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Love in Panels Review: A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals)

I reviewed A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole for Love in Panels

In A Prince on Paper, a made-for-the-tabloids relationship provides a much needed distraction from a kingdom-shaking referendum for Johan and an opportunity to escape for Nya. Nya and Johan at first glance seem an unlikely match, a smothered and cloistered teacher and a globe-trotting serial heart-breaker, yet Cole develops a sweet and believable intimacy rooted in the secrets they share only with each other.

Like the previous installments of Cole’s Reluctant Royals, there are lots of delightfully funny text exchanges, strong friendships, and scene stealing secondary characters. But in this one, Cole also inter-cuts the romance with snippets of a very engaging trickster folktale that Nya is telling Johan and the intrusive notifications for the dating-sim game Nya used to play obsessively. Both narratives allow Nya to explore and make sense of her relationship with Johan, inspiring her to trust and challenge.

I loved the resolution of this romance even if I was initially put off by Johan’s oddly infantilizing nickname “Jo-Jo '' and his frequently over-the-top interjections in Lichenbourgian. However, Cole won me over with his grief-fueled secret agenda to protect his sibling and continue his mother’s philanthropic activities.

A Prince on Paper is tender and funny and highly enjoyable, and make sure you don’t miss Cole’s introduction of the first couple in her new series, Runaway Royals.


Love in Panels Post: Looking Back -- 15 Favorites from 2005 to 2019

I put together this list for Love in Panels:

 

Sometimes the urge to do something is so strong you just have to go with it. I’ve been reading romance for close to a decade and as we close this decade I felt a great necessity to look back at the Romance novels that marked me as a reader. Although I only started reading romance seriously during 2010, I started with what my library collection had, so my first romance novels were really books that had been out for years (Balogh, Kleypas, Quinn, Garwood, Dodd, Krentz and Chase). They were an excellent crash course on romance, if Romance is only for white, cis, straight historical ladies. I don’t regret reading them, I just regret thinking they were the only things out there.

This list is not some prescriptive list of the best books in the last decade but a survey of the books I’ve read over the past decade that I can still look back at fondly and that I think still have something to say to romance readers.

This post contains affiliate links (in the book titles).

twilight2005 -- Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Much maligned and mocked I still have a special place in my heart for Twilight which I read in that transitional time where I learned that I loved reading about relationships and I wanted happy endings. Full of classic PNR and gothic elements, and found family feels, I can happily admit that Twilight sucked me in and I enjoyed the journey, especially the more bananas it got.

(CW: Violence, murder)

slave-to-sensation2006 -- Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changelings #1)

This was one of the first romances I ever read. Singh’s intricate world building appealed to my SF/F reader heart. I still love the core story, that of a MC who thinks they can’t feel or that they are broken beyond helping, finding their power and community. I still love romances where the MC not only find each other but find their people and a new way to live.

(CW: Violence, murder)

the-mane-event2007 -- The Mane Event by Shelly Laurenston ( Pride #1)

I love Laurenston’s madcap adventures and feral heroines. I love her sense of the ridiculous whether she is writing as G.A. Aiken or Shelly Laurenston. Although I discovered this series as the 11th book was coming out, I immediately went back and read the rest. No one piles up more supporting characters, over top aggression and ridiculous fights into her novels than Laurenston and that is 100% an endorsement. (CW: Violence)

cry-wolf2008 -- Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs (Alpha and Omega #1)

I still remember what I was doing when I listened to Anna and Charles’s first encounter. They are still one of my favorite romantic pairings, as they are so very different but they bring out the best in each other. Romances frequently put MCs through the wringer, but I love that Briggs has built Anna back up slowly and carefully, honoring the work that trauma survivors have to put in to heal while always being true to the hopefulness of their love together.

