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April Reading in Review!

Grey Minimalist Photo Collage Polaroid Your Story40. Wild Things by Chloe Neill (UF, 9, WM/WW)

Magical threat to shifters and hidden magical peoples. Shifters are so messy emotionally.

CWs: murder, violence, gore, magical coercion, kidnapping, prejudice

41. Blood Games by Chloe Neill (UF, 10, WM/WW)

Oof, past allegiances & choices are tested as big political changes occur here.

CWs: murder, violence, kidnapping, psychic torture

42. Dark Debt by Chloe Neill (UF, 11, WM/WW)

Loved the care Merit had taken to rebuild her relationship with Mallory and how it comes into play here.

CWs: murder, violence, SA, magical coercion, past trauma: emotional abuse, gaslighting

43. Midnight Marked by Chloe Neill (UF, 12, WM/WW)

Finally the much hinted at proposal. Also the RG gets a much needed kick in the pants.

CWs: murder, violence, threats to family, magical coercion, sex work.

44. Phantom Kiss by Chloe Neill (UF, 12.5, WM/WW)

Loved the return of a side character in this.

CWs: violence, serial killer, prejudice.

45. Blade Bound by Chloe Neill ( UF, WM/WW, 13)

Climatic end to Ethan & Merit’s saga. Big Wedding, honeymoon interrupted and fulfillment of prophecy.

CWs: murder, mental illness, magical coercion, pregnancy

46. Slaying it by Chloe Neill (UF, WM/WW, 13.5)

Jonah and Margot finally break through the heartbreaks to give each other a chance, after dealing with Margot’s abusive ex.

CWs: kidnapping attempt, pregnancy, childbirth, past trauma: intimate partner violence

47. High Stakes by Chloe Neill ( UF, WW/WM, 8.5)

Lindsey faces her past and her commitment phobia

CWs: guns, murder, threats to family.

48. Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood (mystery, Queer & disabled MCs, found family, 1940’s NYC)

Pentecost & Parker are both super fascinating and the voice is fun despite the dark topics.

CWs: murder, blackmail, queer phobia, beating, domestic violence, alcoholism

49. Murder Under her Skin by Stephen Spotswood (Mystery, queer MCs)

Double heartbreaking homecoming that unearth difficult secrets as Parker seeks rescue an old mentor from a murder charge

CWs: drugs, alcoholism, murder, violence, racism, mentions of SA, medical procedures.

50. Payback is a Witch by Lana Harper (Bi WW/WW, Magical PNR, small town, vengeance pact).

I wanted to like this more than I did but the world building was weak & occasionally problematic. MCs sometimes felt YA

CWs: violence, magical possession, past traumas: betrayal, gaslighting, bullying

51. Secrets Typed in Blood by Stephen Spotswood (BI WM MC, Mystery, 1940’s NYC).

Crime fiction, real murders & a suspicious client with deep secrets.

CWs: murder, child in peril, mentions of child death, kidnapping, serial killer, stalking, misogyny, past trauma: parental abuse

52. Alaskan Christmas Escape by Juno Rushdan (BW/WM, CIA fugitive/injured SEAL)

Zee is hiding after her team was framed & disavowed. But they’ve tracked her down & sent her evil ex after her. He won’t let her run alone.

CWs: gun violence, child in peril, past trauma: coercion, DV

53. Disavowed in Wyoming by Juno Rushdan (WW/LM, RS, second chance, CIA)

When Kate gets helps a pregnant woman she uncovers a lot more darkness in her home town.

CWs: murder, forced sex work, childbirth, maternal death, PT: DV, estrangement, grief, Cancer/Alzheimer’s

54. An Operative’s Last Stand by Juno Rushdan (Harlequin Intrigue, WM/WW)

Team Topaz’s last-ditch attempt to clear their name uncovers the true traitors.

CWs: guns, violence, murder, assassination, torture, sexual harassment.

55. The Verifiers by Jane Pek (Mystery, Taiwanese-American Lesbian MC)

Really engaging & engrossing. Loved Claudia and her wry geeky voice & how excited she is to be caught up a in mystery.

CWs: murder, references to suicide, gaslighting, toxic family dynamics.

 


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: Bite Me by Robyn Bachar #backlist

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My full review of Robyn Bachar's Bite Me is up at Love in Panels today.

