Romantic Suspense

#RomBkLove 2021 Day 1: Survival

#rombklove 2021 DAY 1 SURVIVAL
As we begin this 2nd Pandemic #RomBkLove, we've all had to grapple how life-changing this experience have been. Some have left jobs, relationships, communities in order to do what they need to survive.  Even from positions of comfort and privilege (able to work remotely, access to vaccines, etc.)  I have witnessed the gaps communal safety net, how social isolation can leave people unprotected and how so many live on a razor's edge.  In times like these romances that grapple these issues, which stark stakes, remind me of our human resilience and the power we have to help those arounds us, strangers or friends when they are in need.  I find comfort in these exercises of hope that are happily ever afters even after trauma and disaster.

WILD-RAIN-final-252x400Beverly Jenkins writes survivors.  So many of her MCs have survived traumatic pasts, including enslavement, abandonment & abuse, defiantly flourishing despite the many obstacles racism and bigotry place in their ways.  Be it Hester & Galen in Indigo, Maggie & Preacher in Night Hawk, Rhine & Eddy in Forbidden or Spring & Garrett in Wild Rain  her MCs, stand their ground, face down bullies and oppressors and do more than simply survive, they thrive, building families and communities.  US Based Historical Romance, (CW: Racism, abductions, guns, violence, threats of bodily harm, grief, Past trauma: Enslavement, sexual assault, emotional & physical abuse) (Rep:  cis BM/BW, Black author) 

Rebekah Weatherspoon is another author I turn to when I want to read survivors in a contemporary setting. Her MCs face everything from financial insecurity (Sugar Baby Series), family rejection (Xeni's Angus) to attempted murder (Beards and Bondage series)!   Her MC's creative solutions, devotion to found family and persistence in the midst of traumatic events are inspiring and comforting to me as a reader.  I love how the rejected and abandoned find home in others, how trauma is overcome and fails to define them. IR Contemporary romances  (CWs: attempted murder, betrayal, familial abandonment, secrets, kink, grief past trauma: biphobia.)( Rep: cis BW/WM, Queer Black author)

I started out 2020 by reading Anna Zabo's Reverb, little knowing how much it themes of authenticity and survival would come to mean to me. In Reverb, a when Mish, a certifiable Rock Goddess is being stalked and despite her desires to ignore it, she finds her life, band, and voice threatened,  she must come to trust David not just with her safety but with her heart and David must figure out how protect and love Mish.

David and Mish are both survivors. Both have made many sacrifices and endured much to live authentically and are able to navigate power imbalances, career demands to find love in each other.  Contemporary romance with RS tinge, bodyguard / rock queen, (CWs: stalking, grief, loss) (Rep: trans WM /WW bi, White Trans author)

In Olivia Waite's The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics,  Lucy and Catherine have survived different kinds of intellectual stifling due to sexism and abuse at the hand of the men in their lives.  In each other they find enthusiastic support, and unexpected attraction.  They are able to reclaim their intellectual and social agency, and strike blows against sexism in science, reclaiming their confidence, art and work.  Sexy and full of longing and pining.  They are stronger for what they have endured and will strive to make room for others. UK-Based Queer Historical (CWs: betrayal, intellectual theft Past trauma: domestic abuse) (Rep: bi WW/WW, Queer White Author).

 

What kinds of survival stories draw you?  What do you find compelling? Do these high stakes stories comfort you?

Archive: Day 1's Tweets

For a full list of prompts visit: https://www.anacoqui.com/2021/04/rombklove-2021.html

 


Love in Panels: Series Review: Final Hour by Juno Rushdon

I binge read this series recently and wrote up a series review for Love in Panels:

A great romantic suspense series needs to be able to balance romantic tension and pulse-pounding action, sustaining the momentum throughout the whole book, while crafting a believable resolution to both the intrigue and the romance. Juno Rushdan’s Final Hour series, packed with spy-thriller staples, secret installations, high-stakes interventions, coupled with fascinating characters and intense plotting delivered a great adrenaline rush and romantic punch. It is rare to be as invested in both the romantic and action story-lines as I was when reading the Final Hour series, but neither the action and romantic tension ever flagged.

