Contemporary

Love in Panels Review of Hired by Zoey Castile (Happy Endings Book 2).

HiredcoverabsAlthough I really liked the characters and the setting this is a DNF review!

This book had a fabulously hot beginning with it is white-hot flirtation/hookup but when I had to bow out when Adrien kept delaying telling Faith a crucial piece of information, and I lost patience with the sight-seeing around NOLA with that hanging over the couple. 

 

For the rest of the review visit: Love in Panels


Love in Panels Review: American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera

American-dreamerMy review of American Dreamer is up at Love in Panels!

Ernesto Vasquez might have been born in the Dominican Republic but he is a die-hard New Yorker at heart. His food truck, OuNYe’s menu expresses the special fusion of his New York city childhood, where the Afro-caribbean flavors of his heritage and that of his Puerto Rican, Cuban, Jamaican and Haitian best-friends, nourished and united them. Making his food truck a success is his driving objective because Nesto can’t live on passion alone, he needs his truck to turn a profit. Willing to try anything, Nesto has given himself six months Upstate in his mother Nurys’s new town of Ithaca, in a last ditch effort to keep his dream aflot. If he fails to find customers, he will pack it in and head back to NYC and find new dreams.

Jude Fuller is a young adult librarian with a passion for outreach to underserved communities, like rural LGBTQIA+ youth who don’t have regular or easy access to the local library. For years he has been working to see his bookmobile project funded and this might finally be the year. While it is small town curiosity and the lure of delicious flavors that bring Jude to OuNYe, it is Nesto’s flirtatious smiles and smooth moves that he can’t resist. However, Jude is determined to counter his BFF's matchmaking antics as he has no desire not risk heartbreak again. Jude wants to keep things nice and casual, but he soon finds himself caring and wanting more from Nesto.

Nesto and Jude’s relationship starts off playful and sexy with with great joyous energy and bilingual banter. But underneath Jude’s sunny and saucy sauntering lurks a painful emotional history and anxiety that makes him hesitate pursuing anyone, particularly someone whose focus and ambition might not keep him in Ithaca. Nesto is also conflicted about his inability to ignore his attraction to Jude. Being distracted from his primary reason for being in Ithaca brings up its own kind of angst.

Tension over the risk of pursuing a relationship, fear that commitment might not be evenly felt, and how to balance relationship and career goals are central to the story. Both Jude and Nesto have moments where they realize how deep in denial they have been, and I loved how their actions often betrayed their real feelings for each other long before they are willing to name their attraction or relationship.

This book was chock-full of delicious food, fascinating and engaging secondary characters and had a great sense of place. Herrera brings to life Ithaca’s many social and economic contrasts. I loved Nesto’s rowdy, nosey and loving extended Latinx family and the friends who drop everything to help him and wish him well. In contrast Jude’s religious and emotionally abusive family felt sketched in and somewhat like cardboard cutouts.

Misty, the petty and malicious antagonistic harasser of both Jude and Nesto was at times grandly cartoonish but not unrealistic in this day and age of meme-able white ladies calling 911 on innocent picnickers for simply being POC. Misty’s use and abuse of public servants such as cops & health inspectors seem instead frighteningly believable.

I also loved how Herrera showed Nesto and Jude’s different responses to the harassment. The differing ways they responded to Misty’s behavior is deeply informed by their own prior experiences and whether they felt it would spill onto others. I particularly appreciated how Nesto’s attitude of calm disengagement was a result of a life-long experience with racism and Jude’s internalized anger a scar from growing up closeted in an insular community that would eventually shun him for failing to conform to their expectations.

As much as I loved the book overall and the characters most of all, there was some wonky pacing in the middle of the book with weeks going by in a few paragraphs. I felt that I lost a sense of how long Jude and Nesto circled around each other, how long they were actively together before things started to go sideways or how far into Nesto’s six months we had progressed. I am also not a grand-gesture/big grovel reader, and the ending of this book has a big one. The gesture makes intellectual sense but it didn’t hit my emotional buttons, because it seemed to gloss over some serious communication and expectations issues that Nesto and Jude must address for their HEA to feel solid.

