Necessary Restorations (The Walsh Series #3) by Kate Canterbary

Sam Walsh is a gifted award-winning highly in-demand architect. He is perfectly put together on the outside.   His immaculate clothes, a much-too-cool-for-you sneer and strictly-anonymous one-sided-relationships are his armor, so nothing and no one can touch him. Tiel Desai is brilliant. A brilliant musician, a gifted music therapist and sought after professor and researcher. Long ago exiled from her family she revels in marching to beat of a different drum. Her jingly casualness and non-conformity is her armor.  Tiel and Sam would have never gotten to know each other,  if the elevator they were riding in didn't first stall and later plummet with them trapped inside. 

This is a opposites attract story about two emotionally messed up people drawn to each other even as they try to push each other away. The intense intimacy of surviving that the elevator accident forges a bond between them neither of them quite understands. The adrenaline and the post-survival alcohol and dancing lubricates them enough so they drop their guard enough to become attached to each other.  Their relationships is hard to define, not quite platonic but not quite anything else. Their lives start revolving around each other.  Tiel interrupts Sam's self-destructive pattern of club hook-ups, filling his evenings with music gigs & band-hunts all over Boston. Before either of them notice they form a real relationship, even if they can't quite define it, and willfully mislabel it.

Eventually the late-night cuddles & affectionate touches escalate to the point they have admit to they have been more than just friends but they both have a horrible time admitting they want more. They both have an incredible amount of baggage around sex and relationships. Their issues are big enough that their sexual chemistry can't paper over it.  Their insecurities and self-sabotage sink them.  They are in any position to heal each other but instead they spur each other to get their lives in order and stop hiding from their issues. It is only after they have faced those issues that they become strong enough to claim each other.

It was fascinating how my feelings about Tiel morphed as the book progressed. Initially I saw her the same way Sam did,  a confident, mature and self-contained.  But as the book progresses her jealousy, and inability to accurately value her talents becomes more evident. As the book progresses the subtle nature of Tiel's self-destructive nature comes to the fore. The vulnerability Tiel tries to hide when she first encounters Sam's family felt very raw and painfully real.  The differences between their families of origin, and the distinct nature of their messed up relationships with them are not small obstacles to overcome and I appreciated that Canterbary takes them seriously.

I normally avoid books where cheating or the suspcion of it a crucial plot element.  Sam doesn't, but Tiel's fears that he will. While not blind to the source of her insecurities  (her horrible first marriage and  Sam's reputation as player), she doesn't see till fairly late in the book how she courted and feed her insecurities.  I was pretty mad at Sam for failing to see how some of his behavior would look, and not protecting Tiel from it.   But Sam is so incredibly destroyed when it all explodes and the fact that he take the time to get himself better that I couldn't stay mad at him for long and I was relieved when Tiel forgave him too.   Their reconciliation in someways feels one sided as Sam is the one who has to do the big gesture but I think Tiel's transformation was just as significant and made it possible for her to forgive and claim Sam rather than turning him away.

 This was my first Walsh book and my first book by Kate Canterbary. Although this book was way angstier and more tortured than my usual, I will definitely look for more of her books as I was able to enjoy a story-line that I normally avoid.

 I received a review copy of Necessary Restorations from the author via NetGalley

 


The Orphan Pearl by Erin Satie

DownloadLady Lily Spark has been on the run for a long time. Ten years ago when her choices were an empty arranged marriage to one of her father's cronies or ruination, Lily ran.

She first ran to her brother in Egypt and then took her chances on the road, choosing to start her life over. She ran knowing it would wreck her brother, knowing she could die on road to Damascus, a single woman without protection but she refused to go home and do her father's bidding. On the road to she met a good man, a Turk, Rustem Pasha. Rustem married her, loved her and she ruined his life. Their home in Acara has burned to the ground, her husband is dead, so Lily runs again, this time running all the way back home. She runs right into the manipulative arms of her father the powerful and petty Duke of Hastings.

John Tacitus Ware had risen high in the world. He had fame as explorer, and a job he loved in the Home Office.  His job allowed him to travel and explore till he overstepped and lost it all by trying to start a war. Then unexpectedly the Duke of Clive offers him an opportunity to set it all right and be welcome back, if he does one thing for them. The thing? Save a treaty & avert a war by finding out what the Duke of Hastings and his daughter Lady Lily are up to.

