Alternate History

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

I finished up Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse in the early hours of the morning.

 

I had delayed starting this because I was under the mistaken impression it was YA. It is not. It is full on adult fantasy/Urban Fiction that would greatly appeal to fans of Ilona Andrews’s  Kate Daniels series and Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson books.

 

Maggie is a Navajo/Diné monsterslayer alone since her immortal hero mentor abandoned her.  Lured out of her isolation by disturbing reports of vicious monster attacks, she gets caught up in the mystery and unwillingly acquires a charming but secretive partner, Kai, a medicine-man-in-training whose clan powers might be as dangerous in their own ways as her own. 

 

Creatures and gods of Navajo mythology populate the story, set in post-Apocalyptic future, The Sixth World,  where the Big Water has drowned most of the US. 

 

The Intense story will keep you guessing. Loved the tension/heartbreak between Maggie/Kai and their secrets and the past they both must reckon with. 

I loved the Audio and was happy to see that book two, Storm of Locusts  is out and available on KU and audio, so I can immediately start it. (cw: past trauma (violent death of loved ones), violence, sexism, guns)

 

 

 


Spellbound by Allie Therin

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Debut Latinx (Cuban-American) author, Allie Therin’s Spellbound is the first in a projected three book series set in Prohibition era NYC, where smuggled magic-infused objects threaten the lives of all magically-gifted paranormals and non-magical alike. Therin draws on the era’s post- war clandestine counter-culture scene and anti-immigrant to develop a cohesively tense backdrop for her action-adventure, where her wildly diverse characters can find acceptance a community in a black run speakeasy in Harlem, but also fear exposure and persecution elsewhere.  Therin also explores class and generational tension throughout the novel, as Arthur, the son of a wealthy political family, exploits his privilege to try to protect the younger and poorer Rory.

 

While the world-building was engaging, the secondary characters richly developed and the heist plot intriguing, the romantic beats were somewhat repetitive. I loved how soft and smitten Rory and Arthur become with each other but the dual insecurity about the realness of each other’s interest or the depth of feelings became tiresome. However when the romance was clicking it was delightfully sweet. I loved the little details about younger and smaller Rory tucking himself next to the taller and athletically built Arthur and Arthur who is the bossy caretaker of his friend group, soaking up the open-hearted affection.

 

Tropes:

First Love

Virgin Hero

Opposites Attract

Age Gap

 

Content Warnings: Homophobia, Torture, War, Past Trauma: Child Abuse, religious shaming, 

 

 

 


Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch

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Lord Thornby’s debauched and provocative London life came to an abrupt end when his father seemingly incensed at his latest outrageous stunt drags him back to the family estate. Once there Soren discovers he can’t leave, not because he would be disowned or cut off but because he literally can’t, his father able to mysteriously compel him to stay in the ever-shrinking debt ridden estate.  He is close to despair when his step-mother returns from home with an unexpected and mysterious guest.

John Blake is a materials magician, working magic through inanimate objects, listening to the whispering of the walls and  the chattering of chairs. He feels decidedly out of his element in the rural ramshackle manor, but a good friend has asked him to investigate who is magically harassing, his sister, the new Lady Dalton. At first he is convinced the eccentrically dressed and oddly-behaved Lord Thornby is responsible, until he sees through Soren’s cutting and dismissive words and witnesses his torment.  Together they must uncover what kind of magic is at work, and secrets are key to Lord’s Dalton’s hold over Soren.

I really enjoyed listening to this book. I loved the twisty Gothic/paranormal elements on what at first seems like traditional historical romance premise. Thornby’s shock & horror at realizing he is trapped and his suspicion that he can’t simply free himself by agreeing to marry an heiress like his father demands, unless he can figure out why his father, a previously cruel but non-magical person has managed it. I am also a sucker for bad first impressions and John and Soren start out  as suspicious of each other as they are attracted. The tension over whether they can trust or believe each other is delicious, because they each have very good reasons to distrust each other.