(CW: Abuse, violence, murder, Past trauma: Sexual assault, abduction, forced turning)

not-quite-a-husband2009 -- Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas

This polarizing second chance romance blew my mind with its conflict and angst when I first read it and I still think about it. Thomas always challenges me with her romances, with the obstacles she places between her MCs and with the pain she deals them.

(CW: non-consensual sex)

the-forbidden-rose2010 -- The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne

Marguerite, wily, flinty and fierce is one of my favorite heroines. Doyle’s respect and devotion are swoon worthy and Hawker’s acidic commentary is the best. I think of these novels as Historical Romantic Suspense, they raised my expectations of all Historical romance through their fabulous plotting, sublime characterizations and settings.

(CW: torture, incarceration, murder attempts, political oppression)

dragon-bound2011 -- Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

The most unequal of power dynamics, the alpha-iest alpha to ever alpha and a little thief who outsmarts him, when she should be the one outmatched. Harrison’s Dragos is deliciously overbearing, a dragon who only looks like a man and Pia a delight, as she waltzes into his life and truly overturns it. I loved the world, and all the different supporting characters.

(CW: dubious consent, violence).

beyond-shame2012 -- Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha

I picked up this novel expecting darkly erotic biker club energy and instead I found a series that had darkness and eroticism but so much more. The O’Kanes grow from a scrappy band of bootleggers into world-changing revolutionaries working to make the world safer for love and family. The books are supremely queer and kinky, full of loving constructive community and belonging. They hold up to multiple re-readings, as I find deeper connections each time I do a re-read.

(CW: guns, violence, attempted sexual assault, BDSM, Past trauma: repression, banishment)

[Editor's Note - Remember that Ana has a podcast dedicated to this series!]

the-lotus-palace2013 -- The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin

By 2013 I was burning out on Historical Romance. I had read pretty much all I could bear about overheated ballrooms, weak ratafia and reformed rakes. I thought I was done with Historical Romance. But when I picked up The Lotus Palace, I realized there were a whole lot of historical romances to discover. My World History loving heart loved immersing itself in a new environment, with different strictures and conventions and MCs who don’t give up when things seem hopeless.

(CW: murder)

sweet-disorder2014 -- Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner

If The Lotus Palace showed me how rich historical romance could be when it stopped centering White Brits, Lerner’s Sweet Disorder showed me that I could love UK historicals again, if I looked for books where the rich and perfect are not in the center. Lerner’s flawed, grumpy, fat heroine, and war-ravaged disabled hero find love and the wrong time and in the wrong person, and their love is irresistible.

(CW: Grief, Poverty, Past Trauma: War)

seditious2015 -- A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles

KJ Charles is one of my favorite writers and A Seditious Affair is one of her best. This enemies to lovers story is full of layers of complication, as class, politics, loyalty, and kink mix into an explosive brew. The resolution is a jaw dropping, roller coaster and it made me so happy to read.

forbidden2016 -- Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins

Forbidden was the first Jenkins novel I read and it is still one of my favorites with its indomitable heroine (she is determined to carry that cookstove with her through the desert), conflicted hero (who has a huge choice to make) and its deeply researched history. I loved the tension between Rhine and Eddy and how Jenkins captures the rich and complicated stew of relationships people of color, Latino, Asian and Native American had in the West, reclaiming book by book that history from all that want to whitewash it.

wrongtoneedyou2017 -- Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai

Everything about Wrong to Need You worked for me. I loved Sadia, her love for her sisters, her feelings about her family expectations for her, her regrets about Paul, her love for her son and both her anger and her love for Jackson. I loved how Jackson and Sadia work out those feelings and face up to the pain of disappointing family and the power of standing with the people you love.

thirsty2018 -- Thirsty by Mia Hopkins

Starkly realistic, Hero only-POV, and super steamy, Thirsty is a lot of things I don’t usually read anymore, but Sal’s story of building a life, when everything seems orchestrated to drive him to despair and not only finding an unexpected passion and someone who convinces him that he is worthy of love was frankly astounding. Sal journey is one that inspires empathy and gives hope while not ignoring stark realities, and that is something romance does when it is at its best.

get-a-life-chloe-brown2019 -- Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

I was so surprised by this book. It did everything I wanted a book to do this year. It was hopeful, true and is showcased a world full of intersecting identities. It is wit and fantasy just added to the trueness of core story. Of people screwing up royally while learning to reach for love and letting others truly know them and love them back.

