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August 2015

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

41LaBpUJBHL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_My brother is seven years younger than me.  As a family we frequently talk about how he grew up in a different family than my sister and I did.  My parents were married, my father juggling night-school and a full-time job, while my mom was a stay-at-home mom. My parents were just generally getting started in life (starter cars, starter homes). His parents were divorced, both had busy careers and there was generally more than enough money for travel and fun. As a result our attitudes toward our parents and our expectations are often very different.  His experience of dating and romantic relationships is also vastly different than mine and not just because we are different genders. I was married at 21 to someone I met in college, starting a family at 24.  He is in his early 30's, had some serious heartbreak and much to my parents's frustration is not even close to settling down. My brother is also Aziz Ansari's age, so as I listened to Modern Romance, I couldn't help but feel it was listening to someone explain the vastly different landscape of love and romance my brother is navigating.

Modern Romance was an interesting but not wholly successful book. The mix of comedy and serious research was often uneven and uncomfortable.  In the audio version, Ansari's comedic voice was irreverent, self-deprecating and occasionally biting but didn't always transition well in segments meant to be insightful or argumentative.  The chapters that focused on the international dating scene (Qatar, Japan, Argentina & France), were dull and lacking in any real attempt at research. The observations felt superficial and poorly researched.

The more interesting chapters were the ones were Ansari tried to make sense of his generation's dissatisfaction with dating. his own personal struggles to connect, the effort it takes to build lasting relationships in a world full of seemingly endless choices. His advice to become aware and self-conscious about the way experiences in the "phoneworld" bleed into face to face interactions and to invest more than one date into the people a dater encounters were thoughtful and sensible.

I really appreciated the way the book tried to place in historical context the vast changes in expectations people have about romantic relationships, and marriage. They provided a wonderful overview about the way expectation of personal happiness,  increased personal autonomy and economic freedom have reshaped how people view marriage and romance.

Ansari does acknowledge in the introduction that the book is not fully inclusive of LGBT relationships and instead deals for the most part with only heterosexual relationships. While I understood their choice, the lack was felt most strongly in the chapters that addressed how and why people have entered marriage relationships over time. Much of his discussion on the rise of soulmate marriage over good-enough marriage feeds into the growing cultural acceptance of same-same marriage.  I also felt that the book could have benefited from a woman's voice, as I felt Ansari was often too sympathetic to men who ineptly try to message women online and he generally glosses over many of dangers and inconveniences women encounter in the dating scene.

Overall the book was entertaining, pointing out the positive and negatives of the new relationship marketplace. I feel like I have a better understanding of the unique challenges my brother's generation faces.  It makes me wonder how much it will change again by the time my daughters are both out there dating too.

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Recent Reading, Mini-reviews for August.

41yZWcEnKqL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_The Martian by Andy Weir

Six days into a Mars mission astronauts must abort their mission when a storm threatens to destroy their only way home.  Mark Watney, Ares 3's botanist and mechanical engineer is struck by flying piece of debris and thought dead. The rest of the crew are forced to leave without him.  But Mark isn't dead. 

The Martian was a very intense, engrossing love letter to mechanical engineers and astronauts.  I love the way the story alternated between Mark's daily logs, flashbacks and chapters of the crew and Earth-based mission control as they all worked to try to save Mark. Mark's exciting, often humorous tale of survival is part thriller, part McGuyver in Space with lots and lots of science. 

511u3trvy9L._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_The Farmer Takes a Wife  (Las Morenas 0.5) by Genevieve Turner:  I really liked the way the characters communicated or failed to communicate about their needs and dreams. I was particularly impressed by Turner's depiction of Laura's claustrophobic home life.

After two years of admiring her from afar Marcus Gries finally worked up the courage to start courting Laura Kemper.  Laura however flattered by Marcus's attentions and personally attracted can't even imagine getting married, not if it means leaving her family behind.

51DIJwGR48L._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Ransom by Julie Garwood: Last month I read the Bride and enjoyed it so much, I immediately one-clicked on Ransom earlier this week when it was on sale, because so many people had mentioned it as one of their favorite Garwoods during our discussion of the Bride.

Ransom was delightful. Although superficially quite similar to the Bride (headstrong heroine who is her Highlander warrior beau's only weakness) the tensions and complicating factors such as the local political climate were quite different. I loved the misunderstandings and trickery, it was fun and over-the-top without becoming ridiculous.  I loved the female friendships and the political savvy of the heroine. I was heartbroken by the outcome of family subplot in the story but it felt true and consistently characterized. 