The Orphan Pearl is equal parts diplomatic & romantic intrigue. I really enjoyed how Lily and John interacted. John is conflicted but attracted, Lily is charmed but reluctant. They flirt and tease but neither really means it.  John incites Lily by daring her (stolen walks, late-night rendezvous, garden meeting) and offering her a temporary escape, pressing his advantage when she is scared or anxious. Lily disarms him at each step with her wit, daring & self-deprecating humor and a well-placed kick so that she has the advantage in the end. Despite the layers of deception and hidden motivations, there is an undeniable truth to their connection and attraction. They see through, challenge, trick and poke at each other all the while building up an uncomfortable level of trust.

Since her debut Satie has consistently impressed me with her ability to make me care about morally flexible, difficult characters with suspect motivations. Lily is self-centered, impulsive and restless, but she is also tenacious, vulnerable and charming. She is so much more complicated & smart than the people around her ever give her credit for being. Seen as a pretty pawn in her father's game, she is shown to be playing a game of her own. Her game is deeply personal but she remembers more than anyone else that the intrigue over the treaty is not merely political gamesmanship but something that can cause the death of thousands in a region she grew love. John is the one who has to wake up to the fact he isn't just a willing pawn in Clive's game but has also been an unknowing one for far longer to his mentor & biological father. He has craved acceptance for so long that he nearly lost his soul. John has to struggle to figure out what the right thing to do is. He is torn between loyalty to his country, loyalty to his word and his own desires and ambitions. In the end his loss of confidence and surety is what finally opens his eyes to what really matters and what is being asked of him. There are no easy solutions to dilemmas faced by John and Lily and people are hurt and they all have to face that.

I enjoyed the prose, the conflict and the characters in this story, but I do feel the ending and resolution  dragged on a bit too long after the climax. Satie takes her time after the major conflicts are resolved to unwind the emotional conflicts. I admire how careful she is to not slap too pat of a happy ending on before the dust is settled but it takes some getting use to.

The Orphan Pearl is a story rich in historical detail & emotional drama. Enticement, manipulation, extortion and orienteering games!

I received a review copy of The Orphan Pearl from the author, Erin Satie.

 

 


But I had a plan! Organizing my reading & reviewing life.

Screenshot 2015-04-21 09.02.19I'm coming up fast on my second anniversary as book blogger/reviewer. So I've been doing a lot of thinking in the past few months about how and why I do this.  As reviewer one of the biggest perks and challenges are ARCs.  Free books offered by publishers and authors for review consideration. ARCs are both a blessing and curse.  They are a blessing in that they allow me to try books I might have not tried otherwise.  But ARCs come with implicit and sometimes explicit expectations.

When I first started using NetGalley, I was using it as a librarian. Which meant I requested books to evaluate purposes.  Often I requested for a chance to look  at the format more closely or double check it had the content I was looking for.  I didn't feel any responsibility to offer any additional feedback except through my ordering. Eventually however I started using my NetGalley account to request books that interested me personally (Romance & adult fiction), and  I started writing reviews since I was not requesting those books as a Librarian.  Then somewhere along the line NetGalley changed their dashboard and user profile.  They started posting reviewing/request stats. Mine were abysmal (under 30%), because I had dug myself a pretty huge hole during my library evaluation copy request period.  Because I am easily affected by grades, seeing the stats in my profile made me more selective. While I'm as susceptible to the lure of a pretty cover and interesting blurb as the next person (okay...maybe more so),  I stopped requesting unless I was absolutely sure I wanted to read it or someone I trusted a lot told me I really should try it.  As a result my request to review stats started climbing, and I don't have as many unread ARCs haunting my TBR.  My stats are still under what NetGalley thinks should be the right amount (hoovering around 50% vs 80%) but I don't feel so badly now.

One of biggest challenges as a reviewer however is not the over-abundance of ARCs but the fact that I'm a moody/emotional reader. I have never had much success reading on a schedule.   When I feel like reading, it is all I want to do.  I walk around with my book, and steal moments of reading whenever I can.   But reading is not discipline for me, even if it is habit. I like to read to everyday, but every so often I get stuck and I can't power through. Maybe I don't have the right thing to read, or I'm not ready to return to a book that I was enjoying but it is going to take me places I don't feel like going to.

