Romance

Love in Panels Review: Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Love in Panels Review: Grumpy Jake by Melissa Blue

I reviewed Grumpy Jake over at Love in Panels.

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

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

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

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

Ana purchased this book.


Love in Panels Review of Gilded Cage by KJ Charles

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

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

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

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

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

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


Love in Panels Review: American Love Story by Adriana Herrera

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

 

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

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

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

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



Content Warnings: homophobia, racism, racially motivated traffic stops 

Ana borrowed this audiobook from her library.


Love in Panels Review: Archangel's War

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

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

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

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

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


Love in Panels Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

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

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

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

I can’t wait obsessively re-read them!

Content Warnings: Suicide Attempt, Murder, Violence, guns

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


GUEST POST: Thank You Beverly Jenkins By Funmi Baker

Thank You Beverly Jenkins

By Funmi Baker

@when_funmi_met_romance

4D61FFA4-3A38-4655-B302-B41C7C54A561The Lust & Found blog (@lustfoundreads) has done a wonderful thing. She created #JenkinsJuly. A wonderful month to celebrate a living legend in the genre of romance, Beverly Jenkins. She is my favorite author in the entire world. All month, I’ve been mulling over what to say about her works, or how to say it. One thing is for sure, I couldn't let #JenkinsJuly go by without adding my two cents.

 

I grew up wonderfully black. I lived in a black neighborhood. I went to black schools. I had a mother who could drown out my whining perfectly when she had a Sepia, Arabesque, Dafina, or BET book in her hand. She surrounded me with illustrated books of girls who looked like me. I went to Juneteenth celebrations. It was easy to be black. I never understood exactly how hard she was working to make me understand that my blackness is a positive thing. In many ways, I was sheltered. A black life was the de facto for me.  

 

I, like my mother, am a voracious romance reader. Living a one minute walk from the library, it was my key to worlds unknown. I became particularly enamored with historicals. In high school, I entered a world of dukes, barons, and earls. They were all very good but all very white. I never read into it because I was young. Black was normal. Black was everywhere in my life. I was simply reading for the joy of reading. Before I knew it, I had read hundreds of historical books about white people. I was in every history class at my high school answering all the white-washed questions. There was no AP history test I couldn’t pass. Now, my mom had noticed that my reading was white and my history knowledge was fairly white. She tried steering me toward the things she had been surrounding me with since I was a kid. However, I was a high schooler. I knew it all. She was a single mom with four kids and two jobs. She didn’t have much time to really sit down with me.  

 

So speed forward. I’m 18. I’m at Purdue University. For the first time in my life, I felt the weight of my skin. Now, I’m the only fly in the buttermilk. I’m the only black person in my major in years. I’m the only black person in my friend group. I’m the only black person in my classes. I’m isolated. I stopped reading altogether. I spent five years fighting to be seen as a person as I pursued higher education.    

 

When I graduated, I decided I wanted to live the blackest, BLACKEST life I could. I wanted to be unapologetic. I wanted the luster to return. So I returned to my favorite thing in the world--reading. This time, I wanted to see myself. I wanted to see brown happily ever afters. Kinky happily ever afters. Full-lipped happily ever afters. This is how I found Beverly Jenkins.  

 

637D76F4-F2C6-4AB5-B4C2-349EAAB1E096I ordered her book, BREATHLESS. I remember when the Amazon package came--I just stared at the cover. I was thinking, “Where have you been all my life?” I devoured that book. With my first adult paycheck, I ordered EVERY single historical title of hers. With the help of my mom, I consumed at a voracious rate every single Beverly Jenkins historical. I felt my soul warming with each word. The excitement, the sighs, the tension. I had never been more engrossed in my life.  The power of representation--of reading your culture’s love stories--is unparalleled.  

 

Not only was I reading some swoon-worthy things, I was learning. Before you know it, I’m checking out the books from her bibliography. I’m reading books on black women in the west and wealthy black business owners in Louisiana. I had no idea cowboys were not white. As I learn the history of my people, I find that I’m also learning about myself. When I look at black people, we aren’t just made of struggle and suffering. We are the product of love. We are the product of fighting. We are the product of WINNING.

 

Reading Beverly Jenkins books as an adult, I now understand what my mom was fighting to do. You have to understand your history, the good and the bad. Black people are amazing. Black women are awe-inspiring. There is not one Beverly Jenkins title that lets you forget that. We’ve been falling in love, fighting for our rights, and saving the day since the beginning of time.  

 

Thank you so much Beverly Jenkins. Thank you for restoring some color into a lost black woman’s life. Thank you for inspiring a journey of black knowledge that won't stop until I’m six feet under. Thank you for always showing Black Love.


