Erotic Romance

Love in Panels Review: Xeni, by Rebekah Weatherspoon

I loved Xeni and reviewed it over at Love in Panels

 

In the Loose End series, Weatherspoon is writing HEAs for scene-stealing supporting characters from previous series, and while the romances between the MCs are absolutely central, I am loving the way Weatherspoon also centers the novels around the power of friendships and found families. This ever-present community of caring queer and POC friends, everywhere from the small town Xeni’s Aunt Sabel and Mason call home to Xeni’s Los Angeles, make it safe for Weatherspoon to explore heavy topics such as familial estrangement and biphobia..

The emotional intensity of Weatherspoon’s initial chapters, whether it is Claudia running for life straight in Shep’s arms in Haven, Liz fighting off an attacker in her home in Sanctuary or Sloan arriving home to discover her nanny has walked off the job and left her twin daughters alone at home with no notice in Rafe, powerfully introduce her heroines. We meet Xeni as she stands surrounded by near-strangers at her beloved aunt’s memorial desperately trying not to break down, and from that moment I loved her and wanted her to find her happy. And so it seems did her aunt who has arranged to do some matchmaking from beyond the grave.

Xeni’s inconvenient but necessary husband Mason is a plus-sized gentle but gigantic Scottish musician, who is as trapped as Xeni by her Aunt’s inheritance stipulations but never forgets just how much more painful and inconvenient this all is for Xeni. I loved how he looked for ways to make their temporary marriage be a source of joy, calm and security for her as she tried to sort out the truth after the startling will reading. From distracting her with kisses and later orgasms, to cooking for her at the end of a long day, and to helping her pack and sort through her Aunt’s house, Mason soon makes himself both irresistible and essential to Xeni even as they are both convinced their marriage will not last.

I am not a fan of instalust/instalove romances, but I adored the fated-mate energy to Xeni and Mason’s courtship. They have fantastic chemistry and easy rapport, so much so that Xeni can only come to believe that there is magic at work. But even as they have fantastic sex, from scorching hot pegging to tender kissing and cuddling, but they never lose sight of the peculiar intensity of being forced together in this way,  just how much they don’t know about each other, and how much work they need to put into figuring out their family dramas. I was disappointed, however, about how the ending was structured, with too much of that work recapped and summed up in an abbreviated way. Their reunion lacked the emotional intensity, I was craving, although it still left me happy and hopeful for both of them, knowing them to be surrounded by folks who accept them, love them and want them thrive.

While it is mighty hard to top the sexy sweetness of last year’s Rafe I adored Xeni. While Xeni is a great deal angstier than Rafe, it was equally engrossing and hard to put down.

Content Warnings: Mention of past miscarriage, mention of past abortion, biphobia, homophobia, Past trauma: emotional abuse and coercion, grief, death of family member

Ana purchased this book.


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


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/


Love in Panels Review: Bite Me by Robyn Bachar #backlist

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My full review of Robyn Bachar's Bite Me is up at Love in Panels today.

But here is a taste:

I loved what Bachar did in this book. From its sarcastic, funny and decidedly off-kilter Lizzie, desperately trying to figure out how to hold everything together, while falling desperately in love at the wrongest moment possible, to solid and unflappable Angie, who refuses to let Lizzie face things alone and who listens and asks questions,especially when they face unexpected complications to their relationships.  

 

 

 

 


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 SFR, PNR & Fantasy of 2018

Pnrsfrufsf   This is the corner of Romancelandia is where I feel the coziest. I came in to romance after spending years reading Fantasy and Science Fiction for the relationships. The first romance novels I read were by Nalini Singh and Meljean Brooks, so it no surprise that I turn to PNR, SFR & Fantasy romances when I need the comfort of immersive worldbuilding.

