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Love in Panels Review: American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera

American-dreamerMy review of American Dreamer is up at Love in Panels!

Ernesto Vasquez might have been born in the Dominican Republic but he is a die-hard New Yorker at heart. His food truck, OuNYe’s menu expresses the special fusion of his New York city childhood, where the Afro-caribbean flavors of his heritage and that of his Puerto Rican, Cuban, Jamaican and Haitian best-friends, nourished and united them. Making his food truck a success is his driving objective because Nesto can’t live on passion alone, he needs his truck to turn a profit. Willing to try anything, Nesto has given himself six months Upstate in his mother Nurys’s new town of Ithaca, in a last ditch effort to keep his dream aflot. If he fails to find customers, he will pack it in and head back to NYC and find new dreams.

Jude Fuller is a young adult librarian with a passion for outreach to underserved communities, like rural LGBTQIA+ youth who don’t have regular or easy access to the local library. For years he has been working to see his bookmobile project funded and this might finally be the year. While it is small town curiosity and the lure of delicious flavors that bring Jude to OuNYe, it is Nesto’s flirtatious smiles and smooth moves that he can’t resist. However, Jude is determined to counter his BFF's matchmaking antics as he has no desire not risk heartbreak again. Jude wants to keep things nice and casual, but he soon finds himself caring and wanting more from Nesto.

Nesto and Jude’s relationship starts off playful and sexy with with great joyous energy and bilingual banter. But underneath Jude’s sunny and saucy sauntering lurks a painful emotional history and anxiety that makes him hesitate pursuing anyone, particularly someone whose focus and ambition might not keep him in Ithaca. Nesto is also conflicted about his inability to ignore his attraction to Jude. Being distracted from his primary reason for being in Ithaca brings up its own kind of angst.

Tension over the risk of pursuing a relationship, fear that commitment might not be evenly felt, and how to balance relationship and career goals are central to the story. Both Jude and Nesto have moments where they realize how deep in denial they have been, and I loved how their actions often betrayed their real feelings for each other long before they are willing to name their attraction or relationship.

This book was chock-full of delicious food, fascinating and engaging secondary characters and had a great sense of place. Herrera brings to life Ithaca’s many social and economic contrasts. I loved Nesto’s rowdy, nosey and loving extended Latinx family and the friends who drop everything to help him and wish him well. In contrast Jude’s religious and emotionally abusive family felt sketched in and somewhat like cardboard cutouts.

Misty, the petty and malicious antagonistic harasser of both Jude and Nesto was at times grandly cartoonish but not unrealistic in this day and age of meme-able white ladies calling 911 on innocent picnickers for simply being POC. Misty’s use and abuse of public servants such as cops & health inspectors seem instead frighteningly believable.

I also loved how Herrera showed Nesto and Jude’s different responses to the harassment. The differing ways they responded to Misty’s behavior is deeply informed by their own prior experiences and whether they felt it would spill onto others. I particularly appreciated how Nesto’s attitude of calm disengagement was a result of a life-long experience with racism and Jude’s internalized anger a scar from growing up closeted in an insular community that would eventually shun him for failing to conform to their expectations.

As much as I loved the book overall and the characters most of all, there was some wonky pacing in the middle of the book with weeks going by in a few paragraphs. I felt that I lost a sense of how long Jude and Nesto circled around each other, how long they were actively together before things started to go sideways or how far into Nesto’s six months we had progressed. I am also not a grand-gesture/big grovel reader, and the ending of this book has a big one. The gesture makes intellectual sense but it didn’t hit my emotional buttons, because it seemed to gloss over some serious communication and expectations issues that Nesto and Jude must address for their HEA to feel solid.

 

American Dreamer is angsty and sexy with a strong supporting cast and I am eager to read the future books in the series. I do recommend readers identify a source for Caribbean food before they start reading American Dreamer, as it is sure to inspire a desperate hankering for its Caribbean flavors.

 

I received a review copy from the author.

 

 

 

Content Warnings: Cancer Death (relative of one of the MCs), religious extremist family, Homophobia, Racist language, racist harassment. 


Beyond the Sectors, Episode 1: Beyond Shame is live!

Hey fellow O'Kane for lifers, the first episode of the Beyond the Sectors Podcast is now live!

 

The podcast is already available for download via podbean . The itunes link will come soon!

