Read my review over at Love in Panels!
43. The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz. #RomBkLove rec D17 STEM.(f/f ace)Globe-trotting AI-mechanic Clara falls for Sal, a Tea-shop running robot, one of the last of her kind.Emotional story about grief, trust, routines & new beginnings. #ttr #bkbrk https://t.co/z27avygN0v
— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) June 3, 2018
Clara is a gifted programmer and AI-tech, whose highly-coveted skills facilitate her nomadic lifestyle. With wanderlust always spurring her to move on and try living and exploring a new place, she never gets too comfortable or attached, always ready to pack up and move on.
Sal on the other hand has bound herself to her Tea Shop, seeking to live out her beloved owner's wish that it celebrate 300 years in operation. She is one of the last remaining true AI's, created before the manufacture of sentient and sapient AIs was outlawed. Having outlived her original owner by centuries, she struggles to remain operational, to adjust to the ever-changing world, to survive the increasingly frequent acts of vandalism and not simply sink into nostalgia and melancholy. Her life is one of routines, and the safety of the familiar.
I loved the gentleness of this story, the time it spends on the quiet moments, the companionship that grows into affection and love. I was swept away by it and the way they took care with each other, determined as they are not encroach or override each other's wills and desires.
There is plenty of meaty science-fiction content to sink one's teeth into, and I loved the world building but most deeply this story was about all the little things that go into slowly falling in love and wanting the best for our partners.
I am thankful for Ruby Lang's mention of this story on #Rombklove Day 28. I will be looking to read more Meredith Katz in the future.
#RomBkLove Day 28 Unrequited: Meredith Katz's The Cybernetic Tea Shop. F/f ace futuristic novella, carefully paced story of a robot technician pining for a widowed robot who is tied to her mandate and her memories.— Ruby Lang (@RubeLang) May 28, 2018
Maricela has everyone in Sector One at her beck and call as part of Sector One's ruling family, the Rios and while that might sounds nice, it also means that nearly everyone wants something from her. They want her time, her charity, her affection and most all her attention. Ever since she reached a marriageable age and since her brother, Gideon continues to elude matchmaking mamas, suitors are constantly buzzing around her, hoping to be the one who will succeed in winning an advantageous alliance for their family.
Ivan grew up on the streets, scrounging for food and shelter most days. His uncles betrayed the Prophet by kidnapping his daughter and grandson. Although Ivan was just a child and his mother ignorant of the plot, they lost everything when their family's treachery was uncovered. However Gideon welcomed Ivan into his elite fighting force, the Riders. His only goal in life is to live up to his father's legacy as one the sainted Riders, to restore his family's name by dying in the service of the Rios family. But then he met Maricela and his feeling for her are not innocent adoration and making her happy makes him happy. The only problem is that his job is to keep her safe, not happy and that puts them both in danger.
I have really been loving this new series. Despite sharing a world and continuity with Rocha's Beyond series, these books have completely different kinds of conflicts and tensions. The Rios family run a sector founded by the prophet, Fernando Rios, an opportunistic charlatan who brought stability to the region but abused his spiritual hold in residents for his benefit. His heirs have spent a generation trying to rule it without abusing the faith of Sector One's people, while trying to maintain stability and prosperity for its residents.
While the O'Kanes had to deal with a great deal of political intrigue, the politics of Gideon's Riders are straight up palace/dynastic intrigue. Ever since the fall of Eden, they have responding to a massive refugee crisis while trying to figure out who has been trying to destabilize the sector by targeting the Rios family. This is post-dystopian romantic suspense at its best. There are house parties, and balls disrupted by assassinations attempts, & murders and in the middle of all that two people secretly falling in love, while trying their hardest not to. The novel was very hard to put down and my favorite of this new series so far.
If you haven't tried Kit Rocha before give this series a try. I think Ivan stands well on its own, but if you want to start at the beginning, the first book Ashwin (which I reviewed last year) about a super-soldier who shouldn't have feelings, catching a terrible case of feelings for his former handler, Kora, a gifted healer who he spirited away from the military installation they both grew up in. He tried to train himself to not want her, but he can't keep away. It is on sale of .99 cents right now and you can't go wrong at that price.
I received a copy of Ivan from Kit Rocha for review consideration. You can purchase a copy at all the usual places.
I read a lot of fantastic Contemporary Romance this year, but three books stood out as giving me all the happy sighs.
My favorite book of the year is Alisha Rai's "Wrong to Need You". It came out this week. And I need everyone to finish reading it so they can also nominate it. While I loved "Hate to Want You", the first book in Rai's Hidden Hearts series, the emotional core of this books is so much stronger. I loved the conflict between Sadia and Jackson, the depth of the family tensions and the HEA left me happily wrung out.
Jackson and Sadia grew up together, each other's most trusted and true friend. But it was Jackson's big brother, Paul, who stole her heart. Ten years later, Paul is dead, Sadia is struggling to keep the cafe they ran together afloat, when Jackson, now a chef with global-following unexpectedly arrives back in town after a decade of ignoring her emails to insist on helping her.