    This year was full of great PNR releases including Nalini Singh's Ocean's Light, which finally gave us a peek at the secretive world of the BlackSea Changeling pack. Patricia Briggs's Burn Bright was a powerful book about grief whose controversial revelations about the Marrok long time readers reevaluating everything they thought they knew.  I read a lot of great backlist PNR this year too. The intersection of witchcraft and shifters was were I was happiest this year, inhaling TJ Klune's super-angsty and somewhat problematic Wolfsong and Ravensong novels. I also had the  opportunity to read Lauren Dane's Diablo Lake series about a small town split between covens and wolf packs, with great cross-clan romances. (Carina has also been reissuing a lot Dane’s earlier PNR, which I’m thrilled is available again). I also started reading Holley Trent's interconnected PNR series with the Norsetown Wolves and the Masters of Maria. I am currently being charmed by her F/F novel, The Coyote's Comfort

    My favorite PNR romance of the year was from the always delightfully off-kilter Shelly Laurenston, Hot & Badgered/ (Honey Badger Chronicles 1).  This zany action-comedy is about three part-Honey Badger sisters, who will burn down the world for each other and who find a community for the first time in their lives when Charlie the oldest, meets Berg, a total teddy bear, who refuses to pushed aside, persisting on being by Charlie's side.  Like most Laurenston novels, there are thousands of named recurring characters that waltz in and out of the books and tons of frantic action scenes but the heart of the novel is the  sisterly acceptance and exasperation that ground the wild trio.

     In Science Fiction/Dystopian romance my favorite books were  Ivan by Kit Rocha and A Conspiracy of Whispers by Ada Harper. Both feature cross-class romances and delightfully queer worldbuilding.

    In Ivan,  suitors are oppressively circling Maricela, grand-daughter of the Prophet and instead of falling for any of them,  she finds herself dangerously drawn to the one man she shouldn't have. Ivan is at her mercy, he swore an oath to protect her family with his life, & it risks them both because what he wants most is to live by her side. I loved that this book was packed with dynastic machinations and was essentially a house party romance complete with a murder.

A Conspiracy of Whispers by Ada Harper was a enemies to lovers romance with a complex tangle of loyalties to unravel along with great Queer found family. I loved how hard and fast Galen falls for Olivia and how desperately the heroine tries to deny her feelings for him. The book was thought-provoking, fast-paced and fun. 

A lot of the fantasy and urban fantasy I read this year were backlist titles. I binged my way through Ilona Andrews's the Edge series, and caught up on their Kate Daniels books ahead of the Magic Triumphs. While inhaled the latter on the day it came out, I didn't love it. I liked a lot of things that happened in the book but I ended up resenting too many story choices to love it.

I did love Iron and Magic much to my surprise and chagrin. I hated Hugh in the Kate Daniels books and was truly boggled when the Andrews announced that they were turning their April fool's joke into an actual book. However the Andrews were able to  make Roland's cruel warlord into a fascinating and sympathetic character.  I am very interested in learning more about Elara and her band of followers and can't wait to see where the story goes.

Another of my favorite fantasy books of the year was Lake Silence by Anne Bishop (fantasy/mystery with the slightest of romantic elements). A domestic violence survivor fights to hold on to the unusual property she was awarded by her ex in their divorce. The property is a small resort, Sproing, a small human community covertly managed by shapeshifters.  An unlikely trio of allies, a vampire lawyer,  a human cop & intuit shopkeeper work to help Vicky keep her new home and life. As in the previous series, the Crows are my favorite characters,  as brave Aggie Crowguard steals the show. I'm looking forward to Wild Country, the second book in the World of the Others series to be out next Spring.

 

What SFR, PNR, Urban Fantasy & Fantasy romances did you read this year? What did you love and why?


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.


Thirsty by Mia Hopkins (Eastside Brewery Bk 1)

Second chances new start (1)When his temporary post-prison living arrangements fall apart, Salvador Rosas need a cheap place to crash, quick.  Chinita, an old lady from the neighborhood lets him crash in her garage for $200 and the labor of cleaning it out.  Chinita's granddaughter Vanessa, loses her mind when she finds out, but lets him stay anyway, on probation. 

Sal was sent to prison at 19, after spending most of his teens stealing cars and running with a Hollenbeck gang in East LA, ever since his family started disintegrating after his mother and sister's death. He knew back then that Vanessa  was too good for him, with her good grades and her drive. But just as he was being sentenced, she was finding out she was pregnant by the first boy she ever kissed, another gangster just like him, Sleepy.

In the 5 years Sal spent in Prison, Vanessa's life changed. Widowed before she became a mother, she didn't get out of the neighborhood, but she did get her degree. She works hard as bookkeeper, studying hard to pass the CPA exam. She let her life get derailed once and is determined not to let it ever happen again.

Thirsty is told exclusively through Sal's POV, his worries, anxiety and tension about what to do next with his life is central and that focus is what makes this story work. Sal is big, dangerously built, charming and super-sexy, but from his POV we also know how he struggles to acclimate to life outside of prison, to figure out what the right choices are for him.  We  know that he is wary, anxious and utterly convinced that he isn't worth taking a risk on.  That contrast between his outward  image from images-na.ssl-images-amazon.comappearance and his inner vulnerability allows me to connect to him.

