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TBR Challenge review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (narrated by Kyle McCarley)

17910048This month's TBR Challenge theme is We Love Short Shorts! (category romance, short stories, novella etc.)

My #TBRChallenge book is pretty much the exact opposite of short and sweet. I read/listened to the Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. The hardcover was 446 pages and the excellent audiobook 16 1/2 hours long.  I've had it in my TBR for about a year.   Although I had hear a lot positive buzz for this book I remained very ignorant about the plot. I had not idea where the book the was going for most of the time I was reading.  

The Goblin Emperor is the story of Maia, the youngest, almost-forgotten ill-favored half-goblin son of the Elvish Emperor. When the Emperor and his three older sons are killed in an airship accident, Maia is summoned from the remote corner of the empire he had been stashed in with his abusive guardian after his mother died. The story was not at all what I expected, as it is decidedly low on action and adventure. The narrative is introspective taking it is sweet-time building up to a climax and the resolution was quiet and subtle.  

Maia is disruption personified, his 1/2 goblin heritage, his experience with marginalization and his lack of familiarity with the ways things are usually handled makes him open to unconventional solutions and sympathetic to those who are most commonly marginalized in that world. Overwhelmed, unprepared & isolated, Maia draws on the principles his mother instilled in him and the instincts he honed learning to dodge his abuser to learn to negotiate the court and untangle its many intrigues and plots in order to become a worthy ruler and surround himself by capable and trustworthy people. The Deep POV was exhausting at times, and I wished we had the opportunity to see more of the life and spaces inhabited by the people Maia champions.  I resented how little we saw women in the first 2/3 of the book even though there are good narrative reasons for it.

The world-building is intricate and immersive but occasionally info-dumpy. I loved that language, and I am incredibly thankful for the audiobook narration for providing me with the correct and melodious pronunciations for the long made-up words and titles that recur throughout the novel. Some of the words still keep resurfacing in my mind like mini earworms days after I finished reading and listening to the book (Michen'theileian...Alcethmeret...Untheileneuse'meire) .  

I found the world incredibly interesting and I would love to see more of it. I was particularly intrigued by the mentions of Maia's unconventional Goblin aunts and I would love to read more books set in this world, as I have feel I have invested a lot of time getting to know its culture, religion and language. I felt like Addison was setting up for a larger-wider story and I hope that promise is fulfilled at some point, hopefully with a queer, poor, or female protagonist, whose world is wider thanks to Maia's efforts and rule.

 


One Love with stories by Roxie Rivera, Farrah Rochon, Liliana Lee, Jill Sorenson, Genevieve Turner & Audra North

CYrh_04WYAEMNqxOne Love collects a lot of great previously released multi-cultural romances along with one new story by Audra North. The stories are great introductions to some wonderful authors and are well worth the .99 price tag.

In Roxie Rivera's Her Cowboy Protector, Cruz Montes, a heavily pregnant Doctoral student in Math, must go into hiding when her undercover DEA agent brother, Carlos discovers that her rapist and wanted assassin is looking back in town and looking for Cruz. 

When his old army buddy calls him, Niall Campbell doesn't hesitate to step up and help.  He will do his best to keep Carlos's sister safe even if he doesn't have much more than a desolate farm and war-honed instincts to offer.

If that seems like a lot of plot, it is only a fraction of what goes on in this book.  Rivera's action packed plots are always intense, complicated and over-the-top. Somehow her books are fun to read despite the many hard topics she tackles.  While I rolled my eyes at points, I enjoyed the ride. 

All You Can Handle by Farrah Rochon 

Madison "Sonny" White left the behind medical school, a social climbing fiancee and the ever-present pressure of her parents' expectations to pursue a life of her own choosing.  Flirting outrageously with the wickedly handsome stranger in a suit on her first night in a new town is a risk she would have never dared before but hopes never to regret.

Ian Landry almost always has grease under his fingernails from the engines he repairs on his off-days.  His life is dedicated to caring for his younger sister and making a better life for both of them, so he rarely ever has an opportunity to share drinks with his friends at his old bar but he has cause to celebrate.  Madison is alluring and a temptation he doesn't want to walk away from after one night, especially when they both awkwardly discover he is her new landlord the next morning.