Welch did a fabulous job teasing out the mystery and complicating the picture for everyone involved. She also created some fantastically engaging secondary characters to populate the curse household, including the adventurous and sharp-witted Lady Amelia. I particularly enjoyed seeing Lady Dalton’s opinion about what is happening, and of her husband change throughout the novel. Her desire to retain her dignity and regain some power in their relationship felt very real. Of all the characters in the book, I would l really love to read some more about her as she needs a HEA of her own.

The worldbuilding was fascinating, especially because it incorporated class differences and prejudice into its development. Set in the rapidly industrializing Victorian era, John’s material’s based magic is in its ascendancy, but he is hampered by the disdain of his demon-wielding theogist teachers, whose center of power, Politics and religion are losing ground to Industry but whose wrong-headed opinions still hold sway in academic settings. I loved that Blake comes to realize that his fellow magicians have lost a great deal of knowledge about more rural folk magics that leave him unprepared to deal with what he experiences at the estate.

I listened to ending in one fell swoop because I need to know how the story would be resolved and while I was fully satisfied with John and Soren’s HEA, I wish we could have had some sort of epilogue that gave some sense who everyone else on the estate, responded, recovered and moved on.

I had not previously listened to any books narrated by Joel Leslie but he did a wonderful job differentiating the voices of the characters, capably capturing desperation, desire, urgency, archness and tenderness.

Content Warnings: Homophobia, incarceration, kidnapping/abduction, mention/description of past trauma (physical, emotional and sexual abuse).

I received a review copy of Salt Magic, Skin Magic from the author, Lee Welch.


Favorite Contemporary Romances of 2018

Favorites of 2018contemporaryI am working on putting together my best of list for Love in Panels and working on my nomination slate for the #readRchatAwards and the contemporary category is going to be a problem.  I have six 4.5/5 star reads in that category alone.

These are the contenders, and some of my favorite contemporaries this year:

  •  Twice in a Lifetime by Jodie Griffin F/F with BI MCs in their early 50s. Sexy, emotional, a little angsty. I typically back away from office romance but I loved Talia and Eve’s story. Great characterization/tension (CW: violence, guns)
  • Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai M/F, 3rd book in the Forbidden Hearts series.  Secrets & hidden feelings complicate Gabe & Eve’s affair. Loved the quiet affection in this book: surreptitious supportive touches, quick hand-squeezes, & eyes meeting. (Past Trauma: emotional abuse)
  • Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras M/F. Friends to Lovers with complications. Rosa & Jeremy’s night together was hot but morning after awkwardness turns into regrets. Both have guilt/family issues to sort out before they get on the same page. Really lovely romance with a great portrayal of familial tensions.
  • Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole . M/F. Portia upends Tavish’s life when she arrives as his Scottish Armory to be his apprentice. Age-gap, cross-class, completely charming & fun. Portia has undiagnosed ADHD, and a history of problem drinking. Hero is a grumpy child of refugee. The climatic conflict felt a bit abrupt and I had to read the end from the back to the front but I loved it anyway. (CW: problem drinking)
  • Thirsty by Mia Hopkins. M/F.  ex-con, Good girl, friends-with-benefits, hero POV only. Sal anxiety was intense & I got stuck halfway through because of the large emotions. He struggles so much to reach for something better. Feels so trapped by his past mistakes. The only thing I wanted was a couple of POV chapters by Vanessa but Hopkins did a fantastic job creating complex supporting characters even without giving them their own POV chapters. (CW: threats of gang violence)
  • Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon M/F.  Sloan is a doctor who needs an emergency replacement nanny for her twins when her previous one suddenly bails. Great consent, power dynamics, relationship status discussions, with a gentle supportive hero. There is a great friends/family circle for both characters. (CW: Controlling ex, violent outburst)

Have you read these?  Are they are on your favorites list?


