Small Town Feed

Biker B*tch by Andie J Christopher

Cover of Biker B*tch, blonde woman in leather jacket, heavy make-up looking aggressive.My Biker romance tastes are very specific and narrow. The biker has to be tough, dangerous and dirty but not truly a bad apple and the heroine has to have a lot autonomy to gives as good as she get and has to have a pretty darn good reason for getting involved with said Biker. There are not a lot Biker romances that work for me but Christopher wrote one that fit in that very narrow niche and was an emotionally satisfying ride.

Skylar’s left Sebastopol right after graduation, but she has never been able to leave behind the pain of her father’s betrayal and the fear that his criminal past has tainted her life for ever. His descent from beloved town doctor to calloused drug-pushing biker nearly took her down with him and it cost her high-school crush, Abner Travis, his brother. On her last night in Sebastopol, they find mutual comfort and escape each others arms, but when Travis pulls back at the last minute, it leaves her feeling embarrassed and rejected. She left her mark on his cheek and left town heartbroken. 

10 years have passed and Skylar is back working to resuscitate her career as Vintner on the lands that once were the Travis Family's vineyards. A prestigious Ivy league education and a decade building her reputation in Europe doesn't mean much to the suspicious townsfolk who remember her as the Diablos Santos MC's princess, who may or may not have known what her father was up to.  When she runs into Travis and find him as attractive as ever, despite the fact that he is unexpectedly wearing a MC's cut, Skylar is truly torn about whether she has made the best or worst decision in her life by returning to Sebastopol.

Christopher plays with a lot of tropes I liked in this story: Rekindled crushes, people who are terrible at feelings and carry a lot of insecurities despite appearing like they have it all together, and my fave,  folks looking for redemption and a home.  But there is a lot of plot and occasionally the story meandered more than it needed to. It is clear that Christopher was laying the groundwork for a whole series in this book, so she opens a lot of storylines for secondary characters that she clearly intends to resolve in later books but they came to feel one too many rabbit trails. While I would love to read more about Sara, her war vet and possibly bisexual brother Chevy, and the conflicted and apparently kinky Deacon with his secretive and obscure motivations for running with the Diablo Santos, I found the story line with Ian (Skyler's boorish and smug ex) and Michael (Skyler's closest friend, & emotional mess) mostly boring.  I will say however that Michael's story in the upcoming Rogue Acts Anthology which I just stared is so far highly entertaining.

Early on I was super excited when Ginger, Travis's most recent and regular former lover and Skylar run into each other at a bar the first night, Skylar is out with Travis. They end up short circuiting what could have been a jealousy and envy driven scene, by simply choosing not to be terrible to each other.  However a few chapters later, that envy and anger does lead to a confrontation, that makes them both look bad which was disappointing. Ginger and Travis do have a good encounter later in the book where he has to admit to having been a selfish asshole and how his indifference hurt her. Ginger is not evil or slut shamed but it didn't overcome my disappointment at having the promise of catfight-less story not pan out. 

If Christopher does come out with more Heaven's Sinners books, I will pick them up.  The romance between her prickly heroine and sweet dirty hero held my interest, the sex was very sexy and more importantly emotionally meaningful and erotically charged. I enjoyed the complexity of the feelings Travis and Skylar have for each other and how they struggle to name it love.  Biker B*tch was compelling if not perfect and a promising introduction to an author I will happily read again in the future.  

 

 


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.

 

 

511ISHXQmPL

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!


Sight Unseen: A Collection of Five Anonymous Novellas

Sight-unseen-b-small-2-377x600Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran, Erin Satie, Emma Barry and J.A. Rock contributed to this anthology/guessing game. I have read multiple books by 4 out of these 5 authors, so it was an easy decision to pick up this book.  Even not knowing who wrote which story, I could count on enjoying the anthology as whole.

The stories cover a gamut of sub-genres, from fantasy to historical. These stories are clearly experiments by the authors to write outside their usual niches and play with settings and tropes they aren't know for exploring and push the boundaries of the genre.