All You Can Handle is the sixth book in Rochon's Moments in Maplesville novella series and is the kind of story I am always asking for:  a small town romance that is sexy and fun, has a great sense of place and has POC leads. As soon as I finished it I picked up the rest of the series. If you are fan of small-town contemporary romances similar to Shannon Stacey's Kowalski series, pick these up. The first two are available as a free bundle.

The second-to-last story in the collection was Audra North's Cabin Fever, a second-chance-at-love story. The last time Rico Cardenas and Becca Neubaum saw each other their friendship fell apart with harsh words and a misunderstanding. It has been five years polite distance, punctuated by awkward avoidance, regret and unexpected challenges. 

Rico and Becca's reunion is not easy. They have both grown up a lot in 5 years, their lives changing in directions they never anticipated and as much as they are familiar with each other, they need to get to know each other in a different way and learn lessons from how they hurt each other before.

I had previously read Liliana Lee's Obsession, Jill Sorenson's Wild for Him and Genevieve Turner's Summer Chaparral, so I didn't re-read them this time around even though I enjoyed them all when they were first released.  Liliana Lee is the another name for Jeannie Lin, whose Tang Dynasty historical romances I adore.  Obsession is first of a historical erotica series.  

The events in Jill Sorenson's story Wild for Him, happen concurrently with her full-length novel Wild but can be read as stand-alone.  Gwen Tagaloa is a tattoo artist who finds herself falling for her best-friend's long-distance-not-quite-ex-boyfriend Mitch when they work together to try to rescue Helen in the aftermath of massive earthquake.  

Summer Chaparral is the first of Turner's historical romance Las Morenas series about three sisters from an Old Spanish family in a rapidly changing California.  Jace and Catarina are both flawed people carrying heavy family burdens.  They have to overcome a lot to turn their shot-gun marriage into a love match.

One Love provides a great mix of multi-cultural romances across genre and time-periods showcasing the amazing variety of multi-cultural romances available.

 

 


Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker

51JElOK9JoL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Tamsen Parker's Craving Flight is engrossing and emotional marriage-in-trouble romance within a insular religious community. It is a story about marriage and commitment, of the big and small choices couples must make to a relationship work. The story is set in Orthodox Jewish community. Tziporah is a relative newcomer, an adult convert to practicing Orthodox Judaism after growing up secular.  Parker sensitively explores the many spheres Tziporah must navigate, the lonely place she inhabits, not fully accepted in her chosen community, and an oddity at work and the wider-world, where her colorful hair-scarves isolate her and identify her as someone living outside the mainstream.

Tziporah is a thrirty-seven year old divorced religious studies professor.  Five years previously Tziporah, marriage broke down due to her husband's persistent unfaithfulness and his disgust at her religious and sexual interests.  Her secular WASP husband failed to understands her interest in practicing Orthodox Judaism or her need for BDSM in the bedroom.  Since then Tziporah has slowly and intentionally integrate herself into a Orthodox Community of her choosing, making friends, immersing herself in religious studies, learning the traditions and proper practices.  When her rabbi's wife Bina once again broaches the subject of marriage, Tziporah is finally ready to consider marrying again.

Elan is a butcher and a widower who has grown up Orthodox. They agree to marry out of mutual respect and as act of faith.  They are blessed to discover themselves to be sexually compatible, but those shared pleasures as powerful as they are is not enough to sustain them through periods of mandated abstinence.  Tziporah slowly and somewhat painfully learn that she intentionally build a relationship with her husband that extends beyond their bedroom play.  I was fascinated by all the small moments, where Tziporah must choose whether to say or ask for something from Elan and the intimacy and trust required in that.

Elan and Tziporah's marriage is tested heavily in their first few months, and I loved how beautifully Parker built up the conflicts and then resolved them.  I loved the respect and care with which Parker crafted too deeply religious characters, and how deeply their faith affected their reactions.  I was moved by their love, devotion and choices.

 

Disclosures: I received a review copy of Craving Flight from the author Tamsen Parker.  Tamsen and I follow each other on twitter and we had a chance to meet at RWA this summer.  I have previously enjoyed her fantastic Personal Geography series.

