Not Another Rock Star (Hot Under Her Collar #3) by Amber Belldene

51qVm7EJsDL._SY346_Suzannah's first year as a priest is off to a rocky start. The foodbank project her church called her to spearhead has run into unexpected opposition, she is putting in too many early morning and late nights working on her sermons and worst yet some of her parishioners have noticed. When her organist, Peggy, breaks her arm in the weeks leading up to Easter it is a stress she doesn't need, but the replacement, Peggy's former star pupil, Rush Perez, a troubled rock star, might just the thing that makes her break.

Rush is hiding out in SF, trying to sort through treatment options. Losing his hearing and battling vertigo might not be life-threatening but they are career threatening. His worry and frustration has isolated him from his friends, too worried about the possibility of life without music that he rather let them think he is struggling with addition than tell them the truth about his prognosis. 

I really love Belldene's Hot Under Her Collar Series. First because they are so familiar and feel so right. My husband was a pastor for 15 years, and I find myself nodding along, as her priests tackle church politics, difficult parishioners and crises of confidence. Her priest are smart and passionate, with genuine faith and calling and, so often in romance and fiction in general characters are either one or the other. I believe in Suze's distracting attraction to the brooding rockstar just as much as I believe in her desire to serve God in her community.

I really enjoyed the progression of Rush and Suze's relationship, from antagonistic and prickly to wary and hopeful. They both carry a lot of baggage when it comes to music, faith and how they handle peoples expectations and  work pressure. Their relationship becomes believably unbalanced as Suze tackles her fears and insecurities, trusting in Rush to listen and provide good advice. While Rush comes to trust Suze with his struggles, opening up about his pain, he almost unable to trust himself to let her care for him. I cried big fat tears when Rush finally comes to realize almost too late that the barriers to their relationship's success are almost exclusively of his own making. Those are some of my favorite kinds of resolutions, when a character realizes that they are the ones that need to change, that they need to bend, and that all the external conflicts are secondary and endurable together.

If you like me are hungry for more romance where spirituality, and faith are not antithetical to sexual desire and passion, where couples struggle to be truly vulnerable and intimate with each other, and do a wonderful job at portraying friendships and community give this series by Belldene a try.  The books standalone quite well, so you can start with any of them, but they are all worth reading.


Protecting their Mate (The Last Pack) by Moira Rogers (previously published under the name Mia Thorne)

51rB0UNOdpLIn paranormal romance particularly shifter romances (but also seen in Alien SFR, for example, Ice Planet Barbarians), finding one's mate is often complicated/facilitated by the triggering of a mating heat, an instinctual and undeniable sexual call, that is often painful to resist (occasionally even fatal). As their bodies cry out for sexual satisfaction, the couples' emotional journey is complicated as they try to figure out what they really feel for each other outside of bed,  the eternal Lust or Love question.  In PNR in particular, a lover's animal side is often more ready to accept the lover than their human side. In Protecting their Mate, Rogers inverts the usual formula.  

Ashley's parents were werewolves who had assimilated into human society after their pack fell apart. They tried to suppress and repress all of Ashley's wolfish instincts, eventually caging her in the basement of the family home. She is abandoned there just as she starts entering her mating heat. She is rescued come by members of one of the last true wolf packs remaining. 

Ashley is sexually inexperienced and largely ignorant of the ins and outs of being a werewolf and living  in a wolf pack and has to shed a lot of her inhibitions, and shame about sex before her wolf is willing to make a choice. Although Ashley quickly forms an emotional bond with her rescuer, Blake, her wolf wants to try out all the other potentials mates in the pack before it settles on just one person. Blake wants to guide her through the process but struggles to figure out if he can put Ashley's needs above his own and let go of his jealousy and insecurity so she can learn everything she needs to learn about being a wolf in and out of bed.

Like any other Rocha/Rogers book there is a lot of sex but possibly as a result of the original serial format when read in a collected form the motivations for the episodic menage (m/f/m) scenes grew repetitive although the sex scenes themselves remained creative. I appreciated how consistently the scenes featured clear consent, something often absent in many mating heat romances. The non-sexual plot heated up in the last half with the introduction of a rival pack, who covets Ashley and might be abusing their own female pack mate.  I was very intrigued by some of the world building choices and I'm interested in returning for more stories in this world as in typical Rocha/ Rogers fashion, the pack is filled with fascinating characters, with teasingly dark backstories. 

"Protecting their Mate" was a secret project previously published as serial on Kindle Unlimited under the name Mia Thorne by writing duo of Donna Herran & Bree Bridges, who also publish under the name Kit Rocha.  They are collecting the serial into three chapters for this re-release but not making any additional changes and will be released as bundle in Sept. 

