Summer RT Reviews Roundup and Special Announcement!

I've been binge reading bear-shifter books on KU for the past month and not writing much of anything although I have several posts percolating.  I'll review my epic dive into TS Joyce's bear shifter books in the next few days but since I haven't  posted my RT reviews here since May (Whoops!), here are the ones from the July issue!  

Ride'em by Delphine Dryden -- I quite enjoyed this. I love Delphine and I laughed a lot reading this one. Kinky enemies to lovers at dude ranch.

Worth it All by Claudia Connor -- Slow burn romance between two fiercely independent people.

Into the Blue by Chantel Cleeton -- Second chance love story. Great portrayal of pilot dealing with grief and PTSD and questioning the choices he made once.  Great conflict.

 ALSO:

SPECIAL Announcement:  Two years ago I met up with Elisabeth Lane from Cooking up Romance at RWA and we had such a fabulous time talking face to face about romance.  This summer I drove up to Montreal to meet up with Kay, from Miss Bates Reads Romance and despite having two days with her, we hardly scratched the surface about all the awesome romance conversations we could have.  After my visit to Kay, we ended up talking on twitter about how awesome it would be to get a bunch more of rom reader twitter friends together to just hang around together and talk romance.  The more we talked about it, the more possible it seemed.  So we decided to get serious about it.  We are planning on meeting up in Montreal, next summer,  Aug 11-13, 2017 . Montreal is a very fun city and Kay is fantastic host!  If you want to know more please visit:http://www.romancenovelmeetup.com/ and sign up for the update emails.

 

 


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

28561501Strong 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.


A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn

51NzMcKLDSL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_I love historical fiction, mystery and adventure stories and this book had all of that and a touch of romance. This is the first book in a new mystery series set near the end of the Victorian Era, around the time of the Queen's Jubilee by Deanna Raybourn.  I loved Raybourn's Lady Jane mysteries and this series looks to be even more interesting.

Veronica Speedwell, a naturalist, who specializes in hunting rare butterflies, has just buried her last remaining relative, her adoptive aunt, in a small rural village. When she returns home to pack up her belongings and set off on her own she is attacked in her cottage by an intruder and rescued by a mysterious old German baron, who insists that her life is in danger and he is here to protect her. She reluctantly agrees to go with him to London (mostly to save herself the train fare) because he claims to have known her mother and might be able to tell her who her father was. He is however killed before he can tell her after leaving her in the care of a trusted associate, a gruff-disgraced former naturalist and adventurer, known as Stoker.

ACB-350Stoker and Veronica reluctantly team-up and they together and go on the run from those pursuing Veronica and work to solve the Baron's murder. The plot is twisty and the dialogue very clever and funny. Veronica and Stoker have great sexual/romantic tension as they forge their tentative partnership and I love the push/pull of their relationship. Neither of them are easy people, and both have lots of emotional baggage to overcome.  I enjoyed the colorful locations (a cluttered warehouse, a traveling carnival, a ramshackle ballroom stuffed with scientific treasure) where Veronica and Stoker take refuge and unusual  supporting characters  very much.  I am looking forward to reading Veronica and Stoker's future adventures.

I listened to this as an audiobook and the performance by the narrator, Angele Masters was fantastic, as she gave each character a distinctive voice without being distracting.


Gambled Away: A Historical Romance Anthology

51S13AejBxL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

I loved this anthology. Rich characterization and intriguing stories about resourcefulness, resilience and redemption that are never repetitive despite sharing a common plot element.

As this anthology includes many of my favorite authors I hope many people take a chance and explore some of their other novels and that they team up again in the future.

All or Nothing by Rose Lerner: This story was surprising, engrossing and emotionally complex. It is a story about lust, longing, trust, hope and how important it is to hold on to truth.  Maggie da Silva's life is outwardly glamorous. She and her best-friend and lover Henny host a small gambling den, where together they charm aristocrats into emptying their pockets for chance to be singled out to gamble on winning Maggie's sexual favors.  Simon Radcliffe-Gould is a struggling architect and terrible gambler who can't resist coming every week because he is infatuated with Maggie. He is titillated and mortified when he wins Maggie. Torn between honorable intentions and desire, he persuades Maggie to pose as his mistress at house-party hosted by Simon's ex-lover, so he can complete a commission without getting sucked back into a relationship with him.  

