Historical

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, 

 

 

 


The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (Feminine Pursuits #1)

 

The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics Cover  two women entiwnedLucy Muchelney worked at her father's side for years doing all the tedious work of astronomy without credit, purely for the opportunity to pursue her passion. After her father's death she feels most alone and vulnerable, her artist brother anxiously eager to see her settled in the same kind of comfortable marriage her long-time lover Priscilla has just abandoned her too, and threatening to sell her telescope, conscious that a lady astronomer would not be soon accepted.

Catherine, Lady Moth, was widowed three years before, yet she is still haunted by her late husband's dismissive and abusive treatment of her and her interests.  Like many of the other women of the Polite Science Society, she has served Science by supporting the scientific pursuits of others, directly and indirectly.  She is incredibly wary of Lucy's bright eyes, desperate ambition and clear genius but welcomes her into her home because she can't bear to turn her out.

Through the course of the novel we see Catherine and Lucy circle around each other, their growing awareness blossoming, along with the realization that they can leave behind the strictures and confining roles their previous lovers had bounded them in, while finding in each other someone who truly sees them and champions them.

One of my favorite elements in the novel is Catherine's growing confidence that her needlework is ART rather than simply a frivolous feminine pursuit.  I loved the moment where she first advocated and negotiated on her own behalf, after a lifetime of doing on behalf of others.  Likewise I loved the moment Lucy is dumbstruck by the fact that she is not alone as scientist, that there have been hundreds of women before her, echoing Catherine belated realization of her own mother's long-time love affair with woman.  Lucy anger at realizing how many women have been erased and sidelined  before her, and the comfort and power she draws from their persistence was incandescent.  It is such a powerful dismantling of the "not-like-other-girls"dynamic that so many women have in STEM develop, having sought approval from the men in their orbit.

As fabulous as the build up was the payoff to both the romantic and career story-lines was simply glorious.  The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics is worth every minute of lost sleep and will leave you breathless in wonder, much like the night sky leaves Lucy and Catherine. 

 

 


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.


Caroline's Heart by Austin Chant #TBRChallenge

Like many others, who maybe did a little too much at the end of the year, my 2019 reading year has not gotten off to a good start. While I have read some really good books already my reading felt sluggish. I've started and abandoned too many books. However choosing to start reading Caroline's Heart at 4:30 in the morning was absolutely the best decision. 

Austin Chant's Peter Darling was one of my favorite reads of last year. I immediately went out and bought Chant's other two books, Coffee Boy and Caroline's Heart, because if they were half as good as Peter Darling, they would be absolutely worth reading. I didn't binge read them however, I held on to them, because I knew I would want to save them for a day when I needed a good book to read, like I needed to breathe.  

Caroline's Heart is the story of Roy, a trans cowboy, who is living a quiet and lonely life on a ranch in Texas, working hard, and saving up his money, dreaming of his own place. His ordinary life is disrupted by the arrival of Cecily. Cecily is a witch, weaving intricate spells to animate artificial limbs and blessing crops and cattle in exchange for generous payments and supplies. Roy is fascinated by Cecily, drawn to her, despite her sharp words and dangerous aura.

Since the death of her beloved, Caroline, Cecily has only lived for her work, obsessively working on a spell to bring Caroline back to life.  She is just a little bit charmed by Roy's eagerness and curiosity about her witchcraft until she realizes that the best energy she has been collecting in the leathers she needs for her spell has been his. Recognizing that compatibility and similarity to her Caroline, distresses her more than she can admit. 

I loved how Chant unwound Cecily & Roy story. Chant capture the loneliness of Cecily's grief, how it has consumed all her energies, unwilling to contemplate having to go on with her life without Caroline and how a split-second decision, changed both their lives dramatically. They end up having to face up to that grief, to the new realities and both make room in their lives for each other's losses. They tentatively learn each other's rhythms, and each others truths, slowly binding themselves to each other. I loved how much Roy loved becoming someone useful to Cecily, caring for the things she doesn't think to take care of and herself.  And I loved how Cecily was so open to listening and understanding Roy. 

This story is emotional, creative and unexpected. I would have loved to spend more time in that world, with it curious and seemingly effortless mix of magic and old west setting, unpacking all the possibilities.  I am so glad I read it.

 

Content Warnings: Guns, gun violence, mentions of past trauma: transphobia, family estrangement, grief.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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?


