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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.




Surprise Baby, Second Chance by Therese Beharrie

48. Therese Beharrie ‘s Suprise Baby, Second Chance (eARC, 8/7) forced-proximity, SAfrican-set m/f. Rosa left their seemingly happy marriage without a word & their near reconciliation has consequences.Strong emotional conflict as they face their anxieties

— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) June 23, 2018

A black woman with light brown curly hair is hugged and nuzzeled by a handsome black man in white shirtsleeves.Rosa walked away from what Aaron thought had been a happy marriage. Her surprise abandonment, shattered his confidence and his sense of what they had together.  It is Rosa who is blindsided when she walks into what she expects is her mother-in-law's birthday bash to find herself stranded alone with her estranged husband at his family's vacation home.

Stuck together for the weekend, Rosa and Aaron can no longer avoid talking about the hidden guilt and anxiety that has driven them apart. Despite the fact that they both care deeply about each and still are deeply attracted they find a way to reconcile and overcome the ways they have denied each other trust and intimacy when they needed it most.

Beharrie has her characters unpack  and reckon which whole host of mental anguishes and anxieties that stem from the very particular way they met. Cancer, caretaking and parental abandonment both physical and emotional play a huge role in their relationship dynamics, more than each of them realize at the start of the novel.

The escalation of their confrontations and the very realistic way they spiral off-topic to other sensitive topics felt very real, especially they way to very verbal people can talk circles around each other while failing to understand what the core conflict really is.

The book felt emotionally true, especially Rosa's conflicting desires and questioning of her choices and her deep fear of becoming someone Aaron comes to resent. Aaron's struggles to confront his own anxieties about being someone deserving of love where equally heartbreaking.

And this is all before they have to figure out how to respond at the news of an unplanned pregnancy.

This book packs an emotional wallop that never shies away from the very un-cute downsides of forced proximity scenarios. I appreciate how truly uncomfortable it is not to be able to escape an emotionally intense conversation because you are literally trapped in a the room together and then seemingly trapped in a relationship because of impulsive choice.

Neither of these characters responds in all the right ways. They really struggle which makes their efforts at trying to put together their relationship and becoming more accepting of their own mental health struggles was highly emotional book to read.


An ARC of Surprise Baby, Second Chance was provided by the author, Therese Beharrie for review consideration.

Surprise Baby, Second Chance is available for pre-order right now and it due for release on Aug 7, 2018.


Recent reading: Urban Fantasy Mini Reviews of Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs and Steel's Edge by Ilona Andrews


The Mercy Thompson series is one of the series I depend on the library to read. The sticker price is just so expensive.  For some weird reason all the libraries I have access to did not own Fire Touched, so I skipped over it when I was working on catching up on the series since they did have Silence Fallen.

I scandalized quite a few Briggs fans by doing that, so I decided to use my next Audible credit to buy the audio. And they were right. The book was worth paying for and was full of fantastic Adam and Mercy time.  I can now understand  how Silence Fall felt like setback after seeing Adam, Mercy and the pack working so well together. I really loved the cognitive dissonance Mercy and Adam have to wrestle with as they get to know Aiden. He looks like a child, but is super old and dangerous. He has been abused and alone for a long-time, and in the end he needs Adam, Mercy and the pack just as much as all their wolves do. 


This is a rare miss by Ilona Andrews. I usually love their books and while the Edge series has always been grim, dark and gory, I've never needed a Epilogue more. There was just so much wrenching emotionally tragic choices through out this book that just could not be wrapped up by the last page of the final chapter. Without the Epilogue and the extensive period of time in covered  this book would have been a tragedy.

Honestly I regret reading book because it was just so unrelentingly sad. I never quite recovered from the violent end suffered by a beloved supporting character in the series.

Powerful people using power to abuse, regular people letting things happen and good-hearted people making too many of the sacrifices.

CW: Heroine is infertile, her first husband left her because of it. She carries a lot of pain related to that.  There are also lots of references to sexual abuse, past and present to supporting characters.  