Lerner is masterful in balancing the emotional tension in this story, as both Maggie and Simon have a lot they need to figure out about themselves, their needs and what they are unwilling to compromise on before they can even consider how to turn their temporary entanglement into something lasting. I don't think I will be done thinking about Simon and Maggie and the truths they hold on to for a very long time. I was particularly moved by Maggie determination to reclaim her Jewish faith. Maggie's feelings about her faith are rich and complex as she seeks away to live authentically despite the challenges of growing up without any access to those who might have taught her the traditions her family was forced to abandon because of religious persecution and forced conversion.

“The Liar’s Dice” by Jeannie Lin

Set during the Tang Dynasty, Lin's novella is part of her fantastic Lotus Palace series and features many familiar characters as secondary characters while still being completely accessible to those who have  not be lucky enough to read the previous books.

Wei-wei, Lady Bai, has always been a dutiful daughter but she has grown restless and seeks to experience a little of bit of the freedom that would have been hers if she had been born a boy. After borrowing her brother's scholar's robes she sneaks into her sister-in-law's tea house to experience for herself what she has only ever read about. On her way back home she runs into Gao a shady acquaintance of her brother  and together they stumble upon murder victim. Worried that the murder might be connected to her brother's recently uncharacteristic behavior and could inadvertently destroy her brother's newfound joy, they team up to solve the murder.

The Liar's Dice was essentially a mystery novella with a touch of romance. Wei-wei tests the limits of her freedom, confronts her brother and gets to know a mysterious but unsuitable man in Gao. The ending of their flirtation is hopeful but far from assured. As a mystery novella it was highly enjoyable, full of fantastic and fascinating detail but as romance it left me somewhat unsatisfied.

“Raising The Stakes” by Isabel Cooper  As Okies stream into 1938 California, desperate as dust storms and drought push them off their land, Sam, a card-shark, wins a magical flute that allows her to summon a otherworldy fae warrior to come to her aid.  After the initial shock wears off, the clever and shrewd, Sam enlists Talathan's aid in conning a greedy revival preacher in order to save her family farm from foreclosure. Sharp, cunning Sam bewilders and tempts Talathan with her forthrightness and hidden vulnerabilities and makes them both long for something more than temporary team-up.

Cooper grounds her fantasy with great period detail and sells the partnerships between the nomadic gambler and fairy warrior through humor and snappy dialogue, but the romance between them still felt tentative by the end.

“Redeemed” by Molly O’Keefe 

Guilt-ridden Dr. James Madison is struggling to figure out how to rebuild his life, camping out in a brothel and turning away his friends. Addiction has wrecked his career and nearly destroyed the life of his assistant, but it is the daily grind of recovery and re-integration into society that is wearing him down. 

When Helen Winters, the caged singing star of the titillating traveling "Northern Spy" act  arrives in to town, James can't decide if he should intervene when it seems that Helen is being drugged and possibly held against her will by her manager and guardian. 

Like the previous stories in O'Keefe's fantastic post-Civil War western series, Into the Wilds, Redeemed explores the complicated legacy of the Civil War on its survivors.  All the characters are richly drawn and the romance was emotional and heart-wrenching.

“Gideon and the Den of Thieves” by Joanna Bourne When Gideon Gage a trader and mercenary infiltrates the lair of London's most powerful crimelord,  Lazarus, he finds unlikely allies in Hawker and Aimee, two of Lazarus's most loyal subjects.

Hawker and Aimee are conspiring to protect the ailing Lazarus from challengers, through a campaign of distraction and misdirection  because they know that Lazarus's perceived strength is all that keeps their little band of street urchins and waifs from utter destruction. Lazarus might be the devil but he is the devil they know and count on.

Bourne's novella is set is near the very beginning of her Spymaster's series chronology.  A very young Hawker, at his most  vicious, sarcastic and feral and Aimee, french refugee who works as Lazarus' s fence, is everything her heroines usually are, independent, resourceful and deeply scarred by her past.  I enjoyed the novella's focus on Aimee and Hawker's friendship and their relationship with Lazarus.

