multi-ethnic

#RomBkLove 2021 Day 1: Survival

#rombklove 2021 DAY 1 SURVIVAL
As we begin this 2nd Pandemic #RomBkLove, we've all had to grapple how life-changing this experience have been. Some have left jobs, relationships, communities in order to do what they need to survive.  Even from positions of comfort and privilege (able to work remotely, access to vaccines, etc.)  I have witnessed the gaps communal safety net, how social isolation can leave people unprotected and how so many live on a razor's edge.  In times like these romances that grapple these issues, which stark stakes, remind me of our human resilience and the power we have to help those arounds us, strangers or friends when they are in need.  I find comfort in these exercises of hope that are happily ever afters even after trauma and disaster.

WILD-RAIN-final-252x400Beverly Jenkins writes survivors.  So many of her MCs have survived traumatic pasts, including enslavement, abandonment & abuse, defiantly flourishing despite the many obstacles racism and bigotry place in their ways.  Be it Hester & Galen in Indigo, Maggie & Preacher in Night Hawk, Rhine & Eddy in Forbidden or Spring & Garrett in Wild Rain  her MCs, stand their ground, face down bullies and oppressors and do more than simply survive, they thrive, building families and communities.  US Based Historical Romance, (CW: Racism, abductions, guns, violence, threats of bodily harm, grief, Past trauma: Enslavement, sexual assault, emotional & physical abuse) (Rep:  cis BM/BW, Black author) 

Rebekah Weatherspoon is another author I turn to when I want to read survivors in a contemporary setting. Her MCs face everything from financial insecurity (Sugar Baby Series), family rejection (Xeni's Angus) to attempted murder (Beards and Bondage series)!   Her MC's creative solutions, devotion to found family and persistence in the midst of traumatic events are inspiring and comforting to me as a reader.  I love how the rejected and abandoned find home in others, how trauma is overcome and fails to define them. IR Contemporary romances  (CWs: attempted murder, betrayal, familial abandonment, secrets, kink, grief past trauma: biphobia.)( Rep: cis BW/WM, Queer Black author)

I started out 2020 by reading Anna Zabo's Reverb, little knowing how much it themes of authenticity and survival would come to mean to me. In Reverb, a when Mish, a certifiable Rock Goddess is being stalked and despite her desires to ignore it, she finds her life, band, and voice threatened,  she must come to trust David not just with her safety but with her heart and David must figure out how protect and love Mish.

David and Mish are both survivors. Both have made many sacrifices and endured much to live authentically and are able to navigate power imbalances, career demands to find love in each other.  Contemporary romance with RS tinge, bodyguard / rock queen, (CWs: stalking, grief, loss) (Rep: trans WM /WW bi, White Trans author)

In Olivia Waite's The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics,  Lucy and Catherine have survived different kinds of intellectual stifling due to sexism and abuse at the hand of the men in their lives.  In each other they find enthusiastic support, and unexpected attraction.  They are able to reclaim their intellectual and social agency, and strike blows against sexism in science, reclaiming their confidence, art and work.  Sexy and full of longing and pining.  They are stronger for what they have endured and will strive to make room for others. UK-Based Queer Historical (CWs: betrayal, intellectual theft Past trauma: domestic abuse) (Rep: bi WW/WW, Queer White Author).

 

What kinds of survival stories draw you?  What do you find compelling? Do these high stakes stories comfort you?

Archive: Day 1's Tweets

For a full list of prompts visit: https://www.anacoqui.com/2021/04/rombklove-2021.html

 


Love in Panels: Series Review: Final Hour by Juno Rushdon

I binge read this series recently and wrote up a series review for Love in Panels:

A great romantic suspense series needs to be able to balance romantic tension and pulse-pounding action, sustaining the momentum throughout the whole book, while crafting a believable resolution to both the intrigue and the romance. Juno Rushdan’s Final Hour series, packed with spy-thriller staples, secret installations, high-stakes interventions, coupled with fascinating characters and intense plotting delivered a great adrenaline rush and romantic punch. It is rare to be as invested in both the romantic and action story-lines as I was when reading the Final Hour series, but neither the action and romantic tension ever flagged.