 


Lead Me Not by Ann Gallagher

LeadMeNot_500x750Issac Morris followed his father in to ministry. He has a passion for bringing people to Christ but his father's church is particularly focused on calling "Sodomites"out of their sinful lifestyle by confronting them with their sin through loud and aggressive protests. Issac has grown increasingly frustrated with their inability to persuade people to listen to them.  When he learns that one of his nephews is struggling with homosexual desires he is convinced that they have to try something new and different. He and his sister Ruth set out to film a documentary, one that will document his choice to become gay and then become straight again in order to convince homosexuals they too can choose to leave the lifestyle.  Although his family is hesitant to see him take such a dangerous and risky path, they reluctantly agree to support his endeavor. Ruth and Issac relocate to Seattle and Issac sets out to enter the gay lifestyle.

Coming out to his parents at 14, propelled Colton Roberts into a nightmare. After his family's rejection he spent the majority of his teen years alone on the street, raped, pimped, abused and addicted.  He found acceptance and Christ's love in the persons of Pastor Mike and his wife Gail who rescued him from the streets.  Faith, therapy, rehab and the love and support of the South Street Community Church have held him together through many struggles. He juggles bartending shifts at CapitolOUT with evenings working with at-risk LGBQT youth at the his church's youth shelter.  

Issac and Colton meet when Issac is assaulted by homophobic thugs outside of CapitolOUT. Colton can't help but feel concern for Issac as he is clearly overwhelmed and inexperienced. Sympathetic upon learning that Issac has only recently come out, Colton agrees to help Issac learn to navigate the gay community in Seattle and they slowly build a friendship that eventually blossoms into something more. 

Gallagher (who also publishes for Riptide as L.A. Witt), took on quite a challenge with this book. The novel is equal parts a story of self-discovery as it is as romance novel.  Issac's journey toward realizing that he is gay and struggling to figure out how he can reconcile it with his faith and call to ministry is tortuous.  I thought Gallagher did a great job illustrating how hard and painful it is for Issac to slowly realize that he isn't choosing to be gay for the sake of the documentary but instead for the first time in his life acknowledging his identity.  He is under incredible pressure from his family, which makes him extremely conflicted and confused. The way things unfolded in the later half after some fateful/unavoidable confrontations was for the most part believable, especially the lure denial hold for Issac.

The romance was gentle grounded in growing attraction born out of friendship and affection. While they are both certainly attracted from the beginning, Colton's cautiousness leads to take things very slow letting them building trust and intimacy long before they ever even kiss.  Issac's deception and betrayal have significant consequences and although I felt Issac should have groveled even more, their HEA developed in the extensive epilogue was perfect.

I couldn't help reading Lead Me Not through the filter of the current conversations and movements in the Evangelical community toward greater acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ people.  While Issac does have many conversations and reads one book (published in the 70s!) on how reconcile his faith and his sexuality I wished Gallagher had Issac engage with more current books and scholarship than he does in Lead Me Not. Books like God and the Gay Christian specifically address some of the issues Issac most struggles with, specifically the bad fruit his anti-gay ministry is bearing (inspiring attacks,  the rejection of vulnerable children & suicides) and tackling how the Bible can and has been reinterpreted without it losing its authority.  

I really appreciated the attention Gallagher paid to the power of family relationships to affect a person's well-being. Colton struggles with accepting his parents' rejection for years. Issac works to reconnect with family members he has shunned, while wrestling with the family who fear losing him. Although the book asserts you can't choose who you love, it really meant who you fall in love with. Both Colton and Issac's family consistently stopped acting in a loving way toward those they disapprove of.  The novel does really illustrates is that while you can't choose who you are attracted to, your identity, are related to, or who you fit with most, you can choose to love them even when you disagree.

Inspirational romances are not generally something I enjoy reading. I struggle to not get stuck on some minor point of theology or get annoyed easily if I think something is being misrepresented but I think overall Lead Me Not succeed in being both a credible inspirational romance and a satisfying love story. I rolled my eyes occasionally but not enough to diminish my enjoyment of the story.

