Romance Feed

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.


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. 


Episode 2 of Beyond the Sectors is out! It is all about Beyond Control.

Copy of Beyond
Find the second episode of Beyond The Sectors on  iTunes and Podbean.

Ana and Chelsea giddily discuss the tumultuous romance between the King and Queen of Sector Four. Dallas and Lex have been circling around each other for years, risk and desire in balance until an inflammatory tattoo changes everything.

Find the show notes over at: https://beyondthesectors.com/


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!

 


Love in Panels Review: Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik

PolarisRising-680x1024I am over at Love in Panels today with my review of Polaris Rising by Jessie Milhalik.

Polaris Rising is the first book in a new SFR series by Jessie Mihalik, this SFR adventure is full of action, fascinating secondary characters and interesting world-building.  There is lots of sexual tension, mutual mistrust, wall-banging sex and lots and lots of med-bay visits for the space faring duo. 

For the rest of the review: Love in Panels 


Caroline's Heart by Austin Chant #TBRChallenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

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


9

The 2018#readRchat Award Winners:

 

1
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.

2
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.

3
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?

4
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.  

 

5
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.

6
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.

7
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.

8
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?


Love in Panels Review: Treason of Truths by Ada Harper

This review was first published at Love in Panels:

I adored the first book in this duology and so I had high expectations for this romance. I was eager to go back into this world and and explore the flip-side of the tropes from the first book. Unlike Galen and Olivia who meet during an assassination attempt and grow in to love and trust, Sabine and Lyre have been partners and friends for decades. Again Harper works to upend trope expectations while leaning into others. I loved the contrast between Lyre and Sabine’s styles and how that played into the way their romantic conflict were resolved. I am looking forward to more queer romantic adventures from Harper and I hope we see more like this from Carina Press in the future.

Lyre has found contentment and purpose serving spy Empress Sabine, guarding her throne from the shadows as her spy-master but when the empress ignores her advice and insists on accepting the mysterious Cloud Vault’s invitation for a summit between the Empire and Syndicate, Lyre is forced to take actions that neither of them ever anticipated.

Lyre and Sabine’s relationship is a friends-to-lovers slow burn romance, where both of them have long-ago committed their hearts while learning to deny the depth of their feelings and smother any acknowledgement of passion in order not risk their friendship and partnership. They had one night early one when things almost boiled over, and neither of them speak of it. While Lyre’s loyalty to Sabine has always been legendary, she fears if the truth of her past was revealed it would sunder their relationship and if it didn’t, it would threaten the security of Sabine’s throne.

Like the first book in this series, intense action dominates the book. Sabine, Lyre and a band of allies slip and slide through the murky underbelly of the Cloud Vault’s flying citadel, tangling with deadly carnivorous vines while trying to untangle the motives of their secretive hosts. About half-way my interest flagged a bit during some of the longer action sequences but my longing for more romance between Lyre and Sabine was rewarded by an incredibly swoony final chapters of the novel. I am not usually a fan of grand gestures but Sabine’s whole life is one of theatrical and strategic actions meant to wow her subjects and rivals and it was wonderful to see Lyre step out of the shadows and prove herself able to stand by her beloved’s side and stop playing the romantic martyr.

Content Warnings: guns, torture, abduction.