 

The anthology is currently available for free through Kindle Unlimited but it is more than worth its regular $2.99 price tag.  I received advance copy from the authors for review consideration.

 


Returning from a Reviewing Hiatus

My last review for my blog was May 10, when I hit a stress bubble in my offline life and had to let something go for my sanity.  I kept on reading and writing 140 character reviews on twitter but I didn't have any time to just think and write.  I am on vacation right now in Maunabo, and for the first time in months actually felt like I could coherently write something again.

I have a  review for the fantastic Gambled Away anthology  almost ready to go but I am waiting to finish one last novella in it before I hit publish.

I'm  stilling writing my reviews for RT so I am planning on linking to those in my next review.  RT is going through some major changes so I have drastically cut down the number of books I read for them as I wait through the transition to see if it still works for me to review for them.  

Although the blog has been hiatus and I've been turning down ARCs for most of the last month  I have been reading a ton.

I indulged in Kindle Unlimited subscription and  have read dozens of books on KU, mostly bikers, shifters and aliens and have dug through my TBR to read books I had forgotten I bought.  I have been playing around on a bookish app called Litsy ( a cross between Instagram and Goodreads for booklovers)

D1GwYJosOcS._SL250_FMpng_I read all the Ice Planet Barbarians books by Ruby Dixon, which had been repeatedly recommended to me by Michelle Mills and Elisabeth Lane (their book choices rarely overlap so for both of them to recommend them, meant I had to try them eventually).

 My favorite of them all was Barbarian Alien.  A traumatized Ice Barbarians kidnaps one of the human women he resonates with (they have a symbiote that alter their body to survive the harsh environment of the planet and it that identifies their mate, and amps up the mating drive) to ensure no one takes her from him.  Despite the whole alien abduction, symbiote driven mating drive the books are really good about consent.  The tension in the books is about having the character's feelings for each other catch up to their bodies ramped up lust, while overcoming language and cultural barriers.  Over all the heroes tend to be very protective and possessive but what I loved about Raahosh comes to understand Liz's need to be independent and learn to provide for herself in this new planet.  Ruby Dixon's worldbuilding was pretty great, and I was amused by how subtlety she tweeked our understanding of how resonance and mating work in the books to provide different conflicts and tensions for later couples.

After reading all the Ice Planet Books I read Ruby Dixon's Shift that collect five bear shifter novellas. These novellas were very cute and fun.  Bear shifters find their inconveniently human mates and respond in a variety of ways. 

I also tried Ruby Dixon's Bedlam Butcher series. I enjoyed Off Limits about the unlucky-sister of the Biker club's president, Lucky and Solo, the one partner-less biker in a band of bikers who are somewhat obsessed with the buddy system. When Lucky is targeted by a gang of white supremacists, Solo rescues her and together they bait the other gang into exposing themselves.  I enjoyed the suspense plot in the later books, but ended up skimming them because I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to sink into the later books that are all menage. 

No KU binge can be complete without trying Alexa Riley again.  I had read and hated Mechanic and Coach, but I discovered that I very much enjoyed their Fairy Tale Shifter books.  All the elements that make me recoil from their contemporaries, work for me in their paranormals.  They write over-the-top uncomplicated books full of insta-love, possessive mates and mating urges, and I find I can only enjoy that when reading about shifters or aliens. B1qu-MZLx7S._SL250_FMpng_

I quite enjoyed Suzanne Wright's Phoenix Pack and Mercury Pack shifter books. The books had very interesting political pack dynamics and I enjoyed how blood thirsty and powerful the women in the series were. The romances were fun, with a lot emotional push and pull but I laughed and laughed when I realized that all the books had anal sex scenes because although almost all the characters had previous sexual partners they had saved anal sex for their true mate.  What I didn't enjoy was the high-mortality rate for the female exes and how often sexual rivalry drove the suspense conflict.

I'll be back to ARC reviewing in the next few weeks!