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews (Iron Covenant Book 1)

Iron and Magic cover by Ilona Andrews A woman with long white hair dressed in white and dark haired man dressed in black stand in front of a castleWhen I heard that Ilona Andrews was writing a book for Hugh, I was mystified. In the Kate Daniels novels Hugh was the brutal, remorseless Warlord for Roland, who cut a brutal path through Atlanta, killing many of Kate's near and dear friends and allies. He is not a  heroic figure. He was a capital V-villain. But if we know a character's eye-color you know someone out there in Romancelandia is hoping for their book. I didn't think I was one of those people, and then I read the excerpt and I reconsidered.

Hugh is reframed in this book. He continues to be the fully-committed brutal warrior in the ridiculous over-sized horse.  Having been exiled and cast aside by Roland, he has been un-moored and has spent nearly a year drowning himself in alcohol, until the surviving members of his Iron Dogs come find him.  They are being killed off by Roland's men and they need to regroup for safety.  Starving and down to their last coins, Hugh chooses to accept an unlikely alliance. 

Elara has a castle full of followers and mysterious folks very determined to push her out of it. She needs Hugh and his troops as protection. She offers him a bargain. A marriage of convenience, where she will provide them income and a secure location and he provides protection.  Both are desperate enough to make the bargain without looking to closely at each other's past.

Elara and Hugh's flirtation through mutual antagonism is one of my favorite tropes. Their tit-for-tat battles while putting on a nice face for bystanders just made me gleeful. I love particularly how their hyper-awareness of each other due to their suspicious natures, means they see each other in a way no one else does.  They see past the bluster, and facade of control, to see when they are fearful or hurt.  They are both under incredible pressure as leaders. Although they both have trusted friends on their sides, in the end they are both alone in making the hard choices for their communities. They have a lot of unvoiced feelings and secrets yet to unpack and I am eager to see where things go next for this couple.

I can't wait to learn more about Elara, her past with the Remaining and the reason she left with her Departed and just how Hugh will come to terms with what she truly is. I expect Ilona and Gordon Andrews to continue to unpack the dangers of religious devotion and where the lines are drawn between adoration, love and loyalty.

If you are a Kate Daniels fan already, I hope you pick up Iron and Magic.

 

 

 


Ivan by Kit Rocha (Gideon's Riders 3)

Gideon's Riders  3 Cover Ivan and Maricela.Maricela has everyone in Sector One at her beck and call as part of Sector One's ruling family, the Rios and while that might sounds nice, it also means that nearly everyone wants something from her. They want her time, her charity, her affection and most all her attention. Ever since she reached a marriageable age and since her brother, Gideon continues to elude matchmaking mamas, suitors are constantly buzzing around her, hoping to be the one who will succeed in winning an advantageous alliance for their family.

Ivan grew up on the streets, scrounging for food and shelter most days. His uncles betrayed the Prophet by kidnapping his daughter and grandson. Although Ivan was just a child and his mother ignorant of the plot, they lost everything when their family's treachery was uncovered.  However Gideon welcomed Ivan into his elite fighting force, the Riders. His only goal in life is to live up to his father's legacy as one the sainted Riders, to restore his family's name by dying in the service of the Rios family.  But then he met Maricela and his feeling for her are not innocent adoration and making her happy makes him happy. The only problem is that his job is to keep her safe, not happy and that puts them both in danger.

I have really been loving this new series. Despite sharing a world and continuity with Rocha's Beyond series, these books have completely different kinds of conflicts and tensions.  The Rios family run a sector founded by the prophet, Fernando Rios, an opportunistic charlatan who brought stability to the region but abused his spiritual hold in residents for his benefit. His heirs have spent a generation trying to rule it without abusing the faith of Sector One's people, while trying to maintain stability and prosperity for its residents.

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While the O'Kanes had to deal with a great deal of political intrigue, the politics of Gideon's Riders are straight up palace/dynastic intrigue. Ever since the fall of Eden, they have responding to a  massive refugee crisis while trying to figure out who has been trying to destabilize the sector by targeting the Rios family. This is post-dystopian romantic suspense at its best. There are house parties, and balls disrupted by assassinations attempts,  & murders and in the middle of all that two people secretly falling in love, while trying their hardest not to. The novel was very hard to put down and my favorite of this new series so far.

AshwinTwitterIf you haven't tried Kit Rocha before give this series a try. I think Ivan stands well on its own, but if you want to start at the beginning, the first book Ashwin (which I reviewed last year) about a super-soldier who shouldn't have feelings, catching a terrible case of feelings for his former handler, Kora, a gifted healer who he spirited away from the military installation they both grew up in. He tried to train himself to not want her, but he can't keep away. It is on sale of .99 cents right now and you can't go wrong at that price.

I received a copy of Ivan from Kit Rocha for review consideration. You can purchase a copy at all the usual places.