Expected Publication dates:

 Part 1 – 7/24

Part 2 – 7/31

Part 3 – 8/7

Complete Bundle 9/15

and they will be continuing the series, Defending their Mate

I received  an ARC for review consideration from the authors.


Wildfire (Hidden Legacy Book 3) by Ilona Andrews

51dzRcjNU0LI am a long-time fan of Ilona Andrews's urban fantasy series. Their books have a great mix of action, humor and often feature hard-working, fiercely independent heroines facing terrible odds.

In the Hidden Legacy series, Nevada Baylor is private investigator, desperately trying to hold on to her family's firm. She lives and works in magic-dominated Houston, while hiding her family's own magical talents. She takes difficult cases, and works with her quirky but loving family. Over the course of the series she has fallen in love with Connor "Mad" Rogan, the hugely powerful telekinetic head of House Rogan, feared by the vast majority of the magical community. 

The relationship between Nevada and Connor is difficult, sweet and romantic, as they try to balance Nevada's need for independence and autonomy against Connor's need to protect her from the very dangerous people who are gunning for them both.

In Wildfire, the Baylors and Connor are still trying to track down the members of a dangerous magical conspiracy determined to undermine the current political structure and install their "Caesar"as supreme ruler. The Baylors are also under threat from their powerful and vicious paternal grandmother, who has been looking for them for decades and to complicate matters further Nevada has just been hired by Connor's ex-fiancee to help track down her missing husband.

The Andrews continue to craft stories with multiple-levels of threat, but hang together as a cohesive story line

In this chapter of Nevada and Rogan's romance I loved seeing how their love is maturing. They are learning to trust each other, even as romantic rivals and family obligations place greater pressure on their relationship.  Both of them are putting in the effort to bend for each other and the sexual tension and desire continues to hotter than fire.  

I love this family but I love this world a ton and I hope we continue to see more stories set in this world, with or without Nevada and Rogan at the center.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss +

Expected Publication Date July 25, 2017


Sight Unseen: A Collection of Five Anonymous Novellas

Sight-unseen-b-small-2-377x600Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran, Erin Satie, Emma Barry and J.A. Rock contributed to this anthology/guessing game. I have read multiple books by 4 out of these 5 authors, so it was an easy decision to pick up this book.  Even not knowing who wrote which story, I could count on enjoying the anthology as whole.

The stories cover a gamut of sub-genres, from fantasy to historical. These stories are clearly experiments by the authors to write outside their usual niches and play with settings and tropes they aren't know for exploring and push the boundaries of the genre.

The book opens with "Lost That Feeling" about rebel witch who has erased 7 years of her life & needs to figure next step when she is rescued by her former rebel leaders. I loved the depiction of magic in this story and how it played with the amnesia trope within a magic fantasy setting. Alma is a living "what if" moment, and is conscious of the possibilities, while confused about the reasons that led her to that moment.  I would characterize this story as fantasy with romantic elements because the romance takes a far back seat to the philosophical questions of how to end injustice.

In "A Clear View of You", I adored the angry and cynical fake-psychic grad-student heroine, drowning in college debt. Harmony "Kate" Marsh is estranged from her hippie-magic obsessed mother, Pangaea.  North needs Kate's help to retrieve a magical orb in Pangaea's possession.  It is a fantastic story about truth, trust and family. I loved the interaction between North and Kate, and how he challenges her entrenched beliefs without forcing or coercing.  It had a lot of fun banter and humor through out.

In "Free," Brad is a timid accountant who finally builds up the courage to confront an oblivious biker princess, Wren Masters, about her father's biker club's drug dealing. It is a small town romance about unrequited crushes, growing up and moving on.  Of the novellas this was probably the most conventional in tone and style. The subversion is in how it reworks the the typical Biker romance, rejecting slut-shaming tropes, and elevating the law-abiding hero over well-hung arrogant biker.  I loved Wren was the sexual instigator and that her motivations are not simple or easy.

It is 1983, and CJ Crespo's band DonJon is falling apart. Donny, her creative but not romantic partner of a ten-years, has exchanged the excesses of the road for the strictures of religious conversion. Their careers are disintegrating but they are finally reaching toward each other. "Chariot of Desire" jumped forward and backward in time and it left me feeling pensive about passion & purpose & not terribly hopeful for CJ and Donny.

