Travel Feed

Backwards to Oregon by Jae


513XIPvy6JL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_
Luke Hamilton has been living as man since, her mother died when she was 12. Guarded and reserved Luke awkwardly tries to avoid the advances of Fleur, a prostitute former military buddies have paid for as parting gift.

Although warned by the Tess, the brothel's owner and one of the few people privy to Luke's secret that Luke's has special needs that require her discretion, Fleur, whose real name is Nora is puzzled and distressed by Luke's reticence and brusque refusal of her services.  

Both Tess and Nora are truly shocked however when Luke returns to the brothel with a marriage proposal shortly after rescuing Nora's young daughter from a ugly altercation on the streets. Confused, wary but convinced of Luke's good-nature Nora agrees to join Luke on the grueling cross-country journey from Missouri to Oregon in hopes of providing herself and her daughter a more promising future.

Along the way Luke and Nora grow closer but their marriage is tested in several ways by the journey and the secrets they keep from each other.

I believed in this romance and the conflicts and tensions that drive Luke and Nora to make the unconventional but believable choices they have made. Jae carefully developed the characters and built up the tension around their secrets, slowly unwrapping the pasts that shaped them.

The only low-light in the novel for me was one of the encounters the caravan has with a Sioux, where a Lakota man tries to trade a pony and young woman for the red-headed Nora or Amy, much to Luke's frustration.  Up to that point the novel had done a good job staying away from stereotyping Native Americans. That scene felt unnecessary to the story.

 


A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson

A-Taste-of-Heaven-by-Penny-Watson-250Ever since Sophia Brown's husband died, she has been faking her way through her days.  She feels lost.  She doesn't taste the flavor in the perfect meals she makes, her mind wanders while she weeds, and she is in a rut, doing the same things over and over because it is familiar and comforting. Although she thought she was doing a pretty good job at keeping it together,  her daughters have noticed and have decided to intervene.  They want to insert a little excitement and positive challenge into her life so they sign her up for cooking competition reality show,"A Taste of Heaven", filming in their home state of Vermont. Ambushed by her daughters' s concerns and intervention Sophia is determined to face up to challenge. Sophia doesn't know what to expect when she shows up on the set but soon her competitive spirit overcome her fears and worries.

Grumpy, stubborn and desperate, Elliott Adamson, a Scottish professional chef with lots of skills and talents and many restaurant failures has agreed to participate in "A Taste of Heaven" in hope the cash prize and exposure will save his latest and maybe last restaurant. He is livid when he discovers that the competition will team amateurs like Sophia with experts like him, but he can't walk away as much as he wants to.

The competition is full of twists and surprises, and Sophia and Elliott end up teaming up despite having taken an initial dislike of each-other. They must negotiate how to work together as Sophia is not about to let Elliott run right over her.  Sophia does most of the heavy lifting in the partnership, working to smooth Elliott's rough edges, stressing presentation and strategic choices that will appeal to the judges and generally behaving with maturity that balances out Elliott's sullenness. Elliott slowly warms up to Sophia, realizing that she has great instincts and the strength to challenge him.  While he fights her every step of the way, she makes his Scottish dishes shine, while showcasing her own knowledge of Vermont's fantastic produce and products, eventually breaking down his resistance.

I really liked that Sophia and Elliott are a mature couple (Sophia is 47 and Elliott almost 50). They both have long relationship histories and that informs how they react to each other and what they want.  The sexual tension, the confusing feelings and the uncertainty about their futures are great complications.

There were a couple of subplots in the story that I felt were left unresolved. Maybe they were only supposed to add background color and interest to some of the secondary characters but I felt we were building up to something (especially the one about the possibly predatory judge) and it didn't go anywhere which was a bit frustrating.  I would however welcome reading more about other secondary characters in their own books.   The ending was a bit over-the-top for me, while it tied up everything in a lovely bow, it felt slightly more sweet and fantastical than the story had been up to that point.

A Taste of Heaven was a very enjoyable romance that will appeal to fans of cooking competitions, mature couples and growly Scottish men who can cook.