 

American Dreamer is angsty and sexy with a strong supporting cast and I am eager to read the future books in the series. I do recommend readers identify a source for Caribbean food before they start reading American Dreamer, as it is sure to inspire a desperate hankering for its Caribbean flavors.

 

I received a review copy from the author.

 

 

 

Content Warnings: Cancer Death (relative of one of the MCs), religious extremist family, Homophobia, Racist language, racist harassment. 


Episode 2 of Beyond the Sectors is out! It is all about Beyond Control.

Copy of Beyond
Find the second episode of Beyond The Sectors on  iTunes and Podbean.

Ana and Chelsea giddily discuss the tumultuous romance between the King and Queen of Sector Four. Dallas and Lex have been circling around each other for years, risk and desire in balance until an inflammatory tattoo changes everything.

Find the show notes over at: https://beyondthesectors.com/


And the Winners are... The 2018 #readRchat Awards

The #readRchat team is hugely grateful to all who voted and boosted the #readRchatawards this month. Thank you for the fantastic nominations and for selecting such fabulously diverse group of books to honor.


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The 2018#readRchat Award Winners:

 

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Contemporary:

  1. A Girl Like Her (Ravenswood Book #1) by Talia Hibbert  (13.3 % - 81/610 votes
  2. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (10.7% -- 65/610 votes)
  3. A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1)  by Alyssa Cole (10.2% -- 62/610 votes)

Talia Hibbert is a young black British author who burst unto the scene in 2017 and has put out an outstanding number of books in the last two years. She mostly writes contemporary romance but has ventured out to the fantasy and paranormal genres in the past year.  Her PNR novella, Mating the Huntress, also won the PNR category, so it is fair to say that she is very popular with #readRchatawards voters. 

Helen Hoang's The Kiss Quotient, the  1st runner up in contemporary, won the Debut category. The Kiss Quotient made a huge splash, and has consistently appeared in best of lists is many mainstream publications. I just bought the audiobook and I am very much looking forward to listening to it before, Hoang's follow up, The Bride Test, comes out in 2019.

Alyssa Cole had the first two books in her Reluctant Royals series nominated and recently announced that the series had been optioned for by the Frolic team for development.  I loved the heroines and the complicated friendships in this series, and I hope more people keep discovering how fabulous Cole's writing is whether she is writing, contemporary, historical or science-fiction.

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Best Short Story or Novella:

  1. Unfit to Print by KJ Charles (23.7% -- 137/578 votes)
  2. Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder (16.1% -- 93/578 votes)
  3. Diamond Fire: A Hidden Legacy Novella by Ilona Andrews (11.2% -- 65/578 votes)

KJ Charles is another favorite of #readRchat participants, with two of her books winning categories. Her Queer historical romances are known for their rich historical detail, diverse casts and delicious conflicts. 
Unfit to Print, about old friends unexpectedly reunited, one a proper lawyer and the other pornography-selling bookstore owner, captured nearly a quarter of all the votes

Suleikha Snyder's Tikka Chance on Me was perfection in 74 pages! Sexy and sweet and full of contrasts and complications, #readRchat voters recommend you take a chance on Tikka Chance on Me.

Ilona Andrews series are notoriously hard to categorize and they received multiple nominations in multiple categories. Diamond Fire is a bridge novella, introducing Catalina as the new lead in their Hidden Legacy series. There is no romance in this paranormal mystery short but it was fantastic.

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Best Historical:

  1. Band Sinister by KJ Charles (14.7 -- 87/590 votes)
  2. The Governess Game (Girl Meets Duke #2) by Tessa Dare (14.1 -- 83/590 votes)
  3. Tempest (Old West #3) by Beverly Jenkins (12.4 -- 73/590 votes)

The top three books in this category were on my personal best of list and I am thrilled that the #readRchataward voters agreed with me. The category's lead kept flipping between Charles and Dare throughout the voting, and in the end only 4 votes separated them!

Band Sinister is an unusually fluffy romance for KJ Charles. This Heyer inspired m/m romance had a fantastic ensemble cast and a wonderfully sweet romance that celebrates affirmative consent.

In Tessa Dare's Governess Game, she blend heavy topics like grief, abandonment and PTSD with at times farcical humor, that celebrate found families and the restorative power of undeserved love.