 

 

 


Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras (Matched to Perfection 2)

Her Perfect AffairCoverReview:

 22. Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras 3/27 Friends to Lovers with complications. Rosa & Jeremy’s night together was hot but AM awkwardness turns into regrets. Both have guilt/family issues to sort out before they get on the same page. Really lovely rom. #bkbrk #rombklove

— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) March 8, 2018

Rosa is a school librarian at the suburban-Chicago-area Catholic high school she attended as teenager and she is the Fernandez sister most invested in being the "good-girl". As a teenager she made a bad decision that haunts her to this day and that mistake makes her hyper-cautious.  But at her older sister Yazmine's wedding, she lets loose a little. After all her planning and stress, the wedding has gone off without a hitch, so she lets Jeremy, her sister's good friend who she had developed a crush on, talk her into a dance & champagne.  Having more fun than she has had in ages, Rosa doesn't want the night to end and invites Jeremy up to her room.

Two months after an awkward morning after,and embarrassment fueled brush-off by Rosa, Jeremy is happy to hear from her again, hoping that they might recover and sort things out, and maybe give dating a try. He isn't however expecting to learn that is the reason Rosa has sought him out again is that she is pregnant.  He has lots of emotional baggage about his birth-father, his absence and presence in his life and his desire to never let his adoptive father down that Rosa's news rock him to core.

The conflict in this book was so wrenching.  Rosa is having a difficult pregnancy, facing the possibility that she might lose the job she loves, so it is just so tempting to not fight Jeremy, to accept his proposal and his help, but she just can't say yes, not for any reason other than love. She sometimes draws lines in the sand that seem harsh because she is worried about caving and Jeremy pushes too hard because he is just so scared.   

I really loved how Rosa isn't willing to let them skip steps just because it would make things simpler, especially when she doesn't understand why Jeremy is pushing so hard.  Oliveras does a fantastic job depicting Rosa's close-knit middle-class Puerto Rican family and how it contrasts with Jeremy's loving but much more formal and wealthy family.  The little details of how the sisters interact were familiar, especially with how they relate to their godmother, exasperation and appreciation of her fierce love for them, sharply felt in the absence of their parents.

As someone who has been a librarian in a private Christian school, I thought Oliveras depiction of Rosa's work environment believable and her tension about how things could play out, very realistic.

My favorite part of this romance is how Jeremy and Rosa have to resolve their own drama around their families and careers even as they sort out their feeling for each other. Oliveras doesn't divorce these conflicts from each other, but they are not conflicts that are resolved in one simple encounter or conversation rather it was organic and messy and incredibly charming. 

I am eager to read Lili's story and I hope that with Oliveras' RITA nomination and the special sale price, folks take the leap and try out His Perfect Partner too, although Her Perfect Affair stands alone perfectly.

I received a copy of Her Perfect Affair from the publisher, Kensington for review consideration. 

I don't usually participate in blog tours but I do occasionally make exceptions for a very small group for books that I feel strongly about. I had already read a copy Her Perfect Affair before I was approached to host and I was happy I could agree to do so wholeheartedly.  Below you will find links to a Rafflecopter Giveway hosted by Oliveras's blog tour company along with an excerpt from Her Perfect Affair and blurbs for the first two books of the Matched to Perfection series.

 

The official blurb:

About Her Perfect Affair: 

 The Fernandez sisters have always had big dreams, and the talent and drive to pursue them. And in this sunny, spicy new series, each one will discover that success is that much sweeter when love follows . . .

Rosa Fernandez doesn’t act on impulse—she’s the responsible one, planning her career with precision, finally landing a job as the librarian at conservative Queen of Peace Academy, confining her strongest emotions to her secret poetry journal. But she’s been harboring a secret crush on dreamy Jeremy Taylor, and after one dance with him at her sister’s wedding, Rosa longs to let loose for the first time. She deserves some fun, after all. So what if she doesn’t have a shot with Jeremy, not with his wealthy pedigree and high profile lifestyle. But one dance leads to one kiss, and soon Rosa is head-over-heels . . .

The adopted son of a prominent Chicago lawyer, Jeremy has a lot to live up to—especially with his birth father in prison—the perfect example of a bad example. With a big promotion and a move to Japan in the works, Jeremy is worlds away from settling down. But sweet, steady Rosa is a temptation he doesn’t want to deny himself, at least for now. Yet when their simple fling turns complicated, everything they’ve both worked for is threatened—except the red-hot intimacy they’ve found together. Can forever really grow from just-for-now?