The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz

43. The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz. #RomBkLove rec D17 STEM.(f/f ace)Globe-trotting AI-mechanic Clara falls for Sal, a Tea-shop running robot, one of the last of her kind.Emotional story about grief, trust, routines & new beginnings. #ttr #bkbrk https://amzn.to/2GQf93e

 

— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) June 3, 2018

Meredith Katz The Cybernetic Tea Shop  steaming cup and saucer with a pile of gearsClara is a gifted programmer and AI-tech, whose highly-coveted skills facilitate her nomadic lifestyle. With wanderlust always spurring her to move on and try living and exploring a new place, she never gets too comfortable or attached, always ready to pack up and move on. 

Sal on the other hand has bound herself to her Tea Shop, seeking to live out her beloved owner's wish that it celebrate 300 years in operation.  She is one of the last remaining true AI's, created before the manufacture of sentient and sapient AIs was outlawed.  Having outlived her original owner by centuries, she struggles to remain operational, to adjust to the ever-changing world, to survive the increasingly frequent acts of vandalism and not simply sink into nostalgia and melancholy. Her life is one of routines, and the safety of the familiar.

I loved the gentleness of this story, the time it spends on the quiet moments, the companionship that grows into affection and love.  I was swept away by it and the way they took care with each other, determined as they are not encroach or override each other's wills and desires.

There is plenty of meaty science-fiction content to sink one's teeth into, and I loved the world building but most deeply this story was about all the little things that go into slowly falling in love and wanting the best for our partners.

I am thankful for Ruby Lang's mention of this story on #Rombklove Day 28. I will be looking to read more Meredith Katz in the future.

 


Who should you try? Some of my favorite WOC authors:

Last year I wrote a post breaking down the RITA finalists list against the books I happened to read the year before (2017) and looking at the list to see which books were in my TBR in order to move them up before the annual ceremony in July.  This year when the list was announced there were a few first time finalists that made me super happy (Congratulations, Alexis Daria and Priscilla Oliveras & KJ Charles) but there were so many fabulous books especially by Authors of Color that didn't final this year that at the end of day, I didn't feel a great RITA bounce.

This past month and half has been rough in Romancelandia. First were the waves of revelations of abuse and harassment in m/m, that affected a lot of readers and writers I read, then the RITAs announcement day came and went, and it just highlighted how segregated Romancelandia can be. Since then Black authors have been sharing incredibly painful stories of exclusion.  These stories are not new, but hopefully more people will hear them this time around.

At the same time my friend Jen (@jenreadsromance) had started work on website full of romance novel recommendations: https://www.jenreadsromance.com/, a place where a reader could find starter romances in many of romance's rich sub-genres. She is intentionally working on creating an inclusive list that is searchable by theme and time period. It is something I wish I had stumbled upon when I was first starting. I started by exploring my library's ebook collection first and that collection was mostly white, assembled by purchasing from the RITA finalists lists.

Eventually I left that mostly-white corner of Romancelandia behind, but not before I had developed the mistaken notion that African American and other POC simply didn't write the books I was looking for.  Instead I accepted the crumbs of having white writers who would very occasionally throw in a token or stereotypical CoC into their books, when looking for characters like me.  While I was growing bored, restless and increasingly angry with these book and I kept saying I wish, someone would write X but with POC. It took me a ridiculously long time to realize I was the problem because I was the one limiting myself. The problem wasn't that no one was writing that, it was that I wasn't looking at what POC writers were doing. The books were out there waiting for me, but I didn't know where to find them or who to ask. That was no one's problem but my own.  I had to change how I discovered books.  Some of it was organic, as I got more involved in Romancelandia, I met more PoC readers, as I followed them, I became exposed to authors and books I hadn't encountered before.  

As I moved into reviewing I became more intentional about reading outside the narrow corner of Romancelandia I had first landed in.  Some of it was unintentional, because I am not a big blog, I didn't just depend on what I saw available in Netgalley or Edelweiss, several authors that have grown into favorites approached me, sending in a review request . I am not going to pretend that my blog is this diverse wonderland but being willing to review what I buy for myself and accepting author pitches has certainly exposed me to tons of authors I would have never reviewed otherwise.