Tempest in the final book in Beverly Jenkins's fabulous Old West series. Jenkins's blend of historical detail, complex heroines and emotional romances are always winners for me and if you haven't started reading her, what are you waiting for?

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Best Romantic Suspense:

  1. The Hollow of Fear (The Lady Sherlock Series #3) by Sherry Thomas (37.2 % -- 155/417 votes).
  2. The Wolf at Bay (Big Bad Wolf #2) by Charlie Adhara (19.4%  -- 81/417 votes)
  3. Criminal Intentions: The Cardigans by Cole McCade (15.8 % -- 66/417 votes).

Sherry Thomas's 3rd book in her fabulous Historical Mystery series with romantic elements dominated this category.  I was surprised by the nomination but voters loved it!  This series is full of intense action and repressed emotional angst and I am certainly eager to see how Thomas will continue to surprise readers with Charlotte Holmes's twisty adventures.

The first two books in Adhara's Paranormal RS series were nominated and along with the enthusiastic recommendations for friends made this jump to the top of my TBR. I finished the first book last night and I can’t wait to read the next one.

Cole McCade's  Criminal Intentions is also the start of a new series with 6 volumes already published this year and one more scheduled for 2019.  It is gritty contemporary crime romance the #readrchat voters find addictive.  

 

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Best Paranormal Romance:

  1. Mating the Huntress by Talia Hibbert (21.9% -- 111/507 votes)
  2. Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch (13.8 % -- 70/507 votes)
  3. Balefire (Whyborne & Griffin #10) by Jordan Hawk (10.1 %-- 51/507 votes)

These magical finalists showcase the wide variety of stories within the Paranormal Romance umbrella, whether you love modern-day shifters with a fiercely feminist viewpoint, want to explore dark fairytales  or dive deep into a long-running series set in a magical Victorian-era America.

Although I read lots of books in this genre, I haven't read all of these and will have to check them out.

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Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Romance:

  1. Ivan (Gideon’s Riders #3) by Kit Rocha (32.7 -- 129/395 votes)
  2. Something Human by AJ Demas (15.9 -- 63/395 votes)
  3. A Treason of Truths by Ada Harper (15.2 -- 60/395 votes
  1. Phoenix Unbound (Fallen Empire #1) by Grace Draven (15.2 -- 60/395 votes)

The vividly imaginative world-building in these novel are more than simply fantastic backdrops, but deepen the stakes in romances whose conflicts at points seem impossible to resolve.

Ivan is royal romance/house-party murder mystery masquerading as a post-apocalyptic romance that explores consent, power dynamics and devotion deeply.

Demas's Something Human is set in mythic past when enemy survivors from warring groups, work together to stay alive and must overcome seemingly insurmountable cultural and emotional conflicts to be together.

In A Treason of Truths, a spy's long past comes back to haunt her and she has to step out of the shadows to prove her love and loyalty for the only person that has ever mattered to her.

An oppressive empire burns when the MCs of Grace Draven's fantasy novel start fighting back.

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Best Erotic Romance:

  1. Counterpoint (Twisted Wishes #2) by Anna Zabo (36 -- 132/367 votes)
  1. My Lord, Lady and Gentleman (Surry SFS #3) by Nicola Davidson (36 -- 132 -- 367 votes)
  1. Captivated by Tessa Bailey & Eve Dangerfield  (28.1 -- 103/367 votes)

This category had a large number of submissions but only three had mutliple nominations, and voters seemed to love them almost equally, with Anna Zabo's Counterpoint and Davidson's My Lord, Lady & Gentleman edging Captivated by Bailey and Dangerfield for a shared 1st place.

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Best Debut Romance:

  1. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (32.5 --  181/557 votes)
  2. Behind These Doors (Radical Proposals #1 by Jude Lucens (14.9 -- 83/557 votes)
  3. The Duke I Tempted (Secrets of Charlotte Street #1) by Scarlett Peckham (11.3 % -- 63/557 votes)
  1. The Wolf at the Door (Big Bad Wolf #1) by Charlie Adhara (11.3  -- 63/557 votes)

 #readRchatawards can't wait to read a lot more from these fantastic new authors.
I love that the finalists in this category all come from different sub-genres, so no matter what kind of romance you read you are likely to find some fresh and new voices to try. 