Ten years of Romance reading and fifteen years of books that have helped me through many hard days, weeks and years. Books that celebrate love in all its many incarnations, books that let me see in to more intimate moments of other people’s lives and help me process my own. These books are worth celebrating, reading and loving. I hope you love them as much as I do.

Topics: list


Love in Panels Review: The AI who Loved me by Alyssa Cole (audiobook)

I reviewed The AI who loved me by Alyssa Cole (in audiobook) for Love in Panels

 

 

Alyssa Cole’s smart, sweet and short science fiction romance playfully mashes multiple tropes into a fun and surprising adventure. It is simply excellent.

Cole creates a compelling cast of characters, full of humor and sass, and casually drops compelling bits of world building all over this story. In a future in which the world has fragmented into techno states that manipulate the news and control people through health care debt, and surveillance is an ever present reality, Trinity Jordan is just a Black woman trying to get better after a near fatal accident. She doesn’t need the complication of being suddenly, inconveniently attracted to her new neighbor, Li Wei, especially when the more she interacts with him the more she is sure things are not what they seem.

Funny, sharp, and refreshing, I loved how the narration highlighted the way Cole intercut Trinity and Li Wei's POV scenes, contrasting their vastly different perspectives along with their interactions with Penny, the apartment complex’s AI, brought to sassy life by Mindy Kaling. I loved how the book seesawed between conversations about the importance of consent and the nature of identity, hilarious exchanges about vocabulary choices, and miscommunications about spiders.

The AI Who Loved Me is a study in contrasts, a dark setting populated by bubbly characters and sexual tension galore, with a twisty story with a deeply philosophical bent. My only disappointment with the story is that the sequel is not immediately available to listen to. If you are looking for darkly funny romance, with great world building and a delightful cast of characters, pick this up!

 

Content Warnings: Past Trauma: violence, coercion and manipulation

Ana purchased this audiobook.


Love in Panels: Ana's Best of 2019 List

I put together this list of my favorite reads of 2019 for Love in Panels.

 

 

I’ve read so many wonderful books this year it actually hurts to pare down the list to a Top 5, so I had to cheat a little bit and create sub-genre specific Top 5 (and occasionally Top 10) lists to figure out what should be in my Top 5 list of the year so I am going to sneak in mentions of all the others books I loved in here too.

  1. The Bride Testby Helen Hoang (Favorite Contemporary Romance of 2019).
  2. Hither, Page, by Cat Sebastian (Favorite Historical Romance of 2019).
  3. Aurora Blazing, by Jessie Mihalik. (Favorite SF/F romance and UF of 2019).
  4. Sapphire Flames, by Ilona Andrews (Favorite PNR romance of 2019)
  5. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, by Alyssa Cole (Favorite novella of 2019)

the-bride-testSo many people fell in love with Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient last year, but it is The Bride Test that won me over and has me adding Hoang to my auto-buy list. In The Bride Test Hoang centers a young Vietnamese single mother, Esme, who agrees to pretend to be the fiancée of Vietnamese-American at the behest of his match-making mother in order to be able to come to the United States. Khai, who is Autistic doesn’t want a bride, let alone a stranger in his house but agrees in order to keep peace with his mother. Their fake engagement/forced proximity romance doesn’t go as Khai’s mother planned but they are able to bridge cultural and emotional misunderstandings to learn and appreciate each other’s needs and wants and craft a beautiful HEA that is uniquely theirs. (Own voices Autistic Vietnamese American rep, CW: ableism, depression)