But here is a taste:

I loved what Bachar did in this book. From its sarcastic, funny and decidedly off-kilter Lizzie, desperately trying to figure out how to hold everything together, while falling desperately in love at the wrongest moment possible, to solid and unflappable Angie, who refuses to let Lizzie face things alone and who listens and asks questions,especially when they face unexpected complications to their relationships.  

 

 

 

 


Whiskey Sharp: Unraveled by Lauren Dane

9780373799381_smp_FC-142x225In historic building in a trendy part of Seattle Maybe Dolan and Alexsei Petrov work side by side at Alexsei's Bar/Barber Shop, Whiskey Sharp.  Two years ago, Maybe talked herself into a job and has slowly been getting under Alexsei's skin. It has been 9 months since his engagement to a family friend, Rada, disintegrated, and he is finally talking himself into taking the risk and asking Maybe out when she asks him out instead, not willing for them to continue to ignore the sparks they have felt for years.

"Not his type, or what he'd always thought was his type until he met her."

Their courtship is sweet and romantic as Alexsei surprises Maybe every step of the way with his thoughtfulness and attentiveness. He might be gruff and grumpy but he has been paying attention to Maybe's chattering all along. While Maybe is thrilled to have Alexsei's big sexy body in her bed, and they enjoy easy rapport, full of teasing, due to their years of co-working friendship, deeper intimacy takes longer. Alexsei's sees Maybe in a way no one she has ever dated has before. This is both joyous and uncomfortable for Maybe, but through patience and persistence Alexsei is slowly able gain her full trust and learn the source of her secret hurts.

"He's like a grotesque villain from a Gothic novel" Vic said quietly. "I still can't believe he said all that to her. About her, I wanted to punch him at least ten times"

While I really enjoyed this book, the romance was nearly overshadowed by the conflict between 51ncktpnyvLMaybe and Rachel and their abusive father. There is very little interpersonal conflict between Maybe and Alexsei. They talked through most of their issues, and while there is tension around how Alexsei's ex Rada, tries to rile up and exclude Maybe, it was never something that threatened Maybe and Alexsei's relationship.  Alexsei's recognizes the seriousness of his feelings for Maybe from the start and never hesitates to show it.  The conflict that drives everything in the story is Maybe's Father's cruelty and unhinged fixation on his older daughter Rachel. While there is a mini-climax for that story it is left mostly unresolved to carry over into the next book, Whiskey Sharp: Jagged, which will feature Rachel and Alexsei's cousin Vic.

I plan to pick up the rest of the series because I really enjoyed getting to know Maybe and her sister Rachel and seeing them learn to set boundaries, and be there for each other and I enjoy all the family interactions with the rest of the Orlov clan, including Alexsei's meddling aunt, Vic's mother Irishka.

 

 

 

 


Spectred Isle (Green Men 1) by K.J. Charles

51MgWXJAakL._SY346_In Spectred Isle, the porous veil that separates the mundane from the magical worlds was almost completely shredded by the terrible choices magic users made during the war. Unusual magical phenomena is more common than it was before the war, and there are less skilled occultists around, since many like Simon Feximal (from Charles’s The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal) were lost or went missing during the war.

Saul Lazenby is a talented archaeologist whose career and life have been derailed by a dishonorable discharge from the army. The only job he can find is as secretary for a man obsessed with finding sites of magical significance.  Although skeptical he dutifully follows his employer's whims and fancies, tracking down these allegedly magical sites throughout London, till disturbing things begin occurring in alarming regularity. He is particularly disturbed to keep running into Randolph Gylde, who he suspects knows more than he is letting on.

Randolph Glyde is the arrogant and sly scion of a magical house devastated by the war. He is desperately trying to fulfill the duties his family has kept for generations, while ignoring his deep grief at their catastrophic and preventable loss during the war. He is at first suspicious of and then grows increasingly concerned for Saul safety as he persist in blundering into situations he has no preparation to face.

This series is a sequel of sorts to The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, set in the same world but not directly picking where the Casebook left off. Instead The Green Men series is set in the interwar period immediately after World War I. This is  the fragile yet glittering era of the Bright Young Things, where a war scarred generation tries to pick up the pieces in a world that has been radically changed by the war.  Although Sam Caldwell, Feximal’s adopted son is one of the supporting characters and the bureaucratic Shadow Ministry also returns to serve as Randolph’s nemesis in this novel, you don’t actually have to have read The Casebook in order to follow the story.

I enjoyed how Charles wove together history, elements of horror stories and folklore together to create incredibly menacing situations for Saul and Glyde to encounter. I also loved how Saul's Green Man magic worked, and how despite Randolph's magical pedigree he is really bumbling about since he is  trying to take over the roles left vacant by his family for which he has no training.