A young Englishwoman rescues the Alec the son of Scottish Laird, taken as part of plot track down an incriminating jeweled box that once belonged to King John's late mistress.  Brodick Buchanan rescues them both and soon becomes attached to Gillian, whose bravery and strength he greatly admires and respects. Gillian's mission is complicated by Brodick's desire to protect her from harm.

51P9B684rxL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_Wicked Lies by Lora Leigh: Back when I first started reading romance and I was looking for some PNR that measured up to Singh's fantastic Psy-Changeling series I ended up reading a ton of Lora Leigh's Breed books.  They had some similar elements (complex and involved world-building, dark agendas and alpha-male protagonists), but they lacked Singh's sense of humor and joy. I eventually came to realize that her Breeds book were just not for me. I did eventually try some of her contemporary romances, which I enjoyed more.

Wicked Lies however was not a good choice for me. Wicked Lies did not work well at all as a stand-alone with it byzantine plot and the tons of backstory.

Wicked Lies was a second chance at love story.  Annie Maynes has been hiding and running from the men who tried kill her and murdered her mother for over a decade. After her last protector dies, she opts to hide in plain sight, ready to finally confront the men she thinks are responsible. Jazz Lancing is a ladies man, casual no-strings friendly hookups are the only kinds of relationships he has had since the girl he meant to wed died. Jazz is drawn to Annie, who won't have anything to do with him. I liked the initial between Jazz and Annie before he found out who she really was.

However there was a lot of WTF revelations involving the Kin (a secretive mountain man militia) and and interactions between Annie and Jazz and her brothers I just didn't buy especially once I realized they weren't some sort of werewolf clan (ultra-possessiveness & macho-machoness).  Lots of ultimatums issued and ignored, and the way Jazz manpain/grief manifested into building a dream house for his 'dead' dreamgirl absolutely no sense to me. 

I received a copy of Wicked Lies by Lora Leigh from St. Martins Press via NetGalley.

Other reading:  This month I read and reviewed four books for RT's November issue. I continue to build knowledge about parts of romland I don't often venture to.  I did enjoy several of them. I also did some more beta reading this month. I really enjoy beta reading.  It is satisfying and fun to have a conversation about a book that can actually affect the shape of a book.

Heat Exchange (Boston Fire, book 1) by Shannon Stacey

DownloadLydia Kincaid is the daughter of a fire-fighter, sister of a fire-fighter and her ex-husband was a fire-fighter. The very last thing she needs in her life is another fire-fighter.  Lydia even moved out of state to get away from her family's bar that is the local fire-fighter hang-out. But when her sister and father need her to come home, she reluctantly and temporarily agrees to tend bar there again. The time away allows Lydia to look at everything with fresh eyes, and she can't help noticing Aidan Hunt.  Aidan Hunt is her little brother's best friend, and he has grown up into an irresistible man. 

Aidan can't keep his eyes or his hands off Lydia even knowing that the last thing she wants is to get involved with another fire-fighter. Aidan loves his career, pursuing it despite his white-collar family's disapproval.  Becoming secretly involved with Lydia might cost him friendships, mentors and risk his life by bringing tension to their company.

I really enjoyed this romance. I loved the internal and external conflicts faced by Aidan and Lydia. They click emotionally and sexually but are nearly torn apart by their baggage.  Lydia has always resented her father's devotion to the fire-fighter brotherhood, and her sister's marital struggles only serve to remind her of her own doomed marriage to a fire-fighter. I loved how much Lydia had to struggle to see, love and value Aidan for who he is and not punish him for the sins of other men. 

I loved Shannon Stacey's Kowalski Family series and I'm very excited to read the rest of this series. There is a great potential the extended cast. Complicated people, with various hangups and issues. 

 I received a review copy of Heat Exchange from Carina Press via NetGalley.



Anything but Broken by Joelle Knox

Anything but broken Hannah Casey is back home under the worst of circumstances. Her father is dead and her mother dying.  She can hardly walk into their home without choking on the secrets, grief, anger, shame and regret. She flees to the diviest of bars in her home town of Hurricane Creek to drown in drink.

Sean Whitlow never left Hurricane Creek. He took over his father's garage, and finds his thrills on the track. He knows more than most about secrets and griefs Hannah is trying to forget. He knows he should stay away but he cares too much about her even though loving her older sister nearly wrecked him.