"The Heart is a Universe", the final novella is epic science fiction/romantic myth. Vitalis and Eleian are heroes to their planets.  Vitalis is the Chosen One, the brightest of her generation, chosen by her people as a child to face a deadly task that assures their ability to remain on their planet.  Eleian pulled his planet from the brink of chaos, facing off against a tyrant and helping them restore democracy, before retreating from public life. What most don't know is that he has been ill since birth, and only experiences brief moments of health and vitality.  He uses one of them to orchestrate a meeting with his hero and inspiration Vitalis.  I cried a lot reading this story, sympathetic frustrated tears, mostly as these two, struggled with anger, duty and doubt.  

As a whole this anthology was very interesting and ambitious. As a guessing game despite having read 4 out of the 5 authors and knowing for sure who wrote one of the stories, I don't feel any confidence in my authorial guesses but it was fun to read a set of stories without knowing who authored what. As a discovery tool, I will definitely try more books by the one author I had not read previously, J.A. Rock.


The Bridesmaid and The Hurricane: A Capital Kisses story by Kelly Maher

30ish White man in white button up shirt and loose tie. Cover for Kelly Maher's The Bridesmaid and the Hurricane About a year and half-ago I spent a whole day reading novellas while keeping my youngest daughter company.  One of the novellas was Maher's Blizzard Bliss.  I found it quite charming and I was intrigued by a lot of the supporting characters.  One of the characters I wanted to know more about was Radhika O'Leary, Rory's older sister who was stranded at downtown hotel during the whole of Blizzard Bliss.

Turns out Radhika had a blizzard fling of her own with Malcolm "Colm" Jones, a national weather reporter in town to cover the storm. Eighteen months have passed with no contact but Colm is about to blow right back into Radhika's life and complicate it in ways neither of them expected.

When I asked for Radhika's story, it didn't expect this one, but that isn't a complaint.  Maher delivered a story about workplace politics, toxic co-workers, relationship baggage and the necessity to taking emotional risks.  I really liked the romance between Colm and Radhika, especially her wariness at getting involved with him, despite how much she liked and still likes him. Neither of these characters are perfect, but they are both trying very hard and they have friends and family to push them the right direction when they screw up.  

One of the things I really appreciate about Maher is her attention to detail and her strong sense of place however there were a few scenes that could have been tighter, as the pacing of the story slowed to accommodate the detail. That is a small nitpick in what was a fresh and interesting take on the return of a rebound two-night stand. 

I received ARC for review consideration from the author.


Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity, Book 1) by Nalini Singh

Silver-silence-186x300Silver Silence is the first book in a new series by Nalini Singh set in her Psy-Changeling universe. It is special in several ways. First is the start of a new story-line, and although it builds on what has gone before it works a accessible entry-point for those who might not be interested in reading the previous dozen books. Second, this is the first Psy-changeling books to feature bear changelings.

Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series was one of my gateways into Romance.  I devoured the original series, although not every book worked for me, I regularly re-read several of the books.  However as the series has progressed the over-arching plot had gotten larger and larger, to the point where she had to write an ensemble book, Allegiance of Honor without a central romance to wrap up things.  I am going to be honest and say that for me that book was trudge to read, the vignette style, interrupted by the Xavier's diary, was a snooze, despite the fact that I loved the vast majority of the characters.  I read about half of it when if first came out and only finished it last month, as I waited for Silver Silence.

My recent re-readings of the Psy-changeling books have been bit uncomfortable as I have changed a lot as reader since I first read this series and I've become more sensitive to problematic choices, for example the near absence of LGBTQ people. While this series has always had racial and religious diversity, LGBTQ people didn't seem to exist in the Psy-Changeling world, and I am no longer comfortable in fictional worlds that erase queer people. So while I was excited to read a new Psy-Changeling book I was also wary. 

Silver Silence is the story of Silver Mercant and Valentin Nikolaev.  Valentin is the Alpha of the StoneWater Bears, one of the largest bear clans in Russia.  Silver Mercant is Psy, a highly gifted telepath and head of a world-wide coordinated disaster response organization   Although many Psy are starting to explore their emotions, Silver remains firmly Silent, yet that does not discourage Valentin.  After months of largely one-side courtship Valentin gets his big break when he interrupts an assassination attempt on Silver's life. Determined to protect her, he offers her refuge with his clan while she recovers and they work together to uncover who is targeting her and why.

The book was very enjoyable and I ended up re-reading it almost immediately. Despite my wariness, Singh made a lot of good choices in this book.  First of all, there was clear LGBTQ inclusion. Two major gay characters were introduced, one is Silver's empath brother, Arwen and the other high-ranking lieutenant in Valentin's clan, Pavel. These characters got a good deal of page time, and a flirtation, that hints at a future romance. It is a small step, but for a world where LGBTQ have been absent it was exciting to see.  (I do admit to being very distracted by Arwen's name however).