american-fairytaleI could have put together a list of my Top 10 contemporary romances of the year and still had to leave fantastic books off the list because I also adored Lucy Parker’s The Austen Playbook with its Hufflepuff/Slytherin romance, all three of Adriana Herrera’s American Dreamer series but especially American Fairy Tale, Melissa Blue’s Grumpy Jake for breaking me out of slump with its fantastic banter, Olivia Dade’s Teach Me, blessing us all with the best of teacher rep, Alisha Rai’s The Right Swipe for tackling CTE and MeToo with such finesse, Rebekah Weatherspoon’s Xeni for its blend of grief and joy so beautiful and the softness of Scottish bagpipe-playing hero, and finally Talia Hibbert’s Get a Life Chloe Brown, with its fantastic blend of humor and realism.

It was truly a fantastic year of contemporary romance.

hither-pageHither, Page is an engrossing and compelling historical romantic mystery full of queer found family and meddling elderly lesbians set in a quiet post-WWII English village where nothing is at it appears. The leads, James Sommers, a doctor and Leo Page a secret agent, are trying to reintegrate into civilian life despite the ways the war has changed them and the world when their paths unexpectedly cross. I wish I had a dozen Page and Sommers mystery novels to read--cozy, funny and warm. (CW: Murder, PTSD, past trauma: abuse, abandonment).

the-ladys-guide-to-celestial-mechanicsThere could not have been no better year for my oldest to ask me for angsty romances with queer ladies. I loaded their reading app with fabulous books by KJ Charles, Cat Sebastian, Olivia Waite and Courtney Milan: Proper EnglishGilded CageA Little Light MischiefA Duke in DisguiseThe Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics and Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure.

It has been a joy to get their texted updates whenever they encounter a particularly awesome line or swoon at a HEA.

aurora-blazingI didn’t know I needed romances with dangerous space princesses running away across the galaxy till I read Jessie Mihalik’s first two books in The Consortium Rebellion series. While I really enjoyed Polaris Rising, Bianca in Aurora Blazing won my heart. She is fierce, protective and so determined despite the way her abusive late husband’s modifications pain her. I love how she and Ian find creative solutions to the obstacles facing them and the way the siblings are 100% for each other despite their father’s machinations. If you are looking for big ships, big explosions and super sexual tension you need to read this series. (CW: domestic abuse, torture, war, guns, past trauma: non consensual medical procedures)

archangels-warI caught up on a lot of great UF series via audiobook this year. I listened to all of Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunters series just in time to catch up and read Archangel’s War, which was both a conclusion to a long running storyline and a fantastic teaser for more.

I caught up on Rebecca Roanhorse’ fabulous UF series, The Sixth World, set in a post-apocalyptic New Mexico, where the magic of Navajo gods has risen once again. Storm of Locusts moved forward a complicated romance while expanding the world in super intriguing ways.

I also immersed myself in Rachel Aaron’s DFZ’s series, on my sister’s urging. A stand-alone-ish spin-off from Aaron’s Heartstriker series, Minimum Wage Magic, and the most recent Part-Time Gods, are surprising, fascinating and super fun. I loved seeing Opal facing off against her father, discovering her magic and negotiating how to survive in the hyper-capitalistic Detroit Free Zone, while keeping her principles and sense of right and wrong. I am also loving the romantic elements and can’t wait to see where Opal and Nick end up.