They have a ton of deep unspoken issues to resolve, secrets to discover and so much sexual tension to work out. As Jackson and Sadia rediscover each other, learn how life has changed them and marked them, they also have their individual issues to resolve with their own families, which deepen rather than distract from their romance.. It was a delicious sexy angst-fest that doesn't feel manufactured in any way.
I almost always fall in love with Rai's heroines and Sadia is no exception for I adored her, bisexual,widowed mother & cocktail historian. While Jackson has the more dramatic family drama to resolve, Sadia's complex relationships with her sisters, her parents, who love her & judge her and how they cause her to defend and questions her life choices gripped me.
All I can say is GO READ IT. (I received a ARC from the author for review consideration).
My second nomination in the Best Contemporary Romance category was Lucy Parker's "Pretty Face". I loved Parker's first West End-set novel, Act Like It, and this turned me into a full-blown Parker fangirl, as there is just such great backstage intrigue, full of gossip and melodrama.
Lily Lamprey dreams of escaping the vampy TV roles that have made her a household name for serious career on the stage and in film. But her new director, Luc Savage, nearly refuses to cast her, worried that she is nothing more than a pretty face. Their relationship starts out adversarial and there is no one more surprised than they when they start acknowledging a mutual attraction. Like in Wrong To Need You, Luc and Lily's contrasting family relationships add some much depth to romance. This book has a great big Grovel and it was wonderful and well earned.
I rounded out my nominations in Best Contemporary Romance, with a nod to Laura Florand's A Kiss in Lavender. Lucien is the long-lost cousin, who struggles to believe that he belongs in the Rosier Valley and Elena is the much shuffled and abandoned foster child, who idealizes a homecoming for Lucien and struggles to understand how he might not long to stay in their welcoming arms. The real meat of their conflict however is about identity and how much they value their careers.
For Best Short Romance/Novella my nominees were Kissing and Other Forms of Sedition from Rogue Desire by Emma Barry, & Shira Glassman’s Knit One, Girl Two.
I loved watching The Rogue Desire anthology move from idea into reality in the days after election. The collection as a whole was quite strong and at one point I intended to review it all but sadly life intervened.
My favorite story in the collection was Emma Barry's. Her story, Kissing and Other Forms of Sedition is about two VA legislative staffers, who when the President seems determined to trigger nuclear war via twitter finally confess their mutual desire and then set out on a road-trip to DC so they might attempt to persuade a Federal Cabinet official to consider evoking the 25th amendment. It is nerdy, funny and incredibly sexy.
I read Glassman's fluffy and colorful short with the rest of the "Not-a-bookclub" crew. In it indie yarn dyer is inspired by the colorful paintings of a local artists and reaches out to her so they might collaborate on project. It is a story about creativity, inspiration, and falling in love, full of nerdy knit-culture and fan-culture details and crammed full of interesting supporting characters. It was just the dash of sweetness and hope that I needed in midsummer.
Have you read Shira Glassman? I thought her recent f/f which was sweet was incredibly tender. It was all courtship.— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) September 11, 2017
For Best Historical Romance my nominees were Fair, Bright and Terrible by Elizabeth Kingston, An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole, & Lisa Kleypas’s A Devil in Spring but if I could nominated five I would have also nominated The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare and K.J. Charles 's An Unnatural Vice.
I adored Kingston's The King's Man, so I was really looking forward to the sequel, Fair, Bright and Terrible by Elizabeth Kingston. I was shocked however to learn that the heroine would be Eluned, Gwellian's rebel mother, who was one of the chief antagonists in the King's Man. Kingston however compelled me to fall in love for this revenge-minded and vicious heroine. It is a second chance at love story, as after the death of her mad abusive husband in the Holy Lands, King Edward seeks to solidify his hold on Welsh lands by forcing her to marry one his men, Robert de Lascaux. Eluned and Robert had a costly affair when they were both young and Robert has never stopped loving her. Eluned however paid a deep price for their love affair and is not eager to give up her power, lands and position to a new English Lord, even if he was once her beloved lover. Their journey from vengeance and pain to trust and love was amazing. I loved the richness of Kingston's storytelling, the way she handles religion, personal faith and politics is intricate and remarkable. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it and if you are an audio fan, both the books are superbly narrated by Nicholas Boulton, one of the best romance narrators around.
Alyssa Cole's An Extraordinary Union is a spy-thriller set in the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Ellie Burns's photographic memory once made her performer on the abolitionist circuit , but the former slave now serves the Union as part of the Loyal League, a network of black spies. She has infiltrated the home of a Confederate politician when her mission is endangered by the arrival of another Union spy, Malcom McCall, a Scottish immigrant and one of Pinkerton's agents.
I loved Ellie, righteous anger and disgust and incredibly bravery. She is witty, cynical about men, white men in particular and determined to do all she can to make sure the Union wins.