 


The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

Wp74100ac3_05_06Eva Ward is a little lost. Her sister and only family member has just died after a long illness. When her sister's widowed husband Bill entrusts Eva with finding just the right place to spread her ashes, Eva heads home to Cornwall.  She is welcome back to Trelowarth,, a large estate on the Cornish coast, where she spent most of her childhood summers.  At Trelowarth she is surrounded by old friends and memories but finds herself getting lost in time. Eva starts making uncontrolled trips 300 years back in time to when Trelowah was the home of the Butler Brothers, Daniel and Jack,  smugglers and Jacobites, that she at first tries to dismiss as especially vivid hallucinations caused by her grief.

Eva becomes heavily involved in the lives of residents of Trelowarth in both time periods.  In the past she becomes fascinated by Daniel Butler, a principled free-trader and increasingly pessimistic Jacobite contemplating exile in the face of increasing pressure. In the present day she gets caught up trying to rescue Trelowah from financial ruin, working to help her childhood friends Susan and Mark establish a tea-room and revitalize their heirloom rose business.

The Rose Garden is lyrical and Kearsley is one again able to evoke a powerful sense of place. The two Trelowahs are distinct in atmosphere and energy even as they are the same location separated by time. Both sets of secondary characters are interesting and engaging however I found the main romantic relationship underdeveloped. Daniel and Eva simply spend to little time together and I didn't feel like their relationship moved much beyond  physical attraction and some undefined magnetism.  Eva has a stronger more developed relationship with Feargal, Daniel's best-friend, pretends to be her older-brother and tutors Eva on everything from dressing her hair, lighting a fire to cooking barley. Secondary romantic relationships get much more developement.

While many GR reviewers complained about the way time travel was explained, I was entirely satisfied with it.  I liked that while some of the characters try to rationalize it scientifically in the end we are left assuming that is no explanation remnants of ancient magic and intersecting ley lines that allow the inhabitants of Trelowarth to occasionally be drawn across time by loves that call to them out of their own time.

The Rose Garden was atmospheric, interesting and moving story about grief, friendships and belonging with romantic elements.


A Wish Upon Jasmine by Laura Florand

Every wish is a risk, an exercise in hope.

The last 2.5 years have been incredibly hard for Jasmin Bianchi.  She sat at her father's side and watched him slowly die, losing him and her new company in one terrible two week period, six-months ago. In the midst of that terrible time she shared one perfect magical night with a stranger, who seemed that night like the answer to a wish but in the morning, a foolish fantasy.

It has been six-months since Damien Rosier has seen Jess. Six months since she left his bed without saying goodbye, shutting him down every time he tried to approach her. He is shocked and baffled to discover her setting up shop in the middle of his hometown of Grasse, taking over his family's original storefront. As the Rosier family 's resident shark it is his responsibility to negotiate a return of the shop to the Rosier family but all he wants to negotiate is a second-chance at her heart.

I love stories where the protagonists have built up a bunch of false beliefs about each other and through the course of the story need apologize or grovel over the ways they have misjudged one another. Both Jess and Damien made assumptions about what that night meant for each of them, and then misjudged how the other responded afterwards without having all the information or context.   The anger and frustration was very real.

Florand did a wonderful job portraying how much trust and willingness to risk pain is necessary to develop intimacy.  I loved how Jess and Damien persevered in learning how to learn to talk and trust to each other.  Damien's parents are a powerful counter example of what can happen when people stop putting in the effort.  

I loved the continuation of the series themes of belonging & familial expectations. The Rosier's are tight-night family, but those bonds sometimes strangle them. This generation of Rosier heirs has grown up loving the family business but also trapped in roles that don't really fit them. They can't complain or whine because they can never compare their pain and struggles to the generation that not just survived the war but saved and fought for others. Yet wanting to be seen and recognized is still a need for both the generations. The lasting legacy of family history & familial roles is woven into the story.  I love the way Rosier family history is slowly being revealed and complicated.

Disclaimer:  I had the opportunity to meet and chat with Laura Florand at RWA last month.  She even shared some of her chocolate cake with me.  She was lovely and gracious in person. I received a review copy of A Wish Upon Jasmine from her.

 


Signal Boost (Off the Grid #2) by Alyssa Cole

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


Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs

DeadHeat_bigDead Heat is the fifth story in Patricia Briggs' Urban Fantasy series, Alpha & Omega.  I discovered the the Alpha & Omega series a couple of years ago when I ran out of her excellent yet heart-wrenching Mercy Thompson books to borrow from my library's audio-book collection.  Set in the same universe, the series follows Anna and Charles a mated wolf pair, who track and destroy supernatural threats to shifter and human communities.  