The book opens with "Lost That Feeling" about rebel witch who has erased 7 years of her life & needs to figure next step when she is rescued by her former rebel leaders. I loved the depiction of magic in this story and how it played with the amnesia trope within a magic fantasy setting. Alma is a living "what if" moment, and is conscious of the possibilities, while confused about the reasons that led her to that moment.  I would characterize this story as fantasy with romantic elements because the romance takes a far back seat to the philosophical questions of how to end injustice.

In "A Clear View of You", I adored the angry and cynical fake-psychic grad-student heroine, drowning in college debt. Harmony "Kate" Marsh is estranged from her hippie-magic obsessed mother, Pangaea.  North needs Kate's help to retrieve a magical orb in Pangaea's possession.  It is a fantastic story about truth, trust and family. I loved the interaction between North and Kate, and how he challenges her entrenched beliefs without forcing or coercing.  It had a lot of fun banter and humor through out.

In "Free," Brad is a timid accountant who finally builds up the courage to confront an oblivious biker princess, Wren Masters, about her father's biker club's drug dealing. It is a small town romance about unrequited crushes, growing up and moving on.  Of the novellas this was probably the most conventional in tone and style. The subversion is in how it reworks the the typical Biker romance, rejecting slut-shaming tropes, and elevating the law-abiding hero over well-hung arrogant biker.  I loved Wren was the sexual instigator and that her motivations are not simple or easy.

It is 1983, and CJ Crespo's band DonJon is falling apart. Donny, her creative but not romantic partner of a ten-years, has exchanged the excesses of the road for the strictures of religious conversion. Their careers are disintegrating but they are finally reaching toward each other. "Chariot of Desire" jumped forward and backward in time and it left me feeling pensive about passion & purpose & not terribly hopeful for CJ and Donny.

"The Heart is a Universe", the final novella is epic science fiction/romantic myth. Vitalis and Eleian are heroes to their planets.  Vitalis is the Chosen One, the brightest of her generation, chosen by her people as a child to face a deadly task that assures their ability to remain on their planet.  Eleian pulled his planet from the brink of chaos, facing off against a tyrant and helping them restore democracy, before retreating from public life. What most don't know is that he has been ill since birth, and only experiences brief moments of health and vitality.  He uses one of them to orchestrate a meeting with his hero and inspiration Vitalis.  I cried a lot reading this story, sympathetic frustrated tears, mostly as these two, struggled with anger, duty and doubt.  

As a whole this anthology was very interesting and ambitious. As a guessing game despite having read 4 out of the 5 authors and knowing for sure who wrote one of the stories, I don't feel any confidence in my authorial guesses but it was fun to read a set of stories without knowing who authored what. As a discovery tool, I will definitely try more books by the one author I had not read previously, J.A. Rock.


Beards and Baggage Binge: Under Her Skin & By Her Touch by Adriana Anders and Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon

This weekend I indulged in a mini-binge of books that can be summed up as beards and emotional baggage.

UnderherskinFirst off I read Adriana Anders, Under Her Skin (Blank Canvas 1)

It is 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.

Uma has been on the run for months, hiding from her abusive ex. She has comes to Blackwood, VA, because the small town has a clinic that offers free laser tattoo removal treatments to domestic violence victims. Her gas gauge is on empty literally and metaphorically when she answers a very odd ad for a living-in-helper to a cantankerous old lady.    

Ivan is the ex-con next-door, a gentle giant, that helps teaches self-defense courses along with his sister at the local gym and makes his living as iron-worker/blacksmith.  He carries a lot of emotional baggage of his own, but works very hard to make sure he is someone Uma can trust with her body and her heart.

I really liked that while Ivan suffers from white-knight syndrome, in his desire to fix up Uma, he isn't the one that saves her and that he realizes that he can't do that work for her.  In the end Uma saves herself and Ivan.

I really enjoyed this and immediately picked up the 2nd book.  Under Her Skin is currently on sale for 99 cents, and it includes a seven chapter preview of book 2, so don't be alarmed when Under Her Skin start wrapping up around the 67% mark.

(Uma is a white, despite her Indian name, her mom is a hippie who lives in India at a Ashram).