cover of paranormal romance Sapphire FlamesThe first three Hidden Legacy novels are one my favorite comfort listens. Whenever I am not ready to start a new series or feel a little burnt out, I just start listening to Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy #1) once again, so to say I was highly anticipating Sapphire Flames is putting it mildly. Thankfully I loved it. I loved how the Andrews have shifted focus and given us a new perspective on the Baylor clan by centering Catalina and Alessandro for this trilogy--a new sibling and romantic relationship dynamic to explore while building on the established history of the series. I love the push-pull tension between Alessandro and Catalina, and the promise of all the secrets they have yet to discover in each other. I can’t wait till next year’s book! (CW: Suicide Attempt, Murder, Violence, guns)

in-a-badger-wayMy heart belongs to PNR, so this was one of the toughest categories to sort through, since there were both fantastic continuations to some of my favorite long-running PNR series by favorite PNR authors, such as Nalini Singh’s suspenseful Wolf Rain (Psy-Changelings Trinity #3) and Shelly Laurenston raucous In a Badger Way (Honey Badger Chronicles #2), along with new favorite, Charlie Adhara’s tense Thrown to the Wolves (Big Bad Wolf #3) along with an enchanting and promising debut in as Allie Therin’s Spellbound (Magic in Manhattan #1).

once-ghosted-twice-shyI started 2019 by reading Alyssa Cole’s Once Ghosted, Twice Shy (Reluctant Royals series) and at the end of the year it still stands as my favorite novella of 2019. I loved how Cole unraveled Fab and Likotsi's story through alternating flashback chapters. I usually struggle with this narrative device because too often authors use it to develop tension and angst between lovers, while I thought Cole used it effectively to clarify and give context to their complications to their relationship and show why they would be open to each other after how things ended. (CW: incarceration)

carolinesheartI read a lot of great novellas this year, but most of them were backlist books, such as Austin Chant’s wonderfully complex and emotional, Caroline’s Heart and EE Ottoman’s swoony enemies to lovers romance, A Matter of Disagreement. I also read through all of Kit Rocha’s Patreon perk shorts and vignettes but High Priestess, stands out as my favorite. In a short little story, Rocha peels back the layers on Del, a fascinating and powerful secondary character in the Gideon’s Riders series while giving closure to a long-running storyline in the Beyond World.

I also loved and previously mentioned A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian, a playful cross-class f/f romance the delivers the sexiest of revenge plots.

For me 2019 has been a fantastic year for reading and I have so many other sure to be amazing books still on my TBR to try to finish. I can only hope your year in reading was fun and remarkable as mine.

Happy New Year and Happy Reading! May 2020 bless you with many new-to-you authors to discover and the comfort of new books by old favorites.

 


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: Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

I reviewed Get a Life Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert at Love in Panels

In Hibbert’s first traditionally published romance, she continues to highlight prickly heroines and the sweet heroes who are determined to love them. Although I only had a mild appreciation of her novellas I found myself loving this novel wholeheartedly, more than living up to the anticipation and hype. The novel felt fully satisfying and complete, establishing, building up and then resolving a full story. Hibbert's use of situational humor and word play cushions the heavy themes she addresses in this story such as ableism, abandonment, domestic abuse and mortality.

In Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Chloe and Red are both recovering from their own traumas, Chloe re-learning to have a full life after drawn out and difficult diagnosis of Fibromyalgia and Red from the end of abusive romantic relationship. Hibbert focuses on their journeys toward greater self-realization and agency, and learning to build boundaries while accepting love and support.

The climactic conflict felt organic and inevitable, growing from both their insecurities and soft spots.

The audio narration by Adjoa Andoh was fun and engaging. I particularly enjoyed the distinction between Red’s gruff working class accent and Chloe’s posh and prim accent. Andoh also did a great job contrasting Red and Chloe’s effusive inner monologues with their more restrained and terse dialogue, which built on the way Hibbert used that gap to develop their characters and show just how much both are working to protect their fragile hearts. Hibbert skillfully uses what isn’t said, what is misunderstood, what is assumed to build natural conflict between Red and Chloe and lead naturally to the resolution of it too. My only complaint is that a lot of fantastically interesting supporting characters such as Chloe’s pushy Caribbean extended family faded to the background midway only to roar back near the end and play a pivotal role in the conflict.