Favorite Short stories & Novellas of 2018

ShortsAt many points this year novellas and short stories have been just what I needed to read. I am always amazed what authors can do with a limited word-count. The emotional stories that they can cram into small packages. I am huge fan of the Rogue Anthologies project and the range of authors that have participated in them.

Two of my favorite romance short stories of the year came out the same volume, Rogue Acts.

  •  Cover Me by Olivia Dade is a Marriage of Convenience between good friends for insurance purposes that ignites into so much more.  The sweet hero is determined to care for his new wife. Loved the incandescent scene at a town hall meeting were Elizabeth roasts her congressman & opens James eyes.  (mf, contemporary) CW: Cancer scare

  • The Long Run by Ruby Lang is a Gently funny & hopeful story of neighbors who get off on the wrong foot.  It is all about the small efforts toward change & community building that truly make a difference when things seem dire. It is about finding hope & joy even when things are hard. Loved Annie’s too-loudness & Monroe’s chill-hiding shyness. (mf, contemporary)

I've read two very different but truly charming novellas in the last couple of weeks that catapulted on to this list:

  • Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder  Pinky has moved back town to help her parents run their Indian restaurant in small-town Indiana. She has developed an unhealthy attraction to the handsome motorcycle club enforcer who stops in every night and taunts her by mouthing "soon" to her when he catches hers looking.  It is a story of secrets and identity crises, from Pinky taste for wildness despite to the seeming contradictions between Trucker's menacing persona  and their comic book /musical theater fueled banter. It was a rollercoaster full of sweetness and hotness ( mf, contemporary) CW: Cancer diagnosis for parent.

  • Craft of Love by EE Ottoman  I loved the gentle pacing of this sweet novella. Ottaman crafted a satisfying romance that slowly unfolds from Benjamin  & Remembrance's tentative admiration & respect. I loved how Ottoman illustrated the growing attraction & how regard built into  fondness. Both Benjamin & Remembrance has reasons to be anxious and tentative when it comes to love & friendship and Ottoman get it just right.(mf, trans MC, US-set Historical novella)

This year I also read a mystery novella set in a PNR world. I don't know how to catalog it as it didn't have a romance, but it is really a coming of age story. It was a fantastic bridge transitioning the series to a new lead character.

  • In Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews, Catalina is entrusted with finding a Rogan family heirloom before Rogan & Nevada’s wedding. The only way she can solve the mystery in time and make sure her sister and family and safe is to use her powers something she has always been scared to do. Catalina tests herself and find new skills and challenges ahead. (Paranormal Mystery)

What short-stories and novellas gave you just what you were looking for this year?


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?


What to see, taste and read in Puerto Rico

At this time last year not a single romance could hold my interest. Instead all I could do was hit refresh on the twitter #hurricanemaria #hurracanmaria hashtags, and check the weather website between texting with my mother as the storm moved into the island. While the storm didn't land till the 20th by the 19th the effects were being strongly felt.  My mother was hunkered down in her apartment after filling all her jugs and garbage cans full of water.  She felt as ready as she could be. We would later learn, that her preparations as good as they were weren't going to be as good as she would want them to be. I am so thankful for all the interest and support we received from folks in Romancelandia,

Thankful for the people who as the months crawled past still cared about what happened in PR, even as the rest of the world moved on.  In the past few months I've had friends and twitter folk ask about visiting PR, for recommendations about places to see and things to do. I can tell you that tourism has been a priority since the storm.  There has been a lot of effort put into restoring access to historical sites, and tourist hot-spots.  My mom whose apartment in PR is in the middle of tourist zone of Isla Verde had her power and water there restored very quickly after the storm (2 weeks) versus the months it took to get to other locations are around the San Juan Metroplex.  So if you are considering a trip to Puerto Rico, know that you can will find plenty to see and do.

What should you see and do in Puerto Rico?

Absolutely visit Old San Juan. El Viejo San Juan is beautiful, and the historic heart of the Island. Its cobblestone streets, colorful colonial buildings, lively bars and restaurants are worth your time, even if it feels a little cliche because every other tourist makes a stop there.   Take your time, explore the callejones, and you might find out why every Puerto Rican leaves their heart there even if their body across the world and why all of us in the diaspora sing to ourselves the "En mi viejo San Juan" when homesickness hits. And if you are facebook makes sure to follow the Puerto Rico Historical Building Society, their daily pictures from San Juan never fail to ease my heart.