This week  has reminded how other folks might end up just not knowing about great books and great authors of color because no one in their immediate circle talks about them. I might think everyone knows who Farrah Rochon or Alisha Rai  or Beverly Jenkins is but honestly too many people don't. They might not see their books in  bookstores, they might not see them listed as read-a-likes.  Ask me how weird it was to walk into a B&N last year and have to hunt around to find just a couple of non-white authors on the shelves. So many of my faves were missing and it was a wake-up call about just how much further we need to go as industry to be inclusive despite how affirming my own twitter TL might be.

I can't fix the whole industry or those who don't actually want to read awesome books but I can talk about some of fantastic authors of color publishing right now. It is not a hardship to come up with fabulous Authors of Color to recommend, it is a hardship to stop.

 

 So who should you try? If you follow this blog the names I mention here should not surprise you. But if this is your first visit here:

 These are some of my favorites:

C1rYF-xYAVS._SL250_FMpng_Farrah Rochon (Contemporary & Sports Romance):  Rochon writes contemporary romance set in the south.  Most of her books take place in small town and cities not far from New Orleans. My favorite is her Moments in Maplesville Series, they are about people seeing their towns grown and change, worrying about big box stores moving in and whether they should move to bigger cities for better opportunities. The first book in The Moments in Maplesville series (which can be read as standalones),A Perfect Holiday Fling is about temporary single dad (his widowed sister is deployed overseas, so the former naval pilot moves in to take care of his nephew) and the recently divorce veterinarian he meets when they discover an abandoned cat. 

    She also wrote sports romance for Kimani, so if you are looking for football romance that are not improbably all-white check those out. She is a huge Broadway fan, so I hope one days she gives us Broadway-set romance. 

Alisharai Forbidden Heart coversAlisha Rai(Contemporary & Erotic Romance) has been on my favorite author list for a long time. I read and enjoyed a lot of her erotic romances, Serving Pleasure & Gentleman in the Street but I have adored her Forbidden Hearts series for Avon (Reviews for Hate to Want You, Wrong to Need You,  Hurts to Love You.) She tackles huge themes, creates a fantastic family saga that takes three books to resolve and left me wanting more while doing an amazing job portraying the many faces of anxiety and depression.  These people are complicated and fascinating and I loved them. So if you like angsty romance novels where lots of tropes are subverted and upended in swoony ways, check Alisha Rai's books out.

Clean breaks, a couple lays on a picnic blanket.Ruby Lang (Contemporary) writes smart, funny contemporary romances with strong female friendships and prickly heroines. I've liked each book in her Practice Perfect series better than the one before and I quite liked the first, Acute Reactions.  I loved Hard Knocks, book 2 and suddenly I got her, then Clean Breaks, and now Lang is one of those authors, I auto-buy. Most recently I simply adored her story in Rogue Acts, The Long Run.

So-sweet2-200x300Rebekah Weatherspoon's (Contemporary, Erotic Romance & PNR) Beards and Bondage series books Haven and Sanctuary start off with a bang, each of these RS-tinged contemporary romances feature the heroine surviving attempts on their lives. The openings are intense and gripping and immediately caught my attention but the meat of the books are these strong black women falling for big gruff mean that are secret marshmallows and are people they can lean and depend on.  I also really enjoyed her Sugar Baby series of novellas about a woman, Kayla, desperately trying to make ends meet, whose roommate convinces her to Sugar Daddy mixer event, in hopes of finding someone who will be happy to help pay some of her bills in exchange for a little companionship. Totally miserable at the event, she tries to hide out in side room and ends up meeting the organizer of the event, and they have to figure out how to negotiate a real relationship. This is not a trope that typically appeals to me but this series was delightful, and Kayla and Michael are adorable and I loved spending time with them as they figured out their HEA.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b7c8bf9c92970b-120wiDo you enjoy geeky heroes and heroines or raunchy stories of sexy revenge?  Well Melissa Blue/Dakota Gray writes them both! (Contemporary & Erotic Romance)  In early 2016, I read Under His Kilt, about co-workers who have fling and I ended up searching out the rest of her backlist and it so worth reading.  I  have to admit to hesitating in trying Perv when a few people on my TL started recommending it, I didn't know at the time that Dakota Gray was another pen name for Melissa Blue, and I was frankly put off my the hero's aggressive cockiness in the blurb. But I finally gave in after a good friend whose recs I trusted raved. It so fun. I am heroine-centric reader and I adored the heroine, Robyn, she is not here for the hero's shit, she is hero to teach him a lesson and it all gets very sexy and complicated.