Both Randolph and Saul are vulnerable and lost in their own ways. Saul is deeply ashamed about what he has done in search of love before and Randolph has a lot of unresolved grief to deal with. I loved that Randolph and Saul are deeply suspicious of each other for incredibly legitimate reasons.  And I loved that they both long for yet struggle to picture what a lasting gay relationship would look like. They have take chances and be brave and name what they want, and let go what they have understood before. 

The supporting characters all need fleshing out, there where too many scenes with Green Men (the independent  occultists, ghost hunters and magic users, Glyde has aligned himself with in order to oppose the Shadow Ministry) where I couldn’t tell one from another. The only exception was Sam who by virtue of being a returning character, has an established history and his own distinct trauma. I look forward to reading the Green Men's individual stories but they are largely ciphers with dark backstories at this point. It was still very interesting, engaging start to a series that is sure to grow in intensity and depth.


I received a ARC for review consideration from the author, K.J. Charles

Expected Publication date Aug 3, 2017


Madly by Ruthie Knox (New York #2)

Cover105513-mediumIt has been a long-time since the first book in this series came out. After I  dug up my review of Truly, I realized I hadn't imagined the long wait, I had in fact read Truly back in 2013 when Loveswept was experimenting with serialization on WattPad.  Thankfully, I am extremely happy report that Madly was worth the wait.  

Madly is the story of Allie Fredericks, May's impulsive little sister. It has been more than a year since she broke up with her long-time boyfriend on their wedding day and now she is in secretly in NYC not to visit May and Ben but to stalk her mother.

Allie is watching her mother Nancy, share drinks with stranger, a man she has disappeared to meet up with again and again throughout her long-marriage, this time only days before her 30th Anniversary party.  Angry, confused and regretful Allie is not sure what to do, but she doesn't want her mother to spot her across the bar till she figures out what to do next. Enter, Winston.  

"Listen, I know this is going to sound kind of crazy, but if you can just kind of bear with me, I think you'll eventually decide it's the good kind of crazy."

"There's a good kind of crazy?"

"If there's not, people have been lying to me all my life."

Winston Chamberlain is quite possibly the least likely person to ever get caught up in Allie's potentially tawdry, and certainly ridiculous drama. Winston is a buttoned-up British banker, whose marriage recently imploded under the weight of all the artificial expectations of what a proper marriage should be. (He is also Neville' s older brother, from It Happened One Night).  His ex-wife is across the world climbing the mountains and his nearly-grown daughter is deftly ignoring his presence in NYC.  But Winston does get caught up in it, especially when he realizes he knows just who the man Nancy is sharing drinks with is his client, his very rich and very secretive client.

Madly is oddly an extremely sexy romance about divorce. It is also a story about mothers, daughters and the big and little compromises women make when trying to balance their ambitions, marriages and families.   Allie and Winston are both exactly who they seem to be and also more. While they superficially seem like an unlikely pairing they are actually at the same point in their lives, evaluating what went wrong, what they want and what comes next. 

It was a delight to read Knox's thoughtful prose again and to enjoy Allie and Winston antics as their romance rockets from unexpected attraction to come to something truly special, something worth taking a chance on even if it seems a little mad to everyone else.

 

Loveswept (Random House Publishing Group) provided a ARC copy of Madly for review consideration via NetGalley.


Strong Signal and Fast Connection (Cyberlove 1 & 2) by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

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*NOTE: 3.9.18 -- Since this was published allegations have come to light that the author known as Santino Hassell, Catfished and mislead co-authors, fans and others

Strong Signal (Cyberlove #1):  Garrett Reid is serving the last 9 months of his military career deployed in Afghanistan.  He spends his precious few hours of downtime playing video games, where one day he is mercilessly destroyed by an overpowering opponent. Angry he decides to virtually track down the Orc only to discover that he is Kai Bannon,a "gaymer" with his own Twitch stream (video gameplay channel) with legions of adoring followers and subscribers. At first Garrett hate-watches the stream, trash-talking in the Chat, but before long he finds himself grudgingly admiring him and starting to feel protective of Kai (after hypocritically benefiting from tumblrs full of stalker/fan-fodder about Kai).  He can't resist sending Kai a concerned email. Kai and Garrett then start exchanging initially tense then later, funny and tentatively flirtatious emails, then gchats and more. They have a great opposites-attract dynamic that blossoms into a beautiful sense of compatibility for two people who struggle to be understood, seen and truly known.