Hopkins does a wonderful job with depicting the complexity of Vanessa and Sal's connection to their neighborhood and their Mexican American heritage.  While I don't love the fact that Sal and Vanessa's ex, were both gang-members and the centrality of gang life to the story, and I wish there were more non-gang affiliated supporting characters in the story, I still liked it.  Chinita and her gang of elderly chismosas were a ton of fun. I also liked the contrasts Hopkins developed between the two white men who enter Sal's life.  Barry is his boss at the gym, sees someone he can exploit in Sal. He might frame his offer to train him to be a trainer as something that would benefit both of them, but Sal is right to be wary. To Barry, Sal is an opportunity.  Alan on the other hand, recognizes in Sal someone with potential.  He mentors and befriends without in non-patronizing way.  He feeds Sal's curiosity by sharing his passion openly and I wasn't surprised that he was there when Sal needed him most.

If you enjoy stories about second chances, about finding a new path in life despite past mistakes, try Thirsty. Despite my wariness that the story w
ould reinforce the very harmful stereotypes of Latinx criminality, it was a story that was very respectful of the challenges of growing up with few choices and focused on building a better future. 

 

 

 


Day 9 #RomBkLove: Insta-Love

Day 9: Insta-Love

Frannie Cassano, RWA's 2018 Librarian of the year is here today. She absolutely loves Insta-Love romances and has a fantastic set of recommendations for you.

#RomBkLove: But What If Insta-Love IS Your Catnip?
by Frannie Strober Cassano

Hi Everyone! I am so happy that Ana invited me to #RomBkLove. Today I’m talking about my most favorite, cat nippy tropes: Insta-Love.

There is something about the gaze from across the room. A spark, a pull-toward, or a click. That instant feeling they were meant to be yours which defies all logic, reason, and reality. But that’s the thing. It’s chemistry. It’s a gut deal. It touches you and you are happily never the same.

Sure the attraction is instant. But there is something a bit decadent in the gaze, not in the sense of being objectified but by first by being desired and then wholly accepted by a mate that one hopes is destined to be fated.

I believe elements of Insta-Love are the bedrock to of all Romances and Erotica. That is how we, as readers, believe the unbelievable. These elements are what progresses the story along…and what also stops the story cold. Whether characters have no prior history with one another, are over the top (OTT), obsessive, growly, or are wolves or bears.

I always like to toss in some recs that patron/readers can get lost in someone’s eyes and let go for the entire length of the novel.

When we think Insta-Love, some authors who come to mind might be E.L. James, Sylvia Day, Alexa Riley, J.R. Ward, Renee Rose, Ruby Dixon, Kresley Cole, Nalini Singh, Kristen Ashley, Aurora Rose Reynolds, and more recently, Madame de Boudoir.

Today, I’m going to explore Insta-Loves from Katy Regnery, Jodi Ellen Malpas, Robin Lovett, Emma Chase, and Brenda Jackson:

Cover of Katy Regnery's The Vixen and the Vet, bare chest and torso at side angle, of a man wearing dog tags.The Vixen and the Vet by Katy Regnery

Perhaps the most literal of my Insta-Love picks, Katy Regenry’s retelling of Beauty and the Beast hits every right mark. Savannah and Asher are both deeply broken in their own ways. She is a disgraced journalist (through no fault of her own) and he is a war hero, disfigured by a bomb. Savannah returns home and is also helping to plan her sister’s wedding when she receives an offer to write a human interest piece for another paper. Asher lives life as a recluse on his rolling estate, with only the kindly Mrs. Potts (!) to help care for him.

Savannah hopes to interview Asher as her piece. And though hidden, as soon as her eyes lock into his from afar, that moment is what sets this story on its path. Not only that, as soon as they touch, they cannot stop holding one another in some manner. Becoming friends is one thing, but Regnery crafts a deeply moving, Insta-Love tale, where Savannah and Asher fall hard and fast before they know what they are getting themselves into. Though tormented and affected, Asher wants to push himself with Savannah as his inspiration. And Savannah wrestles with what her article brings with it and what her feelings for Asher bring with that. There are a lot of painful passages, but Regnery is never heavy-handed. She treats Asher with the utmost care and does not deliver a cure-all for the varying degrees of wounds examined here. While the Insta-Love is literal, the reality is also very real. Savannah and Asher need one another to soothe their traumas and their instant connection is one to root all the way for.