Ocean Light by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling Trinity #2)

Yellow backlight cover of NaliniSingh's Ocean Light a man and a woman in profile  superimposed on the skyline of venice_Ocean Light is the second book in Nalini Singh's second Pys-Changeling series, Psy-Changeling Trinity.  While Silver Silence was successful in becoming an accessible new entry point for readers intimidated by the expansive original Psy-Changeling series, Ocean Light is a much more demanding book.  This book deepens the new series central mystery, expanding the players, establishing new relationships and continuing to grow the world, while at same time having to find way to catch new readers up on Bowen Knight's backstory. I am curious to see how successful this was for new readers. As an established reader, I was well acquainted with Bowen Knight, who has been a long-running secondary  POV characters in the Psy-Changeling series. I felt we got to see a whole new side of him as he falls in love with Kaia, especially learning new information about what has driven him to be so passionate about seeking a way to protect Humans from unscrupulous and predatory Psy via technological interventions.

As a romance, I loved how play played a huge part of Kaia and Bowen's courtship. While Kaia starts out deeply suspicious and wary of Bowen, just like the rest of BlackSea, she gets to know him better challenging and teasing him. His natural curiosity pushes him to try to figure out Kaia and make sense of her relationships with other BlackSea packmates.

I loved meeting the BlackSea changelings, and comparing and contrasting their way of behaving as pack and how it differs from the SnowDancer and DarkRiver (both more communal and more individualistic) and exploring the ways the Human Alliance has grown into its own kind of pack under Bowen's leadership.

Once aspect of the story that I am going to have to sit with a bit longer and tease out my feelings about was the way Kaia's long-term anxiety issues was used narratively. While I loved that her anxiety issues were not easy to resolve and were not simply something she could will or power away for the sake of love, I wasn't entirely comfortable about how contained and specific it was.  I wish her struggles with Anxiety had been introduced less obliquely earlier in the novel rather than packed into an already frenetic second-half as an unexpected obstacle to their HEA.

As a long-time fan of Nalini Singh's Psy-changeling series -- I've been reading her books for as long as I have been reading romance -- I love that we are exploring parts of the Psy-Changeling world that had not been previously explored, and that she continues to correct the erasure of queer identities in her previous books by making little mentions here and there.  I really liked the casual way Kaia's mom explicitly acknowledges and accepts that Kaia could fall for a boy or a girl, as she whispers a loving warning to her baby about her family's predisposition for falling hard and fast in love. These little mentions are small steps, but they make feel more welcomed in the world that I've read for so long and it affirms that the changes she made in Silver Silence were not one offs.



I received a ARC for review consideration from the Publisher via NetGalley.

Resort to Love by Priscilla Oliveras review over at Love in Panels

I accepted Suzanne's invitation to join the Love in Panels Review team.  I will be reviewing one or two books a month for them. 

Ever since RT announced that it will be closing, I've been trying to figure out it I wanted to join another group venture or just write for myself.  This is the best of both worlds. I have total freedom of what I choose to review for Love in Panels, and I get to support a review blog I respect. 


I'll always link to my reviews here too, but I hope you add Love in Panels to your  bookmarks!



Rome's Chance by Joanna Wylde

Rome's Chance_Joanna Wylde's books are really hit or miss for me usually. I either love them or I hate read them but either way I rarely put them down because they are really emotionally engrossing.  This was a second-chance at love/reunion romance for two minor characters in a book I hate read (Reaper's Fire), yet I really liked it.

Randi has been taking care of her siblings since she was just a kid because of her mom's addiction issues. The warring feelings of love and resentment Randi feels for her mother were very well portrayed as were Randi's creeping awareness that things have been going terribly for her youngest siblings while she has been away at school in a different town.   Despite Randi's complicated feeling for her mother, Wylde was surprisingly compassionate in the portrayal.

Rome is a classic caretaker hero, thankfully without the asshole bossiness qualities that often comes packaged with the caretaker alpha character type in Biker novels. He truly cares for Randi, and put in the effort to be there for her when she can't cope. He understands the ups and downs of her grief and sticks even when she lashes out.  Randi's self-protective, self-denial and a real sense that she just doesn't have the energy for a a relationship, doesn't faze him, because he is there not to get something for himself, but because he wants to take care of her.

“We’ll date later,” he told me, dropping back down in front of me. “Maybe next year. Until then, I’ll be the guy fucking you. And the guy who bandages up your feet. You can cry on me, too, but I’m not gonna let you dump me until we’ve had a real chance. Sooner or later, you’ll be ready to live again. I can wait.” -- Rome's Chance by Joanna Wylde


I won't recommend this widely because biker books just aren't for everyone, but if you like biker books, I liked this one.