Lisa Kleypas's Devil in Spring is the sequel I didn't really mean to read but that I loved anyway. I was distinctly underwhelmed by the first book in this series, as the hero and heroine hardly spent anytime together, and although I bought Marrying Winterbourne, I didn't ever get around to reading it. However, after hearing interesting things from trusted romance reading friends, I decided to try the sample and I was delighted by Pandora. One of the wild Ravenel sisters that steal the first book, Pandora is determined to avoid marriage, so she may launch her own game-manufacturing company. However an act of kindness and clumsiness entrap both Pandora and Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, the son of Evie and Sebastian from Kleypas's treasured classic Devil in Winter, in an engagment.
This book has some flaws, mostly in the third half when the plot goes sideways, but Pandora is one of the most enjoyable Regency heroines I have read in a good while.
However I could have easily nominated Tessa Dare's delightful and fanciful, The Duchess Deal. The Duchess Deal is more fairy-tale than Regency romance, as many almost fantastical events move the plot forward but the romance was just so tender and sweet that like most Tessa Dare romances, it overcomes all sorts of ridiculous premises. It doesn't quite matter how ridiculous it would be that a Duke would insist on marrying an impoverished seamstress so that he may spite the fiancee that abandoned him when he returned dramatically scarred from the Continental Wars, because story feels right. The book leans into the ridiculous at points, with Emma giving the Duke new nicknames each day and Ashbury's adventures as a nighttime vigilante.
I very much enjoy Dare's sense of humor and find her fun to read. She frequently makes me laugh, which is something I look for in fluffy reads, but she also tackle a great deal emotional territory. I particularly appreciated the scene where the Duke struggles to understand and comfort the Emma when she is having a panic attack. It wasn't gritty or eloquent but it felt very very familiar.
She clung to his waistcoat. “This just h-happens sometimes.” He tightened his arms about her. “I’m here,” he murmured. “I’m here.” He didn’t ask her any further questions, but he couldn’t help but think them.
I adored K.J.Charles's Sins of the Cities series ( I reviewed the whole series for RT). The books are set in a colorful and diverse London that is rarely depicted in romance novels and never as vividly. An Unnatural Vice is the story of Nathaniel Roy, an investigative journalist pressured by his boss to take on the incredibly popular spiritualists, who were all the rage in Victorian London. His skepticism meets its match in Justin Lazarus, the gifted amoral grifter known as the Seer of London, and one my favorite K.J. Charles characters yet.
K.J.Charles did a fantastic job juggling the overarching series mystery with the more personal and deadly danger Justin and Nathan find themselves caught up in. I was fascinated by the way Charles was able to resolve the conflicts between Justin and Nathan, to provide them with a believable HEA.
My nominations for Best Paranormal Romance were Wildfire (Book 3 in the Hidden Legacy series), Silver Silence by Nalini Singh (Book 1 in her new Psy-Changeling Series, Trinity) and Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop.
I have consistently enjoyed Gordon and Ilona Andrew's Urban Fantasy and PNR novels but the Hidden Legacy series has all the elements that made the other series work for me mixed together in just the right way. I love Nevada, her self-sacrifice, and determination to take care of her family. I love her family, her wacky sisters, her funny cousins, and her quirky and determined mom and grandmother. I really like Rogan and the arc the Andrews have given to him, from almost feral despot, to a dangerous and still unpredictable leader who trust Nevada as partner in all ways, and is determined to make sure the Nevada and her family have all the choices they deserve.
I really hope we see way more books set in this world. I am pretty done with Rogan and Nevada as leads, but I am eager to follow so many of the other characters in this series into magical mayhem. These books are also excellent audio books. Renee Raudman once again pairs up with Andrews to deliver an engrossing performance.
I was thrilled to see Nalini Singh embrace a new more inclusive direction in the her new Psy-Changeling series, Trinity. Silver Silence is the story of Silver Mercant and Valentin Nikoleav.
Valentin is sweet, determined Bear Shifter who is determined to breakthrough Silver' icy silence, but he gets consent.
In Silver Silence, Valentin does not proceed without Silver's explicit consent. He is blunt, determined and stubborn but he respects Silver's choices even when it hurts him. He encourages her and makes sure she has everything she needs. His protectiveness does not make her world smaller. Silver is presented as more powerful than Valentin in all ways but the physically, and that he is not threatened by her prominent global position but instead actively supportive of it. Valentin's love for Silver is self-sacrificial, and constant when many would have given up. Singh does a great job presenting this as fidelity not simply stubbornness.
"Who are you to me?"
"Yours," he said, "I'm yours."
Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop is the last book of a fascinating but often frustrating series for romance readers like myself who are used to more romantic progression and heat. But the series and its sprawling cast captured my heart and imagination.
In this novel Bishop resolves Meg and Simon's long-standing but unacknowledged love for one another. The whole world is changed by their relationship even if they don't know quite how to articulate what they are one another. I left the series feeling satisfied and impressed after a few re-reads of the whole series highlighted to me how many themes and threads from the first books are tied up in the fifth book.