If you go to Old San Juan. I very much recommend you visit both El Morro and San Cristobal.   I grew up having picnic lunches on Sunday afternoons on the wide fields of El Morro, under trees that overzealous park rangers robbed us of after another terrible hurricane (Hugo). However Puerto Ricans of all ages still fly kites there and delight in climbing on the fortifications.  From the walls you can spy down to one of the most famous cemeteries on the island, where many of our famous writers and dignitaries have been buried. 

 While in the Old City treat yourself to a piragua or some coco and pina sherbert and find a bench to people watch from. You won't regret cooling off in such a delicious way as you walk around.  If you want something hardier for lunch, visit La Bombonera.  This spanish restaurant and bakery is one my favorite places to visit on the island. They offer good solid food and delicious sugar-powdered Mallorcas, whose carby goodness are worth every buttery calorie.

As you wander around, stop in the San Juan Alcadia (Town Hall) and sneak a peak at the beautiful stained glass windows of Flamboyans just inside.  Amble down Calle Cristo, till you spot the Parque de Las Palomas unless pigeons freak you out.

  If you love history to to see the Casa Blanca museum is it open.  The home was build by Ponce de Leon's family in 1521 and it is a marvelous example of architecture from that era. The walled gardens are quite beautiful. There are tons more things to look for and explore there, but these are some of my favorites. 

If you  read romance, maybe pick up Mia Sosa's One Night with the CEO, for a story that partly takes place in Puerto Rico, with the leads, staying at the famous El Convento Hotel in Old San Juan and traveling to Luquillo Beach to eat the beach front kiosks there. (I beta read this for Mia Sosa).

Outside of Old San Juan, there other can't miss stop in Puerto Rico is El Yunque.   El Yunque National Rainforest, is magnificent mountain that the Tainos of Puerto Rico once thought was home to the creator god Yukiyu.  El Yunque was hit hard by Maria. A lot of trees were snapped in half and while the vegetation is recovering, not all the trails or roads in the park are yet open. But what is open is still absolutely worth your time.  I have so many memories of crawling up the mountain roads up to El Yunque for a drive, and running up Yokahu tower to see the misty, view down to Luquillo beach.  It is an easy day trip from the San Juan area, and a hike in El Yunque is easy to combine with an afternoon spent on Luquillo's famous beach after grabbing some lunch at the kiosks. I'm not sure which kiosks have opened back up after Maria, but there is always some crispy fried beach food  (Alcapurrias, Bacalaitos, or Pastelillos) available there.

Further down the east coast you will find the town of Fajardo, the home of one of several bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico. I grew up visiting the one La Parguera, that sadly  has dimmed over the years because of too much gas-fueled tourboat activity. However the ones in Fajardo and Vieques were better protected and are only toured via Kayak or electric boat.  The one in Vieques is harder to reach, but the brightest of them all.  Vieques, is a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico and absolutely worth visiting, if you have time and are able arrange transportation there.   

My own place in Puerto Rico is even further down the coast, on the Caribbean ocean, in the town of Maunabo.   Maunabo was hit very hard by Maria, as it made landfall just a few miles up the coast in Yabucoa.  It took over 9 months for water and power to be restored to the area.  It gorgeous and well off the beaten path, with gorgeous beaches and beautiful Punta Tuna Lighthouse.

As you drive around the coast make sure to try some mofongo and asopao de Langosta, one of my favorite Puerto Rican foods.  There are tons of little roadside restaurants along the southern coast, with fresh seafood, including many near the marinas in Salinas.

Puerto Rico's second city is Ponce on the southwest end of the island. It is home to a fantastic art museum, and has a very cool little downtown, with its picturesque Parque de Bombas. If you visit make sure to travel up to El Castillo Seralles  and the nearby Cruceta El Vigia for its panoramic views of the city. Just outside Ponce you can also visit, La Hacienda Buena Vista, an former coffee plantation, run by non-profit committed to protecting Puerto Rico's natural treasures.