Day 31 #RomBkLove: And They Lived Happily Ever After...

Day 31

Reader: Is this book a Romance?

Seller: I think so

R: No I mean is it ROMANCE

S: *waggles eyebrows* yeahhhhh mm hmmm

R: *rolls eyes* No, how does it END?

— Susannah Reilly (@shrewandsnail) May 30, 2018



The most cherished convention of the genre romance is the HEA/HFN -- the promise that whatever the obstacles, angst and turmoil the protagonists have endured they find a way to be together in the end. This is a powerful promise and one that readers and writers should cherish. It gives readers security and confidence to invest in emotional stories and it sets writers a challenging goal to not just tear things apart but to find a way to build relationships we can believe in.  How satisfied we are with the ending, with the way the characters come together and move forward often determines how we feel about the story as a whole. .


I read an erotica story today that had a lot of my catnip tropes...only for the end to be of the man standing over the woman's grave. I'm back, romance. I won't leave you again.

— Meka (@mektastic) May 29, 2018



Many of us have been were Meka was at, reading something that seemingly hit all our buttons and then with no warning, tragedy. For me that book was The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  I read it back when I still read Lit fic, but was developing a taste for Romance. The story was romantic, complicated and beautifully written. The gut blow comes fairly early but the sadness becomes more and more oppressive as the book progresses and as a reader you realize significance of that earlier event.  I had grown to love these characters, to care about their fictional lives and things were not okay in the end, not really. That book helped propel me into the arms of genre romance, because I wasn’t okay with it. After reading dozens and dozens fantasy, YA and Lit Fic novels in life, I needed the promise that I wasn’t going to put down the book sadder than when I picked it up.


#RomBkLove That's my rule for angst. You can break my heart, turn me into a sobbing mess, and I'll love you for it but only if you bring an equally amazing HEA to make up for all that angst.

— Lillie (@lillie_80) May 21, 2018


There is nothing worse than reading a rushed and unearned ending, books that drag you through an emotional wasteland and then try to make it all better with a few punishing kisses and marriage proposal.  Endings need to be organic and make sense for the characters and the world established in it. For HEA to be emotionally satisfying it must fit the tone of the novel, and its characters. I think we have all occasionally felt the disappointment of an HEA that abandons previously established characterization for an epilogue full of babies and sunshine. 


Because I've told them a dozen times that a relationship arc ending happily doesn't mean everything was easy or no one died or that readers have forgiven me for Beyond Surrender yet.

But people know what they're convinced they know and everyone knows romance is frivolous.

— Bree (& 🐕) (@mostlybree) May 20, 2018




Critics and naysayers point to HEAs, and dismiss the genre as formulaic, saying "they all end the same", echoing Tolstoy famous quote:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

But HEAs in genre romance, like happy families in real life are not all alike. As readers we often have differing expectations for just what makes an ending a happy one. Some readers need more than a sense of relational security, some need a firm commitment and others a formal proposal if not a full-blown wedding and baby epilogue  Some also long for physical and financial security to be assured. So our genre provides all kinds of HEAs. Some are full of babies, weddings and long-ass epilogues, others simply full of hopefulness and the determination persevere against life’s challenges together. I find that my preference for certain kinds of endings have evolved, some endings that I loved once upon a time, no longer prove as satisfying upon re-reading and endings that didn’t work for me initially have started to make sense.  Personally I don't need babies or surprise dukedoms although I do enjoy them on occasion, but I always need are sense of community, hopefulness and unity.  What is important is that we have as genre all kinds of HEA for all kinds of people, POC and Queer characters included.  I want us to use our imagination as genre to claim fluffy HEA for everyone not just those traditionally privileged.


 I hope you find the HEAs you need in the romances you read, the ones below are HEAs I have loved and ones that have made me reflect what I consider important and necessary in a HEA:

  • Amara Royce’s Once Beloved  When I first read the ending of this novel, I struggled with it.  I was used to historical romances that ended in weddings and Royce doesn’t do that.because one of the characters is unable to marry again. The characters are however deeply committed to each other. It was one of the first historical romance I read that made me re-examine what I considered necessary for HEA and conclude that what I needed was commitment versus marriage.

  • Emma Barry's Party Lines: Rival political operatives slowly fall in love through the course of acrimonious political campaign where only one of their candidates can win.  Barry does not sacrifice or minimize their political ambition and competitiveness or short-cut the time the need for their relationship to mature. Their epilogue is full of happy babies, just not their own, as four years later, they are still ardently pursuing their careers, surrounded by friends.