Charles is one of the son's of the Marrok, the leader of all the werewolves in North America.  He is his father's problem solver and enforcer.  Anna is an  Omega wolf, a very rare kind of wolf that exists outside the strict hierarchical werewolf pack power structure.  She can not be forced to submit to the will of even the strongest Alpha, and has the power to pacify and neutralize the most dominant of wolves.  

In Dead Heat, Charles and Anna travel to Arizona to purchase a new horse for Anna.   Instead of a relaxing visit with one of Charles's oldest non-werewolf friends, Joseph and his horse-raising family Charles and Anna arrive just in time to intervene when some of Joseph's extended family  are attacked .  The attack heightens inter-family tensions that threaten to derail their search for the powerful Fae responsible for trying to harm Joseph’s grand-children and the abduction of a preschooler. I really loved this book but I almost didn't make it past the first 20% because children were the targets of the attack.  If you are a person who is triggered or other has a hard time with children in peril stories, this might not be the book for you.  Through the book there are multiple references to children being abducted and harmed.  There is HEA and the good and righteous prevail but there was a lot of suspense, terror and tension before everything is resolved.

One of the things I love about the Alpha and Omega series is that while the stories are full of great crime solving/detective/action adventure elements, the stories in the end are really about Anna and Charles’s relationship.  Briggs does not flinch as she has portrays the many hurdles and difficulties pair have to overcome to be happy together.  Briggs strength in these books is that she has balanced the portrayals of conflict, pain, with those of growth and joy.  One of the major themes in this book is family, what it means, who belongs, and what kind of responsibilities they have to one another. I loved how complicated family was in this book, as we have pack, tribal, legal and emotional bonds inter-crossing and complicating everyone's lives. I was very satisfied with how Anna and Charles come to resolve their tensions over Anna's desire to have children and the roots of Charles' hesitance.

One thing I didn't like was the amount of horse lore packed into this book.  Joseph's family raises Arabians and I felt there was a lot of info dumping about horses in general and Arabian's particular. Some of it paid off in the end, but it was overwhelming.  But it didn't ruin the book for me.  It continues to be incredibly satisfying to read  about Anna and Charles falling and growing into love while defeating  yet another dangerous supernatural threat.

But I what I would really love is for Ms. Briggs to spin-off Bran and Moira into their own monster-fighting series.  I would love to read about the Marrok, rolling up his sleeves and calling in my favorite blind-wolf-mated Witch to hunt down monsters that really need killing. Their odd couple team-up in this book delighted me.

 


The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley #TBR Challenge Book

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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


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

 


Party Lines by Emma Barry

Carina_0115_9781426899454_partylinesParty Lines opens with a world-weary Michael Picetti sitting at a gate in O’Hare airport waiting for a flight to Iowa in December. He is heading back to work on a presidential primary campaign, after seeing one of his best-friends get married & realizing the other will be marrying sometime soon too. He feels acutely the distance and difference between the lives of his friends and his own. He finds himself scanning the crowd for a likely hook-up, some other jaded campaign veteran with no hope of a social life. It is mostly a mental exercise, to entertain himself while waiting when he isn’t scrolling through twitter to take the pulse of the voters or taking calls from other campaign staff.

When Lydia Reales sits next to him on the plane, he turns his scrutiny on her, trying to figure out what is bringing her to Iowa. They eventually start talking about the candidates with best chances of prevailing, about life on the campaign trail & he starts thinking about how he would love to keep talking to her & share his tips for surviving campaigns with her when she suddenly gives him the brush-off & firmly settles in to read instead. He is very confused,  not sure what went wrong and stews about it for the rest of the flight. He thought they were clicking, that she was maybe even flirting, and he felt so secure on the assumptions he made based on her reading material, the fact she is young and Latina & that he doesn't even consider the actual reason she was less than impressed with him. When after some awkwardness Lydia accepts his card & bemusedly offers her in return, it is embarrassingly clear to Michael what Lydia realized from the start. Turns out Michael & Lydia are on opposite sides of a lot of issues and the rest of the novel is peppered the best conversations about why they believe what they believe and why they have ended up where they have ended up. Barry does a great job presenting how campaign folk are wired differently than other political operatives.