D1wYve0bxCS._SY135_Priscilla Oliveras (Closed-door Contemporary Romance) RITA nominated debut, His Perfect Partner and its newly released follow-up Her Perfect Affair should be on your TBR if you want to read emotional romances, centered on sisterhood and family. It was such a joy to read a heroines who shared so much with me, who respond in such believable ways. These stories might be closed door but they don't lack in tension and sexiness. I am really looking forward to the third book, coming out later this year.

51qO-ZAMi6L Y648Mia Sosa writes great tropey Contemporary romances. I have really enjoyed her Love on Cue series for Avon Impulse. In the first two books she has mashed a lots of great tropes ( secret identity, vacation fling, best-friend's little sister, fake relationship) and combined them with great premises and an interesting and diverse cast of supporting characters to create highly-enjoyable romances.

Acting on Impulse features an Afro-Puerto Rican fitness trainer who has just gotten dumped on the radio by her politician boyfriend and decides to jet off for an island getaway. On the plane she meets Carter Williamson, a television star traveling incognito to an island resort after a grueling film schedule. Carter tries to make a play for Tori knowing she doesn't recognize him and when she finds out she is not happy and she puts him through his paces before she lets him into her heart.

Sosa has a new book coming out next week, Pretending He's Mine that I was lucky enough to read early (I have been beta reading for Mia for a couple of years) featuring Carter's agent and best friend Julian and Carter's little sister Ashley.

516WEHK17LL Princessintheory-hires RsAlyssa Cole has rightly has gained a lot praise for her excellent historical romances, some of my favorites are An Extraordinary Union, Let it Shine and Let us Dream and she also has fantastic new series of royal themed contemporary romances, Reluctant Royals, on the go right now, but the first series I read from Alyssa was the first book in  dystopian series, Off the Grid, Radio Silence.  That just shows you a little of the range of stories Cole is able to tell. What all those stories have in common of fantastic engaging heroines, who are bright, determined and ready to kickass.

A-Study-In-Scarlet-Women-350x525I have been reading Sherry Thomas (Historical Fiction, Mystery with Romantic Elements, Fantasy and Contemporary Fiction) for a long time. Remember that mostly-white collection of RITA finalists stuffed ebooks collection I mentioned in the intro? In it was Sherry Thomas so as a result I had the opportunity to read a lot of her historical fiction. I am huge fan of her current mystery-with-romantic elements series, Lady Sherlock. Her prose is beautiful and I adore the moral dilemmas and complications they have tackle. I really enjoyed her story in the Sight Unseen anthology which was the galactic romantic myth "The Heart is a Universe", that reminded I really need to get around to reading her Burning Sky series sometime soon.

This is just a smattering of fantastic Authors of Color. There are so many more, some with huge fan bases and others with smaller followings, I hope you find someone on this list to try.  

 

Update 4/6/2018:  I have been asked if I have some more historical romance authors to recommend

 

C1tEZX44+-S._SL250_FMpng_Courtney Milan writes really fantastic UK and American set historical romances. My absolute favorite of hers is The Countess Conspiracy, a fantastic friends to lovers story. The whole Brothers Sinister series excels at showcasing how sexy and romantic affirmative consent is. Start with the Governess Affair  and don't forget to pick up the novellas, like Talk Sweetly to Me with its fantastic black British heroine (There is a bundle that has all of them!). 

