fleming is a stranger in O'Kane lands, waking up from a long drug-numbed life. The daughter and wife of two recently deceased former sector leaders and O'Kane enemies, she fled her home in a bloody nightgown and a fur coat with pockets stuffed with pills. The O'Kanes have given her sanctuary and time to recover but the pills have finally run out and she now has to face the alarming landscape of Sector four and the O'Kane Compound without their numbing.

Lili was raised to be an ideal domestic trophy wife who served the needs of her powerful husband: decorating his arm, bearing his children, keeping his house and enduring any physical and emotional abuse with the aids of pills. Only knowing sex to be a scary obligation and relationships only a tool of control and abuse, she can't make sense or believe in the joy and pleasure the women of the O'Kane compound celebrate. In that sea of sex and leather she seeks out the familiar, the one un-inked painfully handsome man in a crisp dress shirt, Jared.

Jared and Lili's love story grows out their outsider-status. They are trying to sort out what it means to belong to the O'Kane. Neither of them have much experience belonging to someone else, or in trust others with their well-being. They are both remaking their life, finding ways to put old skills to new use.  Like recognizes Like, and they see past well practiced public masks they wear.  While there is plenty of sex in this story, their connection and intimacy is slowly developed, an innocent friendship to form first.  The trust they build with each other, makes their sexual exploration incredibly meaningful.  I just loved the moment when Jared makes sure they use condoms the first time they have PIV sex. In the Beyond world, condom sex is pretty rare since most people need fertility drugs to procreate and STD's are not a thing.  But Jared knows enough about Lili to care about how she might be at risk of pregnancy, and how that would complicate things dramatically for them.  Jared is similarly careful and considerate with delicate Lili through out their relationship even as he exposes to more and more O'Kane wantonness to that she might learn her own desires. In his relationship with Lili, serving as sexual tutor, he reclaims a part of his life that he had become alienated from, because he do it while being his genuine self.

The dynamic shifts in the second half of the book when Lili is the one who is reclaiming the skills that defined her as trophy wife. She is able to reclaim and re-purpose her love of cooking as way to contribute in the O'Kane camp, and connect with Jared.  She ends up using all relationships skills she honed as trophy to do what no other O'Kane is able to do when it matters most.  In the end their relationship matures to a true partnership, that makes them both stronger instead of diminishing them. 

There is wonderful balance between the over-arching plots and romantic relationship development time, even as new characters are introduced and we check in with prior couples. There is a wonderful pay off in having journeyed  this far into series and it was fun to see the O'Kane world through the eyes of outsiders who question and doubt the world they see.

I am always eager for more stories from Sector 4.

A review copy of Beyond Innocence was provided by the authors