Man in a black suit carries a blonde white woman in a black dress and stilletos, Cover of the Protector by Jodi Ellen MalpasThe Protector by Jodi Ellen Malpas

Ex-military man, Jake Sharp barely lives life fueled by meaningless sex, drinking and his assignments to numb the effects of his PTSD. Socialite Camille Logan is wrestling with independence from her father and the pain of her recent past with an ex. When her life gets threatened, Camille’s father hires Jake to be her 24/7 bodyguard. Neither are particularly jazzed by the idea, until the moment they meet. Each time Camille tries to evade Jake, he’s two step ahead. Then, pretty soon it’s clear to both that the instant attraction they felt is much, much more.

Camille is not at all as fame presents her as. Her warm demeanor reaches places Jake forgot existed. When he refers to Camille as “his fate” and that protecting her is now “instinct” it is believable and the tough road they face will have readers on bated breath. With super-hot scenes, serious suspense, and an ideal, emotionally wounded Alpha hero, Malpas totally delivers.

A man wearing a hooding looking straight at the camera, Cover of Stranger by Robin LovettStranger by Robin Lovett

There is something about stalkers in Romance. The piercing glances from afar, the combination hints of danger and possibility. But stalkers and Dark Romances can be tricky for some readers.

Stranger is billed as “not supposed to be a love story” and one of revenge. But there are strong elements of Insta-Love, especially from the POV of the heroine, Penny Vandershall. Lovett shows us Penny’s side of the story first and foremost, almost at all times. And while one might argue that Penny appears as a doormat or desperate, that really isn’t the case.

Lovett’s compelling heroine owns her desire. I have often said that Penny knows who she is and what she wants at all times. She explores her own darkness and that sense of her agency pays off. She stares back and likes it. She explores those desires back and likes it. Logic be damned.

The hero, Logan, undertakes a dark road of would-be revenge by sucking Penny in by his gaze. He wants her to want him so that he can exact his plot and usurp her safe world. Logan seems obsessive and very intense, but as the story progresses, his plans get thwarted because of his feelings for Penny…in spite of himself.

Often, these “stalkers” aren’t what we think of as actually menacing. It is a Romance after all. And Lovett cares about who she is writing for. Her characters are as self-aware as they are fixated, and they embark on individual journeys to embrace the truth of their desires.

Cover of Royally Matched by Emma Chase, White man with built body lounges on carved chair without a shirt.Royally Matched by Emma Chase

While you might argue that this snicker-induced Royal romp might not qualify as a typical Insta-Love, there are a zillion reasons why it also does. Prince Henry is beyond a player/cad/rake and Sarah is a classic Brit-Literature loving librarian with a paralyzing disorder brought on by sudden loud noises. He’s the suitor on a Chris Harrison-like TV show called ‘Matched: Royal Edition’. She’s there to accompany her sister, a contestant, as her assistant. It takes a long time for the hero and heroine to meet and it’s quite by accident during a shot set up.

However, once Henry and Sarah do meet, they cannot stop thinking of one another. There is a lot of “snapping” into one another’s eyes and “pinning” one another’s gaze. It doesn’t matter how much of a horny/sexually-charged, inappropriately-thought filled hottie the prince is. We are led to believe he’s basically in insta-lust with any woman he sees. But staying with it, it makes sense. He’s bored and scared and Sarah challenges what he thinks he desires. We believe that he is totally captivated by her.

The bawdiness of Chase’s novel is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Sarah is so adorable; she is for sure what I call “Book Bestie” material (as well as one of this librarian’s new-to them favorite librarian characters). It is super fun to see her stand her ground while also uncomfortable by Henry’s demeanor. Even though she is always looking forward, it’s clear she has some demons to slay. And Henry is totally believable seeking Sarah out as a sort of refuge while also teasing her as he falls for her in return.

The symbolism and the changes they endure for one another is a super fun road to travel. From forced celibacy for show purposes to Sarah allowing Henry to share her room at night away from the cameras. What starts off as jolly good fun, ends up touchingly sweet.

