Romantic Suspense Feed

Love in Panels Review: Treason of Truths by Ada Harper

This review was first published at Love in Panels:

I adored the first book in this duology and so I had high expectations for this romance. I was eager to go back into this world and and explore the flip-side of the tropes from the first book. Unlike Galen and Olivia who meet during an assassination attempt and grow in to love and trust, Sabine and Lyre have been partners and friends for decades. Again Harper works to upend trope expectations while leaning into others. I loved the contrast between Lyre and Sabine’s styles and how that played into the way their romantic conflict were resolved. I am looking forward to more queer romantic adventures from Harper and I hope we see more like this from Carina Press in the future.

Lyre has found contentment and purpose serving spy Empress Sabine, guarding her throne from the shadows as her spy-master but when the empress ignores her advice and insists on accepting the mysterious Cloud Vault’s invitation for a summit between the Empire and Syndicate, Lyre is forced to take actions that neither of them ever anticipated.

Lyre and Sabine’s relationship is a friends-to-lovers slow burn romance, where both of them have long-ago committed their hearts while learning to deny the depth of their feelings and smother any acknowledgement of passion in order not risk their friendship and partnership. They had one night early one when things almost boiled over, and neither of them speak of it. While Lyre’s loyalty to Sabine has always been legendary, she fears if the truth of her past was revealed it would sunder their relationship and if it didn’t, it would threaten the security of Sabine’s throne.

Like the first book in this series, intense action dominates the book. Sabine, Lyre and a band of allies slip and slide through the murky underbelly of the Cloud Vault’s flying citadel, tangling with deadly carnivorous vines while trying to untangle the motives of their secretive hosts. About half-way my interest flagged a bit during some of the longer action sequences but my longing for more romance between Lyre and Sabine was rewarded by an incredibly swoony final chapters of the novel. I am not usually a fan of grand gestures but Sabine’s whole life is one of theatrical and strategic actions meant to wow her subjects and rivals and it was wonderful to see Lyre step out of the shadows and prove herself able to stand by her beloved’s side and stop playing the romantic martyr.

Content Warnings: guns, torture, abduction.

 


Love in Panels Review: At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli

This review was originally published on Love in Panels

At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli

Sandra Antonelli is a long-time advocate and promoter of romance featuring older protagonists. While the majority of romance authors and publishers focus on characters in their twenties and thirties, Antonelli and other fans of seasoned romance thirst for characters with a few more gray hairs and a lot more life experience. At Your Service is the first of Antonelli’s new In Service series, a mystery/romantic suspense series which will feature main characters over 40. At Your Service was an engrossing and highly-enjoyable romance, with great pacing, action and banter and a fabulous heroine, Mae in her mid-50s, who is just little bit older than the hero, Kitt.

Mae loves working as butler - she thrives on feeling productive and useful. For the last three years, she has juggled being both landlady and butler to Major Kitt, whose globe-trotting work is both dangerous and mysterious, but whose appreciation for her scrambled eggs is always constant. She might quirk an eyebrow at the way he hustles his young married paramours out of his apartment on the morning afters but she does not share her judgment, it wouldn’t be professional.

But the wall of perfect professionalism crumbles when Mae is first mugged, then burgled, and finally swindled before she kills a man in self-defense in his flat. Someone is targeting Mae and she is in way over her head, so he bullies her into letting him help. Together they race to discover who and why someone is after Mae and untangle their grand scheme while tangling with the several intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, wrestling with murderous bankers and brushing up against the Mafia. It is was a complicated but highly entertaining caper.

I enjoyed the action and adventure but if you are triggered by physical violence be aware that both Mae and Kitt get seriously banged up through the course of the novel, they are drugged, tazed and nearly drowned, and stumble upon a bevy of murdered bodies. But through it all Antonelli keeps up witty banter but manages not to trivialize or diminish the emotional roller-coaster both Mae and Kitt are experiencing as they survive multiple near-death experiences. They are both feeling emotionally messy and that is acknowledged and reflected in how they behave and in the quality of their decision-making. 