Add to your TBR list:  Goodreads

Available at:  Amazon  |  Barnes and Noble  |  Kobo  |  iTunes

 

 

Rafflecopter for Her Perfect Affair Blitz Giveaway:

Priscilla is offering one (1) lucky Grand Prize winner a prize pack containing a $50 Amazon Gift Card, an XL shirt featuring the book cover, a Spanish fan with Priscilla’s website, and a coffee mug and coaster with Priscilla’s logo. Two (2) Runner-Up winners will receive an eCopy of His Perfect Partner (Matched to Perfection #1)! To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Rogue Acts (Rogue Series #3)

51gndNazFiL._SY346_In this third collection of short stories of love and resistance we have a lovely mix romances. Some of these stories are highly erotic, others gentle and romantic but each of them tackles how love and romance is often a political act,  Loving as acts of hope and resistance when things seem darkest.

Make You Mine by Molly O'Keefe: In the last days of her campaign for NY Gov, Maggie and Jay her chief of staff  have to make a choice, watch their twenty-plus year friendship implodes under the pressure of not to acknowledging  what they feel for each other or have the courage to choose each other. In typical O'Keefe fashion, the sex is searing and the emotions intense as they try to figure out a way forward.

Personal Audition by Ainsley Booth.  This is the least overtly political story in the collection, yet it is still intensely political because it is about claim one's authentic self when it easier to go along with the flow.  Camilla is a comedian, sleeping on her ex's couch after losing her apartment in a fire (  ).  She teaches by day and refines her comedy routine, counting the days till she can leave for California.  She.  When she picks up a separated socialite, she soon finds herself questioning her plans and her ideas about relationships. I wish however we had more background for Lizzie whose story begged for more elaboration. 

Brand New Bike by Andie J. Christopher: I was first introduced to Michael Garcia in Christopher's Biker B*tch, where he was a hot mess. He is still a hot mess in this story but one who is actually putting effort into reforming his dating life so he can actually try to develop relationships that don't begin and end in the bedroom. However when a critical podcaster goes after Michael for seemingly selling out on Net Neutrality, their verbal sparring acts as foreplay and leads to lots of conflicted feelings when they don’t hate each other’s guts as they expected. The resolution was bit rushed but a epilogue has been promised.

Cover Me by Olivia Dade:  This story was the second story in the ARC I received. Once I read this story in the ARC, I just went ahead and pre-ordered my copy because I wanted to own it.  This gentle romantic story starts as a marriage of Convenience between long-time friends for insurance purposes ignites into so much more. . I loved the incandescent scene at a townhall meeting were Elizabeth roasts her congressman & opens James eyes to Elizabeth and to everything she has quietly been shouldering alone. James is such a sweet hero determined to care for his new wife, who has been a caretaker for so long that she struggles to let him take care of her for a change. 

The Long Run by Ruby Lang:  Lang excels at telling stories about lovers who get off on the wrong foot, and in this gently funny and hopeful story, it is neighbors who meet first scowl at each other across a coop conference table.  This story is all about small efforts toward change & community building & how finding hope & joy is essential when things are hard. I Loved Annie’s too-loudness & Monroe’s chill-hiding shyness and how they can't ignore each other even when they try.

Never Again by Stacey Agdern: Interconnected to Adgern's previous Rogue novellas, Agdern brings together two previously introduced characters.  Sam is a Jewish superhero-playing actor who is determined to use his fame & wealth and the platform it gives him to make a difference, from funding small donor-choose style projects for teachers to lending his influence to help promote a  documentary on Jewish resistance that moved him.  Deb, is the filmmaker’s sister & coincidentally the preschool teacher whose school-fund projects Sam’s been funding. The pacing for this story was a bit choppy, as Deb and Sam relationship progress in fits and starts but their flirting was very cute and I loved how Agdern portrayed the role of faith and religious practice in their life.

His Neighbor’s Education by Jane Lee Blair:  As the end of summer fast approaches, Sarah’s neighborhood gains a gorgeous & friendly new member, however their interactions soon sours when it turns out that he as rival of sorts, as he is inexperience/undertrained  but well-meaning charter school teacher, while Sarah is public school teacher working in an underfunded high needs school, who constantly loses their best and brightest to the charters. I loved how angry/grumpy Sarah is, her love for teaching, and just how much her choices have cost her. Her frustration when she runs into Mark a church was delightful as was her sensual teasing of Mark as they test out the depths of their mutual attraction. As teacher, I particularly enjoyed how Mark’s crisis at realizing good intentions aren’t enough plays out, as there are few easy choices or solutions. 