For the beach lover, I would certainly recommend you continue to travel down the coast, and enjoy delicious pineapples grown in Lajas before exploring the beaches of Cabo Rojo.  You can also travel up to Mayaguez on Puerto Rico's western shores. This is the town my grand-father Sammy was raised in.  

On the northwestern coast is the town of Rincon, whose beaches are famous with surfers across the world and where one can sometimes spot whales during their migrations.

Along the northwest coast, the town of Arecibo's most famous landmark is it radio telescope, at the Arecibo Observatory.  I usually combine a visit there with a trip to the Camuy Caves but since they haven't reopened yet, the  Cueva Ventana  with its breath-taking views might be a better alternative.

Don't miss traveling into the center mountainous regions of the island. Up in Ciales, you can find a Coffee museum, that my mom and sister have enjoyed visiting. My maternal grand-mothers family is from Naranjito, and I will always associate driving up to the mountains to Naranjito, with feelings of home, making pasteles with my extended family and eating spit-roasted pork at Christmas time. You can have some delicious Pernil from the lechoneras in Guavate.

If you end up driving toward Cayey, see if you can spot El Palito solitario, the lonely tree one of the peaks near the El Jibaro statue. It was one of the trees I was most happy to hear survive the storm as I looked for it every time we crossed the mountains from the San Juan area toward Ponce.

Whatever type of vacation you prefer, active, beach or relaxing, you can find in Puerto Rico.

Who should you read?

D1wYve0bxCS._SY135_IIf you plan to read on the beach or on the flight over make sure to pick up some great romances written by amazing women of the Puerto Rican diaspora before you travel to Puerto E1bxNPU73wS._SY135_ Rico.

Make sure to check out Priscilla Oliveras, Alexis Daria, & Mia Sosa's work. Oliveras, Daria and Sosa all write very different women whose Puerto Rican roots ground them and drive them. The help me feel see as one of the many Boricuas in the diaspora, living and working far from my island but whose heart beats to the rhythm of the coqui.

And D1a4-NdYJXS._SL250_FMpng_ for historical romances set in the Spanish Caribbean, check out 51ofF1WqwOLLydia San Andres

 

 


Love in Panels Review: Night and Day by Andie J. Christopher

This review was first published on Love in Panels:

Letty Gonzalez is trying to rebuild her career after her ex-boss/ex-boyfriend fires her when he realizes that he won’t be getting into her parents' deep pockets through her. Max Delgado is a sculptor on the verge of breaking out, trying to get ready for a major exhibition of his work. When Letty shows up at his door, he is expecting a model not a temporary assistant. 

Letty can’t afford to let this grumpy and much too sexy artist send her away. She needs this job. Although she won’t pose for him, her presence in his studio as she goes about her work organizing his life is irresistible and all-consuming, tempting him to want things he shouldn’t. Since his meddling matchmaking Abuela Lola hired her, he can’t even fire her.

While this book was solidly likable and enjoyable, it felt like it was trying to be three different books at the same time. The first - an erotic romance about a grumpy sculptor trying to convince his shy plus-sized artist’s assistant that she is beautiful and desirable. The second - an angsty romance about a couple struggling to communicate, scarred by unhealthy and abusive family dynamics. And finally - a forced proximity rom-com about a kooky but irrepressible grandma trying to set up her grandson with a pretty girl. A book can try to do all these but in this case, the mash-up wasn’t fully successful and the story moved forward in fits and starts while the mood would swing wildly.

Once thing the book did very successfully is portraying complex and dysfunctional Cuban-American families that were utterly relateable. Letty’s and Max’s families value social status and appearances, but it manifests in different ways. For Letty, this means constant negative comments about her looks and passive aggressive policing of her diet by her mother. She seeks financial independence from her parents because she has long ago learned the kind of emotionally manipulative strings that come attached to any financial help. Letty is smart, determined but has been emotionally battered by first her parents and then her ex. She over-thinks and misconstrues comments, as she is so used to expecting every comment to include a hidden barb. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the way this storyline was resolved as I wanted her journey of self-acceptance and self-confidence to be more internally motivated rather than having the unexpected validation of becoming a plus-size bathing suit model confirm for her what Max and her sister have been telling her. I did love the truly supportive relationship Letty has with her swimsuit model, size-2 sister. They are not pitted one against the other to the reader because of their body shape. They are both beautiful. They are both interesting, funny women and they love each other very much.