One of my favorite tropes is a widow finding love after a grief, but I have mixed feeling as to how this played out in the novel. I loved Mae’s realization that her feelings for Kitt were deeper and more significant than she had ever let herself admit and that she reached out for him the mornings in the same way she had reach out to for her late-husband Caspar. Kitt knows how deeply Mae grieved Caspar and that affects his ability to understand that her feelings for him have changed. I was disappointed, however, very late in the novel when certain facts about Caspar are revealed to both the reader and Mae. Although Antonelli uses these to further the romance plot, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I was also disappointed in the “not-like-other-girls” subtext to Kitt’s love of Mae. He refers to his past lovers as meaning nothing and thinks of them as no more than temporary disposable diversions on multiple occasions, while classing Mae differently. While that is part and parcel of his characterization as a cross between James Bond & Mr. Rochester type, it rankled a bit, especially when Kitt is convinced that he has been protecting Mae by overlooking her. I did appreciate that Mae saw his behavior for what it was, a misogynistic response to early heartbreak and calls him out on callousness. Other aspects of his hyper-masculine/Alpha hero persona were hyped up and I was particularly fascinated by recurring the hero or bully discussion Mae and Kitt have through the novel.

“You’re a bully,” she said.

“I was hoping you’d see me as heroic.”

“Heroic. Which means you expect me to lean up and cover you with kisses to thank you profusely?”

“I think I’ve enough of your blood on me already.”

“Heroic. Maybe you’re a little of that, but mostly you’re a bully.”

“ I can live with that.”

-Mae and Kitt in At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli

 

I stayed up late into the night reading At Your Service, and then dove back to reading as soon as I could the next morning and I recommend it to all who are looking for funny, smart romantic suspense with a strong focus on romance that doesn’t skimp on the mystery. I will be eagerly awaiting more from Antonelli, especially if her heroines continue to shock both their heroes and adversaries by refusing to go meekly or cave quietly, whatever the situation.

Content Warnings: Guns, Kidnapping/Abduction, Murder.


Shadow of Doubt by Linda Poitevin

44. Shadow of Doubt by Linda Poitvien. (ARC, 5/10) RomSuspense. Started out promising but too much of the emotional conflict was the MCs arguing if it was too risky for the RCMP heroine to keep helping the framed DEA agent hero on the run. #ttr #bkbrk https://t.co/0rfLpBBgLs

— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) June 3, 2018

 

51BEYqNiYELI really loved the start of this book. A RCMP officer find a bullet-ridden man on a rain-soaked back road on a stormy night and is forced to bring him home.  Kate Dexter is all business, practical, wary and very very suspicious. She doesn't have time to ogle the handsome and extremely well built victim.  She worries about how dangerous it makes him.

Poitevin captured the extreme tension within Kate as she tries to decide how to respond to situation. Her instincts are at war with the police procedures and every minute she hesitate the bigger the cost to her career.   Poitevin carries that tension over  to the intense action and suspense scenes.  

However while the action kept Jonas Burke, a framed ATF agent on the run, and Kate ricocheting around Ontario and the Northeast United States,  the romance stalled.  I was frustrated by the repetitive nature of Kate and Jonas arguments.  While Poitevin eventually gives us the backstory as to why Jonas is so fiercely and stubbornly independent, I was too bored with Jonas continued insentience that Kate stop helping him, and his doubts about her abilities even though she consistently proved herself extremely capable.  Jonas's realization of the errors of his ways came much too late for me and while the epilogue was sweet and perfect, I still think Kate should have smacked him and walked away, because she endured too much from Jonas as he tried to push her away. I thought Kate should have hooked up with her ex or her fabulously supportive partner instead.

Shadow of Doubt had a fantastic heroine, gripping action and a frustrating lug of a hero, who tried to pushed away the best partner he could have ever hope to have found.

 

I received a ARC from the author for review consideration.

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Ivan by Kit Rocha (Gideon's Riders 3)

Gideon's Riders  3 Cover Ivan and Maricela.Maricela has everyone in Sector One at her beck and call as part of Sector One's ruling family, the Rios and while that might sounds nice, it also means that nearly everyone wants something from her. They want her time, her charity, her affection and most all her attention. Ever since she reached a marriageable age and since her brother, Gideon continues to elude matchmaking mamas, suitors are constantly buzzing around her, hoping to be the one who will succeed in winning an advantageous alliance for their family.