Juno-Rushdan-Series-Giveaway

The series is not for the soft-hearted, as the MCs cross many bright moral lines, engaging in torture and violence without much in the way of oversight or regrets, as officers for the Gray Box, a secret black-ops off-the-books government-sponsored agency authorized to act nationally and internationally where other agencies can’t.

As romantic suspense can often feel like an overwhelmingly white genre, I was pleasantly surprised by the racially- and neuro-diverse cast, which substituted the typical band of brothers for a more inclusive found family set up, where emotionally scarred officers have found common purpose and companionship. Despite the assumed identities & deadly work, they share baked goods and meet for beers, at least until it becomes evident that a traitor or traitors has infiltrated the team and they must uncover the mole and their hidden agenda.

every-last-breathThe first book in the series, Every Last Breath, star-crossed lovers, Cole, the white prodigal son of a Russian mobster and Maddox the biracial daughter of a CIA agent who always meant to bring her into the service are unexpectedly reunited. Each thought each other lost, one believing himself betrayed, the other convinced she was responsible for his death and in order to work together they must unearth painful memories (familial rejection, racial bigotry, traumatic miscarriage) while reexamining their life choices. Struggling to trust each other, they try to infiltrate a secret auction in order to stop a deadly pathogen from being sold into the wrong hands. They have to grapple with both what happened to them as a couple and the people they have become as a result of the trauma they both experienced.

I really loved that neither Cole or Maddox is quite sure just what they want from each other. They ruthlessly investigate each other and treat each other as dangerous assets while at the same time trying to grapple with their wounded feelings. I enjoyed the sexual tension and emotional confusion they experienced as they try to figure out what happened to them and whether there can be anything more than closure for them.

CW: torture, violence, bigotry, past trauma miscarriage, mental illness

Buy a copy: Amazon  ◊  Apple Books  ◊  Barnes & Noble  ◊  Bookshop (Indie Bookstores)  ◊  Kobo

nothing-to-fearAs soon as I finished Every Last Breath, I sought out the next book in the series. I loved how seamlessly Rushdan had introduced the rest of the Gray Box cast, setting up rivalries and tensions in a way that made me eager to read more about these characters without stealing focus and momentum from search for the pathogen. I didn’t care who in the Gray Box I followed next, I knew they all would be super interesting.

In Nothing to Fear, Willow Harper is a brilliant neurodivergent hacker analyst who must go on the run with the emotionally scarred, widowed operative Gideon assigned to investigate her after he becomes convinced she is being set up and he won’t risk her being scapegoated and killed. I loved that Willow is shown to be an incredibly capable person including being her sick father’s primary carer, despite her autism. The pressures she feels to mask her autism in social and work settings are an added pressure, but she is consistently shown to have agency even when on the run. In the end it is Gideon who more clearly struggles communicating and acknowledging his feelings.

There is a very graphic torture sequence in this book as Gideon uses his black site training to try to break a henchman of the big bad. Willow’s acceptance of his choices and refusal to reject him as he is expected is a pivotal moment, but I wished I skimmed the scene more successfully as it is, I am not sure I am able to accept it as heroic.

I also didn’t love the depiction of his late estranged wife as resentful and shallow when he abruptly opts not to pursue a career as professional athlete and instead becomes a secretive CIA assassin, a move that would naturally shock and upset, if their communication and relationship had been strong, which it never was. I would have loved if that whole story thread had been eliminated.