I really liked Lydia  even if I strongly disagree with her politics. Lydia is just starting her political career and is driven, ambitious, competitive and combative in ways we rarely see heroines get to be. I love that she takes advantage of every opportunity and works her ass off. I just loved how much she wanted to be amazing at her job, to be seen and recognized for it and how she is trying to figure out how to best fit in & while standing-out on the campaign team. I Liked that Barry also doesn’t shy away from portraying some of the micro-aggressions Lydia experiences as WOC on the campaign trail, and how Lydia sometimes chafes and sometimes dismisses them. Michael is at completely different place in his career than Lydia. He is getting ready to transition out of campaigning. He is questioning his life choices and his passion for being on the road. 

Politics aside Michael and Lydia are simply on two different trajectories, so this is not simply at enemies to lovers story with super-hot secret affair but story about bad timing. I love that Lydia really doesn’t want or have time for a relationship with Michael. It is not in her master plan and she has bigger things on her agenda. Michael on the other hand can afford to want more from their relationship that she does. He is secure in his career in a way she isn’t. That unbalance in place of life, goals and expectations creates real conflicts for them to overcome during the novel, over and above the really engrossing political drama they are engaged in.

I just loved how Michael & Lydia’s relationship develops and deepens over the course of the election cycle progressing from tense encounters, confusing stolen moments, to secret nights, texts & phone calls. The rhythm of their relationship feels right and I found their climactic conflict to be utterly believable. I think Ms. Barry took some great risks in the second-half of the novel in particular, with the way Lydia reacts and responds to that conflict. The way she responded took my breath away but it was completely consistent with her established personality, character & priorities. That trueness to her character allowed me to believe in her choices and thus believe in their HEA.

If you haven't picked up the first two books in the Easy Part series, Special Interests and Private Politics, run out and get them, all three are really great reading.  Each of the romances and couples have very different trajectories to true love and I believed in all of them.

A review copy of this novel was provided by Carina Press via NetGalley.
On-Sale Date: January 12, 2015


Have Mercy by Shelley Ann Clark

8fbb66fc9fbcc672639515b648926320Emme is on the cusp of stardom in the Alt-music scene, which is much better than being caught in the middle of the scandal that ended the last band she was in. Emme is focused on breaking through, and walking the straight and narrow so she can put it all behind her. If she forgets she has two of her oldest friends on tour with her ready to stare her down.

Tom took over running his dad’s bar when he died, and has been looking out for his little sister since his mom ran off. He keeps things running but his heart isn’t in it. When Emme’s band plays a pre-tour gig at his bar and he hears from his friend Andy that they are going to need a new bassist for the tour, Tom for the first time in a long time start thinking a little selfishly. Can he have this? Can he do this one thing he loves, for just a little while. Once on tour Tom isn’t the only one getting a little greedy. Emme knows she shouldn’t but she can’t keep herself from thinking of and wanting Tom. And Tom would do anything for her.

Have Mercy is a story of wants and needs. Tom has never wanted anything more in his life. He needs to give himself permission to not be responsible for everything and everyone anymore. Emme wants people to stop judging her the scandal and to see her for who she is, not what the tabloids made her out to be. What she needs is someone who simply believes her and in her. Emme wants to sing, and she wants Tom. Tom wants Emme and to be happy doing what he loves. They just need to let each other reach for that.

 

What worked for me:

Both Emme and Tom have heavy burdens to carry and I thought depiction of the escapist power and secret joy of a forbidden infatuation was really well done. While I was initially surprised by the BDSM-flavor to Tom and Emme’s encounters, I was won over. This was not billionaire sex-club BDSM, but rather two people who have played around just a little bit, know they like it, but haven’t gone out and bought fancy toys and declared themselves to be in a lifestyle. Emme is simply starting to own herself, including her desire to tease and dominate, and Tom likes and accepts the part of himself that loves to be submissive in bed. Playfulness and vulnerability characterize their relationship and I was rooting for them even as I dreaded knowing the conflict and push back they were bound to encounter eventually. The most important part of their relationship however is that they give each other permission to be themselves, to want the best for each other, even if that means letting go of long-standing relationships.