Half-way into the first chapter of Anything But Broken, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to make it.  The issues Alcoholism, Bipolar disorder and Suicide have all affected my family and I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to nope out.  But I didn't.  Hannah and Sean's story while angsty was not sensationalized, it was familiar.  I found myself nodding along as Sean and Hannah talked or avoided talking about something. Their conflicted memories, their anger, their frustration were all just right.

Also just right, was the conflicted sexual tension between Sean and Hannah.  Both of them know well all the reasons they should stay far away from each other, the history that makes things awkward but the sparks and gut-tightening joy they have from flirting and bantering is too much. I believed their attraction and the tension they carry about it.

The pacing of Anything but Broken wasn't perfect. I think it lagged a bit in the middle but I was still engaged enough in the story to have to jump to the end at one point just to make sure everything was going to be alright. I am eager to read more in Hurricane Creek series. The town of Hurricane Creek was well developed and I loved the supporting characters, Gibbs and Evie and I'm eager to read their story.

Anything but Broken is a real change of pace from Donna Herren and Bree Bridges's other work as Moira Rogers and Kit Rocha of which I am a big fan.  The sex is not as explicit or as central to the story, but themes of family bonds, of finding belonging and liberation from secrets are.

Anything but Broken will be out Aug 25th, 2015 at all the usual places. I received an advance review copy from the authors, Donna Herren and Bree Bridges.

New Gig

A couple of months ago I responded to twitter open-call for women of color reviewers by RT magazine. I was asked to send in a sample review in the concise RT style which was received enthusiastically. I was invited to join their reviewer list.  Starting in October, I will be reviewing at least one book a month for them, under the name Ana Coqui. I still expect to keep up with my regular reviewing schedule here.

Although I have been reviewing regularly for almost two years this a new & challenging experience. For this blog I only review what I feel like reviewing.  Most of the time I review ARCs that I have specifically requested, and I have full control about what I choose to read or choose to DNF. With RT, a monthly email goes out to all their reviewers with a list of books titles, author and sub-genre headings, and it is a first-come first serve request free-for-all.  I can request as many or as little as I want but by requesting I am committing to reading that book whether I end up hating it or not. Additionally I have agreed to read at least one assigned book for one of the sub-editors.

These two months of reviewing for RT has been a real learning experience. Knowing I have between 150-200 words to summarize and express an opinion on a book is a real adjustment as my usual reviews stretch to 900 words or so.  I have also had to stretch as reader, reading books that I might usually overlook or skip all together.

So look for me in RT starting in October, 

#TBRCHALLENGE Review: Say Yes to the Marquess (Castles Ever After book 2) by Tessa Dare

Syttm_audioClio Whitmore is sick of waiting. Her intended decamped for the continent and a career with the foreign office as soon as the ink was dry on their engagement agreements. For the last eight years, Clio has has to endure the strictures placed on her by her family and the whispers of the ton. With her fiancee Piers finally headed home, Clio turns to his disgraced brother and temporary estate manager Rafe for a way out of her engagement.

Rafe is looking for redemption. Cast out of his father's house as teenager, he has made his living as bare-knuckle boxer, living on the fringes of polite society. When he is entrusted with the management of  Marquisate upon his father's death and his brother's absence, he is terrified of wrecking it and is determined to hand everything over to his brother is the condition he received it.  Despite his life-long attraction to Clio he refuses to sign the dissolution papers and instead begins a campaign to convince Clio to marry Piers by offering her the wedding of her dreams.

"Say Yes to to the Marquess" was romantic, funny and clever. All Dare's characters speak with a modern voice but I didn't find that at all jarring, but instead immersive and refreshing.  "Say Yes to Marquess" has a small cast and I liked all of them, even the antagonists. For all its lightheartedness Dare still tackles issues of emotional depth well. Both Rafe's and Clio's family have hurt each other terribly with good intentions.   It is the empathy Rafe feels for Clio that breaks through his determination to see her married to Piers. Rafe's own "Secret Pain" is believable motivation for his actions and source for his feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.

Although I have read all of Tessa Dare's Spindle Cove series,  this was still an impulse buy for me, because I was on a Tessa Dare break.   However I bought it when it was on sale in April, even though I had skipped the first in this new series.  My recent preference for darker weightier historicals was overcome through a combination of the premise and the enthusiastic recommendation of a few twitter friends whose recs I trust. I immediately bought "Romancing the Duke" after finishing "Say Yes to the Marquess" and read the first half in one sitting.



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.