Juno-Rushdan-Series-Giveaway

The series is not for the soft-hearted, as the MCs cross many bright moral lines, engaging in torture and violence without much in the way of oversight or regrets, as officers for the Gray Box, a secret black-ops off-the-books government-sponsored agency authorized to act nationally and internationally where other agencies can’t.

As romantic suspense can often feel like an overwhelmingly white genre, I was pleasantly surprised by the racially- and neuro-diverse cast, which substituted the typical band of brothers for a more inclusive found family set up, where emotionally scarred officers have found common purpose and companionship. Despite the assumed identities & deadly work, they share baked goods and meet for beers, at least until it becomes evident that a traitor or traitors has infiltrated the team and they must uncover the mole and their hidden agenda.

every-last-breathThe first book in the series, Every Last Breath, star-crossed lovers, Cole, the white prodigal son of a Russian mobster and Maddox the biracial daughter of a CIA agent who always meant to bring her into the service are unexpectedly reunited. Each thought each other lost, one believing himself betrayed, the other convinced she was responsible for his death and in order to work together they must unearth painful memories (familial rejection, racial bigotry, traumatic miscarriage) while reexamining their life choices. Struggling to trust each other, they try to infiltrate a secret auction in order to stop a deadly pathogen from being sold into the wrong hands. They have to grapple with both what happened to them as a couple and the people they have become as a result of the trauma they both experienced.

I really loved that neither Cole or Maddox is quite sure just what they want from each other. They ruthlessly investigate each other and treat each other as dangerous assets while at the same time trying to grapple with their wounded feelings. I enjoyed the sexual tension and emotional confusion they experienced as they try to figure out what happened to them and whether there can be anything more than closure for them.

CW: torture, violence, bigotry, past trauma miscarriage, mental illness

Buy a copy: Amazon  ◊  Apple Books  ◊  Barnes & Noble  ◊  Bookshop (Indie Bookstores)  ◊  Kobo

nothing-to-fearAs soon as I finished Every Last Breath, I sought out the next book in the series. I loved how seamlessly Rushdan had introduced the rest of the Gray Box cast, setting up rivalries and tensions in a way that made me eager to read more about these characters without stealing focus and momentum from search for the pathogen. I didn’t care who in the Gray Box I followed next, I knew they all would be super interesting.

In Nothing to Fear, Willow Harper is a brilliant neurodivergent hacker analyst who must go on the run with the emotionally scarred, widowed operative Gideon assigned to investigate her after he becomes convinced she is being set up and he won’t risk her being scapegoated and killed. I loved that Willow is shown to be an incredibly capable person including being her sick father’s primary carer, despite her autism. The pressures she feels to mask her autism in social and work settings are an added pressure, but she is consistently shown to have agency even when on the run. In the end it is Gideon who more clearly struggles communicating and acknowledging his feelings.

There is a very graphic torture sequence in this book as Gideon uses his black site training to try to break a henchman of the big bad. Willow’s acceptance of his choices and refusal to reject him as he is expected is a pivotal moment, but I wished I skimmed the scene more successfully as it is, I am not sure I am able to accept it as heroic.

I also didn’t love the depiction of his late estranged wife as resentful and shallow when he abruptly opts not to pursue a career as professional athlete and instead becomes a secretive CIA assassin, a move that would naturally shock and upset, if their communication and relationship had been strong, which it never was. I would have loved if that whole story thread had been eliminated.

CW: torture, violence, ableism, grief, past trauma: death of family member

Buy a copy: Amazon  ◊  Apple Books  ◊  Barnes & Noble  ◊  Bookshop (Indie Bookstores)  ◊  Kobo

until-the-endIn the final book of the series, Until the End, Castle, Maddox’s brother and former Navy Seal with more than a passing resemblance to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has longed been groomed to be one of the future leaders of the Grey Box, finds his loyalty and principles tested when their leader Bruce Sandborn makes him choose between protecting Kit, his mission target or surrendering her to the Gray Box.

Kit Westcott, is a caretaker and cultivator of talented hackers. Driven by the tragic loss of her brother she has dedicated herself to caring for her found family, until her group the Outliers are brutally killed. Kit is desperate to protect their work while finding out who set them up to be killed despite being handicapped by serious chronic heart condition.