However the book was also partly a set up for Bishop future novels set in the world of the Others as she expands the focus away from the Courtyard to new satellite communities. I am eager to see what dangers and wonders those stories will dwell on.
I don't read a lot of romantic suspense anymore but when I do, it is by HelenKay Dimon. The genre as whole has gone very dark but I can count on Dimon to build tension and menace without more gore or gruesomeness than I can handle.
I loved Guarding Mr. Fine one of the runners up in this year's #readRchatawards, when I read it almost a year ago and it has one of the best awkward morning after run-ins ever. But my favorite of Dimon's current series is her "Games People play" series about a close-knit group of guys, who are as awkward as they are dangerous. My favorites in the series were The Fixer, which came out the last week of last year and The Enforcer, which came out in the spring. The heroines are fabulous, hostile, suspicious and not willing to give these guys an inch.
These books hit my sweet spot of fun, sexy and suspenseful and I had a hard time putting it down to get other stuff done this week.
This was a really tough category for me this year. I used to read so many that fell under this heading but I have instead been reading a lot more hot contemporary. However when I do read Erotic Romance it is written by Rebekah Weatherspoon. I loved her Beards and Bondage series, particularly the second book, Haven. Weatherspoon's heroines are the best but she writes wonderfully superficially grumpy and gruff heroes who are truly sweet and creates communities around the protagonists that dynamic, realistic and believable.
Rebekah Weatherspoon continues to succeed in crafting stories that are emotionally layered and full of humor. I loved the whole cast, even when they don't love each other.
The #readRchatawards debut romance nominee list read like the top of my TBR. I was particularly thrilled to see nominations for two great up and coming Latina writers, Priscilla Oliveras and Alexis Daria.
I really enjoyed reading Daria's "Take the Lead" and there is just something so special about seeing someone with a name and background like your own (my mom shares a last name with Daria's heroine, Gina Morales) getting their HEA. Gina is strong, principled and determined to succeed in a difficult soul-eating industry. I loved her intensity. Although I have never watched a minute of Dancing with the Stars or any other celebrity Dancing competition I found the whole story highly enjoyable, with great behind the scene details (OMG, the spray-tan scene!).
In the debut category I also loved reading Adriana Anders, "Under Her Skin".
"" a story about finding a safe harbor, working toward self-acceptance, and starting over. There really great depictions of female friendships, a richly drawn small town community and little femdom kink to spice things up.
--From my review in April
She has had a stellar year, with two additional releases and a great short story anchoring in the Rogue Desire Anthology, that you need pick up if you love heroes and heroines who are part of the #resistance and fight for trust, justice, freedom and equality.
I needed great books to read this year more than I usually do. They provided precious hours of entertainment, uplift and inspiration. I hope you had a great year of reading, and I hope the coming new year is filled with fantastic books for all of us to enjoy!
For the #readRchatawards I submitted a single nominee in the SF romance category and that was Ashwin by Kit Rocha. Kit Rocha books have a special place in my heart, their themes and recurring motifs are exactly my catnip & Eden and the Districts one of my favorite places that I would never want to live in.
If I had taken advantage of 3 books per category rule, I could filled by ballot with only Kit Rocha books, since their other 2 releases this year, Deacon and Beyond Forever were also fantastic. Kit Rocha's books are my very short list of "books I will drop everything for".
The new Gideon's Riders series, continues to explore Kit Rocha's favorite themes of chosen families, of self-exploration and recognizing and accepting love. I reviewed Ashwin back in March when it came out. Spoiler alert, I loved it and I recommend it to anyone who hasn't tried Kit Rocha books before and doesn't want to invest in reading their fantastic backlist.
Ashwin is about a engineered super-soldier who has grown so emotionally unstable his handlers fear him. He has never felt fully human, but a weapon. The one person that makes sense in his life is Kora. But Kora doesn't make sense to herself, her past a jumble of secrets and lies. Together they find the courage to untangling the secrets of their pasts and finding security and understanding in a person most should and do fear.
Although many of the characters might be familiar to long-time Kit Rocha readers, this is a great jump on point for new readers, as the status quo has radically changed in the Sectors and Kit Rocha doesn't assume you've spent several years reading their previous novels (like I have).
-My review of Ashwin in March
I didn't read a lot of Fantasy Romances published this year, instead I've been binge reading a lot of Ilona Andrews Urban Fantasy series, the Inn Keeper Chronicles and the Edge series and trying out some of Jeffe Kennedy's Twelve Kingdoms books. I read a lot of books that straddled the fuzzy line between fantasy and PNR, books like Spectred Isle and Etched in Bone. However Stephanie Burgis's Snowspelled was undeniably fantasy and undeniably delightful.
It is about Cassandra, who spent her life fighting her society's prejudice against women casting spells, eventually becoming one of the most promising magicians of her age, only run into a the sharpest of glass ceilings.
Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, Cassandra tries a risky spell that robs her of ability to cast spells, and four months later she still struggles to go through the motions of daily life. When her beloved but matchmaking sister-in-law has commits them to attend house party where her ex-fiance will also be attending, Cassandra is resigned and determined not to let anyone see her pain, least of all the fiance she intentionally drove away. But her personal discomforts soon fall in priority when she gets caught up in a tricky Elven plot. Politics, diplomacy and detection are three things Cassandra has never had bother with before, but she is determined to solve the mystery she stumbled upon.
-My review from last month.
My favorite part of this book is Cassandra's trajectory from someone who saw herself as "not-like-other-girls" to someone who recognizes and values other women and their work and starts to rebuild her life in a way to honors both her talents and passion for Magic with a better understanding of what is at stake for everyone. She find a new vocation, a new mission and a new respect for the obstacles and ambitions of others. It is a story we need to see more in Fantasy.
2016 has been a hard year for a lot of people. For my family it was a year of transitions, and although we’ve come out on the other side of those changes happier and healthier, there were many points in this past year where I’ve depended on books to provide comfort and light into my life when things were particularly hard. I re-read a lot of old favorites this year or turned to reliable authors who were already known to me when I felt the most emotionally fragile.
However one of my greatest joys as reader is when I discover someone new-to-me and learn they have a backlist full of books for me to enjoy. Instead of doing a traditional best-of list or favorite-books-of-the-year list I thought I would share a list of authors who I discovered this year and whose books brought me joy. Many of these authors are not debut novelists, some in fact are legends in the genre, but were simply new-to-me. I hope you to find someone to discover.
N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season completely rocked my world this year. A sprawling time-hoping science-fiction saga about a woman whose world is literally shaken apart. The story’s focus is on her determination to find and rescue her daughter amid the chaos. Jemisin's world building is masterful and the careful development of all the different relationships and small choices that led to that cataclysm was completely engrossing. I loved the second book, Obelisk Gate was just as much. I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy. Jemisin’s draws a complex world with People of Color at the center of the narrative, and where race, class and gender issues all intersect with incredible skill. If you only read one book of my list this year, read this one but I should warn you that while there are incredible romantic conflicts in this story, it is not a genre romance, HEAs are not guaranteed in any way.
Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson’s Cyberlove collaboration left me squeeing uncontrollably on twitter for days. Emotional, smart, funny, diverse and and scorching hot, these LGBT romances just made me happy. The main characters are quirky, gruff and flawed and incredibly compelling. After reading Strong Signal and Fast Connection, I ran out and bought books off both of their backlists and I continue to be impressed by the quality of their work. Both Hassell and Erickson have sky-rocketed to the top of my must-buy-list. (Update 4.4.18: Last month it came to light that the author known as Santino Hassell misrepresented themselves, and multiple accusations of catfishing and harassment were made public. Most if not all Hassell's co-writers and publishers have pulled back their shared projects and ended contracts, and I would no longer recommend based on what I have learned since originally publishing this post.)
HelenKay Dimon is a romantic suspense legend, but because I generally avoid books with buff Navy SEALs on the covers and if I am honest most romantic suspense, I had never read one of her novels till this year. I tried several, including some of her older M/F rom suspense novels but the series that made me a fan is her new M/M romance series from Loveswept, Tough Love, featuring deadly dangerous men secretly saving the world. The team dynamics are fantastic and the supporting casts full and entertaining. The romances were full of competence porn featuring witty bickering couples great at their jobs but terrible at feelings.
To my eternal shame I hadn’t read any of Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances until this year. I knew of her, met her at RWA and read books by her literary daughters but I had not actually read one of her books. I read Forbidden with the #notabc, (not-a-book-club) twitter reading group. I was awed by the richness of Ms. Jenkins books, and how she seamlessly layers historical and cultural details while crafting beautiful romantic HEAs for black men and women. If like me you find yourself primarily reading a very narrow slice of historical romance (for example: white m/f regency roms) I urge you to read Ms. Jenkins and see what you have been missing and then check out Piper Hugely, Kianna Alexander, Lena Hart & Alyssa Cole for more awesome historical romance.
I started out the year reading one of Melissa Blue’s contemporary romances, "Under His Kilt" and ended it reading her Dakota Gray erotic romance, Perv about man with a fetish for oral sex and the woman determined to teach him a lesson for the callous way he treated her best-friend. Whether she is writing as Melissa Blue or Dakota Gray her books were a ton of fun, very sexy with strong believable conflicts. I’ve already pre-ordered the next book in her Filth series out at the end of January, Hardcore on the strength of Perv.
I can’t fail to talk about the Kindle Unlimted authors, Anna Carven, Ruby Dixon, TS Joyce & Suzanne Wright that caught my attention this year, since I spent a great part of this year binging on their books. This summer I treated myself to Kindle Unlimited subscription and gave myself permission to declare ARC backlog bankruptcy and read for fun without the pressure to review. It was glorious and just what I needed.