 I really respect people who can read one book cover to cover without picking something else in between, but I rarely do that, even with books I adore.  One of my favorite things about reading on a e-reader is that no one needs to know about my poly-readerish way. They don't have to know that I read sections from six different books yesterday, they only see that I'm reading.  The only place they can see cheating ways is if people peek at my currently-reading shelf on Goodreads.  Late last year I started tracking my reading on GR more faithfully for two reasons. One is that  I've been reading romance regularly for about four years now, so I have read a lot of books, after a while they can start running together and I hate having to rely on my own fuzzy memories. Secondly because I read on mixture of platforms at the end of the year I rarely know how many books I actually read, I only know the number I reviewed.  I want to see how many books I actually read in year. Because I do like stats I'm enjoy checking on my Reading challenge numbers.   My currently-reading shelf is quite cluttered. About a third of books the books on it are ones that I'm actually reading, and 2/3rds are books that I will eventually DNF but I am not ready to admit defeat on yet.

While I am loving participating in SuperWendy's TBR reading challenge my real challenge right now isn't remembering to dig books out of my TBR, it is making sure I write the reviews of what I have read in a timely manner.  Because I read based on my moods, I can get well ahead of myself.  Last month I ended up reading four books due for review in May, a couple due in April but ignored several of my March books. As a result I have started using a spreadsheet to track my reading and keep myself accountable for reviews.  I'm really liking how it is working for me.  While I refuse to treat reading as discipline I can treat review writing as one.  I am now tracking release dates, source of ARC, whether I have read it, and if I have started a review.  As a result those May books that I read ahead of schedule all have reviews in progress.  It is simple enough of a system for me to use regularly and even if I end up reading books all out of order, I can at least make sure the reviews come out in a timely manner. Sometimes I still end up waiting a long time after a reading a book to review it because I need to wrestle with it, but I think I write better reviews if I at the very least write down my impressions pretty soon after I read it. 

What are you biggest reading challenges? Do you track or schedule your reading? Do you have system? What works for you?

 

 


Taken by Charlotte Stein (mini-gushy review)

Charlotte Stein is the master deep first person weirdness. I just love her stories. Taken is an intense & delightfully off-kilter erotic romance.  Taken is the story of an unexpectedly tender/kinky accidental-kidnapper bookseller and the reluctant vandal/nearly arsonist who falls for him.

This story is just a short 99 pages but it is worth every cent. I stretched out reading it over a day and half, because it was too good to rush through. As it is I felt I read it too fast. If you have never read any of Stein's gloriously erotic stories give this one a try. Taken has so much of what makes her a joy to read.  

Stein's meet-cute are more like meet-under-the-most-bizarre-of-circumstances. In this case a college student agrees to accompany a friend to play a prank on store owner who was rude to her, but instead finds herself nearly helping her friend set fire to his store.  Johann stops them before they do much, and in a fit of anxious panic ends up handcuffing her to his bed in the store basement. Then he really panics.

Stein's voice is hilarious. I've yet to read one of her stories where I don't end up laughing or at least chuckling to myself.  None of her characters are cool and aloof, however much they want to be. They are full of this effervescent excitement.  These sex feelings and tinglings are the best things ever and even if they want to seem in control and sophisticated it just leaks out of them.

Stein's stories are about acceptance and celebration. Many of Stein's hero and heroines have an idea of what kind of people they should be.  They feel woefully inadequate and alien. They might be externally competent and put together but inside they are mush.  Yet the very things they deny about themselves are what their lover wants them to express the most. Are you secretly kinky, and afraid of losing control? bring it! Do you care too much too fast? me too! I just love the underlying joy of recognition, of seeing someone else say "I just love that about you!"  Her heroes and heroines bodies, personalities & quirks are celebrated and desired.  Their arousal & satisfaction are gloried in and in the end her protagonists are allowed to revel in love they never expected to have. 

In the end Stein's stories always feel to me like warm weirdly arousing hugs and I always want more.

 

 

 

 


World-Building in Romance

Books that have a strong sense of place really help me sink right in. It makes the story feel solid and tangible.

— Ana (@anacoqui) April 9, 2015

 

Last week I was reading two very different kinds of romance novels (Joanna Wylde’s Silver Bastard and Laura Florand’s upcoming All for You).  Although they are both contemporaries on the surface, you can’t pick two more different types of stories and settings yet I felt fully engaged and immersed both these books in no small part because of the way the authors described and rooted the action in their locations in macro and micro ways.

The novels didn't use their cities/towns as interchangeable backdrop or wallpaper but instead took the time to develop a distinctive location for the reader. Locations were consistently described, attention was paid to the way people experience and interact differently with the landscape when walking versus when they are driving. While I couldn't have drawn you a map based on the descriptions I had a sense that the writers could have. 