In Max’s family the importance of status and image lead to a long-term denial of his mother’s addiction and his father’s use of money to manipulate and control. Max’s conflicted and fraught relationship with his newly-sober mother felt realistically drawn and as was his hyper-awareness of his short-temper. I really appreciated that Christopher had Max verbalize his fears and open up about the reasons he was scared to death to get involved with someone seriously. Too often these kinds of feelings are only expressed in internal monologue and the other MC has no opportunity to challenge those notions. And it felt true to life that even knowing the issues involved two people might still misunderstand and misconstrue things because they are working through their own emotional baggage. The one issue that Max struggled with that I was surprised the book did not challenge more directly was his preoccupation with being able to provide Letty the kind of life he imagines she is used to. He holds on to the mistaken idea that Letty would care that he is not yet as financially self-reliant as he wants to be.

The ending had too many of the conflicts and villains vanquished off-page by the power of Lola's Fairy Godmother-like witchiness and the actual reconciliation felt somewhat rushed but I am still interested in reading more books in this series because of the genuineness of the family relationships and the frankness of the characters about their messy feelings. This is a solid romance that could have used some more focus, but delivers in sexiness and emotion.

Content Warnings: Past trauma (child abuse), fatphobia


Love in Panels Review: At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli

This review was originally published on Love in Panels

At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli

Sandra Antonelli is a long-time advocate and promoter of romance featuring older protagonists. While the majority of romance authors and publishers focus on characters in their twenties and thirties, Antonelli and other fans of seasoned romance thirst for characters with a few more gray hairs and a lot more life experience. At Your Service is the first of Antonelli’s new In Service series, a mystery/romantic suspense series which will feature main characters over 40. At Your Service was an engrossing and highly-enjoyable romance, with great pacing, action and banter and a fabulous heroine, Mae in her mid-50s, who is just little bit older than the hero, Kitt.

Mae loves working as butler - she thrives on feeling productive and useful. For the last three years, she has juggled being both landlady and butler to Major Kitt, whose globe-trotting work is both dangerous and mysterious, but whose appreciation for her scrambled eggs is always constant. She might quirk an eyebrow at the way he hustles his young married paramours out of his apartment on the morning afters but she does not share her judgment, it wouldn’t be professional.

But the wall of perfect professionalism crumbles when Mae is first mugged, then burgled, and finally swindled before she kills a man in self-defense in his flat. Someone is targeting Mae and she is in way over her head, so he bullies her into letting him help. Together they race to discover who and why someone is after Mae and untangle their grand scheme while tangling with the several intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, wrestling with murderous bankers and brushing up against the Mafia. It is was a complicated but highly entertaining caper.

I enjoyed the action and adventure but if you are triggered by physical violence be aware that both Mae and Kitt get seriously banged up through the course of the novel, they are drugged, tazed and nearly drowned, and stumble upon a bevy of murdered bodies. But through it all Antonelli keeps up witty banter but manages not to trivialize or diminish the emotional roller-coaster both Mae and Kitt are experiencing as they survive multiple near-death experiences. They are both feeling emotionally messy and that is acknowledged and reflected in how they behave and in the quality of their decision-making. 

One of my favorite tropes is a widow finding love after a grief, but I have mixed feeling as to how this played out in the novel. I loved Mae’s realization that her feelings for Kitt were deeper and more significant than she had ever let herself admit and that she reached out for him the mornings in the same way she had reach out to for her late-husband Caspar. Kitt knows how deeply Mae grieved Caspar and that affects his ability to understand that her feelings for him have changed. I was disappointed, however, very late in the novel when certain facts about Caspar are revealed to both the reader and Mae. Although Antonelli uses these to further the romance plot, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I was also disappointed in the “not-like-other-girls” subtext to Kitt’s love of Mae. He refers to his past lovers as meaning nothing and thinks of them as no more than temporary disposable diversions on multiple occasions, while classing Mae differently. While that is part and parcel of his characterization as a cross between James Bond & Mr. Rochester type, it rankled a bit, especially when Kitt is convinced that he has been protecting Mae by overlooking her. I did appreciate that Mae saw his behavior for what it was, a misogynistic response to early heartbreak and calls him out on callousness. Other aspects of his hyper-masculine/Alpha hero persona were hyped up and I was particularly fascinated by recurring the hero or bully discussion Mae and Kitt have through the novel.