 

Disclosure: At RWA I had opportunity to meet Sarah Frantz Lyons,  Editorial Director of Riptide Publishing who is friend of my friend Elisabeth Lane. During one of our conversations Sarah mentioned being excited about Lead Me Not, because it was something that they had never done at Riptide or to her knowledge anywhere else, a M/M sweet inspirational.  I was immediately intrigued because although I am not typically an inspie reader, I am very interested in the intersection of the Faith community and the LGBT community so I knew I had to read it.  Check out the #FaithfullyLGBT hashtag on twitter if you want to know more about LGBT people who are working to live out their faith.

I received review copy of Lead Me Not from Riptide via Netgalley.


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

The stories in this historical romance anthology move forward through American history from 1866, post-Civil War New York City through to 1961, Civil Rights Era Virginia. They are stories about finding and nurturing love in the face of adversity and oppression. The stories in The Brightest Day are tied together by references to celebrations of Juneteenth.  Juneteeth celebrations commemorate July 19th, 1865, the last of the Freedom days, when slaves in Galveston, TX finally received their freedom. The celebration of that day spread beyond Texas to different black communities around the United States.  The stories express the diversity of African American experience in the United States and get better and better as you move through the anthology. 

Amazing Grace by Lena Hart:  In post-Civil War New York a young black woman, Grace Shaw, agrees to an arranged marriage to a wealthy Montana miner she has never met in order to provide for her family. On her way West, she falls in love with the last person she expects. Logan Foley is looking to start over for the second time in his life. Once the half-Mexican bastard son of white plantation owner, he reinvented himself as teenager, when he father claimed him as a heir. Now he is starting over again, moving West to Colorado to homestead, abandoning his father's ruined plantation and his slave owning past. Logan and Grace meet by chance but are tied together in ways they don't expect.

The romance centers on identity and intentions.  Both Grace and Logan must both come to terms with the choices they have made in order to secure their futures and please their families. These choices turned into bad ones that place them in difficult situations with lasting life consequences. Logan has the most to overcome as his slave owning past nearly cost him Grace's love. I enjoyed this story even though it felt compressed. There was certainly enough material & conflict to justify more pages. I didn't feel we spent enough time with Grace and Logan to fully develop why they fell for one another beyond their instant awareness and attraction but I still believe that they have what it takes to make a life together.

Drifting to You by Kianna Alexander: A prominent black Fayetteville family inaugurates their new boat with a celebratory Juneteeth Cruise of Cape Fear,NC in 1875. The family contracts Rosaline Rhodes a successful and hard-working baker to provide her famed spice cake for the outing. Having Rosaline on board all day provides Will Pruett, the local shipbuilder with the opportunity to finally let Rosaline know of his feelings for her. But Will Pruett is not the only one interested in courting Rosaline and soon Rosaline will have to choose.

I thought this books did a very good job addressing the social tensions within the black community post-Civil War. There is stigma to having been born a slave, and Rosaline for however much she has raised herself up, still faces that. I did feel however that I was dropped into the middle of a story, as Rosaline and Will have been denying their attraction for good long while and are only really getting started by the end of the story. There was also several interesting secondary characters who seem ripe for stories of their own.

A Sweet Way to Freedom by Piper Hugley: It is 1910 and Missouri "Missy" Baxter the pride of Milford and the first black teacher in Winslow, GA can no longer hide she is in "a family way". Arlo Tucker is the sweet-talking good-time man responsible for her condition.  Missy is determined not succumb to his charms again, less she be disappointed again. Arlo has always been able to evade responsibilities and emotional entanglements but for the first time he doesn't want to be let off the hook.  He wants Missy and wants to do right by her, and he needs to figure out away to convince her to give him another chance.

I just loved this story. I was crying for Missy and Arlo after the first few pages.  I strongly felt their conflicted emotions.  Arlo is full of fear, sure that he will only bring Missy pain, and Missy is hurt, determined not to be a fool again. Despite the fear and hurt they do truly love one another and I loved how they come to show each other forgiveness and grace. Hugely is fantastically skilled at characterization.  The large cast of secondary characters making up the Winslow community are all distinct and well developed without stealing focus from Arlo and Missy. I already have a one of Hugley's novels in my TBR, and will been pushing it toward the top of the queue.