Kit and Castle’s instalove relationship is a departure from the norm, as the previous couples had pre-existing relationships. Kit, with his lone-wolf whispering ways, gets through to Castle in a way no one outside the Grey box has ever been able to do, making her a target and threat to those who have long been able to depend on Castle to do as he is told.

At one point in the book I found myself very troubled by the tone and behavior of a secondary point of view character, but I was gratified to discover as the book unfolded that it was an authorial choice and foreshadowing, and not odd characterization. However, the ending was somewhat unsatisfying in that the heroes of the Gray Box, instead of fully renouncing and recoiling from the misguided choices that lead to the tragic twists in the series, instead seemingly continue the work, sure that they will not be corrupted as the villain was, which is probably true to life. I was curious that the book did seem to leave it set up for further books.

CW: Murder, PTSD, pathogens, medical procedures, drugging, abduction, stalking, past trauma: domestic abuse, suicide.

Buy a copy: Amazon  ◊  Apple Books  ◊  Barnes & Noble  ◊  Bookshop (Indie Bookstores)  ◊  Kobo

Juno Rushdan’s Final Hour series was an intense ride through the dark hearts and minds of the officers and agents ensuring global threats are eradicated in the shadows. Her characters are morally dark, but unflinchingly devoted to their companions and principles, as they face dilemmas that test their commitment to proper protocol. I would never want to be face off against the Grey Box’s operatives, but I would welcome their rescue and I cheered as each one stepped a little ways out of the darkness for the sake of love.

***

This post contains affiliate links. Ana received a digital copy of Until the End from the publisher for review.


Love in Panels Review: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing (Big Bad Wolf #4) by Charlie Adhara

I reviewed the 4th book in the Big Bad Wolf Series by Charlie Adhara for Love in Panels

 

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing has all the hallmarks of a classic house-party mystery: isolated location, communications cut-off due to unexpectedly bad weather and a full cast of shady characters with hidden motivations. Full of tension and secrets, Adhara continues to craft fascinating mysteries while complicating and deepening the relationship between the cross-species crime-solving & romantic partners, Dayton and Park, who in this installment go undercover at a relationship retreat while tracking a missing person.

Adhara continues to tackle traumatic topics, like PTSD and bigotry with care, and it makes each realization by Oliver and Cooper more meaningful and hopeful despite the darkness of Adhara’s world of secretive werewolf packs.

Fans of Oliver and Cooper will love this mystery and be further drawn into this world, while cursing having to wait another year before Cry Wolf comes out. Readers who have not yet jumped on the Big Bad Wolf bandwagon should not hesitate to run off and catch up as Adhara’s rich storytelling and engaging mysteries are worth the investment of reading the prior three.

[Editor's Note: This is Book 4 in an ongoing series following the same couple. If you want to read about the first three, Ana put together a series primer/review.]

Content Warnings: murder, non-consensual medical procedures, mental illness, past trauma: child abuse, torture, guns

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


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.


Love in Panels Review: Proper English, by KJ Charles

Five years ago, Pat and Fen almost stole the spotlight from Curtis and DaSilva in Charles’s Think of England. Their mismatched charm, and utter competence save the day and left readers begging for their story. Proper English, a delightfully dark house party mystery, is that story, set two years before Think of England. While the focus in Proper English is firmly on the central quartet of Jimmy, Billie, Pat and Fen, Charles continues to excels at creating with fascinating secondary characters who love to steal scenes. From the loyal and serious Victoria Singh, to the tart and savvy Travers, Charles fills this novel with women who are not to be underestimated, not even brittle and bitter Lady Anna.

Pat is relieved to be heading off to a hunting holiday with her brother at his best friend’s house and to leave the family home she has managed since girlhood in the hands of its new mistress, her new sister-in-law Olivia. Pat hopes that the days outdoor will let her sort out her next steps, and work out what to do with her life in the wake of her brother’s marriage. But her hopes of a soothing retreat are dashed when Jimmy announces that his new fiancee has invited herself along and that all his family will be in residence.

“I don’t understand how anyone could not see you,” Pat said again. “I don’t see how they couldn’t look. I don’t see how they could stop.”