 

I received an ARC for Rogue Acts but I ended up buying my own copy because I love this project and want to see more of them.  Dade, O'Keefe and Lang's stories alone justify $2.99 no-longer discounted price-tag.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews #TBRChallenge #RomBkLove Reads challenge review

51w4wjxiUZL._SY346_I love authors with long backlists because I am binge reader and I love being able to immerse myself in the worlds they create.  Every so often however I flounder in the middle of a series and just lose track of where I left off. While I adore the Kate Daniels series, I had somehow gotten stuck.  In this case the unavailability of the audiobook for Magic Rises via my libraries, which meant I was sidetracked into other of Andrews series that they did have available in Audio.  With the final book in the Kate Daniel's series by Ilona Andrews is coming out later in the Spring  Jennifer Porter's recent massive PNR twitter thread inspired me to get myself unstuck in this series before the last book came out.  

In Magic Rises, Kate and Curran have been living together for about a year. Kate has settled into her role as Consort of the Beast Lord's massive Atlanta Pack. She trains her adopted daughter, Julie, runs her private detective/problem solving business while everyday getting to know the Pack's needs. Once a nearly feral, solitary fighter, Kate has become a partner, a mother and leader of a pack, but is about to be tested in a way she has never been before. When Julie's best friend is Mattie is unable to control her shape and has a stress-induced reaction to the virus that causes shapeshifting, she is facing a death sentence.  Seeing Mattie's mother's and Julie's grief consume Kate and make determined not to see another child in the pack lost this way, especially when know there is a treatment.

Curran has also had enough. At that moment he will face any challenge, if it means bringing end to this pain for his pack, even if it means walking into a dangerous trap, because it is then that Curran and his Consort, Kate have been invited to serve as protector and arbitrator for complex family drama in a remote castle on the edge of the Black Sea. They promise Panacea, the herbal cure that would heal Mattie and protect the youngsters in the pack from Loupism.

Kate and Curran surround themselves with their most trusted friends and other powerful players in the Pack. The secure alliances and then travel together, knowing that once they arrive they will be under constant pressure and unable to freely communicate with each other. The Andrews do a fantastic job setting up the traveling party, tensions, the unease and the determination.  They feel ready and then they are surprised and jolted out of that confidence in quick succession when they arrive to the castle. 

I was frustrated with Curran and Kate at point but they reacted in believable and understandable ways to the threats Hugh and Lorelei represented. I sympathized so much with their anger and frustration, that painful level of mad that you can only reach with someone you love more than your life. I laughed at their pettiness and felt their pain.  I was particularly moved by how Kate processed her hurts and how it highlighted how important belonging to the pack, and her role in as Consort had become to her.  She never really believes in Curran's purported/seeming betrayal till it seems like he is saying she doesn't truly belong, that she is somehow a burden, which cuts her right were she is most vulnerable. My only annoyance with this storyline was the bizarre focus on marriage the European packs had, especially in light of Desandra's temporary and less than solid marriage alliances. That piece of the conflict didn't gel well.

I though Hugh was fascinating. His arrogance grated on Kate, but she also recognized him in a deeper way than she expected. It was uncomfortable for her to fit so well, to be understood so well but someone she finds abhorrent. He is cruel, murderous, yet he thinks like her, shares so many common experiences with her, that it added a layer of thread, the promise of understanding and belonging, that had not been previously present.

Lorelei was in the end an unsubstantial distraction but I am left curious about whether she escaped the burning castle during the final conflict or not.  I am curious about what will become of her, and whether she will face any consequences for her actions.

I am so happy I picked up this series again. I've already downloaded the next book, and I am looking forward to catching up with the rest of the series.  Kate, Curran and the pack have been changed by this adventure and I am curious to see where they go next.

 

 

Quick Spoilers below about a Character Death:

The cut that cut me the deepest was Aunt Bea's death. She had been such a fantastic secondary character. Tough, multifaceted and so damn interesting. She was the mother Kate never had. Like Kate she used all her skills to protect the misfits she loved and I know Kate will still keep learning from her, hearing her voice in her head, just like she does Voron's

 

Spoilers over!

 


The Best of 2017: The Whole List!

Best Contemporary 

I read a lot of fantastic Contemporary Romance this year, but three books stood out as giving me all the happy sighs.

34217566My favorite book of the year is Alisha Rai's "Wrong to Need You" It came out this week. And I need everyone to finish reading it so they can also nominate it.  While I loved "Hate to Want You", the first book in Rai's Hidden Hearts series, the emotional core of this books is so much stronger. I loved the conflict between Sadia and Jackson, the depth of the family tensions and the HEA left me happily wrung out.  