Let it Shine by Alyssa Cole: Sofronia "Sofie" Wallis has done her best since her mother's death to be the good girl her father desperately wants her to be. She quieted her voice, she has lowered her eyes and done her best not to run into trouble. As the struggle of the Civil Rights movement is brought close to home, she longer feels that being quiet and meek is going to protect her and she is motivated to go against her father's wishes and join the non-violent protest movement.  Ivan Friedman has never forgotten Sofronia, he remembers vividly the hours they spent together at children.  To him she shines as brightly as always and he doesn't want leave her side again even if the whole world looks at them with derision. 

This story had great internal and external conflict and the way Sofie and Ivan interact was fantastic. I believed the intensity of their attraction, their awareness of the tension and danger they face by reconnecting.  I had previously read the epilogue to this story (it has been published on Cole's blog as part of a Hanukkah blog hop this past winter) but it was even more meaningful and beautiful after reading the rest of their story.

While I think the last two stories in the Anthology are certainly the strongest, the anthology as whole was enjoyable and worth reading. It was well balanced, and provided a great journey and I will be on the lookout for more books by these authors .

 


TBR Challenge "Kickin' It Old School" Book: The Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale

This month's theme is "Kickin' It Old School", books that have a copyright date 10 years or older.

I read a lot books from the early aughts when I first started reading Romance. Raiding my library's ebook collection introduced me to the likes of Balogh, Quinn and Kleypas  and  I read as many of their books as I could get my hands on.  For this month's challenge I decided go for a book a little older and reach back past my comfort zone to a book from 1990.   While I have read a handful of 90's novels,  mostly Loretta Chase's or Nora Roberts's books that I've picked at library sales, I haven't read many others from the era when I was reading mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Last fall I picked up  Prince of Midnight when the ebook went on sale, because Kinsale is a fave of some of my favorite twitter rom people. I've actually been trying to read it since late December, or more accurately trying to listen to it, but I stalled out due to lack of listening time.  The narration on the audiobook was actually lovely but I rarely had time to listen for more than 1/2 hr at a time and never two days in a row. I caved and gave up on the audiobook. Once I started on the written version I really started to pick up speed and was able to finish in a couple of days.

 

The Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale

S.T. Maitland was once a dashing & celebrated highway man/avenger of wrongs known as the Monseigneur du Minuit.  But an explosion killed his beloved horse, destroy half his hearing and deprived him of his sense of balance, so he retreated to the French country to paint in a ruined and isolated castle.   His rustication is interrupted by  the arrival of Leigh Strachan, a young person in search of justice and revenge.

Leigh Strachan's family has been killed. She seeks revenge against the cult leader who turned her out of her home after gaining control of her hometown. She has traveled out of England in male drag and seeks the fabled Seigneur du Minuit's personal assistance or at the very least his mentorship.

Leigh and S.T. are almost immediately at odds over everything, while being thrown together into increasing if unwilling intimacy through sudden illness and dangerous encounters with bad people. S.T. eventually insists on accompanying Leigh back home in order to assist her in whatever limited way he can.  Leigh no longer wants his help but can't leave him either.

I really loved the slow burn deepening of Leigh and S.T.'s feelings as their relationship progressed. S.T. was immediately infatuated, and is always seeking her favor, and she always stymies him. She never responds or behaves in the way he hopes she will.  Her unexpected responses make him question himself, and his ingrained responses and behaviors.  Leigh fights her growing affection for S.T. as much as she possibly can. Hating each and every feeling he reawakens in her.  Their journey from France to England is a long battle to stay numb and unmoved by S.T..  How their relationship morphs dramatically once they reach shore and the new interpersonal conflicts they need to negotiate in the second half was fantastic and honestly a great deal of fun.

Leigh and S.T. have a complicated sexual relationship.  Leigh is only willing to engage with S.T. sexually if it is an impersonal obligation or in barter for his services.  This allows Leigh to not risk her feelings, and gives her power over S.T., allowing her to taunt and challenge his lusts.  S.T. is incredibly frustrated that Leigh will not engage with him in a way he considers fair.  She refuses to acknowledge her own desires, deny her attraction, and resists seeking her own satisfaction.  He is trying to tame and pacify her through sex and inspire her to want his affection and domestic dream.  It subverts the traditional romance trajectory, where the hero is often the one domesticated through sex.  The power dynamics of their sexual relationship and their push-and-pull over sex and desire were fascinating and I feel I will need re-read in order to pull out all the inter-locking pieces.