51DI1vY3rQLBy Her Touch by Adriana Anders

This book revisits a lot of the same themes present in the first book, self-forgiveness, finding a community and people who see past the marks of violence to see the person underneath.

I don't think this book will work for everyone as it is a Doctor/Patient romance, where ethical boundaries are certainly crossed.  There were definitely many moments where my eyebrows almost flew off my face. I

Clay Navarro, is an undercover ATF agent who comes to Blackwood to to hide out and get some tattoos removed while he waits for a big court date against the big biker gang he had infiltrated. He has serious PTSD issues, that he is self-medicating with vodka and is not sure whether his worries about mole in his office are PTSD-related paranoia or a legitimate concern. He has cut himself off his team and is struggling to figure out who he is anymore.  

Dr. Georgette Hadley is pumping herself full of hormones as she prepares to be artificially inseminated with her late husband's sperm.  She questions her instincts and feelings when she agrees to start treating Clay, off the book and after-hours.  Her attraction to Clay, despite his undisclosed but certainly dangerous background, makes her recall her reckless youth, and how her life almost derailed once. 

I don't think this book was completely successful at untangling consent issues but I did like that while both George and Clay are fucked up emotionally, they are still worthy of love. They are not over their pains or issues at the end of the book but they have made a commitment to figuring those things out together rather than rejecting each other because they see themselves as too broken. 

I am a little disappointed that book three is not about Jessie (Ivan's sister and George's neighbor). She is begging for a HEA.

 (Clay is of Peruvian decent and he faces a lot racial and ethnic-based abuse as part of his undercover work in criminal biker gangs)

518ve87qrmLHaven (Beards and Bondage 1) by Rebekah Weatherspoon.

Haven was a great book to end this mini-binge with.  Haven was an emotionally intense and surprisingly fun story  about finding an unlikely but deep connection in traumatic circumstances.  The pacing through out was fantastic but particularly in the pulse-pounding early chapters.  The dynamics of Claudia and Shep's relationship are complex, as they are hyper-aware of how wary everyone is of intensity & of the limited nature of their acquaintance. They honestly wrestle with how fraught it can be to untangle their actual experience of each other from what they have both built up about each other in their heads.  They struggle to give each other what they need and things don't go smoothly in vividly believable ways.   They are both unabashedly kinky, but that it isn't a cure or a reaction, but still a complication as they try to figure out if they can fit into each other's lives.  I wish there had been just a little more grovel at the end, but the reactions were completely within character. 

Shepherd Olsen's quiet and solitary life is dramatically disrupted when a bloody and shrieking black woman runs up to his isolated cabin near Federal park lands in Northern California. He springs into action, rescuing her and making sure she gets the help she needs, even as they are separated by the intense investigation.

Not only did Claudia Cade lose her brother Miles on the mountain, she also lost her way. She thought getting back to her job and her home in NYC would help but she can't quite fit back into her old life. Things that were comfortable before chafe, and fail to satisfy. She is disconnected from herself and her friends and her mind keeps going back to the mountain man, who held her and kept her safe on the worst day of her life. 

Shep's life has not gone back to normal. Maybe because Claudia was gone before he could say good-bye, his mind frequently goes back to her and the life he hopes she has been able to return to. He is shocked and confused when she shows back up on the mountain needing something from him that is she is scared to articulate.

Claudia and Shep are not perfect people, they fail, struggle and nearly give up. They need help from more than just each other but they find something in each other worth working for.  

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.

(Claudia is black woman from the Caribbean, she immigrated from Grenada as a child. I though Weatherspoon did a fantastic job in weaving this into her story.)

I received an ARC of Haven via Netgalley from the author. Haven will be released April 25th, 2017 and is available for pre-order at all the usual places. 