 


Winning Her Over (BigLaw Romance 1) by Alexa Rowan

29414017Brenna Nakmura left the corporate world behind to train as massage therapist. It cost her fiancee but she loves her job and doesn't regret her choices despite how hard it is to make ends meet while getting her small business off the ground. Every job matters and she won't do anything endanger the referrals she gets, even if her newest drop-dead handsome client is extremely attractive and wants to invite her for a coffee afterwards she won't cross that line. Turning down his invitation to dinner is a few weeks later when they unexpectedly bump into each other again is much harder to do, especially when it is clear that neither of them have stopped thinking about each other.

For the last 8 years Calvin Wilcox has been un-waveringly focused on making partner as his late father's lawfirm. He is on the verge of finally reaching his goal but suddenly he is much more interested in trying to persuade Brenna to date him, despite the fact that she has little spare time and the live in different cities.  Cal's persistence, charm and a willingness to spend a lot of time on commuter shuttles, soon convinces Brenna to take a chance on him despite the fact that they are both incredibly busy and live in different cities. He holds himself back however, intentionally keeping things outwardly casual, which leads him to act in a unthinkingly hurtful manner.

I thought Rowan did a great job building up and then resolving the tension over Brenna's professional ethics. I loved how realistically  conflicts caused by their long-distance relationship was handled. I really felt for Brenna as she is torn between growing her business and unconsciously responding to Cal's unvoiced desire that she be available when he was around. It was a small moment, but that highlighted for me the hidden costs of their relationship, that comes back to bite them later, when the all the resentments and expectations of their not-quite-serious-relationship finally bubble over.  I thought Cal's grovel was great as was Brenna's simultaneous but confusing feelings of frustration and softening she feels towards him as she receives each gesture.

Winning Her Over was very charming and insightful debut, and I would be happy to read more Alexa Rowan in the future.

 

I received a review copy of Winning Her Over from Alexa Rowan's publisher Jasmine Press.

 


May RT Review Round-Up

I'm a a semi-reviewing hiatus right now. I've been really tired recently, so instead of staying up reading books or using my time to write reviews I've mostly been sleeping.  I'll be back to reviewing soon, as I am starting to feel a little less tired. I've read some really great books last month before I crashed to sleep, so hopefully I'll have the energy to review them here in the next couple of weeks.

These are my most recent reviews for RT (June issue):

Beta Test by Annabeth Albert: 2nd in #Gaymers series. Enemies to Lovers.

A Fighting Chance by Shannon Stacey:  2nd chance at love.

Driftwood Point by Mariah Stewart  Big Misunderstanding almost derails everything.


April RT Review Round-up: Level Up by Cathy Yardley & Love of the Game by Lori Wilde

Level Up by Cathy Yardley: Every so often I'm assigned a book for RT that I actually already own but hadn't read.  Level Up was already on my TBR based on twitter recommendations by Courtney Milan and  Bree Bridges on twitter.  The book exceeded my expectations.  I found it fun and honest.

Love of the Game by Lori Wilde:  I didn't love, Love of the Game nearly as much.  It was somewhat charming and had some really nice moments.

 


A Gentleman's Position by K.J. Charles

Charles-k-j-a-gentlemans-position-society-of-gentlemen-3I have been eagerly anticipating this romance since we were first introduced to Lord Richard and his trusted valet David Cyprian. Richard is the linchpin around whom all the Ricardians revolve.  The Ricardians (bisexual, gay or transgender) all look out for one another, protecting each other from those who would happily send them to the gallows for their orientations, preferences and predilections but it is Richard who sets the standards,  provides the listening ear or chastising word if needed and sees that the Ricardians problems are solved.  

David Cyprian however is really the person who makes it all happen.  Officially as valet he makes sure Richard always looks flawless but unofficially he the person that pays the bribes, gathers the illicit information and makes sure Richard has absolutely everything in his life go smoothly. He is the rogue with all the connections, who fixes the problems before Richard even has any inkling of them. He is incredibly proud of how far he has risen in life, but has not risen so far that he doesn't know how to work on the street.  