What didn’t work for me:

The level of vitriol/hate/suspicion Emme faces from strangers and regular people like her neighbors. It seemed a bit hyperbolic. That her parents or industry folk judged her harshly and unfairly made sense for me but not that Jane Doe neighbor would consider her husband-stealing threat. Thankfully this was just a tiny part of the book.

What really did work was Emme just owning her truth. She has a choice late in the novel to do something expedient and instead makes a risky choice that means an incredible amount to those around her.

 

4 out 5 stars, and having the special distinction of being the first book about musicians that I have actually enjoyed.

 

A e-copy of Have Mercy was provided by Random House Publishing Group — Loveswept for review purposes.

(Disclaimer: I follow Shelley Ann Clark on Twitter, and I always root for librarian/writers).

 

Publication Date July 1st.

 

 


Summer Rain Anthology with stories by Ruthie Knox, Molly O'Keefe, Charlotte Stein and more.

SummerRain-500x750(2)Summer Rain: Love in the Rain Series's nine story collection is the first of two  short story collections edited by Sarah Frantz. The proceeds from the sales of this anthology will got to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).

This was a strong collection and I enjoyed the wonderful variety of style, setting and types of stories. I came to this  collection already knowing the work of  Ruthie Knox, Mary Ann Rivers, Charlotte Stein and  Audra North  but I loved having the opportunity to read stories by both newer authors like Amy Jo Cousins, Shari Slade and Alexandra Haughton and new-to-me authors like Cecilia Tan and Molly O’Keefe, whose work I had not yet enjoyed. While not every story worked for me, I thought the anthology as whole deserved 4 out 5 stars. I look forward to reading the next volume Winter Rain when it comes out in November.

 

Redemption by Ruthie Knox: Mike Kaminsky a divorced Green Bay handy-man and former roofer  and Jessie Bellin,a owner of a failing cheese shop have a very limited relationship.  Both know the rules and limitation of it and  all they ask from each other is sex. Sex that takes them away from their troubles, distracts them just a little and gives them enough pleasure to get through the hardest days. This was a sad story about making a go at relationships even when everything else has fallen apart. The story is about potential and expectations and how we can fail to put our trust in the right things and how the choice to stay and chance something might be the most important you can make. While I admire how truly weighed down these two are  and the message of the story I wish we had just a little more resolution as the ending barely qualifies as a HFN but instead is simply the possibility of one .

3.5 out of 5

 

The Heart of It by Molly O’Keefe: Outwardly a successful author Gabe Peterson is not at home in his own skin and is unable to have a satisfying sexual encounter without being drunk. Sober he is petrified of being touched in a sexual way due to childhood sexual abuse. Elena is a very expensive escort hired by Peterson to try to help him find a way to enjoy sex without getting drunk. After several failed attempts  Elena has grown invested in Gabe’s struggle. She won’t let him give up and pushes him past his panic to help him confront his hidden anger and shame to a breakthrough. However the person most affected by their encounter is Elena, who is unsettled enough by the truths she disclosed to Gabe and her own dark memories dreged up in their conversations to start making changes in her life. This was the first Molly O’Keefe story to capture my attention as I have tried several of her novels, but not been able to get past the first few chapters. Elena and Gabe’s conversations felt genuine, as did the decisions they've made along the way. There was also a marked lack of self-pity which was refreshing. I enjoyed this story enough that I will probably give O’Keefe's novels another try.

4 out 5 stars

 

Sacrifice by Cecilia Tan: A demigod in ancient Greece is trapped by the bargain he struck with the residents of  his valley. When they deliver him a virgin sacrifice  he must work magic that guarantees the fertility and fecundity for their crops. Over the years he come to hate this bargain, traumatized by the toll his bargain has taken on the young women brought to him as sacrifice. He now wishes for nothing more than to be left alone and forgotten. His solitude is interrupted when  a young Chinese woman sold into slavery by her trader father is presented to him as sacrifice. He is torn by the duty to his bargain, and  his need for her to be capable of consent so that she might come to want him without him without it destroying her. I was very skeptical coming into this story, not sure it could provide a satisfying romantic resolution to the conflicts in it, but the alternating POV chapters allowed the attraction to believably develop while not glossing over their fears and motivations.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Real Feelings by Charlotte Stein: A woman orders AI companion made to her specifications, meant to fulfill all aspects of her relationship needs without any of the risks (a walking-talking sex toy). When faced with him, in his nearly life-like glory she is unable to surrender to the fantasy of having a lover made to order, interested in pleasing her in every way. She feels shamed by her desires, her fears and loneliness and is horrified by the realization of how much it matters to her that he can’t choose whether he wants to fulfill her desires or not. Told exclusively from Moira’s point of view, I loved how much uncertainty and tension remains for the reader as Moira falls for her AI lover Michael, especially as Moira questions her sanity whenever she sees sparks of awareness, consciousness, and wanting in him. Another gem from Charlotte Stein.