Recent Reading: Laird Wolf by Vivian Arend, Make You Burn by Megan Crane & Falling Under by Lauren Dane


Laird Wolf (Takhini Shifters #2) by Vivian Arend

Damon Black is lone wolf on a rescue mission. His best-friend's wife's best-friend Addie MacShay, an estate cataloger needs his help to fend off two creepy brothers trying to claim the same manor house in a remote corner of Scotland.

Addie MacShay is independent, hard-working and not easily spooked. It was not easy for her to ask for help and she certainly did not expect Damon. Damon proves to be a bigger distraction than he Sterling-Wylde brothers, especially as he pretends to be her boyfriend.

I really enjoy Arend's shifter books.  They are light, fun and playful.  Both Addie and Damon and their wolves are keeping secrets from each other.  I very much enjoyed the humor that came from their confusion and mistaken impressions.  Addie is the daughter of two Omega wolves and has inherited an odd ability that makes her aware of the thoughts and intentions of any one that touches her.  This makes her recoil from physical touch, and shy away from any kind of romantic entanglement. Although Damon is charming, and attractive and up for a romp, they have to slow down instead of crashing together. There is great lingering sexual tension as they experiment with way to circumvent her gift.  I also enjoyed how once again Arend takes the fated mates trope and uses it as complication rather than a short-cut to intimacy.

The resolution to the contested estate plot was a bit of eye-rolling fluff but it was perfectly in sync with the story's light-hearted tone.

I received a review copy of Laird Wolf from the author via NetGalley. 

Make You Burn by Megan Crane (Book 1 in the Deacons of Bourbon Street series)

Sophie Lombard has grown up knowing she will always come in second place to her father's beloved biker brothers but in the ten years since his club fractured and declined, she came to fool herself int believing she mattered to him, running his bar and taking care of him.  When her father dies unexpectedly, she finds herself and her bar crowded with familiar but all too dangerous faces from her past.

Sean "Ajax" Harding was Priest Lombard's second in command, helping him transition the club from an outlaw outfit to a more legitimate group. Sent into exile after deal goes wrong, Ajax is eager to come home and figure out what has gone wrong in last decade and rescue the club.  Home is not all like he left it.  The club's dive bar is full of tourists, their old clubhouse converted into an Art Gallery and Priest's daughter no longer the innocent sheltered little miss he remembered.

Ajax is crude and pushy but the distraction Sophie needs from her grief. He gives her something to fight and think about beyond the loss of her father and her disappointment in him.  Their sexual chemistry and the complex feelings they have for each other were engrossing.  They had great push-pull dynamics and every reason to combust.  I was less interested in the overarching series storyline about who if anyone had Priest Lombard killed and whether the Deacons of Bourbon Street should be reunited and revived. I was disappointed by the unbalanced cast as almost all Sophie's friends and allies are nameless or barely in the book, while the book is full of Ajax's and Priest's cronies, artificially isolating Sophie in her own hometown which made it harder for me to embrace their HEA.

I received a review copy of Make You Burn from Loveswept  -- Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley.

Falling Under (Ink and Chrome Book 2) by Lauren Dane

Carmella grew up working at garages, keeping the books, dodging oil spills and too alluring bad boy mechanics, till her uncle retired and sold his shop. Duke Bradshaw is her gorgeous neighbor and brand-new boss. As attracted as she is to Duke and his deceptive easy-going surfer boy looks, she really needs this job and is not going to do a single thing that might risk it.

Duke has been intensely interested in Carmella for a longtime and hiring her to work at Twisted Steel is both a blessing and torture. The more he gets to know her the more he admires her but getting her to trust him with her heart is one of the hardest thing  he has ever had to do.

I love Lauren Dane's stories, the complicated and angst-filled family relationships, the strength and joy in her chosen families.  Carmella is care-taking martyr, doing everything she can for her uncaring flighty mother. She is trapped by her love for her mother and while she enjoys men, has learned not to trust in love or her desire for them.  I loved how careful Duke had to be, slowly inserting himself into her life, bringing her joy, showing her care.  I loved that their conflicts from the dramatic moment early on to smaller ones later on, are all born out of good intentions , unintentional carelessness or their own personal baggage.  They trigger each other in big and small ways, and I love how Dane shows the precious intentional relationship work that is necessary to sustain HEAs.

My only small disappointment is that for most of the book I thought Dane was teasing us with hints of a fem-dom story but Carmella's sexual bossiness and Duke's submission remained an unacknowledged element to their sparkling sexual chemistry . 

I was thrilled to win a signed gift print ARC of Falling Under through a giveaway on Lauren Dane's blog.