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October 2015

The FIrebird by Susanna Kearsley

FirebirdIn January I read the first in Susanna Kearsley's Slains series, The Winter Sea.  I loved the book but I admit that it has a somewhat bittersweet happy ending.  At then end of the Winter Sea, we only have the faintest of notions about how life turned out for John and Sophia, and the fate of one character, their first born daughter Anna, is left quite open ended.

In Firebird, Kearsley returns to Slains Castle and Anna.  

Nicola Marter is an art dealer specializing in Russian artifacts, with a psych gift she hides from most everyone. One day when she is asked to look at a small wooden carving of a bird, called The Firebird. The Firebird is a treasured family heirloom believed to have been given by Empress Catherine of Russia (Peter the Great's wife) to the owner's great-great-grandmother, Anna. When she inadvertently has a vision that confirms the family lore but is not able to say anything without betraying her gift. Although Nicola tries to forget the incident, she can't let it go, eventually going so far as to seek out her former lover, Rob McMorran for help.

Rob McMorran (Robbie of Kearsley's Shadowy Horses) is a police officer, whose psych gifts are much stronger than Nicola's. Rob's gift is so strong, he doesn't try to hide it, something that deeply distresses Nicola and caused a rift in their relationship.

Through Rob and Nicola's determined tracking, we learn how Anna, once hidden with a fisherman's family,  comes to be in St. Petersburg as young woman. I loved seeing her grow from young innocent girl into a brave and bold young woman.  Anna's story is at times heartbreaking, full of twists and turns but in the end beautiful and satisfying.

Kearsley's historical heroes and heroines always sacrifice much in service of their Jacobite cause and Anna is no exception.   Kearsley never sugarcoats the cost and in this novel she focuses keenly on the impact those sacrifices had on families. Anna might be a child but at a very young age becomes aware how the commands of kings and love of family can tear someone apart.  The choices she makes in response out of love are remarkable but wholly believable.  The novel is an ode to the impact of small conversations and little moments to shape the course of history.

The modern and historical romances were very different kinds of romances but they were still tied together, by how complicated their relationships are and the hard choices they had to make in order to live together.  Both and Anna and Rob see more in Ned and Nicola than they see in themselves.   I continue to be enchanted and moved by Kearsley's subtly emotional stories.  

Kearsley's  The Firebird, is rich in historical detail, fascinating characters and engaging plotlines.  So engaging that I had to cheat on the wonderful audiobook narrated by Katerine Kellgren, because I couldn't wait till the next car ride to know what would become of Anna next.

I have one print copy of The Firebird to give away.  Leave a comment or tweet me @anacoqui, saying that you would love to read it and I will select a random winner from the respondents.

The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev

The Bollywood Bride gave me a lot to think about. Sonali Dev followed up her romantic comedy, The Bollywood Affair, with a very different kind of romance.  Although both novels are set in boisterous Indian-American household, frantically hosting grand weddings, filled with doting Aunties, the stories couldn't be more different in tone. While Dev once again celebrates the sounds, sights and taste of Indian-American culture while capturing the tensions of bi-national immigrant life, but she goes deeper, tackling the stigma and isolation mental illness within the context of modern Indian society.

Ria Parkar is the Ice Princess, a cool, untouchable heroine on the Bollywood screens.  Her icy demeanor off screen hides her painful shyness and pain. Ten years ago she sold her sell for a chance at Bollywood stardom, leaving her old name and loves in the past in desperate attempt to keep the one promise she could bear to break.  The rigors of staying star-shaped, the pressures of production and crushing loneliness make it harder and harder to keep up the smiling facade from cracking. When her beloved cousin Nikhil asks her to come home for his wedding, she can't refuse his request even though she desperately wants to. Distracted and preoccupied she makes an impulsive decision that gives a blackmailing paparazzo the shot of a lifetime.  A brief vacation to a family wedding in Chicago is just the respite she needs, even if it means risking seeing the first love she betrayed once again.