The one wrinkle in David and Richard's relationship is that while Cyprian is beyond devoted to Richard & Richard trusts him like he trusts no other their mutual attraction has become impossible to ignore. While David is more than willing enter into a liaison with Richard, Richard is resolute to never importune someone in his employ (unlike his father, who used and abuse anybody under his power). Their facade of mutual indifference crumbles completely in the aftermath to a surprise death-bed summons from Richard's estranged mother. 

Once their mutual attraction is no longer something they can ignore, Richard ends up hurting David while trying not to hurt him and as a result he is deprived of David when he and the Ricardians need him most.  Richard must convince David to return and if they all survive, help him figure out how they can be together.

I loved this romance. I usually avoid boss-employee/servant-master romances for all the reasons for all the same reasons Richard wants to avoid one. KJ Charles however has a great handle on the issues of consent, agency, dignity and the nature of partnership that are such a large stumbling block in their relationship.  I loved how hard it was for Richard to unbend, and realize he was wrong. Richard has to eat a lot of humble pie, and comes truly appreciate and recognize all that he has taken for granted in David. David also grows, setting boundaries and demanding Richard truly see him and value him. He is able to demonstrate that his love is not servile even if he is Richard's servant.  

Charles exploits the intimacy of David's role as Richard's valet to explore the anguish of denial and build sexual tension but the biggest loss they feel when they are apart is for each other's companionship. I loved that despite the deep chasm between them, it is the absence of their easy relationship, the effortless conversation, that wrecks them both. 

Like all the endings in the Society of Gentlemen series, I believe in David and Richard's love and felt hopeful for them despite having a great awareness of the many risks they continually face.  Charles also provides a great pulse pounding and satisfying conclusion to the overarching series plot. I highly recommend this whole series.

I received a review copy via NetGalley from the publisher Loveswept.  A Gentleman's Position by KJ Charles will be available starting April 5th.


Frederica by Georgette Heyer #TBRCHALLENGE

Heyer_0002This is my third Heyer and I enjoyed it just as much as the previous two I read. It is so much fun to recognize tropes and romance character archetypes, that I have seen in many later romances.  The Marquis is behaves like many later billionaire care-taking Alphas, discovering his ability to care and love for someone other than himself as he tries to love an independent woman who doesn't fall at his feet or dangle after him.

Frederica Merryville is the story of a managing young woman of small fortune who has declared herself a spinster at twenty-four. Frederica the eldest sibling, has been raising her younger siblings since the death of her mother.  With her father's death she was able to take control of the family finances and engineer a way to bring her siblings to London. She plans to launch her beautiful younger sister Charis into high society in hopes of securing for her a comfortable marriage.  She appeals to a very distant relation, Vernon, the Marquis of Alverstoke, in hopes that he might help them.

The Marquis of Alverstoke circulates at the very top of Tonnish society.  A thirty-seven, Vernon is confirmed bachelor and a flirt, he has no time or attention for people who bore him, including clingy mistresses, and his demanding sisters. He prides himself in his selfishness and cynicism. Curiosity and boredom inspire him to visit Frederica, and Vernon ends up charmed and inspired by the fresh chaos of her household (she has two rambunctious younger siblings and a very large dog) to maliciously trick his sister into sponsoring the Merryville sisters and pose as their guardian.

For most of the novel, Frederica is blind to how the Marquis has slowly been falling in love with her, while his friends and family are struggling to understand why he would act so uncharacteristically, mistakenly believing him to be infatuated with Charis. I loved that he falls in love with Frederica slowly, recognizing her intelligence, and sense of the ridiculous.  His love for Frederica opens him to new relationships and he develops an independent relationship with the two younger boys, Jessemine and Felix, enjoying getting to know them for their own sakes. He is also develops a growing concern for his loyal secretary's future prospects. Frederica

5133AnbAYBL._AA300_I was bored to tears like the Marquis by the romance between Charis and Endymion and I could have skipped this whole subplot except that it is the trigger that wakes Frederica up to the fact that she has been living vicariously through her sister and enabling her worthless brother Harry to shirk his responsibilities. Her anger at and awareness of how misplaced her efforts have been is the push she needs to realize that she is worthy of grabbing at her own happiness.

I am going to declare this is was my March #TBRChallenge book in that is one of the many Heyer novels recommended to me in the last year.