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

 

 


Free Fall by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner (Fly me to the Moon, Book 5)

Free Fall coverOne of the best things that can happen to you as a reader is to find a writer whose books just work for you, whose core story is the story you love to read. As a reader I have been very lucky, over the last 5 or 6 years I've found several such writers. Emma Barry is one of those writers. Whether she is writing nerdy accountants, swaggering astronauts or uptight engineers as heroes or workaholic public servants, managing housewives or sultry sorority girls are heroines, I am here for it.

At the start of Free Fall, Vivy is just 19, daddy's little girl, a college girl is majoring in sociology, who loves her sorority sisters and is too loud, too big and much too much for her  prim and petite society mother. She is in that middle space, no longer a child but not a full-fledged independent adult yet.  One night she accompanies her father, a defense contractor with big contracts with the space agency, to a party at an astronaut's house. After a while she decides to go outside and get some air. Dean Garland, one of the astronauts, follows her out.

"It was unfair, and so like a man, to look that good and that cocky."
                                                                                        Vivy in Barry and Turner's Free Fall

He claims to have been lured out by the bigness of her laugh, which instead of pleasing Vivy, cools everything off

"Settle down, quiet down, sit down, look down: all her life, her mother had tried to wrestle Vivy into a smaller space, a smaller size. But Vivy couldn't be less"
                                                                                    Vivy in Barry and Turner's Free Fall.

But Dean recovers, not letting Vivy slip away back inside offended, frank in his interest and ignorant of who her daddy is. He doesn't flinch away from her sharp teasing, clearing liking it just as much as he likes the look of her.  The combination is irresistible and Vivy is soon kissing him in the dark under the moon and then following him to his house down the block for more.


The Governess Game by Tessa Dare (Girl meets Duke #2)

Cover of the Governess Game by Tessa Dare. Two people, embracing, forehead to forehead on the edge of a deskI find Tessa Dare's writing delightful and reading them like being in the fluffiest and warmest of bubble baths, but underneath the fluff she is doing really some serious work piercing the Regency Romance bubble with decidedly un-fluffly topics, such as racism and abandonment.  

In the Governess Game, outside of a few dear friends, Alexandra Mountbatten is totally alone in the world. Her Philippine Mestiza mother died when she was a young child and her beloved father went down with his ship in a storm.  She makes her living as professional timekeeper, winding and setting the clocks of wealthy patrons.  She arrives at the home of Mr. Chase Reynaud to offer her services only to be mistaken for an applicant for the perpetually vacant post of governess to his two young wards. He doesn't care who she is and doesn't remember the time they briefly met the year before, but he is desperate to keep her.

"I don't care if you're gently bred, roughly bred or a loaf of brown bread with butter. You're educated, you understand propriety, and you're . . . breathing." -- Chase Reynaud in Tessa Dare's The Governess Game

But his charm offensive and extremely lucrative offer are not enough to sway her.

"And then she did what Chase yearned to do, often. She flung open the door, fled the house and didn't once look back." -- Tessa Dare's The Governess Game

But an accident and lost chronometer not much later has Alexandra re-evaluating the merits of his offer and ends up changing all their lives.

If the governess trope is not one of your favorites, I usually avoid it, know that early on Dare makes it clear that Alexandra has other options for shelter and job opportunities, so the power imbalance of employer and employee is minimized but it does not go unacknowledged as it does in too many stories.  

Dare layers banter, word-play (I lost track of how many alliterative names they came up with for Chase's hideout, but I cackled at each one) and surreal situations (such as Millicent's daily deaths and funerals) into a confection that serves to highlight the moments of piercing emotional realism.  When Alexandra wakes shaking after nightmares flashing back her days adrift alone in a dinghy or when Chase is confronted by his guilt over his cousin's death and his feelings of inadequacy as a father-figure and future duke, those moments sear.

I loved how Dare deconstructs the familial relationships in this book,  unacknowledged brothers, wards of uncertain parentage &  estranged relatives and how Chase, Alexandra, Rosamund & Daisy find a way to reassemble themselves into a new family. As much as Chase, Daisy and Rosamund consider themselves lost causes, unlovable or unworthy of loving, Alexandra refuses to give up on them.

Dare's style is not for everyone (don't come here looking for detailed depictions of wallpaper) but this series are dollops of delight. I love that heroines are unbowed by their past pain, but not emotionless "strong-female heroine", they hurt, they struggle but they are determined to build lives for themselves.  At points I wanted to shake Chase out of his wallowing in guilt and self-reproach but I adored the scene when Ash ( the hero of the Duchess Deal) bursts in on Chase and Alexandra determined to save her from Chase. 

"I came as soon as I hear you'd taken up residence in this place." He walked past her to stare down Chase face-to-face. "You deserve to know what a worthless scoundrel he is, Alex"

"Yes!" Chase exclaimed. He reached for Ashbury's hand and pumped it in a vigorous greeting. "Thank you. I've been trying to tell her myself, but she won't listen."