Ivan grew up on the streets, scrounging for food and shelter most days. His uncles betrayed the Prophet by kidnapping his daughter and grandson. Although Ivan was just a child and his mother ignorant of the plot, they lost everything when their family's treachery was uncovered.  However Gideon welcomed Ivan into his elite fighting force, the Riders. His only goal in life is to live up to his father's legacy as one the sainted Riders, to restore his family's name by dying in the service of the Rios family.  But then he met Maricela and his feeling for her are not innocent adoration and making her happy makes him happy. The only problem is that his job is to keep her safe, not happy and that puts them both in danger.

I have really been loving this new series. Despite sharing a world and continuity with Rocha's Beyond series, these books have completely different kinds of conflicts and tensions.  The Rios family run a sector founded by the prophet, Fernando Rios, an opportunistic charlatan who brought stability to the region but abused his spiritual hold in residents for his benefit. His heirs have spent a generation trying to rule it without abusing the faith of Sector One's people, while trying to maintain stability and prosperity for its residents.

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While the O'Kanes had to deal with a great deal of political intrigue, the politics of Gideon's Riders are straight up palace/dynastic intrigue. Ever since the fall of Eden, they have responding to a  massive refugee crisis while trying to figure out who has been trying to destabilize the sector by targeting the Rios family. This is post-dystopian romantic suspense at its best. There are house parties, and balls disrupted by assassinations attempts,  & murders and in the middle of all that two people secretly falling in love, while trying their hardest not to. The novel was very hard to put down and my favorite of this new series so far.

AshwinTwitterIf you haven't tried Kit Rocha before give this series a try. I think Ivan stands well on its own, but if you want to start at the beginning, the first book Ashwin (which I reviewed last year) about a super-soldier who shouldn't have feelings, catching a terrible case of feelings for his former handler, Kora, a gifted healer who he spirited away from the military installation they both grew up in. He tried to train himself to not want her, but he can't keep away. It is on sale of .99 cents right now and you can't go wrong at that price.

I received a copy of Ivan from Kit Rocha for review consideration. You can purchase a copy at all the usual places.

 

 

 


The Waning Days of 2017: Mini-Review Round-up

The temperatures outside are frightful and there is nothing more delightful than sitting around in my pajamas and not doing much more than reading all day. 

51R5h0q8mzL._SY346_The Pretender by HelenKay Dimon: An occasional art thief with a cause stumbles upon a murder and contaminates a crime scene leading to the wrong person being accused.  He comes back to clear the name of the woman accused and gets a little too close to her.

I struggled with this book at first, the hero's panic at stumbling upon the dying woman, and his desperate flight to flee being discovered were so visceral as was his guilt at causing someone to be wrongly accused meant I struggled to feel fully sympathetic to him, especially as he lies to the heroine about who he is for a great majority of the novel. However Dimon pulls it off and redeems Harrison and establishes a believable  relationship between him and Gabrielle.  The mystery of who killed Gabrielle's estranged sister was gripping and the twists and turns in their investigation were fantastic. (ARC provided by the Publisher for review consideration).51YnLCzPgLL

Beary Christmas, Baby by Sasha Devlin:  Liev has loved Sira for years and years, but despite his unwavering devotion and her reliance on him, Sira has always kept him at arms length. But one late night working together on Christmas Eve, Sira pushes Liev just a bit too far.  Their friends to lovers, dominating boss romance has the added twist of Sira being a dragon shifter with a complicated relationship with her family and Liev,  a big cuddly polar bear shifter, who claimed Sira in his heart when they were kids. 

Devlin delighted me with this story. It is sexy, sweet and super fun.  I am not a huge fan of holiday romances but this is one I will read again. If you have a weakness for prickly and bossy heroines, love a hero who loses his shit but not his love and respect for the heroine, pick this one up. I love the real sense of knowing each other these two characters radiate. They have been around each other for years yet have this huge unspoken thing that believably keeps them apart.

51sl62FwTHLLake Silence by Anne Bishop:  Bishop returns to the broader world of her Others series with a self-contained story set in a small community deep in Wild Country on the edge of the Finger Lakes.  

In her divorce settlement with her gaslighting and emotionally abusive husband Vicky DeVine was granted ownership of run-down rambling inn on the edge of Lake Silence. She has been the last six month working on restoring it and slowly regaining a healthier sense of self.  The peacefulness of her lakeside retreat is shattered when her sole lodger, attempts to microwave a human eye in the Inn's kitchen.