 Jackson and Sadia grew up together, each other's most trusted and true friend. But it was Jackson's big brother, Paul, who stole her heart.  Ten years later, Paul is dead, Sadia is struggling to keep the cafe they ran together afloat, when Jackson, now a chef with global-following unexpectedly arrives back in town after a decade of ignoring her emails to insist on helping her.

They have a ton of deep unspoken issues to resolve, secrets to discover and so much sexual tension to work out. As Jackson and Sadia rediscover each other, learn how life has changed them and marked them, they also have their individual issues to resolve with their own families, which deepen rather than distract from their romance.. It was a delicious sexy angst-fest that doesn't feel manufactured in any way.

I almost always fall in love with Rai's heroines and Sadia is no exception for I adored her, bisexual,widowed mother & cocktail historian. While Jackson has the more dramatic family drama to resolve, Sadia's complex relationships with her sisters, her parents, who love her & judge her and how they cause her to defend and questions her life choices gripped me. 

All I can say is  GO READ IT. (I received a ARC from the author for review consideration).

32613865My second nomination in the Best Contemporary Romance category was Lucy Parker's "Pretty Face". I loved Parker's first West End-set novel, Act Like It, and this turned me into a full-blown Parker fangirl, as there is just such great backstage intrigue, full of gossip and melodrama. 

Lily Lamprey dreams of escaping the vampy TV roles that have made her a household name for serious career on the stage and in film. But her new director, Luc Savage, nearly refuses to cast her, worried that she is nothing more than a pretty face.  Their relationship starts out adversarial and there is no one more surprised than they when they start acknowledging a mutual attraction.  Like in Wrong To Need You, Luc and Lily's contrasting family relationships add some much depth to romance.  This book has a great big Grovel and it was wonderful and well earned.

51pUnzjaXkL._SY346_I rounded out my nominations in Best Contemporary Romance, with a nod to Laura Florand's A Kiss in Lavender.  Lucien is the long-lost cousin, who struggles to believe that he belongs in the Rosier Valley and Elena is the much shuffled and abandoned foster child, who idealizes a homecoming for Lucien and struggles to understand how he might not long to stay in their welcoming arms. The real meat of their conflict however is about identity and how much they value their careers.

 

 

 

 

For Best Short Romance/Novella my nominees were Kissing and Other Forms of Sedition from Rogue Desire by Emma Barry, &  Shira Glassman’s Knit One, Girl Two. 

 

51+1cQit23L._AC_US218_I loved watching The Rogue Desire anthology move from idea into reality in the days after election. The collection as a whole was quite strong and at one point I intended to review it all but sadly life intervened.

My favorite story in the collection was Emma Barry's. Her story, Kissing and Other Forms of Sedition is about two VA legislative staffers, who when the President seems determined to trigger nuclear war via twitter finally confess their mutual desire and then set out on a road-trip to DC so they might attempt to persuade a Federal Cabinet official to consider evoking the 25th amendment.  It is nerdy, funny and incredibly sexy.  

51At-pLns8L._SY346_I read Glassman's fluffy and colorful short with the rest of the "Not-a-bookclub" crew.   In it indie yarn dyer is inspired by the colorful paintings of a local artists and reaches out to her so they might collaborate on project.   It is a story about creativity, inspiration, and falling in love, full of nerdy knit-culture and fan-culture details and crammed full of interesting supporting characters. It was just the dash of sweetness and hope that I needed in midsummer.

 

 

511ISHXQmPL

For Best Historical Romance my nominees were Fair, Bright and Terrible by Elizabeth Kingston, An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole, & Lisa Kleypas’s A Devil in Spring but if I could nominated five I would have also nominated The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare and K.J. Charles 's An Unnatural Vice.

I adored Kingston's The King's Man, so I was really looking forward to the sequel,  Fair, Bright and Terrible by Elizabeth Kingston. I was shocked however to learn that the heroine would be Eluned, Gwellian's rebel mother, who was one of the chief antagonists in the King's Man. Kingston however compelled me to fall in love for this revenge-minded and vicious heroine.  It is a second chance at love story, as after the death of her mad abusive husband in the Holy Lands, King Edward seeks to solidify his hold on Welsh lands by forcing her to marry one his men, Robert de Lascaux.  Eluned and Robert had a costly affair when they were both young and Robert has never stopped loving her.  Eluned however paid a deep price for their love affair and is not eager to give up her power, lands and position to a new English Lord, even if he was once her beloved lover. Their journey from vengeance and pain to trust and love was amazing.  I loved the richness of Kingston's storytelling, the way she handles religion, personal faith and politics is intricate and remarkable. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it and if you are an audio fan, both the books are superbly narrated by Nicholas Boulton, one of the best romance narrators around.