Because of the economics of KU, I was more willing to try books with weird covers, crazier concepts and indulge in a trope-heavy erotic romances that just made me giggle at first and later surprised me with the quality of their worldbuilding. These books are certainly a cut above the average KU book, but I probably wouldn't have read them all had I been buying the books individually and not accessing them via KU. If you have a powerful need for some hot SFR and paranomal romaances and already have a KU subscription check these out:
Ann Carven’s Dark Planet Warriors series is suspenseful and action packed. A space station is taken-over by seemingly hostile group of super-powerful aliens, but the real threat are the giant cockroach-like creatures they are chasing. Complex imperial politics, interplanetary diplomacy and a clash of civilizations is the backdrop in these romances. The stories are far from perfect but I wasn’t bored reading them.
Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet Barbarians with their big blue hunter-gatherer aliens has grown into expansive family drama, as much about community dynamics as it is about people learning how to love across cultural and language barriers and surviving in a brutal environment with few resources.
TS Joyce’s Lumberjack shifters are funny and trope-heavy, but I got attached to kooky trailer-park inhabiting shifters because of the multi-generational community full of strong friendships Joyce develops.
Suzanne Wright’s books are the most traditional of this quartet, featuring wolf shifters trying to balance pack politics with forbidden or inconvenient attraction. The Phoenix and Mercury Pack series are solidly entertaining.
My reading year has been pretty fabulous. I read a lot of good books and I had the opportunity to talk about those books with other people on twitter, on blogs and in person. Talking about books even disagreeing about them is one of my favorite things. Thank you so much for being part of my reading community.
These are some of my favorite books I read this year.
Six days into a Mars mission astronauts must abort their mission when a storm threatens to destroy their only way home. Mark Watney, Ares 3's botanist and mechanical engineer is struck by flying piece of debris and thought dead. The rest of the crew are forced to leave without him. But Mark isn't dead.
The Martian was a very intense, engrossing love letter to mechanical engineers and astronauts. I love the way the story alternated between Mark's daily logs, flashbacks and chapters of the crew and Earth-based mission control as they all worked to try to save Mark. Mark's exciting, often humorous tale of survival is part thriller, part McGuyver in Space with lots and lots of science.
The Farmer Takes a Wife (Las Morenas 0.5) by Genevieve Turner: I really liked the way the characters communicated or failed to communicate about their needs and dreams. I was particularly impressed by Turner's depiction of Laura's claustrophobic home life.
After two years of admiring her from afar Marcus Gries finally worked up the courage to start courting Laura Kemper. Laura however flattered by Marcus's attentions and personally attracted can't even imagine getting married, not if it means leaving her family behind.
Ransom by Julie Garwood: Last month I read the Bride and enjoyed it so much, I immediately one-clicked on Ransom earlier this week when it was on sale, because so many people had mentioned it as one of their favorite Garwoods during our discussion of the Bride.
Ransom was delightful. Although superficially quite similar to the Bride (headstrong heroine who is her Highlander warrior beau's only weakness) the tensions and complicating factors such as the local political climate were quite different. I loved the misunderstandings and trickery, it was fun and over-the-top without becoming ridiculous. I loved the female friendships and the political savvy of the heroine. I was heartbroken by the outcome of family subplot in the story but it felt true and consistently characterized.
A young Englishwoman rescues the Alec the son of Scottish Laird, taken as part of plot track down an incriminating jeweled box that once belonged to King John's late mistress. Brodick Buchanan rescues them both and soon becomes attached to Gillian, whose bravery and strength he greatly admires and respects. Gillian's mission is complicated by Brodick's desire to protect her from harm.
Wicked Lies by Lora Leigh: Back when I first started reading romance and I was looking for some PNR that measured up to Singh's fantastic Psy-Changeling series I ended up reading a ton of Lora Leigh's Breed books. They had some similar elements (complex and involved world-building, dark agendas and alpha-male protagonists), but they lacked Singh's sense of humor and joy. I eventually came to realize that her Breeds book were just not for me. I did eventually try some of her contemporary romances, which I enjoyed more.
Wicked Lies however was not a good choice for me. Wicked Lies did not work well at all as a stand-alone with it byzantine plot and the tons of backstory.
Wicked Lies was a second chance at love story. Annie Maynes has been hiding and running from the men who tried kill her and murdered her mother for over a decade. After her last protector dies, she opts to hide in plain sight, ready to finally confront the men she thinks are responsible. Jazz Lancing is a ladies man, casual no-strings friendly hookups are the only kinds of relationships he has had since the girl he meant to wed died. Jazz is drawn to Annie, who won't have anything to do with him. I liked the initial between Jazz and Annie before he found out who she really was.
However there was a lot of WTF revelations involving the Kin (a secretive mountain man militia) and and interactions between Annie and Jazz and her brothers I just didn't buy especially once I realized they weren't some sort of werewolf clan (ultra-possessiveness & macho-machoness). Lots of ultimatums issued and ignored, and the way Jazz manpain/grief manifested into building a dream house for his 'dead' dreamgirl absolutely no sense to me.