There is so much going on in this novel and all of it good. Erickson and Hassell layer emotionally-rich and realistic portrayals of imperfectly loving families, online communities, economic pressures, sexual identity and the tensions and conflicts inherent in building authentic intimacy and friendships while interacting online.  While Kai and Garrett's sexual chemistry is hotter than fire it is not enough to overcome the serious obstacles they face in building something permanent. A lasting relationship require they both put in serious work on themselves and the way they communicate in order to make their relationship work.

I have a great deal of respect for how Hassell and Erickson dealt with Kai's mental health issues. Garrett and Kai love each other but that doesn't magically cure anxiety.  While having an understanding partner is super important, in the end therapy and medication is how those things are addressed. And it is powerful to have Kai be the one who puts in that work and effort, because he values himself and wants more for himself.

30415154Fast Connection (Cyberlove#2):

Dominic Costigan is at loose ends. Twenty-six and recently out of the military, he feels just as lost and directionless as he was at 18, living in his parents' basement and working the counter at the family bagel shop.  At the same time he feels extremely alienated from his old friends, who don't understand why he doesn't simply go back to being the hookup obsessed dude-bro  he used to be. Having only recently become aware of his bisexuality, he is completely unsure about how to approach men and signal he is looking for something more than just a one-night stand.

Luke Rawlings only wants one-night stands. After a disastrous relationship wrecked his career and endangered his family he keeps his sexual needs very separate from the rest of his life. But Dominic's charm, persistence and  vulnerability wear down Luke in bending and eventually breaking his strict compartmentalization, complicating his life in ways that he never expected to value.

I was again moved by the richness of the storytelling. Erickson and Hassell weave multiple storylines and themes into a very satisfying whole. I loved the centrality of family and how fragile but tangled those bonds can be. Both Dominic and Luke are very protective of their families, despite the very different ways those families operate. I love how Erickson and Hassell portray the tender work necessary to rebuild relationships after meltdowns.

Both these novels illustrate one of my favorite relationship lessons -- Relationships take work and while sex can spark relationships it is the commitments made to walk the hard path together that sustain them.  Time and time again Kai & Garrett and Luke and Dominic can get everything right sexually but it is the fact that they come back to each other when things get hard, when apologies need to be made and after things have gotten uncomfortable that builds toward the HEA.  Kai, Garrett, Luke and Dominic are broken, flawed people and they are worth of love in that brokenness.

I can't wait to dive into Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson's backlists and I eagerly look forward to Cyberlove #3.


Marked in the Flesh by Anne Bishop (The Others, Book #4) Early Review

22062202Meg Corbyn,  Simon Wolfguard and the rest of the ensemble cast that make up the Lakeside Courtyard community and its connected settlements return in Marked in the Flesh as they try to figure out how save humanity from extinction as the HFL (The Human First and Last ) Movement's heinous attacks on the Others captures the interest of the Elders, the more primal and powerful beings in Thasia.

Meg and Simon's relationship is certainly on the back burner through this novel. Meg and Simon spend most of the novel involved in separate plots. Meg's primary focus is on being the Trailblazer, and working to find way to keep herself and the other Cassandra Sangue from cutting themselves into insanity and death. Simon and the Police Pack are working to try to mitigate the damage being done by the HFL to Human-Others relationships and preparing for the inevitable backlash from the Elders.  His focus is the survival of those humans he has come to care for and planning for a life afterwards.  While the novel does close with yet another step forward in intimacy between Meg and Simon, it just served to emphasize how little time they have spent together during the novel.

The novel's main theme seemed to be communication and isolation. Everyone in this novels is constantly scrambling to email and call each other in order to share prophesies, veiled warnings and urgent alarms.  A significant part of the novel's plot is communicated via emails, speech excerpts or newspaper clippings.  There is also a lot of miscommunication, misinterpretations. and intentional obfuscation.  In the end however everyone clearly receives the message, and Meg figures out how to best help the Cassandra Sangue communicate their own. Despite the darkness and fear near the end of the novel there is a sense that at least the Cassandra Sangue will have a potentially brighter future.

While Marked in the Flesh is fourth book of a five book series, I could have easily confused it with a final book. A lot of storylines seem to be awfully close to their conclusions, while a few new mysteries were raised in the final chapters it seems to me that the final book will feel more like an extended epilogue as it deals with the aftermath of the world-shaking events in this volume.