Hibbert continues to prove with Get a Life, Chloe Brown that crafting romance novels with deeply layered representation (race, class, identity, disability and trauma) that are also funny and a joy to read/listen is possible. I am now eagerly anticipating the next book in the series with Chloe’s bossy big sister Danni and once you read Get a Life, Chloe Brown, I am sure you will be too.

Content Warnings: past trauma: ableism, past trauma: domestic abuse, abandonment

Ana received an audio copy of this book for review via Libro.fm


Love in Panels Review of Gilded Cage by KJ Charles

I reviewed Gilded Cage by KJ Charles over at Love in Panels:

Susan Lazarus trusts very few people, and that has served her well in life as first an abandoned street rat, then as a con artist and now as a private enquiry agent. Templeton was once in her trusted inner circle, her teenage misfit confidant and then first love, but when it mattered most he seemingly failed her. Susan rebuilt her defenses, found love again and when they finally crossed paths all she wanted was to thwart his criminal ways. But when he is framed for murder, she is the only one capable of unraveling the truth and clearing his name.

Charles crafts an intriguing mystery and an even more fascinating relationship dynamic between former best friends and lovers, whose reunion is under the greatest of pressure. Betrayals true and imagined, miscommunications, disinformation and misunderstanding all must be untangled before Sukie and James can contemplate starting again. Charles is artful in the ways they rediscover parts of themselves they had forgotten about and uncover the ways they have been changed by life and loss. The tension of missing, regretting and reexamining are perfectly balanced by the sharp mutual recognition, pining, and playful attraction Lazarus and Templeton share. Their shared thrill in outsmarting and out-conning adversaries and their piercing observational skills and insight make them a formidable team, especially as James finally learns to trust and do what Susan needs him to do. I particularly loved the light femdom implied in Susan and James’s sexual encounters, as he thrills in doing just what she asks of him and Susan finds comfort in controlling and demanding him intimately.

This novel has tons of Easter eggs for fans of KJ Charles’s Sins of the City and Society of Gentlemen series, as generations of queer found family have left their loving mark on Susan and James. However whether readers are brand new to Charles’ novels or longtime fans, they will find something to treasure in Gilded Cage.

Content Warnings: Murder, mention of past miscarriage, past trauma: abandonment, kidnapping, emotional and physical abuse

Ana received a digital copy of this book from the author for review.


Love in Panels Review: American Love Story by Adriana Herrera

I reviewed American Love Story by Adriana Herrera for Love in Panels:

 

n the American Dreamer series, Herrera has crafted three strong romances that engage deeply with political and social issues without losing their sexiness  and humor. In American Love Story the failure of white LGBTQ allies to stand up for Black and marginalized people is front and center. Herrera sets Easton and Patrice’s reunion against the high-conflict backdrop of a spree of racially motivated traffic stops by local cops which only intensifies and highlights the poor communication behind the hot/cold dynamics of their tentative relationship. 

Both of them are unbalanced as they try to negotiate just what they are to each other when Patrice moves into town permanently. Their conflicted flirtation is nearly snuffed out when Easton’s boss bars him from speaking out and Patrice’s anti-racism activism brings him unwanted attention at work. Their already mismatched life experiences, one a Black refugee from Haiti, the other the black sheep of a wealthy but dysfunctional white family, put lots of pressure on them to understand each other’s soft spots. Easton himself has to come to terms with his hesitancy to intervene until Patrice is subjected to a dangerous encounter, while Patrice has to overcome his reticence to express his feelings and his own assumptions that he will not be supported.  While Herrera continues to rely on showstopping grand gestures to reunite parted lovers, their epilogue shows how they have worked together to build up their relationship and the concrete steps they have taken to improve their communication. 

 The only complaint I had about my experience with American Love Story was not with the book itself but with the narration of the audio version I listened to.  While I thought Sean Crisden had a fantastically deep and sonorous voice for Patrice, his choice to give Easton a high, almost cajoling tone of voice was jarring, especially when he is supposed to be a suave and gifted prosecutor.