 As much as I loved this book, and how it has inspired me to see out other Kinsale novels, I struggled with elements of the plot.  There were some really wild coincidences tying everything together and it just didn't work for me.  If  the story had simply been about a rogue vicar who builds a powerful personality cult, and abuses his power to drive out the Strachan, it would have had plenty of power. But the cults connection to the Hellfire club and the ramifications of that were just too much for me.

My favorite part of the whole book was the final chapter.  Their declarations of love, and how were finally able to claim each other was amazing.  I loved their HEA and their romance. I was also so happy to finally be able to mark the book  finished.


The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley #TBR Challenge Book

Last year I was talking about Canadian authors on Twitter with one my favorite bloggers and twitters friends, Kay from Miss Bates Reads Romance. She confessed to not liking Margaret Atwood, and I asked her what Canadian authors she loved. She recommended I read some Susanna Kearsley, and suggested I start with the Winter Sea. Not long after that, I saw The Winter Sea on sale, and I snatched it up. While Kay and I don't always like the same tropes, I trust her to know a good book. Due to the often overwhelming number of ARCs on my kindle, and review commitments, I often don't get around to reading books I actually bought for months and months. Thankfully Wendy's TBR challenge gives me a monthly "excuse" to read those books.

 

I absolutely loved The Winter Sea. It stood out in so many ways from the kinds of books I usually read, that it was felt like a vacation. The book is about wandering away from the prescribed paths and pacing was unlike any romance I've read recently.

 

The Winter Sea is the story of Carrie McClellands, a nomadic Canadian writer of historical fiction. She has just spent a month in France trying to start writing her newest novel. She hoped to write about one of the failed Jacobean invasion of Scotland in 1708. On her drive north to visit her agent, she takes a detour along the Scottish coast and come up to a ruined castle, which turns out to be one of the places her protagonist was supposed to be visit.

 

Slains Castle remains in her thoughts all through her visit with her agent and friend, so Jane encourages her to visit it again. Together they go back and explore, and soon Carrie has decided to take a cottage close to Slains as her winter writing quarters.

 

The novel is really two interconnected love stories. Kearsley moves the narrative back and forth in time, alternating between Carrie in present day Slains and Sophia, a distant ancestor of Carrie, and the new heroine of Carrie's book in the early 18th century. In the current day Carrie wrestle with her novel, that feels less and less like a work of her imagination, as the little details & additions she has guessed at keep being confirmed by historical documents. Sophia meanwhile falls in love with a wanted man and is soon deep in a conspiracy to return King James II to the Scottish throne.


Early on I preferred the present day chapters because I so enjoyed Carrie and her struggled to understand where her books was coming from while the historical chapters were so full of tension and uncertainty I wanted to skip to the end to see what happened. I was drawn in to Sophia's story, as she blossomed at Slains frist as she falls in love and then as she grows when her lover has to leave her behind. I loved the contrast between Carrie's and Sophia's romances. Carrie's is gentle, patient and comfortable while Sophia's is dangerous, passionate and fraught. I loved how different Carrie & Sophia were as women, which gave such richness to the story.


I think The Winter Sea is a excellent book to recommend to non-romance readers, as it has strong crossover potential, and I think the rich historical and political detail would appeal to readers of historical fiction. But I would highly recommend this book to all romance readers. Thank you Kay, for suggesting I read such a great book.

 


Rise by Karina Bliss

Rise-KarinaBliss-1600x2400I read a handful of Karina Bliss’s Harlequin SuperRomance titles when I first started reading contemporary romance. I found them emotional without being manipulative, engaging and fun.  Which is why was very interested in reading Rise.

Rise is the story of Zander Freedman  who appeared as a supporting character in a several of the SuperRomances  I read (What the Librarian Did, A Prior Engagement & Bring Him Home).  Apparently fans have been lobbying Bliss for a happy ending for this charismatic and interesting villain.