I was not as emotionally invested in this book as I was in the others since Meg and Simon where not as involved but it was still compelling and I will be back for the concluding story.

 

I received a review copy of Marked in the Flesh from ROC/Berkley Publishing Group.  Marked in the Flesh is scheduled to be released  March 8, 2016.


TBR Challenge Review: Naked in Death by JD Robb

October's TBR challenge theme is Paranormal or Romantic Suspense. I chose to read the first in JD Robb's best-selling futuristic sci-fi romantic suspense series "In Death". It was very daunting to even consider starting a 40 book deep series, but I bought the 1st "In Death" back in January when it was on sale. It has been sitting in my TBR taunting me since then. I mostly listened to "Naked in Death", reading chapters when I couldn't wait till my next convenient listening time.  

I loved the book. It was more graphically violent than I expected but I was completely engrossed in the story and the romance even though I figured out who the killer less than a third of the way through the story.

Eve Dallas is a tough cop in New York hundreds of years into the future.  While the culture and tech have in some ways radically changed the way people crime, motives and policing have only changed superficially. While Dallas carries a laser, and uses crime-analyzing computer, she is still buried in piles of reports, bureaucratic red-tape in chronically under-staffed department with a chief of police more interested in returning political favors than solving crimes.  While sex work might be legal & space-travel commonplace, money, political power and sex continue to deeply intertwined.  The more things change, the more things stay the same.

A demoralized, emotionally raw Eve is called to the scene of a murder just hours after surviving a traumatic encounter with a child murderer.  She finds a once vibrantly beautiful politically connected sex-worker murdered, possibly by a new serial killer. Eve drives herself nearly to her breaking point trying to find the killer and stop him before he kills again, against the strong headwinds of political pressure.

Roarke is a self-made billionaire with a mysterious past whose acquaintance with the first victim and large collection of antique guns make him a suspect.  Rourke quickly becomes fascinated with Eve. Her determination to solve the crime and refuse to be intimidated or swayed by his money and power catch his attention. Despite his alpha-pushiness and boundary crossing (more like trampling), his humor and emotional vulnerability make him incredibly attractive. He is baffled at his own response and desire for Eve, but proves again and again that he will put her needs above his every chance he gets. Unlike ruthless billionaire heroes Roarke almost always makes himself emotionally vulnerable in ways he doesn't demand from Eve. While he is used to getting his way, and getting whatever he wants, he doesn't see Eve as someone to acquire as much as he wants her.  His interventions on her behalf never diminish her. Their love affair has all the markings of a fascinating and genuine partnership.

Their first love-making scene was epic.  I am sure someone has written scads on the marital-violent language of their first encounter, because craft-wise it was a master class on writing truly un-skippable sex scene, that has ramifications to the whole story. While Eve's instincts tell her that Roarke is not a suspect, the scene is filled with tension, because he is not truly cleared yet and getting involved with him, even if he means her no harm is truly dangerous to Eve's career, which is the only thing that matters to Eve.

The series is not for the faint of heart but it is fantastic blend of romance and police procedural, and I will be coming back for more.

The audiobook was capably narrated by Susan Ericksen.  

PS.  I am embarrassingly behind on my ARC reading and reviewing.  =(


30 Days by Christine d'Abo

Alyssa buried her husband, her first and only lover two long years ago.  She has slowly and carefully been rebuilding her life, and her identity. Re-entering the dating scene as 35 year-old widow is daunting. Her late husband anticipated her hesitation during the last months of his life and left Alyssa a letter and 30-day challenge to encourage her reconnect with her sexuality as necessary first step before considering chancing couplehood again.

Harrison is Alyssa's new and temporary neighbor and seems like the perfect candidate to help her complete this project without risking getting too attached.

30 Days was very fun but unsurprisingly also very emotional. The book deals frankly with grief, and the long non-linear process of letting go of a beloved spouse.  Alyssa in a sense is trying to balance two relationships. She is in the midst of untangling her experiences of sex & love from her feelings for Rob while slowly falling in love with Harrison.

I really liked how slow Alyssa is to recognize and notice Harrison for himself and not just as convenient sexual partner. While she recognizes he is someone she can trust, is attracted to him, recognizes his skills and charm,  she learns the hard way how little she has tried to get to know him.  The conflict, tensions and hurts that develop between Alyssa and Harrison are believable and were resolved in satisfying and romantic way.

 

 I received a review copy via NetGalley .