 

But Alexandra has listened, and seen. I love that love isn't blind. Alexandra sees his guilt, his past bad actions, and still sees he is more than that.  But their journey as a couple takes them through many ups and downs of dashed hopes before Chase gets his act together.  There is a good grovel and reconciliation at the end, with little touches, that made it far from generic, but very grounded in the specifics of their narrative.

 

I received a ARC from the publisher for review consideration via Edelweiss.

 

 


Destiny's Surrender by Beverly Jenkins (Destiny #2)

Destiny's surrenderBillie Wells doesn't believe in fairy tales. Her life has always been hard and she has done everything to survive from picking pockets, scavenging and once her body started changing, sex work.  While the attention and care Drew Yates is undeniable, she can't let herself rely on it or even let herself believe in it. She knows who she is and what they are. She is his whore, not his wife or novilla and can't imagine a world where she would be anything but that.  She still soaks up whatever nuggets of knowledge of the world and culture he shares with her, treasures the gifts, the chocolates, and silks he brings on his visits and big and small the luxuries they are to enjoy when they are together.  When she learns she is pregnant she doesn't even consider contacting him, not just because he has been away for months, but because they have never been exclusive for longer than a few days at time, so many other clients could have fathered her child.  Though she misses him terribly, her choices and consequences are her own to deal with.

Drew Yates knows it is time of him to settle down. While his mind often wanders back to Billie when he isn't with her, he knows he needs to find himself a proper Spanish bride to bring back to his mother.   When months of spent among friends and family in Mexico don't yield any likely candidates he renews his search in Yerba Buena (San Francisco). While he doesn't find any women with Billie's curiosity, directness and strength of will, he does identify a young woman, whose poise and beauty catch his attention, among all the young ladies hiding behind their duennas, even though her mother is a terror. He can only hope his mother will be able to nurture her into blossoming. Spotting a heavily pregnant and haggard looking Billie almost distracts him from his chosen course but her adamant rejection and dismissal, makes him more determined to start this new phase of life.  But when an old enemy threatens Billie and her young son, surprisingly, his own, his carefully planning is for naught.

I adored Billie. She is fierce and flinty. She doesn't sink into self-pity or regret for the tough choices she's had to make her whole life and she doesn't anyone shame her. She doesn't ever expect anyone to stand up for her, but has genuine affection when someone willfully and knowingly do so, from Addie, to Alanza to Mariah.  Jenkins doesn't sugar coat or gloss over the hardships faced by sex workers from abuse and exploitation by pimps and johns, social isolation, the risks of disease, pregnancy and abortion, but the sex workers themselves are never vilified. They are working people and have their relationships with their johns and fellow sex workers  shaped by it. The other women have been competitors and peers and while some of their patrons have been kind, others detestable and most forgettable.  Her frankness unsettles many but I loved watching her interact with Alanza, who while bold and courageous has still been incredibly sheltered by her upbringing and station in life. I also love how Alanza who is devoutly catholic, never shames Bilie for anything but the time that Drew and Billie lose themselves in screaming match, frightening Antonio.

Shirtless Black man with a black woman in a hiked up lilac dress embrace on rock by a riverDrew goes on a journey in this book. His whole life is upended.  Learning he is already a father, having his carefully cultivated engagement shattered and facing scandal just as his career faces other threats is a lot, but he also has to come to terms with his own feelings about Billie, something he has determinedly tried to ignore for years.  Learning to do the hard work of loving someone rather than simply depending on his charm was great to see. He has to unlearn so many selfish and self-centered habits in order to earn a place in Billie and Antonio's life and it was lovely to see him do the work.

As I previously experienced in with other of Jenkins' novels, I loved the secondary characters. Alanza continues to shine as a steadfast but demanding mother, starting to embrace her own life as her sons grow and find their life-partners. She is a doting grandmother and someone on the cusp of experiencing a sexual awakening of her own.  I also loved Addie, the New Orleans born, mid-wife/seer, who rescues and shelters Billie and gains the revenge she long sought.  I was also curious about Rosa, Drew's smothered and sheltered ex-novilla and wondered if she will find her own HEA in Monterrey among Drew's Mexican family.  

Destiny's Surrender's audiobook was fabulously narrated  by Thomas Penny as I literally couldn't stop listening and he captured both Drew and Billie's emotional ranges!  

I highly recommend Destiny's Surrender for its fierce and flinty heroine and for having the hero do the emotional work necessary to regain the trust of his heroine.