Zander Freedman is the front man for a legendary rock band, Rage. When his original band mates jumped ship after his brother Devin collapsed on stage due to alcohol abuse, he refused  to stop touring.  Zander re-populated the band with younger and up-and-coming musicians through a reality show competition.   To some of his former band mates this is just another cash grab and betrayal, but the truth is not as simple.

Zander is incredibly ambitious and driven.  His career is his whole life. And he has gambled his whole future on his newest tour. He is playing a dangerous game of denial with his voice. Warned by doctors to cut the tour short or risk permanent damage, he refuses to consider stopping because it will leave him financial ruined.

Elizabeth Winston is a Pulitzer prize-winning biographer and celebrated historian. She lives a quite life, baby-sitting her nieces and nephews, teaching at a local university, sharing a whiskey at the end of her day with her elderly neighbor. She thinks it is a prank when Zander comes calling. She writes biographies of complex dead people, not megalomaniac rock stars. But it is no mistake or prank, after firing his second ghost-writing biographer, Zander wants to recruit Elizabeth to help him write his memoir. He wants her to lend credibility to the project & he makes all the right promises, and his charisma eventually overcomes all of Elizabeth’s objections.

Before long Elizabeth isn’t just prying into Zander’s past with probing questions, she is interfering in his everyday life and not letting him get away with ignoring the consequences of his actions have on others.

I loved Zander’s slow & determined pursuit of Elizabeth. It was nice to see them develop a friendship, to cultivate a somewhat adversarial working relationship, before Zander is finally able to lure Elizabeth to his bed. And I loved that sleeping together didn’t resolve their relationship issues, but instead complicated them.

I particularly liked that Elizabeth is not some sexual innocent looking to be debauched by a rock sex god or a prude in need of liberation. She might live a quiet life in Auckland, but she isn’t sexually inexperienced. She has lived a little more life than her siblings think she has, she just prizes her privacy and independence.

I thought Bliss did a good job over-all with her portrayal of the complicated repercussions of being a pastor’s kid. Elizabeth’s familiarity with life in a fish-bowl, her caution about her personal & professional reputation, and the complicated role faith plays in her life were very well drawn. There was one odd moment, where early in the book Elizabeth mentions Chakras, but it isn't followed up again, so we don’t get to explore if she has if has added any other unconventional religious beliefs to her traditional religious practice and without any kind of follow up or further mention it feels like remnant from a discarded plot line.

Bliss did a wonderful job building a redemption story for Zander that did not excuse his prior bad actions, or try to minimize the cost of those actions on others. The dark moments in Zander and Elizabeth’s relationship are well executed. I felt the weight of their choices and was really happy with the resolution.

4 stars

Rise has been  available at the usual e-book retailers since Jan 28, 2015

I received a review copy of Rise from Karina Bliss via Julie Brazeal at AToMR Promotions.


Sweeter than Sin (Secrets & Shadows, Bk 2) by Shiloh Walker:

I read this book with some hesitation. I enjoyed Walker’s handling of a recovering alcoholic ex-pastor Noah in Deeper than Need, but I found the romantic suspense plot which centered on exposing of a ritualistic child-sex abuse ring somewhat triggering. This book continues with the fallout of the abuse scandal.

Lana Rossi fled Madison as teenager when her attempt to help her friend David escape his abusive parents went wrong. She has been in hiding for decades, emotionally and physically scarred from years on the street. Lana is drawn back to Madison hoping to finally get answers about what happened the night she fled town, and to make sure that the ring is truly shut down.

Adam Brascum’s life went into a tailspin right around the same time Lana left town. The uncertainty of not knowing what happened to her, of failing to protect her, turned him into an alcoholic. Sober since his parents’ death, but not quite healed, Adam’s world is rocked when he recognizes Lana despite her disguise. He is confused and angry to find that she has been alive all these years and conflicted about what to do. He is torn by guilt at wanting Lana when she was his friend’s Noah’s girl and for wanting her now, when he knows so little about where she has been.