In Ria, Dev creates a complicated character, guilt-ridden, fearful  and fiercely independent.  As a child she felt the sting of her mother and grandmother's mental illness, physically and emotionally. Her father sends her away to school, and later to his sister's home in Chicago out of desire to protect her. To Ria, a child who does not understand what is happening with her mother or why she was sent away, it feels like being punished and banished.  As adult, she fears that she will become dangerously ill herself one day. She fears becoming a burden those she loves, and she can't understand the choices her parents made. She hides all this confusion, and vulnerability behind her perfect looks and a practiced smile. She feels dirty and soiled after being coerced into a sexual relationship with her first co-star.  She harshly judges herself, though it is clear to the reader that she was a victim,  sexually exploited.   The paralyzing anxiety, panic attacks and self-loathing depressive thoughts that haunt Ria are easier to hide than her mother's schizophrenia but not less needing of care and support. These jagged edges make her a vastly different character than wide-eyed Mili from The Bollywood Affair.

Vikram Jathar, is no less complicated even though he is not the central focus of the story. Vikram was once Ria's first-ever friend, then her best-friend and eventually her first love before Ria left him without explanation.  He has spent the last ten years of his life trying to get over her. His reaction to seeing her again is far from perfect, although his anger, and confusion are understandable.  His initial selfish prideful choices in reaction to his hurt expose him to be darker than the perfect first love Ria holds in her memory.  

A happily-ever-after for Ria involves much more than being reunited with her first love. Ria and Vikram have to peel back layers of pain, before she can let herself be loved and before he can make the choice to love. While Vikram is stead-fast in insisting that she is worth loving, he has his own growing up to do in order to do it.

In Bollywood Bride,  love does not magically heal hurts, protect from horrible things from happening at some future date. Love is choice not to fear and take chance on happiness together, to chose to partner through what could the darkest of days. 

While I liked The Bollywood Affair, it didn't sink it hooks in me like the Bollywood Bride which I read in one sitting, unable to stop once I started reading and I am looking forward to reading whatever Ms. Dev writes next.


I received a ARC of The Bollywood Bride a gazillion years ago from its publishers Kensington Books

via NetGalley. The novel has been available at all the usual retailers since Sep. 29, 2015

Otherwise Engaged by Amanda Quick

Amity Doncaster is believes herself to be a worldly-woman.  The time she spent learning at her doctor's father's side and the years of solo international travel have uniquely prepared her to rescue a gravely wounded Benedict Stanbridge when she finds him bleeding out in dark alley in small Caribbean island just feet away from their ship.  They spend many hours together in conversation during their journey, and part after sharing one kiss.  Amity returns to London and Benedict continues on to California hoping to track down the man who attacked him. Rumors about their ship-board relationship spread upon her arrival to London, she takes the rumors in stride, only concerned that the rumors might delay the publication of her travel guide for young ladies.  She is only ruffled after serial killer called the Bridegroom, attempts to kidnap her and kill her.  Her deft use of her deceptively lethal fan saves her, and allows her to escape.

Benedict arrives back to London just in time to discover Amity at the center of public fascination once again, with lurid tales about her brush with death on the front page of all the papers.  He persuades a very disgruntled Amity to a fake engagement, in order to restore her reputation and give them greater freedom to investigate together who the Bridegroom might be and why he chose to target Amity.

Otherwise Engaged was occasionally funny, occasionally suspenseful but the espionage and serial killer plot were too neatly tied up in somewhat ludicrous way. The connection between the plots came out of nowhere, and I honestly felt I must have missed a chapter because, the conclusions and deductions the pair agreed on seemed so far-fetched. It soured me on what had been quite the enjoyable romance up to that point. I liked Amity's cool composure and Benedict's firm desire that Amity really know him to be a staid engineer he is.

I was particularly engaged on the secondary romance of Amity's widowed sister, Felicity and Detective Logan and I wished we had seen more of their story. 



TBR Challenge Review: Naked in Death by JD Robb

October's TBR challenge theme is Paranormal or Romantic Suspense. I chose to read the first in JD Robb's best-selling futuristic sci-fi romantic suspense series "In Death". It was very daunting to even consider starting a 40 book deep series, but I bought the 1st "In Death" back in January when it was on sale. It has been sitting in my TBR taunting me since then. I mostly listened to "Naked in Death", reading chapters when I couldn't wait till my next convenient listening time.  