KJ Charles, Proper English 

To most Miss Fenella Carruth is a curvy, sparkling and utterly ornamental young heiress, but Pat soon realises her good cheer and charm hide a keen mind and a deep sadness. Fen has twice broken off engagements and seems doomed to do so again, in the face of her fiance’s preoccupied disregard of her. In Pat she finds an unlikely confidant and champion who sees her like no one has seen her before.

At the heart of Pat and Fen’s romance is a keen sense of observation and awareness. Both have camouflage themselves through their lives. Pat blends in with the men in the hunting party, parlying her shooting skills and hardy constitution into cover that allows her to be just one of the guns. Meanwhile Fen, deflects hurtful comments and smooths over conversational breaks, performing often overlooked emotional labor on behalf of all those around her. Both excell at hiding the uncomfortable and painful from casual observers but come to recognize in each other a kinship and discover mutual desire. 

Even as Pat and Fen’s friendship blooms, the fact that Fen is engaged to Pat’s good friend is real obstacle. I loved how Pat works to be good friend to both of them, restraining her own feelings, as she tries to give good advice to Jimmy. Her bluntness and directness serve them both well. Her loyalty to Jimmy, despite her deep disappointment in how he is behaving toward Fen, force Fen to be the active pursuer. She is the first to recognize the spark between them for what it is,and to stoke it. Perpetually overlooked or denigrated for her managing personality, it is lovely to see Fen lavish appreciation and attention on Pat and welcome her eagerly into her life. This makes for a incredibly satisfying romance.

I love a good house party mystery and this one is stellar! With each turn of the page, Charles ratchets up the tension with painfully uncomfortable dinner conversations, half-overheard threats, private trysts interrupted and oppressive weather, long before murder is committed. When Jimmy’s manipulative and sadistic brother-in-law goes missing and later turns up dead, Billie, Pat, and the newly un-engaged Fen & Jimmy work together to try to uncover who in the house is responsible when nearly everyone has a secret and thus a motive for murder. The investigation and its resolution were breathlessly intense and likely to please all house party mystery enthusiasts.

In Proper English, Charles creates a prequel that more than matches the suspense and romance of the first book, while avoiding many of the prior books faults. I was particularly pleased to see that Charles is able to present the reality of racism and insidiousness of prejudice and ignorance without subjecting readers to hateful slurs.

My copy of Proper English is filled with swoony-highlights and I am sure to re-read it again and again to relish its optimistic and sweet ending.

Content Warnings: Bullying, Drug Addiction (secondary character), Fatphobia, Murder

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


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

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


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The 2018#readRchat Award Winners:

 

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Contemporary:

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

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

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

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

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Best Short Story or Novella:

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

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

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

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

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Best Historical:

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

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

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

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

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

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Best Romantic Suspense:

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

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

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

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

 

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Best Paranormal Romance:

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

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

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

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Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Romance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Best Erotic Romance:

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

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

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Best Debut Romance:

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

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


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.

 


Love in Panels Review: At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli

This review was originally published on Love in Panels

At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli

Sandra Antonelli is a long-time advocate and promoter of romance featuring older protagonists. While the majority of romance authors and publishers focus on characters in their twenties and thirties, Antonelli and other fans of seasoned romance thirst for characters with a few more gray hairs and a lot more life experience. At Your Service is the first of Antonelli’s new In Service series, a mystery/romantic suspense series which will feature main characters over 40. At Your Service was an engrossing and highly-enjoyable romance, with great pacing, action and banter and a fabulous heroine, Mae in her mid-50s, who is just little bit older than the hero, Kitt.

Mae loves working as butler - she thrives on feeling productive and useful. For the last three years, she has juggled being both landlady and butler to Major Kitt, whose globe-trotting work is both dangerous and mysterious, but whose appreciation for her scrambled eggs is always constant. She might quirk an eyebrow at the way he hustles his young married paramours out of his apartment on the morning afters but she does not share her judgment, it wouldn’t be professional.

But the wall of perfect professionalism crumbles when Mae is first mugged, then burgled, and finally swindled before she kills a man in self-defense in his flat. Someone is targeting Mae and she is in way over her head, so he bullies her into letting him help. Together they race to discover who and why someone is after Mae and untangle their grand scheme while tangling with the several intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, wrestling with murderous bankers and brushing up against the Mafia. It is was a complicated but highly entertaining caper.