CW: torture, violence, ableism, grief, past trauma: death of family member

Buy a copy: Amazon  ◊  Apple Books  ◊  Barnes & Noble  ◊  Bookshop (Indie Bookstores)  ◊  Kobo

until-the-endIn the final book of the series, Until the End, Castle, Maddox’s brother and former Navy Seal with more than a passing resemblance to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has longed been groomed to be one of the future leaders of the Grey Box, finds his loyalty and principles tested when their leader Bruce Sandborn makes him choose between protecting Kit, his mission target or surrendering her to the Gray Box.

Kit Westcott, is a caretaker and cultivator of talented hackers. Driven by the tragic loss of her brother she has dedicated herself to caring for her found family, until her group the Outliers are brutally killed. Kit is desperate to protect their work while finding out who set them up to be killed despite being handicapped by serious chronic heart condition.

Kit and Castle’s instalove relationship is a departure from the norm, as the previous couples had pre-existing relationships. Kit, with his lone-wolf whispering ways, gets through to Castle in a way no one outside the Grey box has ever been able to do, making her a target and threat to those who have long been able to depend on Castle to do as he is told.

At one point in the book I found myself very troubled by the tone and behavior of a secondary point of view character, but I was gratified to discover as the book unfolded that it was an authorial choice and foreshadowing, and not odd characterization. However, the ending was somewhat unsatisfying in that the heroes of the Gray Box, instead of fully renouncing and recoiling from the misguided choices that lead to the tragic twists in the series, instead seemingly continue the work, sure that they will not be corrupted as the villain was, which is probably true to life. I was curious that the book did seem to leave it set up for further books.

CW: Murder, PTSD, pathogens, medical procedures, drugging, abduction, stalking, past trauma: domestic abuse, suicide.

Buy a copy: Amazon  ◊  Apple Books  ◊  Barnes & Noble  ◊  Bookshop (Indie Bookstores)  ◊  Kobo

Juno Rushdan’s Final Hour series was an intense ride through the dark hearts and minds of the officers and agents ensuring global threats are eradicated in the shadows. Her characters are morally dark, but unflinchingly devoted to their companions and principles, as they face dilemmas that test their commitment to proper protocol. I would never want to be face off against the Grey Box’s operatives, but I would welcome their rescue and I cheered as each one stepped a little ways out of the darkness for the sake of love.

***

This post contains affiliate links. Ana received a digital copy of Until the End from the publisher for review.


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: Grumpy Jake by Melissa Blue

I reviewed Grumpy Jake over at Love in Panels.

Melissa Blue’s latest novella, Grumpy Jake, is as fun and appealing as its bright cover. In this light-hearted enemies to lovers romance Jake, a handsome but gruff White single father has gotten off on the wrong foot with his son Jayden’s Black Kindergarten teacher. Bailey has heard way too much about Jake’s dating misadventures thanks to the faculty’s breathless gossip mill. Despite her undeniable attraction to the tattooed nurse, Bailey does not want to be his next conquest. Deeply wary, the usually warm and effusive Bailey succeeds at freezing out the seemingly bad-boy playboy until they are trapped together in an elevator and she discovers his playfully disarming self-deprecating sense of humor and Jake is enchanted by her frankness.

The world-building is surprisingly robust for a novella, as Blue encircles Jake and Bailey with a rich assortment of friends and family. At the heart of the novella is Jake’s charming biracial son, Jayden, who is deeply loved by both of them. Blue is able to develop a complex push/pull relationship between Jake and Bailey that clearly establishes the risks both of them must consider as they get caught up into each other. Although the book could have benefited from one more pass with an editor due to a few word substitution errors, the book is eminently readable and it sucked me right out of a reading funk.

Filled with sexy banter and low-key angst, Grumpy Jake is as irresistible as Jake and Bailey find each other. If you have not yet discovered Melissa Blue, I strongly encourage you to take a chance on Grumpy Jake, and just like Bailey you will not be disappointed by the novella's mix of intense sexual tension and playful sexiness.

Content Warnings: Grief, Past Trauma (death of siblings)

Ana purchased this book.


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.