 


Indiscreet by Mary Balogh (Horsemen Trilogy Book 1)

51doIQDN7mL._SY346_Mary Balogh's Indiscreet  (1st book in the Horsemen Trilogy) was reissued last fall and I bought it last month when it went on sale ($2.99)

Balogh  was one of the first romance novelists I encountered when I started raiding my library's ebook collection in 2011.  Although I usually enjoy her novels, I found myself distressed about a quarter of the way into Indiscreet:

Indiscreet is the story of Catherine Winters and Rex Adams.  Catherine is a widow living  a quiet life in a small village.  Catherine lives alone in a small cozy cottage, has a playful dog and a peaceful routine of piano lessons and visiting shut-ins. Although no one in town knows much about Catherine's past, she has up to now given everyone little cause to speculate.

Rex disturbs all that. Rex has come with his friends to visit his twin brother Claude, resident of the grand manor home in the area. He is resigned to enduring two weeks of his sister-in-law's matchmaking efforts in order to enjoy some quality time with his brother and sister.  But as they parade through town his catches on the young widow when he receives Catherine's misdirected curtsy and smile (she thinks she is greeting Claude), and he sees in it invitation and flirtation. Seeing an opportunity for a convenient liason with the local widow, Rex eagerly pursues her.  Catherine is confused, mortified, offended and to her consternation a little turned on by  Rex attentions.

Catherine is lonely, and struggling with her aloneness in ways she hasn't had to struggle for the five years since she moved to the little village. She had thought those feelings and desires would no longer trouble her and even though she dislikes Rex's presumptions and assumptions she finds herself enjoying his kisses.  But in the end, she has too much to lose and he has too little respect for her and her concerns.

But it is too late, Rex in his self-centered pursuit, has taken too little care with guarding Catherine's reputation, and rebuffs his sister-in-law's efforts at matchmaking (she is set on pairing him with her younger sister) with little grace.  He fails to realize till much to late what kind of target he has placed on Catherine. 

I very much hated him at this point in the novel. His frustrated and hurtful words whenever she rejects him, are sharp and prick her more deeply than he knows because he knows nothing of her history.  At that point in the novel, I wasn't quite sure I could go on.  I just wasn't sure how he could grow enough, or do enough to make me have like him. My usual trick of jumping to the back of them book wasn't very effective and I was about to abandon it, despite adoring Catherine, because she is just the kind of heroine I adore. Prickly, wounded, but full of pride and determination and  above all fiercely independent.   Thankfully Janine Ballard happened to be on twitter right then. She is a huge fan of this book and she insisted that Balogh would address all the things that made me upset. The slut-shaming, the privilege and the callousness would all matter.   Thus encouraged I persevered.

 I have to agree with Janine. It was effective and powerful. Catherine's fall in the eyes of the community was sharp, painful and so believably rendered. But I am so thankful for Balogh's inclusion of Miss Downess, the late rector's spinster daughter, who reaches out to Catherine when no else does. Who risks her own reputation to show kindness and love to her.  That was such a magnificent grace note, that balanced the extreme viciousness of Mrs. Adams's behavior. Daphne and Clay's compassion was also genuine and necessary.

Clarissa and Claude Adams were an incredibly fascinating secondary characters.  Claude and Rex are twins, who used to be close and still share an emotional bond but have vastly different lives.  Claude married and settled down young. He has two children and doting wife. He is content.  Rex might have the title, and its vast inheritance but he has what Rex once though he wanted.   Another writer might have drawn Clarissa without any redeeming features, but in Balogh's hand she is dangerously petty, blind in her privilege and position and extremely vicious, but she is also a loving wife.  Her despair as she realizes how deeply she has disappointed Claude and how her behavior might cause lasting harm to her marriage was real. 

"They had discovered something new about each other during the past few weeks. He had discovered that in addition to the selfishness and arrogance that he had been able to tolerate with some humor down the years, she could occasionally be vicious. She had discovered that despite his kindness and indulgent nature, he could sometimes be implacable and unforgiving. It was not a happily-ever-after in which they lived." From Chapter 15

Clarissa like Rex will come to know real regret and remorse. While Clarissa and Claude encounter this threat to their marriage 10 years in,  Rex and Catherine face it at the start.  Can they come to love, respect and treasure each other when all they have tying them together is duty & guilt?