I felt that once again the suspense plot overshadowed the love story in this novel and while Walker answered a lot of my most nagging questions about Caine and the peculiar Amish, I am not sure I can take more of the grimness to read his story. 3 out 5 stars

 

A review copy of Sweeter than Sin was provided by St. Martin's Press via NetGalley


Between the Sheets by Molly O'Keefe

Download (4)Prior to the Molly O’Keefe’s Summer Rain short-story, The Heart of It I had started and quit three of her novels despite hearing only love and adoration for them from trusted reviewers and twitter friends. As I read the opening chapters of Between the Sheets I finally realized why I had struggled with her books. O’Keefe doesn’t shy away from presenting her characters at their most unflattering right from the start. Some authors slowly unveil and reveal character flaws and struggles slowly, ensuring you are invested in the characters and in all the O’Keefe’s I had tried to read, the main characters don’t meet-cute, they meet-hate and behave in less than ideal ways. They are better people than they appear to be, but they dig deep holes with each other and the reader.

Between the Sheets is the third book in the Boys of Bishop series. The first book Wild Child has been sitting on my kindle since it first came available on NetGalley, abandoned after I read the first chapter and I only saw conflict ahead. Buoyed by my enjoyment of The Heart of It I was able to blaze through the conflict-heavy early chapters of Between the Sheets, till I was fully engaged with the characters, and their story. Once I got to know Shelby, Ty, Evie and Casey I couldn’t put the book down. While Between the Sheets alludes to events in Wild Child and has many characters in common, I didn't feel I missed anything vital in skipping it.

While most teachers and students trudge back into school after the holidays, Shelby Monroe is thrilled to be back. She loves her work, she loves using art to connect with her students but most of all her students and her work are an escape from her hellish home life. She is the main caregiver to her mother, Evie, whose Alzheimer is worsening to the point that Shelby can no longer manage with only occasional help. Other than Evie’s hired caregivers most people in Bishop are completely unaware of how much Shelby is trying to do on her own at home. Shelby is actually a master at appearing unruffled and in control even if she is terrified and in pain. People in her town have come to see her in a very particular way and she doesn’t know how to reach out and change that. She feels deeply untouchable and she thirsts to be touched and desired, to feel wantoned and abandoned to passion. She is deeply ashamed to feel that way. Even after falling prey to obsessive man in Wild Child, and having him try to slut-shame her on TV, in the eyes of most in her community, she is still good sweet Shelby and no one believes the words hurled at her. She is horrified to discover that she wishes some of them did, just so they might see that she isn’t as cold and withdrawn as she appears.

Ty is Shelby’s new neighbor. He has come to Bishop looking for a fresh start for his newly discovered son. Ty is also drowning and over-whelmed, and feels completely inadequate as father to Casey. Casey home life with Ty’s ex was unsettled, neglectful and deeply scarring, and Ty is not sure he can figure out how to make a difference in Casey’s life.  Once confident and always able charm and make friends easily in any new place, Ty no longer feels so secure, and fumbles badly when Shelby shows up at his door at midnight, livid at the racket he has been making while tinkering with his bike. He makes all the wrong assumptions about her, just as she does with him.

O’Keefe did a wonderful job of drawing Shelby and Ty together, setting up how they will fall into each others arms but more importantly carefully developed how difficult it would be for Shelby who feels like she is nothing but sharp edges and the potential to deeply hurt others, to be vulnerable and to accept love. I loved how Ty is the one to stand up and set boundaries because he wants more from Shelby than angry-escapist sex and seeks to see her, not just the masks she puts up to the world.

As a pastor’s wife I was also very impressed with nuanced portrayal of faith, churches and pastoral/spousal abuse in this novel. Evie’s husband and Shelby’s father was a narcissistic preacher who verbally and emotionally abused his family. He used his power in and out of the pulpit to abuse them. While Shelby has complicated feelings about church, it is clear that faith and community also have the power to heal and mend people, as evidenced by Ty's experience of it. I loved that she could portray the fact that while abuse and hate are sometimes preached in the name of God, that is not what most churches are like.

I am going to pull up Wild Child up in my Kindle and then dive back in to O’Keefe’s backlist now that I know I shouldn't  judge her characters by my first impressions and instead really get to  know them since I can trust that there is more to her characters than conflict and anger. 

A copy of Between the Sheets was provided by Random House Publishing Group - Bantam Dell  via NetGalley for review purposes.