  • KJ Charles's  The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal’s ending is coy, hidden in hypothetical speculation by the narrator.  I believe in Simon and Robert’s escape from war and tragedy to a secret little Mediterranean cottage because it fits the narrative style of the book and I understand that I am reading a genre romance.

  • Kit Rocha's  Beyond Surrender’s ending is bittersweet. As the final book in a nine epic series about a rebellion, some long-running supporting characters die along the way but I felt they did so without betraying genre expectations. I was heartbroken at points, but I also believed in the community they created, so while I ugly cried at the end for those who didn’t make it, not only was there hope for a better tomorrow for Nessa and Ryder, an the O’Kanes but for all inhabitants of the Sectors.

  • Alyssa Cole’s Duke by Default: This book doesn’t come out till the end of July but it was one of the few books I managed read this month.  In this story a troubled young woman gets an HEA with a secret duke. I was so invested in Portia and Tavish that I had to skip to the end and make sure it all worked out.  I might say that I don’t need secret dukes and financial security for an HEA to succeed but Portia and Tavish’s romance totally did. Because how often is it that the black heroine get to become a duchess?  Not often enough! 


What are you HEA non-negotiable? Tell me about some of your favorite endings and why you love them!


Did you love #RomBkLove?  Join Ellie Reads, Mary Lynne, Kini, Jen and I for #readRchat each month.  

#readRchat Graphic for June 2, 2018: Reading Romance: New Choices




Day 30 #RomBkLove: Hidden Gems

Day 30 Hidden Gems #Rombklove

It sometimes feels that everyone talks about the same books and authors, yet Romancelandia is larger and more diverse than any top ten or best-seller list can capture and many wonderful books and excellent authors fail to get the notice and attention they deserve. 

This month we’ve had an opportunity to share with you some of our favorite books and authors for dozens of tropes, yet we know we’ve missed mentioning some fantastic books.   What are your Hidden Gems—both authors and books—you love but that no one else seems to talk about? What books or authors do you wish more people would discover? 

Joy, Mary LynneE_BookPushers and Ellie Reads share some of their hidden gems below:


Falling Stars Cover by Xio AxelrodThe following are just a smidge of some of my Hidden Gems, authors who I’d love for more readers to get to know. Not that they don’t have fans, but I would love to see their books being buzzed about more. They craft great stories with much heat and with diverse MCs that have given me hours of enjoyment, from contemporary, BDSM, PNRs, and more. These authors will give you so many good reads and have you glomming their backlists:

Melissa Blue aka Dakota Gray, Kaye Blue, Stephanie Burke, Bridget Midway aka Crystal Bright, Aliyah Burke, Xio Axelrod, Shara Azod, Melissa Schroeder, Latrivia S. Nelson, Minx Malone aka M. Malone, Marie Rochelle and Reana Malori.

I also count Harper Kincaid, MK Meredith, Lynda Chance, Virna DePaul, Rhyannon Byrd, Stephanie Julian, Samantha Kane as some of my Hidden Gems, for although they also bring some good romance and burning heat, their books don’t come up on lists or get great buzz. During #RomBkLove, I want to take this opportunity to do so.  

Mary Lynne:

Tell Me something good by Jamie Wesley coverOne of my fave not-buzzed-about authors is Christine Pope. She writes F/SF romance, but within that broad rubric you can find all sorts of different elements: witches, djinn, alien worlds, and more. My favorite book of hers is Breath of Life. It’s the beauty-and-the-beast trope, but the beast is an alien on a human colony planet. Seeing the farmsteading Annika get to know Sarzhin is a treat in this lovely novella.

Another “why doesn’t she get more buzz?” author for me is Jamie Wesley. Her contemporary romances are fun, honest, and moving, and I never feel like I’m reading stereotypes. Instead, I get the sense that I could meet these people tomorrow, they are so genuine. I started with Tell Me Something Good, so I’ll point that out as a great way to begin reading her books.

Becca Jameson writes so many different types of romance--shifter books, military romance, BDSM romance, ménage, MMA fight club, romantic suspense--and I’ve loved them all. I don’t know why she doesn’t have the buzz that other authors do. She’s a great Hidden Gem. Look over her books, find the type that you like, and dive on in.