I loved the book. It was more graphically violent than I expected but I was completely engrossed in the story and the romance even though I figured out who the killer less than a third of the way through the story.

Eve Dallas is a tough cop in New York hundreds of years into the future.  While the culture and tech have in some ways radically changed the way people crime, motives and policing have only changed superficially. While Dallas carries a laser, and uses crime-analyzing computer, she is still buried in piles of reports, bureaucratic red-tape in chronically under-staffed department with a chief of police more interested in returning political favors than solving crimes.  While sex work might be legal & space-travel commonplace, money, political power and sex continue to deeply intertwined.  The more things change, the more things stay the same.

A demoralized, emotionally raw Eve is called to the scene of a murder just hours after surviving a traumatic encounter with a child murderer.  She finds a once vibrantly beautiful politically connected sex-worker murdered, possibly by a new serial killer. Eve drives herself nearly to her breaking point trying to find the killer and stop him before he kills again, against the strong headwinds of political pressure.

Roarke is a self-made billionaire with a mysterious past whose acquaintance with the first victim and large collection of antique guns make him a suspect.  Rourke quickly becomes fascinated with Eve. Her determination to solve the crime and refuse to be intimidated or swayed by his money and power catch his attention. Despite his alpha-pushiness and boundary crossing (more like trampling), his humor and emotional vulnerability make him incredibly attractive. He is baffled at his own response and desire for Eve, but proves again and again that he will put her needs above his every chance he gets. Unlike ruthless billionaire heroes Roarke almost always makes himself emotionally vulnerable in ways he doesn't demand from Eve. While he is used to getting his way, and getting whatever he wants, he doesn't see Eve as someone to acquire as much as he wants her.  His interventions on her behalf never diminish her. Their love affair has all the markings of a fascinating and genuine partnership.

Their first love-making scene was epic.  I am sure someone has written scads on the marital-violent language of their first encounter, because craft-wise it was a master class on writing truly un-skippable sex scene, that has ramifications to the whole story. While Eve's instincts tell her that Roarke is not a suspect, the scene is filled with tension, because he is not truly cleared yet and getting involved with him, even if he means her no harm is truly dangerous to Eve's career, which is the only thing that matters to Eve.

The series is not for the faint of heart but it is fantastic blend of romance and police procedural, and I will be coming back for more.

The audiobook was capably narrated by Susan Ericksen.  

PS.  I am embarrassingly behind on my ARC reading and reviewing.  =(

Queer Romance Month: HEA's for All of Us to Read

We All Need Stories badgeAt RWA this summer, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a bunch of amazing interesting women (Elisabeth Lane, Carolyn Crane, Joanna Bourne, Rose Lerner and Sarah Lyons) at a small french restaurant. During lunch  Sarah Lyons extended an invitation to all us on behalf of Alexis Hall to write a post for this year's Queer Romance Month.

My first thought was YES! soon followed by oof. I read and enjoy Queer romance, wanted to celebrate it and I review it here on my blog. The oof was from trying to think about how to approach it.  I've spent a large part of my year thinking about how to support those with queer identities as a cis straight parent and friend. I've tried very hard to shut up and listen and be there for them in every way I can, whether it be in celebration and laughter or pain and tears. So my post is about how reading Queer Romance has helped see  HEA's for people I love whose stories didn't get told when I was growing up.  I am not sure when the post will be live today but I believe sometime around dinner time.  I'll add a link here once it is up.  

Happily-Ever-Afters For All Us to Read

There have been so many great posts this month about identity, discovery, and life, so please check them out.


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.

RT Review Round up

I reviewed a ton (4) of books for RT last month.

One of the most interesting things about my RT reviewing is that I read a lot more books by a lot of new-to-me authors.  Some I quite enjoy like Seressia Glass's Sugar  others I leave me conflicted like  Virma DePaul's Billionaire boss romance Filthy Rich and others I simply struggle with like Meg Adams's In From the Cold, a Christmas/nanny romance.

I did get to read a book from Jill Sorenson, whose work I have read and enjoyed in the past. I enjoyed Shooting Dirty   as much as I enjoyed the first book in her Dirty Eleven series, Riding Dirty which I had reviewed last year when it was first released.