“You’re a bully,” she said.

“I was hoping you’d see me as heroic.”

“Heroic. Which means you expect me to lean up and cover you with kisses to thank you profusely?”

“I think I’ve enough of your blood on me already.”

“Heroic. Maybe you’re a little of that, but mostly you’re a bully.”

“ I can live with that.”

-Mae and Kitt in At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli

 

I stayed up late into the night reading At Your Service, and then dove back to reading as soon as I could the next morning and I recommend it to all who are looking for funny, smart romantic suspense with a strong focus on romance that doesn’t skimp on the mystery. I will be eagerly awaiting more from Antonelli, especially if her heroines continue to shock both their heroes and adversaries by refusing to go meekly or cave quietly, whatever the situation.

Content Warnings: Guns, Kidnapping/Abduction, Murder.


Love in Panels Review: Stripped by Zoey Castile

This review was originally published at Love in Panels:

Zac Fallon has been stripping for 10 years and he has always loved everything about it. He loves making women smile, being in the spotlight, the camaraderie with the other guys in the show, the freedom to travel and the money. But he just doesn’t quite love it as much as before - something is missing in his life.

Robyn Flores had it all together once. She is the one who did everything right but ever since since her 

best friend, Lily, the wild one of their duo, got engaged and started settling down, her life has started falling apart. She is happy for Lily, maybe a bit jealous of how together and happy she seems, that she can’t bring herself to tell Lily about how much she struggling. Robyn can barely get to work on time, is coming dangerously close to losing her teaching job and has little clue of why she can’t bring herself to care.

This Magic Mike XXL-inspired romance by Zoey Castile (who writes YA as Zoraida Cordova) was a roller-coaster - part frantic romantic comedy, part angsty relationship drama. While there are lots of glitzy and sexy scenes, what I loved were the quieter romantic moments that let me see why Fallon and Robyn were getting so wrapped up with each other so quickly. Castile captures the allure of someone who listens but might not be there to judge one’s bad choices the next day, especially as Robyn struggles to figure out what she wants to do, not what she thinks will please the people in her life.

But he listens to every word and, somehow, the space between us on the couch disappears and we’re sitting side by side...”

-Robyn -- Stripped by Zoey Castile

I also I really like the frank moments late in the novel where Lily and Robyn finally face why their friendship is floundering and it was interesting to contrast the state of their relationship to that of Fallon’s with Ricky and Aiden.

“... they want the spectacle. I want someone who might see more in me.”

-Fallon -- Stripped by Zoey Castile

The ‘Magic Mike Life” that Fallon is living is losing its charm after 10 years. Hosting an apartment-full of women for an after-party, just feels like a chore rather than a perk. But is an adjustment to become someone’s boyfriend, even a temporary one. Castile does a good job presenting the double edged ness of Fallon’s career. While he has plenty of people who get it and support him simple small talk with Robyn friends and family feels like traps, intentionally or unintentionally. Fallon is ready for something new, for a change, but outside of loving Robyn what that new thing was left too vague for my liking. 

I got a little tripped up in the early chapters by several eyebrow-raising references related to Robyn’s teaching (how can any teacher avoid meeting their new principal for two months? Do they not have faculty meetings?) but if anything, it showed how checked out Robyn was from her career and her life in general. Her gigantic heavy work bag she lugs back and forth to work did make me feel seen. I also appreciated that she frequently considered filling out union incident reports because she was certainly entitled to have done so. The whole storyline with Lukas, her inappropriately fixated principal was an ode to trusting one's instincts when other people think someone is okay.

There is a lot to like in this romance and I am intrigued enough by a lot of supporting characters, particularly Ricky the lead choreographer and organizer of the crew that I will come back to the Happy Endings series again.

If you are looking for a Magic Mike XXL-inspired romance with a sweet hero that doesn’t sugar coat the challenges, is full of emotionally messy people, set in a NYC that is as diverse as the real one and has just enough humor to balance the angst you should check this out.

I received an ARC for this book for review consideration from its publishers, Kensington.