4138IRy-ZYL._SL500_SX145_Piper Huguley. I loved Piper's story in The Brightest Day Anthology a collection of beautiful historical romances by African American authors, like Lena Hart, Kianna Alexander and Alyssa Cole.  Her story there is connected to her Migrations of the Heart Series. Many of stories her stories include a strong spiritual/religious elements without being preachy, just powerful.

51TFTz2KV0L._SY346_ 513A-UBIcmL 51UqNwUj8xLBeverly Jenkins is the Slayer of Words and amazing mentor to
the current generation
 of African American historical and contemporary authors.  Her love for research and her ability to teach history through her writing is unparalleled.  The first book of hers that I read was Forbidden just blew me away. And I have loved the rest of the series that has followed, Breathless and Tempest .

51ofF1WqwOLLydia San Andres is Dominican author writing historical fiction set in the Spanish Caribbean. I really enjoyed her "Infamous Miss Rodriguez" in which a young woman trapped in engagement she does not want tries to make herself scandalous and the man tasked with saving her reputation ends up falling for her instead.  

51S44mYlkbL 51zPfcpXrTL._SY346_Jeannie Lin's Chinese Tang-Dynasty set historical mystery romance series, The Lotus Palace and the  Jade Temptress helped break me out a historical genre slump back in 2014. These stories are beautiful, suspenseful and absolutely worth your time. Also if you are a fan of steampunk make sure you don't miss Gunpowder Alchemy and the Gunpowder Chronicles series as they are one my favorite alternate history romances.

and two more recs!

These two authors are on my TBR but I haven't yet read their books but they come highly recommended and might be perfect for those looking for AOC written historical set in the UK:

  51kcbtyjaWL

and

51xEK1xADkL 5130nVJfovL I picked her Riley's The Bittersweet Bride just last month because I love widowed heroines and second chance at love stories.

 


Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs and Lake Silence by Anne Bishop

A blonde blue-eye woman peeks face half-submerged in waterLake 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 spent 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 who she didn't realize is a Crow, 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,humans who have a uncanny ability to sense the future.  

I very much enjoyed getting to know the new characters and community of Lake Silence, and I 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 scene in which Julian ends up playing game of Murder (very similar to Clue) with several Others was particularly fantastic, both darkly humorous and suspenseful and I  loved how those scenes had ramifications that played out 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. 

P.S. For those familiar with the Finger Lakes area of NY, my guess is that Lake Silence is so supposed to be Honeoye Lake.

 

(An ARC of Lake Silence was provided by the Publisher for review consideration. Lake Silence is available through all the usual outlets, with a publication date of March 6th, 2018.)

A woman embraces a wolf while tangled up in flower vinesBurn 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.  

This story starts as Brigg's Mercy Thompson's Silence Falls ends and 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.  After going off and catching up, I found it particularly fascinating how Charles and Mercy revisit memories of the same time period, persons and relationships and see them so differently.

I understand two more Mercy Books and one more A&O book, with Moira and Tom are under contract and I am eager for more stories in this world.

(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 at all the usual places).

 

(I had previously published slightly shorter versions of these reviews in my The Waning Days of 2017: Mini-Review Round-up)


Best of 2017 Part 3: Best SF and Fantasy Romances

51N3CgGOTQL._SY346_ For the #readRchatawards I submitted a single nominee in the SF romance category and that was Ashwin by Kit Rocha. Kit Rocha books have a special place in my heart, their themes and recurring motifs are exactly my catnip & Eden and the Districts one of my favorite places that I would never want to live in.

If I had taken advantage of 3 books per category rule, I could filled by ballot with only Kit Rocha books, since their other 2 releases this year, Deacon and Beyond Forever were also fantastic. Kit Rocha's books are my very short list of "books I will drop everything for".  