I enjoyed the action and adventure but if you are triggered by physical violence be aware that both Mae and Kitt get seriously banged up through the course of the novel, they are drugged, tazed and nearly drowned, and stumble upon a bevy of murdered bodies. But through it all Antonelli keeps up witty banter but manages not to trivialize or diminish the emotional roller-coaster both Mae and Kitt are experiencing as they survive multiple near-death experiences. They are both feeling emotionally messy and that is acknowledged and reflected in how they behave and in the quality of their decision-making. 

One of my favorite tropes is a widow finding love after a grief, but I have mixed feeling as to how this played out in the novel. I loved Mae’s realization that her feelings for Kitt were deeper and more significant than she had ever let herself admit and that she reached out for him the mornings in the same way she had reach out to for her late-husband Caspar. Kitt knows how deeply Mae grieved Caspar and that affects his ability to understand that her feelings for him have changed. I was disappointed, however, very late in the novel when certain facts about Caspar are revealed to both the reader and Mae. Although Antonelli uses these to further the romance plot, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I was also disappointed in the “not-like-other-girls” subtext to Kitt’s love of Mae. He refers to his past lovers as meaning nothing and thinks of them as no more than temporary disposable diversions on multiple occasions, while classing Mae differently. While that is part and parcel of his characterization as a cross between James Bond & Mr. Rochester type, it rankled a bit, especially when Kitt is convinced that he has been protecting Mae by overlooking her. I did appreciate that Mae saw his behavior for what it was, a misogynistic response to early heartbreak and calls him out on callousness. Other aspects of his hyper-masculine/Alpha hero persona were hyped up and I was particularly fascinated by recurring the hero or bully discussion Mae and Kitt have through the novel.

“You’re a bully,” she said.

“I was hoping you’d see me as heroic.”

“Heroic. Which means you expect me to lean up and cover you with kisses to thank you profusely?”

“I think I’ve enough of your blood on me already.”

“Heroic. Maybe you’re a little of that, but mostly you’re a bully.”

“ I can live with that.”

-Mae and Kitt in At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli

 

I stayed up late into the night reading At Your Service, and then dove back to reading as soon as I could the next morning and I recommend it to all who are looking for funny, smart romantic suspense with a strong focus on romance that doesn’t skimp on the mystery. I will be eagerly awaiting more from Antonelli, especially if her heroines continue to shock both their heroes and adversaries by refusing to go meekly or cave quietly, whatever the situation.

Content Warnings: Guns, Kidnapping/Abduction, Murder.


Shadow of Doubt by Linda Poitevin

44. Shadow of Doubt by Linda Poitvien. (ARC, 5/10) RomSuspense. Started out promising but too much of the emotional conflict was the MCs arguing if it was too risky for the RCMP heroine to keep helping the framed DEA agent hero on the run. #ttr #bkbrk https://t.co/0rfLpBBgLs

— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) June 3, 2018

 

51BEYqNiYELI really loved the start of this book. A RCMP officer find a bullet-ridden man on a rain-soaked back road on a stormy night and is forced to bring him home.  Kate Dexter is all business, practical, wary and very very suspicious. She doesn't have time to ogle the handsome and extremely well built victim.  She worries about how dangerous it makes him.

Poitevin captured the extreme tension within Kate as she tries to decide how to respond to situation. Her instincts are at war with the police procedures and every minute she hesitate the bigger the cost to her career.   Poitevin carries that tension over  to the intense action and suspense scenes.  

However while the action kept Jonas Burke, a framed ATF agent on the run, and Kate ricocheting around Ontario and the Northeast United States,  the romance stalled.  I was frustrated by the repetitive nature of Kate and Jonas arguments.  While Poitevin eventually gives us the backstory as to why Jonas is so fiercely and stubbornly independent, I was too bored with Jonas continued insentience that Kate stop helping him, and his doubts about her abilities even though she consistently proved herself extremely capable.  Jonas's realization of the errors of his ways came much too late for me and while the epilogue was sweet and perfect, I still think Kate should have smacked him and walked away, because she endured too much from Jonas as he tried to push her away. I thought Kate should have hooked up with her ex or her fabulously supportive partner instead.