The story is one-part police procedural & one-part women's fiction in a dark fantasy package.  For readers of Bishop's previous Others novels the story will feel very familiar. A wounded woman finding sanctuary and protectors in a community run by supernatural beings, a honest and determined law-enforcement official seeks to solve crimes and protect humans from their own foolishness while walking a tight rope between human laws and powerful beings with their own rules and expectations.  There is even another strong, wounded bookseller with a deep interest in the heroine, although this time that role is filled by Intuit.  

I very much enjoyed getting to know the new characters and community, and appreciated the faster, self-contained pacing.  I didn't expect the story to wrap up in such a satisfying manner after the leisurely pace of Bishop's previous books in this series.  I loved Julian Farrow's character, and the particular ways being an Intuit affected his relationships with non-Intuit humans.  The scenes involving the game of Murder were particularly fantastic, both darkly humorous and suspenseful and I  loved how the  ramifications played later in the of the story.

I'm now deeply curious where else in the World of the Others Bishops plans to write about next. 

(An ARC of Lake Silence was provided by the Publisher for review consideration. Lake Silence is available for Pre-order and its expected publication date is March 6th, 2018.)

51I9-IP+9ALBurn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5) by Patricia Briggs: Bran, the Marrok is away and has left his son Charles in charge, when one of the Marrok's special pack of wolves is attacked.  Charles, Anna and the rest of the pack rush to to avert tragedy and track down a traitor among them.  

The story was intense, full of grief and powerful magics. It is a story about marriages and loss and it was simply beautiful.  The story was filled to the brim with little character moments, full of insight into long-standing relationships in the series. It was completely engrossing and I highly recommend it.  I love these characters and the ways Briggs has lets us grow to get to know them, sometimes transforming the way I thought about a character through small reveal. I had fallen behind in my Mercy Thompson series reading, and this made me eager to catch back up again, although like the previous Alpha and Omega books, its stands apart. (An Arc of Burn Bright was provided by the Publisher for review consideration. Burn Bright's expected publication date is March 6th, 2018 and it is available for pre-order).

51Yqj8CbBbLThe Hookup (Moonlight and Motor Oil #1) by Kristen Ashley

When Eliza Forrester hit the bar in her new hometown in order to get to know people, she wasn't planning on going home with anyone, certainly not Johnny Gamble, not that she knew he was "the Johnny Gamble" , heir to successful local chain of convenience stores and car garages and one half of legendary star-crossed couple.  All she knew was the he was sexy, funny and easy to talk to.  Unused to hookups, her clumsy attempts for a graceful exit, capture Johnny's attention  and prick his pride.  While Eliza tries to play it cool, Johnny makes sure to make that difficult, sending confusing mixed signals, by being sweet and persistent while at the same time resisting sharing much about himself.  Thankfully Eliza's best-friend and co-worker Deanna has all the gossip and acts as a relationship guru.

I mildly enjoyed this story. It has its share of misdirection and foiled expectations as the anticipated love-triangle never really materializes, Johnny drops his tortured-by-past-heartbreak persona pretty quickly and they manage to resolve most of their issues by simply talking them out.  Most of the drama, including a pulse-pounding manhunt is connected to the secondary storyline featuring Eliza's sister.  Honestly I am not quite sure what to make of this story.  There was a lot a liked, much that reminded me of the old KA magic but not quite. It was solid but not cracky.

This is just a sampling of what I've been reading this month, so there are more reviews to come! 

 

 

 

 


The Best of 2017: The Whole List!

Best Contemporary 

I read a lot of fantastic Contemporary Romance this year, but three books stood out as giving me all the happy sighs.

34217566My favorite book of the year is Alisha Rai's "Wrong to Need You" It came out this week. And I need everyone to finish reading it so they can also nominate it.  While I loved "Hate to Want You", the first book in Rai's Hidden Hearts series, the emotional core of this books is so much stronger. I loved the conflict between Sadia and Jackson, the depth of the family tensions and the HEA left me happily wrung out.  

 Jackson and Sadia grew up together, each other's most trusted and true friend. But it was Jackson's big brother, Paul, who stole her heart.  Ten years later, Paul is dead, Sadia is struggling to keep the cafe they ran together afloat, when Jackson, now a chef with global-following unexpectedly arrives back in town after a decade of ignoring her emails to insist on helping her.