I received a copy of Wicked Lies by Lora Leigh from St. Martins Press via NetGalley.
Other reading: This month I read and reviewed four books for RT's November issue. I continue to build knowledge about parts of romland I don't often venture to. I did enjoy several of them. I also did some more beta reading this month. I really enjoy beta reading. It is satisfying and fun to have a conversation about a book that can actually affect the shape of a book.
Signal Boost is the second novel in Alyssa Cole's post-apocalyptic series Off the Grid for Carina Press. A mysterious event has damaged the world's or at least North America's electrical grid and crippled communication systems. In Radio Silence, John leads his best friend Arden out of Rochester, NY to his family's well stocked remote cabin. There John's big brother Gabe and Arden unexpectedly fall in love. Signal Boost is John's story and a continuation of the post-apocalyptic plot.
Pre-Flare, John or Jang-wan as he known to his family was a happy gay man, studying computer science and sharing an apartment with Arden. Post-Flare, his life has become stifling and monotonous, he lives for his pre-dawn conversations with Arden before the rest of the family wakes. The predictable routine of his Post-Flare life is upset when he tackles an intruder trying to pilfer tomatoes from their vegetable garden.
Mykhail was an astro-physics graduate student Pre-Flare, home on extended leave to take care of ailing relative. His Post-Flare life has been incredibly traumatic. He hasn't had any of the comforts the Seong family has enjoyed. He has experienced the horrible things since the Flare and has very little to live for. The one thing that keeps him going is the hope that if he find his way back to his former college campus he can help get the grid up and running again. Mykhail is convinced his former professor and graduate adviser was one of the few people prepared to respond to this event.
Jang-wan & Mykhail immediately hit it off. Mykhail is funny, interesting and they connect over long conversations about the cosmos while stargazing. Jang-wan jumps at the opportunity to be of use. His orienteering skills can get Mykhail to Burrell where his computer skills might be again be of use.
On the road Jang-wan & Mykhail get to know each other a lot better and face perilous situations. Jang-wan learns all about Mykahail's complicated family, and the life choices. The heightened emotional situations they experience on the road eventually breakdown Mykhail's resistance to his attraction and admiration for Jang-wan. The story takes a big shift at this point, moving from trek-road-trip romance to romantic suspense. Many things don't seem right at Burrell College and Mykhail's will to pursue their relationship is very quickly tested.
I was really looking forward to this book. I enjoyed Radio Silence a great deal and the teaser chapter for Signal Boost was fantastic. But uneven pacing & world building issues tripped me up. I liked the characters, but I liked the idea of them together more than I liked the execution of it. Jang-Wan and Mykhail's lengthy conversations about the stars and astrophysics felt like they had been cribbed straight from Neil Degrasse Tyson's Cosmos series. Jang-Wan & Mykhail's complex emotional and relationship issues were abandoned in the last quarter of the novel, replaced by a larger set of issues. The action scenes and intrigues were exciting but I felt Mykhail & Jan-Wan's romantic arc suffered.
There was a lot of great potential in this story but it did not quite live up to my expectations.
I received a review copy of Signal Boost from Carina Press via NetGalley
I started reading romance after reading a fun paranormal retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion, "Almost Persuaded" by Mary Balogh. At the time I didn't realize how significant Balogh is to modern historical romance. I ended up reading through several of her series enjoying the Bedwyn Saga most of all. I then read most of Julia Quinn's and Stephanie Laurens' books. I eventually discovered Courtney Milan, Tessa Dare, Cecilia Grant and Sarah Maclean. However right around that time I was also starting to get burned out. I was reading 1.5 books or so a day for over a year, and so at a certain point the plots, the balls, the boots and estates were all running together. All the authors I have named here are amazing and I loved their books, it was all the nameless others that eventually burned me out.
I ended up taking a sabbatical from Historical Romances and instead started reading Contemporary Romance instead. I have read all the variations, from NA, small-town, sporty, urban, to MC, but at the end of the year I finally found myself missing historicals.
Jane from Dear Author on twitter suggested Historical Romance reading challenge. One historical a month for 2014. This seemed like a do-able goal for me. There were a couple of new releases by trusted names that I could see myself trying and I have a large TBR collection on my kindle of books I bought before I stopped reading historicals.
First up for me was Courtney Milan's Countess Conspiracy. I had loved the first book of The Brothers Sinister series and two related novellas but I had DNF'ed (Did not finish) the 2nd, Heiress Effect. It was in fact one of the last Historical I attempted to read last year. Heiress Effect simply didn't grab me, and while intellectually knew it was a well written book, I just had no interest in finishing it which made me realize I needed to take a break.
I was however very interested in reading about Violet and Sebastian. Supporting characters in the previous books, Violet is a cool, collected, witty widow, whose friendship with Sebastian a droll, devastatingly handsome and intellectually scientist-rake was deep, genuine and seemingly platonic.