The new Gideon's Riders series, continues to explore Kit Rocha's favorite themes of chosen families, of self-exploration and recognizing and accepting love. I reviewed Ashwin back in March when it came out.   Spoiler alert, I loved it and I recommend it to anyone who hasn't tried Kit Rocha books before and doesn't want to invest in reading their fantastic backlist. 

Ashwin is about a engineered super-soldier who has grown so emotionally unstable his handlers fear him. He has never felt fully human, but a weapon. The one person that makes sense in his life is Kora.  But Kora doesn't make sense to herself, her past a jumble of secrets and lies. Together they find the courage to untangling the secrets of their pasts and finding security and understanding in a person most should and do fear.

 Although many of the characters might be familiar to long-time Kit Rocha readers, this is a great jump on point for new readers, as the status quo has radically changed in the Sectors and Kit Rocha doesn't assume you've spent several years reading their previous novels (like I have).

                                                        -My review of Ashwin in March

 

6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d2bdd1b5970c-320wiI didn't read a lot of Fantasy Romances published this year, instead I've been binge reading a lot of Ilona Andrews Urban Fantasy series, the Inn Keeper Chronicles and the Edge series and trying out some of Jeffe Kennedy's Twelve Kingdoms books. I read a lot of books that straddled the fuzzy line between fantasy and PNR, books  like Spectred Isle and Etched in Bone. However Stephanie Burgis's Snowspelled was undeniably fantasy and undeniably delightful.

It is about Cassandra, who spent her life fighting her society's prejudice against women casting spells, eventually becoming one of the most promising magicians of her age, only run into a the sharpest of glass ceilings.  

 Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, Cassandra tries a risky spell that robs her of ability to cast spells, and four months later she still struggles to go through the motions of daily life. When her beloved but matchmaking sister-in-law has commits them to attend house party where her ex-fiance will also be attending, Cassandra is resigned and determined not to let anyone see her pain, least of all the fiance she intentionally drove away. But her personal discomforts soon fall in priority when she gets caught up in a tricky Elven plot. Politics, diplomacy and detection are three things Cassandra has never had bother with before, but she is determined to solve the mystery she stumbled upon.

                                                            -My review from last month.

 

My favorite part of this book is Cassandra's trajectory from someone who saw herself as "not-like-other-girls" to someone who recognizes and values other women and their work and starts to rebuild her life in a way to honors both her talents and passion for Magic with a better understanding of what is at stake for everyone. She find a new vocation, a new mission and a new respect for the obstacles and ambitions of others.  It is a story we need to see more in Fantasy.

 


Best of 2017 Part 2: Best Historical Romance and Paranormal Romance

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When I dove into romance I binged on Historical Romance to the point I burnt out. I had to challenge myself to read Historical Romance. Eventually I discovered that I needed to start reading outside Regency-wallpaper romances to rekindle my love for the sub-genre.  The last couple of years have been particularly rich in fantastic historical romance that goes beyond ballrooms and dukes. 

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.

 Next up:  Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Romance!


Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

51UoKNdggJL._SY346_

Cassandra Harwood fought her whole life for the chance to study magic at the Great Library.  She excelled at Magic despite long-standing tradition reserving its practice to men. But despite admittance to the Great Library and although she might have been the most talented magician of her age, she was still a woman and no one wanted to hire a Lady Magician. Everyone in Anglasia knows a woman's place is in Boudicate, governing the nation, not casting spells. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, Cassandra tries a risky spell that robs her of ability to cast spells, and four months later she still struggles to go through the motions of daily life. When her beloved but matchmaking sister-in-law has commits them to attend house party where her ex-fiance will also be attending, Cassandra is resigned and determined not to let anyone see her pain, least of all the fiance she intentionally drove away. But her personal discomforts soon fall in priority when she gets caught up in a tricky Elven plot. Politics, diplomacy and detection are three things Cassandra has never had bother with before, but she is determined to solve the mystery she stumbled upon.