They have a ton of deep unspoken issues to resolve, secrets to discover and so much sexual tension to work out. As Jackson and Sadia rediscover each other, learn how life has changed them and marked them, they also have their individual issues to resolve with their own families, which deepen rather than distract from their romance.. It was a delicious sexy angst-fest that doesn't feel manufactured in any way.

I almost always fall in love with Rai's heroines and Sadia is no exception for I adored her, bisexual,widowed mother & cocktail historian. While Jackson has the more dramatic family drama to resolve, Sadia's complex relationships with her sisters, her parents, who love her & judge her and how they cause her to defend and questions her life choices gripped me. 

All I can say is  GO READ IT. (I received a ARC from the author for review consideration).

32613865My second nomination in the Best Contemporary Romance category was Lucy Parker's "Pretty Face". I loved Parker's first West End-set novel, Act Like It, and this turned me into a full-blown Parker fangirl, as there is just such great backstage intrigue, full of gossip and melodrama. 

Lily Lamprey dreams of escaping the vampy TV roles that have made her a household name for serious career on the stage and in film. But her new director, Luc Savage, nearly refuses to cast her, worried that she is nothing more than a pretty face.  Their relationship starts out adversarial and there is no one more surprised than they when they start acknowledging a mutual attraction.  Like in Wrong To Need You, Luc and Lily's contrasting family relationships add some much depth to romance.  This book has a great big Grovel and it was wonderful and well earned.

51pUnzjaXkL._SY346_I rounded out my nominations in Best Contemporary Romance, with a nod to Laura Florand's A Kiss in Lavender.  Lucien is the long-lost cousin, who struggles to believe that he belongs in the Rosier Valley and Elena is the much shuffled and abandoned foster child, who idealizes a homecoming for Lucien and struggles to understand how he might not long to stay in their welcoming arms. The real meat of their conflict however is about identity and how much they value their careers.

 

 

 

 

For Best Short Romance/Novella my nominees were Kissing and Other Forms of Sedition from Rogue Desire by Emma Barry, &  Shira Glassman’s Knit One, Girl Two. 

 

51+1cQit23L._AC_US218_I loved watching The Rogue Desire anthology move from idea into reality in the days after election. The collection as a whole was quite strong and at one point I intended to review it all but sadly life intervened.

My favorite story in the collection was Emma Barry's. Her story, Kissing and Other Forms of Sedition is about two VA legislative staffers, who when the President seems determined to trigger nuclear war via twitter finally confess their mutual desire and then set out on a road-trip to DC so they might attempt to persuade a Federal Cabinet official to consider evoking the 25th amendment.  It is nerdy, funny and incredibly sexy.  

51At-pLns8L._SY346_I read Glassman's fluffy and colorful short with the rest of the "Not-a-bookclub" crew.   In it indie yarn dyer is inspired by the colorful paintings of a local artists and reaches out to her so they might collaborate on project.   It is a story about creativity, inspiration, and falling in love, full of nerdy knit-culture and fan-culture details and crammed full of interesting supporting characters. It was just the dash of sweetness and hope that I needed in midsummer.

 

 

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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 4: Best Romantic Suspense, Erotic Romance & Debut Romances

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!


RT Book Review Round-up: An Unsuitable Heir by K.J. Charles

51cU572odJLI really loved An Unsuitable Heir by K.J. Charles.  My review for RT was super-positive, 4 1/2 Stars Top Pick, as I felt it was a fantastic conclusion to what has been a fantastic series by Charles.  

In her final Sins of the Cities novel, Charles once again makes consent, recognition and acceptance gloriously romantic and she crafts a tense and suspenseful story resolving the series-long mystery. When conflicting loyalties and differing definitions of security and safety lead to a betrayal that imperils Pen and Mark’s budding relationship, heartbreak seems inevitable. However, Charles’ solution is deeply satisfying. In this conclusion, Charles deftly ties together series events and themes and delivers an optimistic and sweet ending worthy of its captivating and resilient characters

However as I read reviews from trans and genderfluid folk, I've come to realize that I missed some dynamics that are worth noting particularly on the themes of recognition and acceptance. 

This thread by Corey Alexander was particularly helpful in recognizing what stuff I missed:

Particularly this section:

So while I still loved the book overall, these #ownvoices reviews illustrated for me the vital context I was missing that make me rethink my super-positive take on the book.

 


Time to Set it aside: Mini-DNF reviews

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

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

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

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

( I received an ARC for review consideration).

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

 

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