I am looking forward to reading more books from Herrera especially for the deep sense of community she has created in the novels and the fascinating, complicated secondary characters that populate them.  I deeply enjoyed how Herrera continued to develop a sweet secondary romance between Nesto’s young employees, Yin and Ari, that first blossomed in the American Dreamer and the roles Nesto, Milo, Tom and Patrice’s mothers play in the lives of their queer sons.  American Love Story is worth swooning over as is Herrera’s ability to tackle such heavy subjects with such responsibility and grace. I can’t wait till JuanPa & Pris’s book!



Content Warnings: homophobia, racism, racially motivated traffic stops 

Ana borrowed this audiobook from her library.


Love in Panels Review: Archangel's War

The twelfth book in the Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series has been eagerly awaited by long-time fans after the excruciatingly tense way the previous book, Archangel’s Prophecy ended. In this book Singh brings to a close the long-running Cascade storyline, but not before nearly shattering the world, Raphael and Elena, and their people in an intense showdown between the most powerful members of the Archangelic ruling Cadre.

The stakes were high, and so are the casualties however Singh manages to craft a satisfying and affirming resolution while seeding new storylines and fresh conflicts that ensure readers will be eager to return for more. If you are interested in trying the series, it is best to start at the beginning, as Singh has built up an intricate world, with cut-throat and deadly powers, competing agendas and shifting allegiances. Singh manages not to lose sight of its large ensemble cast, crafting complex character journeys that have readers anticipating and speculating future protagonists and romantic pairings. I came late to the punishing and brutal world of the Guild Hunters but I am now deeply invested in it and I worried, cried and rushed through the book to learn the fate of my favorite characters.

While the Guild Hunter series is certainly not for everyone due to its cruel ethos and often violently gory storytelling, there are also deeply beautiful moments that celebrate friendship, loyalty and humanity. Having seen what Singh has crafted in her second Psy-Changeling series, I am deeply curious about what new challenges await Raphael, Elena, the Seven, and everyone else in future Guild Hunter books.

Suspenseful and emotionally intense, Archangel’s War propels readers through a searing journey that pays off long-running storylines and sets the stage for new beginnings, making it a must read for Guild Hunter fans.

Content Warnings: Ableism, deceased parent, gruesome, guns,Medical Procedures, past trauma: torture, abuse, murder, suicide of family member, war


Love in Panels Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

Catalina has always had to hold back her power, ever conscious that one slip could steal the will of those around her and make her vulnerable to their obsessive love. Now, with the future of House Baylor and Baylor Investigations squarely on her shoulders, she has to shake out her wings and do what needs to be done to find answers for herself and her clients. The last person she expects to derail her investigation however is Alessandro Sagredo, international playboy and the only man who has ever been able to even attempt to resist her. His skill at killing and disappearing are yet another mystery for Catalina to detangle.

In Sapphire Flames, this writing team reintroduces us to the fabulously bickering Baylor clan and launches the reader right into the deep end of magical house intrigues. Secrets, dangerous allies, reluctant partnerships and an engrossing mystery will please long-time fans of the series while making them desperate for future volumes. If you have not read any of the Hidden Legacy books before, you can start here as the Andrews are careful to seed enough exposition about the complex magical world they have built to invite new readers in but the new readers will surely miss the significance of many of the secrets Catalina is trying to untangle.

Like the previous Hidden Legacy books, Sapphire Flames is full of longing and tense attraction paired well with intense action scenes and emotional complications. Although many elements will feel familiar, the story takes surprising turns that are sure to delight new and long-time fans alike while hinting to the bigger themes they plan to tackle in this second series.

I can’t wait obsessively re-read them!

Content Warnings: Suicide Attempt, Murder, Violence, guns

Please note that this is rated R for violence, but is PG-13 for sexual content.