Shadow of Doubt had a fantastic heroine, gripping action and a frustrating lug of a hero, who tried to pushed away the best partner he could have ever hope to have found.

 

I received a ARC from the author for review consideration.

 

 


Recent Reads: Mini-Reviews of my April Reading including books by Kristen Ashley, Holley Trent, Lauren Dane and Deanna Raybourn

This surprise novella gives an HEA to a longstanding supporting character in the Rock Chick series, Shirleen, the former poker-game running, black office manager at Lee Investigations, whose over-the-top meddling has incited many a romantic conflicts in the series.  She is now a devoted single foster mother to two teenage boys on the brink of manhood. As a character Shirleen has always been problematic, and this book is no exception.

When a handsome man tries to pick her up at the grocery store, she first runs from his attention and then soaks it in, saving his number despite being determined not to ever call him because she is sure her sketchy past, precludes her from deserving of the HEAs she has helped engineer for her girlfriends have all received.  So the Rock Chicks and the Hot Bunch intervene.

What I really enjoyed about this romance was the care Moses took in building up his relationship with Shirleen. He knows she is skittish with good reason, so he puts in the work. They have long phone-calls, romantic dinners and is there for her breaking down the barriers to her believing she deserves to be happy and that someone can love her despite her complicated history.

Like all anthologies there are some really great stories and some so-so ones and all of them are no longer than a handfuls of pages. My favorites were "Here" by Ronnie Garcia, "Stories from my father" by  Adam Lance Garcia and Heidi Black, "A Broken Promesa" by Rosa Colon and "Blame it on 'Rico" by  Alberto 'Tito' Serrano,  It will be a great document to use try to unpack all the cultural anxieties experienced by Puerto Ricans and the Boricuan Diaspora. I was also once again fascinated by the amount of projection we Puerto Ricans are able channel into Taino imagery as an expression of anti-colonial sentiment. I understand the impulse and desire to reclaim that lost heritage but I feel we run the danger of colonizing them once more with our narratives. Puerto Rico has a lot more wrestling to do in the present with its colonial reality and reading this anthology made me feel a lot less alone, as I recognize so much of the home I grew up in, the worries and hopes I have for it and the murkiness of its future in it.

An abused, low-ranking wolf female jumps at a chance to leave her wretched home back by answering a mating call.  Arriving to a new pack as modern-day mail-order bride of sorts, she has no idea what to expect, and only has the hope that these wolves will be better, less brutal and that her role as wife, rather than a single female will be more secure.  Only when she arrives her assigned mate doesn't want her.  Determined not to go back, she sets out to out-stubborn him.  I quite liked the heroine and her hope and determination. She is practical and clear-eyed about the society she has grown up in, and it was a treat to see her grown in confidence as she realizes her world need not be as small as it was before.  

However I didn't care for the hero or his self-hating about his new disability. His view of himself as lesser and unworthy as mate, and that didn't work for me.  I particularly didn't like how long it took him to realize that his determination to reject her was about overriding her choices. And I didn't like that in the end he was containing to insist in denying her the bite that would allow her to shift fully after reconciling himself to the blessing of having her as his wife. I did like the rest of the world, so I will eventually read the rest of these, but I think I will jump to the Viking Queen's Men book everyone else is raving about first.

I really loved the beginning of this book. I loved how the heroine's dating life was messy and how realistically she responded the attention and interest after her mini-makeover. She basks in the new-found male attention but doesn't lose sight of her boundaries. When one of her dates starts getting possessive, and clingy, she reacts in reasonable ways, mildly rebuking, trying to distance herself while also being aware of the potential danger.  

However I didn't like how much the story relied on portraying women outside the heroine's friendship circle, and in the hero's past as vain and bitchy and how often the heroine had to stake her claim through uncomfortable confrontations. I really hate the trope that the hero has only date terrible women in the past and finally find the one.

 

I continue to enjoy how matter-of-factly lecherous Veronica can be. She owns her sexual desire and has no shame in claiming her extensive sexual history. In this book I did love how she uses her flirtations with Stoker, to soothe or aggravate him depending on what he needs at the time and how she has come to realize that her feelings for him go well beyond wanting to shag him. The mystery however was quite dull and Veronica and Stoker spent too much spinning their wheels.