#readRchat

Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch

Saltmagic

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.


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

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


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The 2018#readRchat Award Winners:

 

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Contemporary:

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

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

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

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

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Best Short Story or Novella:

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

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

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

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

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Best Historical:

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

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

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

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

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

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Best Romantic Suspense:

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

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

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

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

 

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Best Paranormal Romance:

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

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

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

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Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Romance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Best Erotic Romance:

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

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

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Best Debut Romance:

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

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


Favorite SFR, PNR & Fantasy of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Favorite Short stories & Novellas of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Favorite Historical Romances of 2018

Historicalfaves2018As I work to whittle down my nomination list for #readRchatawards and Love in Panel's Favorites of 2018 list, I was struck by how  many fabulous yet completely different  historical romances I have read this year.

The four books vying for my three nomination spots are wildly different in tone, style and setting.

  • The Governess Game by Tessa Dare (m/f, Regency historical romance). This delightful sequel to last years fabulously frothy The Duchess Deal was filled with witty wordplay, the most challenging of charges & a pair of resistant romantics. Dare deftly portrayed the pains of racism, abandonment, guilt, grief & PTSD while finding a sweet & fulfilling HEAs for her MCs.  (CW: dubious consent)

  • Free Fall by Emma Barry & G.Tuner. (m/f, US-set, Mid 20th century Historical Romance). A one-night stand has consequences for a pair of near strangers.  Being newly married and expecting is hard enough but throw in a potential deadly space suit and a troop of sorority sisters and you have combustible combination. I LOVED this book.  Vivy, the heroine  is a vibrant firecracker,with no clue how to be a wife. Dean  is reserved & desperately trying to avoid feeling more than attraction for wife.  His desire for compartmentalization runs counter to Vivy determination not to be ignored.

This year I binged through a good portion of Ms. Beverly Jenkins's backlist, something I highly recommend others do.  I love her heroines, the research that goes into her books, and how she gives her characters such interesting careers. 

 Thankfully  Tempest, the final book in her Old West Series was published this year and I can actually nominate it have my binge represented

  • Tempest (m/f, Historical romance, western, audio & e) Colton is a widowed workaholic doctor wants a new mother for his daughter but doesn’t expect to be so drawn to his challenging mail-order bride. It is a miracle Regan didn’t shoot him twice. 
  •  Band Sinister by KJ Charles. (m/m, Fluffy Polyam Queer Regency Romance).  This book was such a treat. A full fas fascinating cast including a sweet secondary m/f romance, full of affirmative consent & a resolution worthy of the best of Heyer’s endings with its double proposals, overbearing aunt & spurned cleric!

Have you read any of these? Are they on your list?


Favorite Contemporary Romances of 2018

Favorites of 2018contemporaryI am working on putting together my best of list for Love in Panels and working on my nomination slate for the #readRchatAwards and the contemporary category is going to be a problem.  I have six 4.5/5 star reads in that category alone.

These are the contenders, and some of my favorite contemporaries this year:

  •  Twice in a Lifetime by Jodie Griffin F/F with BI MCs in their early 50s. Sexy, emotional, a little angsty. I typically back away from office romance but I loved Talia and Eve’s story. Great characterization/tension (CW: violence, guns)
  • Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai M/F, 3rd book in the Forbidden Hearts series.  Secrets & hidden feelings complicate Gabe & Eve’s affair. Loved the quiet affection in this book: surreptitious supportive touches, quick hand-squeezes, & eyes meeting. (Past Trauma: emotional abuse)
  • Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras M/F. Friends to Lovers with complications. Rosa & Jeremy’s night together was hot but morning after awkwardness turns into regrets. Both have guilt/family issues to sort out before they get on the same page. Really lovely romance with a great portrayal of familial tensions.
  • Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole . M/F. Portia upends Tavish’s life when she arrives as his Scottish Armory to be his apprentice. Age-gap, cross-class, completely charming & fun. Portia has undiagnosed ADHD, and a history of problem drinking. Hero is a grumpy child of refugee. The climatic conflict felt a bit abrupt and I had to read the end from the back to the front but I loved it anyway. (CW: problem drinking)
  • Thirsty by Mia Hopkins. M/F.  ex-con, Good girl, friends-with-benefits, hero POV only. Sal anxiety was intense & I got stuck halfway through because of the large emotions. He struggles so much to reach for something better. Feels so trapped by his past mistakes. The only thing I wanted was a couple of POV chapters by Vanessa but Hopkins did a fantastic job creating complex supporting characters even without giving them their own POV chapters. (CW: threats of gang violence)
  • Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon M/F.  Sloan is a doctor who needs an emergency replacement nanny for her twins when her previous one suddenly bails. Great consent, power dynamics, relationship status discussions, with a gentle supportive hero. There is a great friends/family circle for both characters. (CW: Controlling ex, violent outburst)

Have you read these?  Are they are on your favorites list?