A red curtained window, with a man and woman embracing in the background. A red settee, a yellow dress and a cowboy hat in the fore-ground.Hot Westmoreland Nights by Brenda Jackson

I am SO hitting an amazing backlist for this category favorite. The novel opens with Chloe noticing the most attractive man she has ever seen from outside her window. She really checks him out, from Stetson to “powerful legs” to lips. And while we might buy that she points him out to her friend/the Denver manager of her magazine, the reader catches on pretty quickly that she is by far smitten. Over the phone, Ramsey is not at all interested, so Chloe pays him a visit in hopes of changing his mind. Mistaken for a replacement cook at his ranch, Chloe uses the opportunity to “fill in”, so that she might finally persuade and land Ramsey for her magazine later. Because she does happen to have experience cooking large scale while spending summers working at a homeless shelter…the fact that she learned from a Mama Francine is pure coincidence ;)

And here is where trouble of the best kind ensues…as well as super-hot sexytimes! Jackson offers another example of Insta-Love where we get the heroine, Chloe’s POV first. However, when we get to Ramsey’s POV, whoa! When he first sees her, he feels not only lust, but he literally feels her in his gut. From those moments forward, the heat between the two sizzle off the page. Jackson does chemistry right in her Westmoreland stories, but there is something about Ramsey and Chloe that stays with the reader. We believe the instant attraction and the daydreaming that follows. Ramsey is not the typical ladies’ man like others in his family (as they start off, anyway). There is something about Chloe that gets in deep with him.

And sure, we’ve got misunderstanding, conflict, how-do-we-overcome-betrayal, pain of the past, do I trust him/her/myself?…but this is Brenda Jackson. Hot Westmoreland Nights is one of my go-to recs for a quick, get lost in the story read, “stay up until 3am to finish”, and/or “getting out of your reading slump”. On a personal note, Jackson’s stories have been books my patrons and I have turned to for years before I even started working on the Romance Collection. She gets Insta-Love right on so many levels that you aren’t even aware of what’s happening until you’ve already fallen for the characters…and that is really what Insta-Love hopes to accomplish. Bam! Hooked.

I can keep you here all day talking Insta-Love. From gazes from across the room to that *click* to a safe place where logic/reason/reality can melt away. Whatever stories appeal to you, #RomBkLove has got you covered. Get lost in them. And if you want to discuss even more Insta-Love, come find me any time.

2018 RWA Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year recipient Frannie Strober Cassano first stumbled into the romance section of her local drugstore as a teen, then found herself back there during the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. You can find her discussing Happily Ever Afters for All over at her Reference Desk or over on Twitter at @FranniesRomance.

 

 


The Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton (Stubborn Hearts 2)

36456623Tom's best-friend and roommate has accepted a promotion and left town and he has left behind an empty room and a big hole in Tom's life.  The thought of finding a roommate as easy to live with as Josh while he waits for his own promotion and salary bump fills Tom with dread but it is a necessary evil if he doesn't want to burn through his savings. He is sure however he doesn't want Flick as a roommate.  She is just too much, too bright, too energetic, too loud, too everything and he knows it will never work.

Flick needs a place to stay, just for 3 months before she heads to Washington and the dream job she has been working towards all of her life. Tom has the room, and she gets things done, even if its maneuvering a big mountain of a man into renting her the room, after all she sells ideas for a living.

This odd couple start out their weeks as roommates doing their best not to run into each other but it doesn't last and soon they are aggravating each other just like they expected too, only Tom does seem to protest too much, especially as the more Flick teases the more he finds himself wanting to kiss her.

 I really enjoyed this banter-filled story. Flick and Tom spark in all the right ways but it isn't just a romp. Both Flick and Tom have some serious baggage from their childhoods (Tom had a distant demanding father and Flick's family is hugely dysfunctional and she is walloped by grief when a dear friend gets to some terrible news).  Master communicators, Flick and Tom excel as misdirection and distraction, doing their best to sound like they have it all together when they absolutely don't. The coupons which may sound gimmicky make total sense in story as these struggle to make sort out their feelings and choices as the deadline of Flick's departure draws ever closer.

Chicago-area residents like @jenreadsromance are right to point the one thing that didn't work in this story, Tom's love of hiking. He frequently goes away to hike, off to the mountains, but there just aren't any real good options for doing that in Chicago.  Mentally I relocated them to Denver and moved because geographical realities aside, I was totally sucked in by this sexy and emotional romance. .The choices made by Flick and Tom made sense to me and I felt they really saw each other and the ending was absolutely satisfying.