516WEHK17LLAlyssa Cole's An Extraordinary Union is a spy-thriller set in the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Ellie Burns's photographic memory once made her performer on the abolitionist circuit , but the former slave now serves the Union as part of the Loyal League, a network of black spies. She has infiltrated the home of a Confederate politician when her mission is endangered by the arrival of another Union spy, Malcom McCall, a Scottish immigrant and one of Pinkerton's agents.

I loved Ellie, righteous anger and disgust and incredibly bravery.  She is witty, cynical about men, white men in particular and determined to do all she can to make sure the Union wins. 

61DtVTVlHSLLisa Kleypas's Devil in Spring is the sequel I didn't really mean to read but that I loved anyway. I was distinctly underwhelmed by the first book in this series, as the hero and heroine hardly spent anytime together, and although I bought Marrying Winterbourne, I didn't ever get around to reading it. However, after hearing interesting things from trusted romance reading friends, I decided to try the sample and I was delighted by Pandora. One of the wild Ravenel sisters that steal the first book, Pandora is determined to avoid marriage, so she may launch her own game-manufacturing company. However an act of kindness and clumsiness entrap both Pandora and  Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, the son of Evie and Sebastian from Kleypas's treasured classic Devil in Winter, in an engagment.

This book has some flaws, mostly in the third half when the plot goes sideways, but Pandora is one of the most enjoyable Regency heroines I have read in a good while.

51P7cOTXSrLHowever I could have easily nominated Tessa Dare's delightful and fanciful, The Duchess Deal. The Duchess Deal is more fairy-tale than Regency romance, as many almost fantastical events move the plot forward but the romance was just so tender and sweet that like most Tessa Dare romances, it overcomes all sorts of ridiculous premises. It doesn't quite matter how ridiculous it would be that a Duke would insist on marrying an impoverished seamstress so that he may spite the fiancee that abandoned him when he returned dramatically scarred from the Continental Wars, because story feels right.  The book leans into the ridiculous at points, with Emma giving the Duke new nicknames each day and Ashbury's adventures as a nighttime vigilante.

I very  much enjoy Dare's sense of humor and find her fun to read. She frequently makes me laugh, which is something I look for in fluffy reads, but she also tackle a great deal emotional territory. I particularly appreciated the scene where the Duke struggles to understand and comfort the Emma when she is having a panic attack. It wasn't gritty or eloquent but it felt very very familiar.

She clung to his waistcoat. “This just h-happens sometimes.” He tightened his arms about her. “I’m here,” he murmured. “I’m here.” He didn’t ask her any further questions, but he couldn’t help but think them.

 

51EKw4JefHL._SY346_I adored K.J.Charles's Sins of the Cities series ( I reviewed the whole series for RT). The books are set in a colorful and diverse London that is rarely depicted in romance novels and never as vividly. An Unnatural Vice is the story of Nathaniel Roy, an investigative journalist pressured by his boss to take on the incredibly popular spiritualists, who were all the rage in Victorian London. His skepticism meets its match in Justin Lazarus, the gifted amoral grifter known as the Seer of London, and one my favorite K.J. Charles characters yet.  

K.J.Charles did a fantastic job juggling the overarching series mystery with the more personal and deadly danger Justin and Nathan find themselves caught up in.  I was fascinated by the way Charles was able to resolve the conflicts between Justin and Nathan, to provide them with a believable HEA. 

 

My nominations for Best Paranormal Romance were Wildfire (Book 3 in the Hidden Legacy series), Silver Silence by Nalini Singh (Book 1 in her new Psy-Changeling Series, Trinity) and Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop.

27422533There are very few authors for whom I consistently pay full price for on release day, no questions asked, that small circle includes these authors.

I have consistently enjoyed Gordon and Ilona Andrew's Urban Fantasy and PNR novels but the Hidden Legacy series has all the elements that made the other series work for me mixed together in just the right way.  I love Nevada, her self-sacrifice, and determination to take care of her family. I love her family, her wacky sisters, her funny cousins, and her quirky and determined mom and grandmother.  I really like Rogan and the arc the Andrews have given to him, from almost feral despot, to a dangerous and still unpredictable leader who trust Nevada as partner in all ways, and is determined to make sure the Nevada and her family have all the choices they deserve.

I really hope we see way more books set in this world. I am pretty done with Rogan and Nevada as leads, but I am eager to follow so many of the other characters in this series into magical mayhem.  These books are also excellent audio books. Renee Raudman once again pairs up with Andrews to deliver an engrossing performance.