There’s an old Desire title I love--Just a Little Bit Pregnant by Eileen Wilks. In soooo many romance novels featuring accidental pregnancy, there’s angst, or secret babies, or any number of somewhat far-fetched plot points. But this book starts with the heroine marching into the hero’s workplace, informing him that she’s pregnant, and giving him the paper she’s prepared with probable medical expenses (including insurance coverage estimates), support coverage suggestions, and a schedule of visitation rights. At last, a book that starts with something I might actually expect to happen! But Just a Little Bit Pregnant then builds into a lovely romance of two lonely, wounded people and the steps they take to heal one another, with a risky pregnancy as a pivotal plot point.


Central Galactic Concordance Book 1-3 box set cover.Carol van Natta writes a lovely complex space opera series, The Central Galactic Concordance, which reminds me of the Foundation Series if you added romance, changed the business language to Mandarin Chinese, included mental powers and cybernetics.  Most of the stories focus on separate couples some of whom have cameos in other installments. I love the sheer contrasts in this series between characters, settings, conflict, abilities, and yet a common thread unites them. Book 1 is Overload Flux.  

Rinda Elliott wrote two partial series which I adore.  The first series, The Kithran Regenesis, is Science Fiction Romance with male/male/female relationships.  One of the branches of humanity is very sexually open so it was fabulous to see the lack of shame or secrecy.  (TW one of the main characters in Book 4 was enslaved and suffered horribly). The second series Crux Survivors, is post apocalyptic and focuses mainly on a small group who banded together years ago and their struggles to survive and find relationships.  Really hoping Elliott will pick both of these up again.

EE Ottoman Doctor's DiscretionEllie Reads:

I’m limiting my hidden gem suggestions to just 5 authors, most of whom are in fact new-to-me authors. Some of them have just a couple of books out and I have read and loved them all, others have bigger blacklists that I still need to tackle.

Al Steward and Claire Davis, are a writing duo creating very moving, emotional m/m romances that speak to my heart. I highly recommend Dear Mona Lisa (I know how vague the blurb is but if you are interested in a romance with where older men find love and finally reach for their happiness, this is the book for you). Oskar Blows a Gasket is YA/NA m/m romance exploring complicated family relationships, forming friendships, discovering love (and sex :), finding one’s place and fighting for it. Al and Claire have a bunch of short stories/novellas out and some of them are already waiting patiently on my Kindle for me to get to them.

Dal Maclean is new author with just two books out and they are both spectacular. Bitter Legacy and Object of Desire are both romantic crime mystery/thrillers, and the second one being darker. They work as standalones and stand out with their perfectly executed mystery plots (I couldn’t figure who the killer was till the very end, they have been real page-turners for me). The romance element is a bit understated, especially in the second book, but it felt very real and moving for me and fitting to the characters. "Bitter Legacy", was a 2017 Lambda Literary Award Finalist for best Gay Mystery and was chosen by the American Libraries Association for their 2018 Over The Rainbow Recommended Books List.

Roe Horvat writes contemporary m/m romances set in Europe. His debut, The Layover, is a wonderful forced proximity romance with strong European feels which I absolutely adore. His latest romance, A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat is a brilliant portrayal of a grumpy, misantropic character dealing with dysthymia (he is a psychiatrist and his self diagnose and treatment does not really go well).

EE Ottoman is a trans writer who writes trans romance and fantasy. He has a relatively extensive backlist and I have only read two of his romances and I quite enjoyed them both. The Doctor’s Discretion is a historical romance set in 19c NY. Both MCs are doctors, one is Black, the other is trans and I liked how much the story focused on kindness and basic human decency as severely lacking both in the past and sadly in the present.

My final recommendation is Rebecca Crowley whose soccer series I discovered following a recommendation on Twitter. Her Atlanta Skyline series is amazing sports romance with hidden depths and really interesting, unusual characters. I loved how she doesn’t shy away for presenting the darker side of professional sports - the injuries, the constant media scrutiny, the transition to ‘civilian’ life after years only being involved in the sport, women in professional sports. She also tackles issues of Islamophobia, gambling addiction and more while still creating complex and emotionally satisfying love stories.

Day 28 #RomBkLove: Unrequited

Day 28

Kini's back for her third and final post for RomBkLove with a list of her favorite romances where unrequited pining and longing define the story.  Why do these stories appeal to Kini? Why do they appeal to you?