 5 out 5 stars.

 

Rainy Season by Mary Ann Rivers:  Lisa Shirek is a barista who can sense the clouds of sadness and hurts enveloping her customers, and thrives on giving the comfort that they need but can’t ask for. Mark is a regular at the cafe, his presence is so bright and dazzling that Lisa can only admire him from out of the corner of her eye. I was so distracted by the high-concept atmospheric imagery and mathematical/metaphorical banter I didn’t really connect to the story till about half-way through when the descriptions became more grounded in the physical world focusing in on the textures of the lovers exploring of each other. Rivers was still able to move me tears however just not over the main couple.

3 out of 5 stars

 

The Rain in Spain by Amy Jo Cousins: Javi and Magda met in India, and married on impulse after spending only a sun-kissed week together, before Magda headed off to another travel assigment. It has been of year of tentative reunions and short times together at home in Chicago, and now on their belated honeymoon trip to Spain  Magda is questioning if they have  anything to hold them together. I really believed in Javier and Magda, with their unvoiced insecurities and their fear of speaking of them. As someone who has traveled a lot, I know how the tensions and small irritations of travel can reveal the fractures in a relationship.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Fitting In by Audra North: Stas Petrovich has a lot riding on the results of the upcoming college election. Son of poor gay immigrant parents, he has never known easy social acceptance, and want nothing more than to have the confirmation that he finally fits in by being elected class president. Leila dos Santos, doesn’t fit in, and doesn’t seem to care. When she is the only person to show up to Stas’s rained out paintball excursion, she rattles Stas. His certainty that he was right to change himself to be  accepted is shaken as they get to know each other over beers at her apartment. I really liked Leila, particularly her bravery in reaching out to Stas, letting herself being vulnerable when it has cost her so much.

4 out 5 stars.

 

Private Study by Shari Slade: After years of doing and studying only what her father wanted her to, Tess has escaped to a college far from home. She relishing  the opportunity to study what she wants and is trying to define who she is and what she likes. What she wants to learn more than anything else is sex. When a classmate find her sex vlog, and makes lewd entitled comments she realizes just how much she has exposed herself in her quest to learn more about herself. Seeing how upset she is Jameson , another classmate intervenes. Tess is torn between being grateful and embarrassed by his intervention. Tess is full of righteous indignation and inexperience and doesn’t really know what to do about Jameson’s interest in her and whether they can or should explore things together. Tess is at times unfair and jumps to conclusions too quickly and Jameson is  all at once curious,  tentative and wary which made them  both feel authentically young and inexperienced. I thought Slade did a great job capturing the the uncertainty, curiosity of young men and women just starting to figure themselves out.

4 out 5 stars

 

Storm Warning by Alexandra Haughton: Amy Collier had known Tom Wilson all her life. Seemingly inseparable, their friendship fell apart when Amy chose to go off to L.A. after college to become an event planner. After five years in LA, coming home with only the what she could stuff in her car, a pile of debt and broken dreams, the last person Amy wants to see is Tom. Tom isn’t waiting to kick her while she is down, but wants give her a job, and to find a way convince her to let him back into her life. I liked a lot of this story, particularly how Amy and Tom struggle to reconnect, and acknowledge the sexual tension that wedged them apart. However one of the other conflicts they have to overcome is Amy’s debt and her feelings of failure and desire to dig herself out it on her own. While interesting it seemed like one conflict too many in a story that already had plenty of internal conflict.

4 out 5 stars

A review digital ARC of Summer Rain was provided by Audra North one of the writers and organizers of the anthology.

 Summer Rain will be available starting  June 9, 2014