51kN6kL1f7L._SY346_I was thrilled to see Nalini Singh embrace a new more inclusive direction in the her new Psy-Changeling series, Trinity.  Silver Silence is the story of Silver Mercant and Valentin Nikoleav.

Valentin is sweet, determined Bear Shifter who is determined to breakthrough Silver' icy silence, but he gets consent.  

In Silver Silence, Valentin does not proceed without Silver's explicit consent. He is blunt, determined and stubborn but he respects Silver's choices even when it hurts him.  He encourages her and makes sure she has everything she needs. His protectiveness does not make her world smaller. Silver is presented as more powerful than Valentin in all ways but the physically, and that he is not threatened by her prominent global position but instead actively supportive of it.  Valentin's love for Silver is self-sacrificial, and constant when many would have given up. Singh does a great job presenting this as fidelity not simply stubbornness.

"Who are you to me?" 
"Yours," he said, "I'm yours."

From my July 2017 review

51l5ne9mCDL._SY346_ Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop is the last book of a fascinating but often frustrating series for romance readers like myself who are used to more romantic progression and heat. But the series and its sprawling cast captured my heart and imagination.

In this novel Bishop resolves Meg and Simon's long-standing but unacknowledged love for one another. The whole world is changed by their relationship even if they don't know quite how to articulate what they are one another.  I left the series feeling satisfied and impressed after a few re-reads of the whole series highlighted to me how many themes and threads from the first books are tied up in the fifth book. 

However the book was also partly a set up for Bishop future novels set in the world of the Others as she expands the focus away from the Courtyard to new satellite communities.  I am eager to see what dangers and wonders those stories will dwell on.

29772444Best Romantic Suspense

I don't read a lot of romantic suspense anymore but when I do, it is by HelenKay Dimon. The genre as whole has gone very dark but I can count on Dimon to build tension and menace without more gore or gruesomeness than I can handle.

I loved Guarding Mr. Fine one of the runners up in this year's #readRchatawards, when I read it almost a year ago and it has one of the best awkward morning after run-ins ever. But my favorite of Dimon's current series is her "Games People play" series about a close-knit group of guys, who are as awkward as they are dangerous. My favorites in the series were The Fixer, which came out the last week of last year and The Enforcer, which came out in the spring.  The heroines are fabulous, hostile, suspicious and not willing to give these guys an inch.   

These books hit my sweet spot of fun, sexy and suspenseful and I had a hard time putting it down to get other stuff done this week.

    --From my review in May


6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d27ac453970c-120wiBest Erotic Romance

This was a really tough category for me this year.  I used to read so many that fell under this heading but I have instead been reading a lot more hot contemporary. However when I do read Erotic Romance it is written by Rebekah Weatherspoon. I loved her Beards and Bondage series, particularly the second book, Haven.  Weatherspoon's heroines are the best but she writes wonderfully superficially grumpy and gruff heroes who are truly sweet and creates communities around the protagonists that dynamic, realistic and believable.

Rebekah Weatherspoon continues to succeed in crafting stories that are emotionally layered and full of humor. I loved the whole cast, even when they don't love each other.

--From my review in April

 

51CGyb5IqjLBest Debut Romance

The #readRchatawards debut romance nominee list read like the top of my TBR.  I was particularly thrilled to see nominations for two great up and coming Latina writers, Priscilla Oliveras and Alexis Daria

I really enjoyed reading Daria's "Take the Lead" and there is just something so special about seeing someone with a name and background like your own (my mom shares a last name with Daria's heroine,  Gina Morales) getting their HEA.  Gina is strong, principled and determined to succeed in a difficult soul-eating industry. I loved her intensity. Although I have never watched a minute of Dancing with the Stars or any other celebrity Dancing competition I found the whole story highly enjoyable, with great behind the scene details (OMG, the spray-tan scene!).

51CaU6ISGfL._SY346_In the debut category I also loved reading Adriana Anders, "Under Her Skin".  

"" a story about finding a safe harbor, working toward self-acceptance, and starting over.  There really great depictions of female friendships, a richly drawn small town community and little femdom kink to spice things up.

--From my review in April

She has had a  stellar year, with two additional releases and a great short story anchoring in the Rogue Desire Anthology, that you need pick up if you love heroes and heroines who are part of the #resistance and fight for trust, justice, freedom and equality.

 

 

I needed great books to read this year more than I usually do. They provided precious hours of entertainment, uplift and inspiration. I hope you had a great year of reading, and I hope the coming new year is filled with fantastic books for all of us to enjoy!