Balogh goes all in on guilt.  Catherine does not magically become less reticent and Rex is not magically less pushy. They grate on each other, they misunderstand each other, and above all they don't trust each other for a great deal of the novel.  Yet, a delicate relationship starts to develop and somewhere along the way their desire to make it work overcomes their desire for self-preservation.

 Rex's guilt and remorse are not a debilitating thing but a trans-formative force.  He seeks to restore to Catherine what has been taken from her, not just by himself but by others long before.  At one point in my conversation with Janine, I quipped that he better make her damn happy and in the end they are happy but not because he made her so. Instead he sets in motion actions that remind her of the the fire and life she used to want, the person she used to be and she is the one who stops being passive, and defeated.  The fact that she doesn't have to do this once but several times, it part of what makes Balogh a master. Nothing was simple or straight forward. Their victories are precarious and fragile things, their love is a fragile thing.  I could have smacked Rex again in that last chapter for putting Catherine through what he did but it was out of desire to set things right, instead of selfishness.

It was particularly interesting to read this novel on Easter. The beats of loss, sacrifice, despair, resurrection and restoration were very familiar and part of what keeps me reading romance.


Massive RT Review Catch-up Post

I just saw that a bunch of my reviews for RT are no longer behind the paywall!!

These are some of the books I've reviewed in the last few months for them:

 

The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel: Taut Danish Mystery

Silverwolf: by Jacey Bedford: Disappointing fantasy sequel

Fury on Fire by Sophie Jordan:  Started strong and then sort of fizzled.

More than Anything by Kimberly Lang: Vacation fling that gets serious

Waking the Bear by Kerry Adrienne: Fast pace and fun start to the Shifter War series.

Pursuing the Bear by Kerry Adrienne: Ugh, repetitive dialogue and messy plot

Don't Temp Me by Lori Foster : Bad timing, worst first impressions and second-thoughts.

Level Up by Cathy Yardley: Funny and nuanced and great rep for women in technology

 


Reading Discoveries of 2016

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.

6a00e54ee394bf883301bb08ce8050970d-320wiN.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.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d2065795970c-320wiSantino 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.

Mrfine_250 (1)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.

51dpBCJ-FoL._SX308_BO1204203200_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.

D1VuYrvJItS._SL250_FMpng_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:

 

D1CDcs++wZS._SL250_FMpng_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 6a00e54ee394bf883301bb091bada8970d-120wicivilizations 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.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b7c896be48970b-320wiTS 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 B1qu-MZLx7S._SL250_FMpng_ pack politics with forbidden or inconvenient attraction. The Phoenix and Mercury Pack series are solidly entertaining.




Summer RT Reviews Roundup and Special Announcement!

I've been binge reading bear-shifter books on KU for the past month and not writing much of anything although I have several posts percolating.  I'll review my epic dive into TS Joyce's bear shifter books in the next few days but since I haven't  posted my RT reviews here since May (Whoops!), here are the ones from the July issue!  

Ride'em by Delphine Dryden -- I quite enjoyed this. I love Delphine and I laughed a lot reading this one. Kinky enemies to lovers at dude ranch.

Worth it All by Claudia Connor -- Slow burn romance between two fiercely independent people.

Into the Blue by Chantel Cleeton -- Second chance love story. Great portrayal of pilot dealing with grief and PTSD and questioning the choices he made once.  Great conflict.

 ALSO:

SPECIAL Announcement:  Two years ago I met up with Elisabeth Lane from Cooking up Romance at RWA and we had such a fabulous time talking face to face about romance.  This summer I drove up to Montreal to meet up with Kay, from Miss Bates Reads Romance and despite having two days with her, we hardly scratched the surface about all the awesome romance conversations we could have.  After my visit to Kay, we ended up talking on twitter about how awesome it would be to get a bunch more of rom reader twitter friends together to just hang around together and talk romance.  The more we talked about it, the more possible it seemed.  So we decided to get serious about it.  We are planning on meeting up in Montreal, next summer,  Aug 11-13, 2017 . Montreal is a very fun city and Kay is fantastic host!  If you want to know more please visit:http://www.romancenovelmeetup.com/ and sign up for the update emails.