 The second good choice was the ways where  Silver Silence mirrored Singh's first Psy-Changeling book, Slave to Sensation and then took things a different direction. In both books a Psy takes refuge with changelings while facing threats on her life.  Spending time in close quarters helps breakdown the Psy's ingrained resistance against romantic/sensual experiences.  In Slave to Sensation, Lucas frequently pushes Sasha past her comfort zone, deliberately pushing boundaries and overriding her choices. 

 In Silver Silence, Valentin does not proceed without Silver's explicit consent. He is blunt, determined and stubborn but he respects Silver's choices even when it hurts him.  He encourages her and makes sure she has everything she needs. His protectiveness does not make her world smaller. Silver is presented as more powerful than Valentin in all ways but the physically, and that he is not threatened by her prominent global position but instead actively supportive of it.  Valentin's love for Silver is self-sacrificial, and constant when many would have given up. Singh does a great job presenting this as fidelity not simply stubbornness.

"Who are you to me?" 
"Yours," he said, "I'm yours."

 

I am very excited by the new directions and choices Singh is making and I am no longer wary but excited about this new series. If you have never tried a Psy-changeling book this is where I would encourage you to start.


Sexy #RomBkLove Day 1: Sex in Romance

 

Short answer: Yes

When I first started blogging about Romance I wrote out a whole explanation on why I read and reviewed Romance.  One of the issues I addressed in it was the sex because that is often the first thing so many people bring up to me either out of concern (isn't it porn?) or to ridicule (smut..hrr..hrr) when they learn I read romance novels.

What about all the sex?

What about it? Yep, I am a Christian, pastor’s wife even, and I have sex. Do you have sex in your relationships? Why then should it be absent from books focused on love relationships? Sure some of it can be quite smutty, some of it can be boring (tab A into slot b) but when it is done right, it powerfully exposes characters to the reader and I enjoy reading about it. Need, desire, vulnerability & acceptance are real human emotions, and should be part of sexual encounters and a skilled author will writes sex scenes with all of these. In the romance novels I enjoy the sex scenes that are revelatory not merely titillating and the author is not scared to portray sex honestly, allowing characters to engage in good, bad, okay, empty or meaningful sex. And finally, it can be educational. No other genre places such a focus on female desire and female sexual satisfaction and I really appreciate that. I grew up with little conversation on sexual topics beyond encouragement to be sexually pure and the vague promises of happy married sex if I held out that long. When I read Romance fiction I find the variety of portrayals of sexual desire and arousal to be life-affirming. It might not always be my thing, my kink, but it is a human expression of love and my own life is fuller for reading about it.

   I am really glad Jennifer decided to open with this prompt for this version of #RomBkLove.  For me there isn't one answer for too much or too little, open door or closed door, except that the sex needs to serve the story and the voice of the author or it quickly becomes boring or laughable.  If I find myself skimming through sex scenes, it probably means that the sex is interrupting the pacing of the story. And as many other people have mentioned in the thread today, it needs to carry the emotional through-line of the romance.


#RomBkLove Week 4: Journey

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#RomBkLove Week 4: Journey. Traveling can make or break a relationship. What are the most memorable character journeys you have read? What are your favorite road-trip/travel romances?

Summer Vacation begins this week for me.  Growing up almost all our vacations were road-trips of some sort or another. We would fly up to NYC, rent a car and sight-seeing up and down the East Coast.  These vacation adventures became fodder for family inside-jokes, which we still love to retell to each other, from the endless evening spent looking for an affordable hotel in Montreal to how we lost our dad's new hat somewhere between Boston and Niagara Falls and he was so mad he didn't talk to us for the rest of the day.  Traveling together can make or break a relationship.  That particular trip was the first one where we kids noticed that my parents marriage was falling apart. It was second-to-last family vacation and their last as a married couple.  But in Romance trips often throw couples together.

I love road-trip/travel romances so much that I keep a shelf of them Goodreads.

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Two of my favorites are  Joanna Bourne's The Forbidden Rose and Laura Kinsale's The Prince of Midnight.  In both these tales, danger stalk the couples as they get to know each other, and slowly see behind each other's masks while on the road together.

 

What are your favorites?

 

 

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Next Month:

Daily #RomBkLove returns!  Jennifer Porter (@JenniferRNN) will be hosting a sexy version of #RomBkLove tackling the tropes and conventions of erotic romance.  I'll retweet the prompt graphic when she is ready to launch it.   I won't be posting weekly prompts while Sexy #RomBkLove is going on, but I'll be back with more Weekly prompts in Aug.

Also on July 1st, I'll be co-hosting #readRchat's mid-year conversation on the Best Books of 2017.  Drop in to share which books you have loved so far this year. 

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