In the Countess Conspiracy we discover that what we thought we knew about Violet and Sebastian, their public personas, are facades they have carefully cultivated to hide their true feelings and agendas. Violet is not simply an ultra-proper Countess but secretly a passionate obsessive scientist, responsible for most of the work Sebastian has presented as his own for the past decade. Sebastian isn't just a easy-going pleasure-seeking rake, but a devoted friend and co-conspirator with Violet whose choice to present her work for her, and to hide his true feelings for her, is coming a great personal cost including his brother's respect and possibly the opportunity to be the guardian to his beloved nephew.
The romance in this story was breathtaking. I just loved reading Violet start to break out of her icy-shell, to reclaim herself, and take the risk to love Sebastian after all the has secretly suffered. Sebastian is now my favorite historical hero. So swoon worthy in his admiration for Violet, his willingness to sacrifice so much for her sake and just simply valuing her and understanding her. There is no overbearing alpha-hole in this book!
Honestly it was the perfect return to Historical Romance book for me. No Balls, older characters, real stakes. Characters talk about their feelings and problems, turn to their friends for help, and it has the nerdiest declaration of love I have ever read.
5 out 5 for the Countess Conspiracy.
A digital ARC of this book was provided by the author via Netgalley for review purposes.
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah Maclean is the third book in her Rules of Scoundrels series. I liked the first, A Rogue by Any Other Name, despite thinking the hero was almost irredeemable due cruelty in the beginning and I adored the second, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover with its tortured hero, and spunky bespectacled heroine.
In No Good Duke Goes Unpunished we finally learn the details of the crime that drove Temple, the large undefeated brawler Duke, and third of four partner-owners of The Angel gambling club from society.
Temple is suspected of ruining and killing his father's fiancée Mara Lowe. Mara Lowe's body was never found and Temple’s recollections of that night are few and hazy. He has lived for over a decade with society's fear and disdain but most of all with the uncertainty and fear that he might be a killer.
But Mara Lowe is not dead but instead hiding in plain sight running a foster home for unwanted society bastards. She would have been content to continue to do so except her brother has gambled away their family fortune but more importantly for Mara the funds she uses to run the Home that he was holding in Trust for her.
When Mara first approaches Temple he is solely focused on revenge and heaping on Mara the scorn he has endured. Mara is flinty, independent and constantly unbalances him with her deviousness. Maclean crafted an intriguing romance that was as much about Temple and Mara forgiving and risking trust as exploring the repercussion of abuse and rejection. Despite a heart-stopping climax the real payoff in this book is the revelation we are given about Chase, the upcoming protagonist of the 4th book in the Rules of Scoundrels series. It honestly stole the thunder of Temple's story and had me re-reading the book to admire Maclean's deft writing.
4 out 5 for No Good Duke Goes Unpunished.
I follow and enjoy interacting with Edie Harris on Twitter. I have read and enjoyed her sexy contemporary novels Stripped and Sparked set in current day Hollywood. At the end of last year she gifted me a copy of her Regency era Historical Romance mainly set in France, The Corrupt Comte. I have started but not yet finished reading it, although I am intrigued by the amoral anti-hero Gaspard and his quest to save and enrich himself by seducing the vulnerable Claudia. I liked everything about it, the language, the setting and characters except for the fact that it made me too anxious. I need to find time to read it and enjoy without distractions.
I did however stumble upon a copy of her post-Civil War Western Wild Burn in the NYPL's e-book collection. This is probably the first non-steampunk Western I have ever read. The book opens with ex-nun and frontier-town schoolteacher Moira Tully being accosted by a dusty, dangerous, bearded gunslinger, Delaney Crawford. A tarnished Confederated survivor, Crawford is the Mad Dog Killer, employed by the US Army to hunt down Cheyenne outlaw warrior bands. Their first encounter is fraught and nearly fatal to Moira's good friend and neighbor, John White Horse. Crawford has been summoned to Red Creek Colorado to hunt down Cloud Rider and his band that might be threatening the mining community despite the fact that the only Cheyenne in the area is a small peaceful community attempting to integrate in order to avoid expulsion. Crawford, White Horse and Tully come to realize there is a conspiracy afoot, and they must untangle it before it cost the lives of White Horse's people.
I thought Harris did a great job portraying a complex and ugly time in American History. She doesn't shy away from the ugly racism, misogyny and genocide in the American West. Her characters are both a product of their time, and simply people trying to do their best with the hands that they were dealt. Red Creek feels like a living town, with diverse people.
I thought Harris did a particularly good job with Moira Tully's complicated back-story. How Moira comes to lose her faith and vocation in the same night before moving West was heartbreaking, and her bravery in the face of violence admirable. I particularly admired how realistic the reasons for Moira choosing the veil were in the first place.
I do wish however that Moira and Delaney's connection had evolved more slowly. Although Moira struggles with her insta-trust of Delaney, it still bothered me. I believed that she was attracted to him, interested in him and that helped overcome her fears but I struggled with how safe she felt with him despite all the reasons she shouldn't have. Moira didn't understand it and neither did I.
4 out 5 Stars for Wild Burn