Spellbound by Allie Therin

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Debut Latinx (Cuban-American) author, Allie Therin’s Spellbound is the first in a projected three book series set in Prohibition era NYC, where smuggled magic-infused objects threaten the lives of all magically-gifted paranormals and non-magical alike. Therin draws on the era’s post- war clandestine counter-culture scene and anti-immigrant to develop a cohesively tense backdrop for her action-adventure, where her wildly diverse characters can find acceptance a community in a black run speakeasy in Harlem, but also fear exposure and persecution elsewhere.  Therin also explores class and generational tension throughout the novel, as Arthur, the son of a wealthy political family, exploits his privilege to try to protect the younger and poorer Rory.

 

While the world-building was engaging, the secondary characters richly developed and the heist plot intriguing, the romantic beats were somewhat repetitive. I loved how soft and smitten Rory and Arthur become with each other but the dual insecurity about the realness of each other’s interest or the depth of feelings became tiresome. However when the romance was clicking it was delightfully sweet. I loved the little details about younger and smaller Rory tucking himself next to the taller and athletically built Arthur and Arthur who is the bossy caretaker of his friend group, soaking up the open-hearted affection.

 

Tropes:

First Love

Virgin Hero

Opposites Attract

Age Gap

 

Content Warnings: Homophobia, Torture, War, Past Trauma: Child Abuse, religious shaming, 

 

 

 


Love in Panels Review: The Right Swipe

I reviewed the Right Swipe at Love in Panels and I interviewed Alisha Rai when we were both at RWA:

There are few things Rhiannon Hunter won’t do to get a shot at outmaneuvering her competitors in her quest to buy Matchmaker, but when the sweet and sexy man who ghosted her after talking her into a rare second date turns out to be the new face of the company, she has reevaluate a lot of her plans. Samson Lima walked away from football after seeing his team routinely mismanage his best-friend’s concussions and has spent the last five years caring for his uncle Aleki as he suffered from CTE-related dementia, except for that one night he spent with Rhiannon. Samson is just starting to come out of the fog of grief, and trying to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life, and the one thing he knows is, he wants to spend time with Rhiannon again.

 The Right Swipe is the first book in the Modern Love series. The Right Swipe is loosely connected to Rai’s fantastic Forbidden Hearts series and like that series, Rai continues to combines sexiness, timely themes and and in-depth characterizations to a create fabulous romances that beg to be passed on to new romance readers. In the Right Swipe, Rai deftly handles heavy topics like CTE, and #MeToo while crafting complex characters that relish friendships and sparkle with wit and humor. Rai excels at capturing the details of what dating is actually like right now in the age of apps & social media, while never losing focus the emotional core of her stories.

While the change of format and price hike might give some romance readers pause, Rai’s latest is worth every penny. Rhi is fantastic heroine, sharp, ambitious and wounded. Samson is a rare kind of hero, principled, caring and compassionate, and eager to rebuild his connection to Rhi, without overbearing antics, that showcase a different kind of strength. Both these characters are worth knowing, as are their friends and co-workers. I am going to need a lot more than three books in this series!

Content Warnings: workplace harassment, anxiety, depression

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


#RomBkLove May 2019– Thank You!

 

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Thank You!

I’m humbled each year by everyone who takes the time to participate and shares recs and book memories close to their hearts. I’m humbled when readers and bloggers devote so much time and effort on their rec posts.  Thank you for the gift you are to our diverse romance community.

 I hope that your TBR’s and Wishlists are full of new books and authors to explore.  I hope most of all that you’ve made a connection with other romance readers. That you may have found other people who love romance like you do.  

And I hope that you continue to celebrate Inclusive Romance all year-long. Celebrate it by buying, reading and reviewing books by LGBTQIA+, Disabled, Asian, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx Authors. Celebrate it by supporting Reviewers of color & LGBTQIA+, Disabled reviewers. 

Resources:

Twitter list of #Rombklove contributors 

Master List of Posts & links to tweet archives 

#readRchat : Monthly topical romance reader discussion.  Next chat will be June 8th, 4pm EST/10CET. They also organize the #readRchatawards, an inclusive reader award, that each year introduces me to fabulous authors. 

#RomBkBlog : Find romance reviews and blog posts by romance readers. (Brainchild of Wendy the SuperLibrarian).  

Sign up for the Diverse Romance Release Press List Newsletter to hear about upcoming releases by AOC & LGBTQIA & Disabled authors. 

Joyfully Reviewed’s WOC Romance Bloggers & Reviewers List 

 

I’m going to try to catch up on my sleep after I link to all my May Love in Panels reviews! Love you and I look forward talking about inclusive romance with you on Twitter all year long!