I grew up reading Fantasy, Sci-fi & Mystery and I still have weakness for novels with maps. I love books that take the time to develop a setting so it feels like it had depth and solidity. I don’t care if we are talking about books set in steam-punk China or Victorian England, a post-apocalyptic future or planet far far away,  small-town or urban contemporary, world building is important to me. I think one of the reasons books by Jeannie Lin, Courtney Milan,  K.J. Charles, Kit Rocha, Shannon Stacey & Julie James work so well for me is that they do excellent world building.

Reading is an act of trust. As a reader I routinely gift authors with my goodwill and enter their books with a willing suspension of disbelief. When I do that I trust the author to take me someplace amazing, some place worth going.  There are lots of ways to screw that up. Everyone has different things that trigger disbelief and kick them out of story. For me repetitive vocabulary, vague geography & continuity mistakes are some of the more common ones.  

How important is place and world building to you?  What are your essentials? I've listed a few authors I think do a consistently good job, any authors you feel do this particularly well? Do you have higher expectations from some kinds of books than you do of others?


Still the One by Jill Shalvis

Darcy has spent her whole life on the road. As child she was shuttled from one international posting to another following her parents' s all important diplomatic careers. As an adult she has always chased thrills and adventure as travel writer. But a catastrophic accident has stranded Darcy in small-town Sunshine, Idaho. Darcy is angry, restless and directionless. The only thing that means anything to Darcy right now are the rejected therapy dogs she rescues and re-homes.

AJ is a Physical Therapist and owner of the Sunshine Wellness Center, and Darcy's brother's best friend. He did everything within his power to ensure Darcy received the best care post-accident, pushing her hard during their sessions and then secretly covering her PT bills long after her meager insurance coverage ran out.  He is secretly in love with Darcy but won't pursue her for reasons and allows Darcy to think that he rejected her.  But things get complicated and hot when AJ and Darcy are forced to endure a weekend away together pretending they are in a relationship so that AJ can secure a grant that would allow him to help others in the same way he helped her.

I love a cantankerous heroine, and Darcy had that role covered. In the previous books in the series we have learned a lot about Wyatt, Zoe and Darcy's awful parents, and the emotional scars their neglect and disinterest have left on their children.  Darcy has a lot of them.  She is lonely, angry and very vulnerable. I appreciated her pride and her determination to rescue those dogs, even if I rolled my eyes at her inability to let anyone else help.  I liked that she is deeply uncomfortable being put on display and having to talk about her injuries and recovery process.  Her disabilities and struggle to regain her mobility  don't serve as inspiration porn.

I had a harder time connecting with AJ. I liked him as a super-competent Physical Therapist who struggles with his attraction for Darcy because she is  his best-friend's sister and a former patient.  I didn't like the twist that the deep down his actual internal conflict for stems from  a secret tragic back-story, especially when it stays a big secret from Darcy for way to long (his fiancee rejected him and herself after she was disfigured by IED, so he fears falling in love again).   I wanted to like him and Darcy together but I didn't understand his motivations and behaviors a lot of the time (he went hot and cold, initiating and then backing away) and felt most of their conflicts could have been resolved if they actually spoke to each other rather than ignoring each other and avoid talking about their issues.

In the end the romance didn't hold together well enough for me. I felt there were a lot of issues raised that were not dealt with completely  and others that while powerful and interesting (Darcy's  heart-breaking break-up with her best-friend Xander over being "friend-zoned"), stole away the focus from AJ and Darcy relationship issues.

I felt very lukewarm over Still the One. There were a lot of things to like, interesting characters & situations,  good ethical questions, and some hot sex scenes but in the end it didn't work for me.


A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

Wpefa6f380_05_06In A Desperate Fortune, Kearsley interweaves two distinctive love stories, separated by time and place into one beautiful narrative about hope and longing and the power of love to upend our expectations and re-write sad endings.

In A Desperate Fortune, Sara Thomas is an amateur cryptologist asked to decode the diary of  a young French-Scottish Jacobite. The novel follows both Sara and the diary writer, Mary Dundas as they begin new chapters in their lives and find unexpected love and acceptance.

Sara is a computer programmer by trade. But she loves cracking codes and playing with numbers often using them as way to re-focus when she is in social situations that tax her (She has Asperger’s). Her cousin Jacqui, a literary agent, convinces her to put her deciphering skills to use and accept a lucrative job offer from one of her clients, Alistair Scott, a celebrity historian.  In order to decode the diary, Sara has to move to a beautiful old house in small town outside of Paris, where the owner of diary and Alistair’s old friend, Claudine resides. Sara slowly becomes part of the household, building relationships with her host, Claudine, Claudine’s house keeper Denise, Denise’s son Noah and ex-husband Luc.

Mary Dundas grew up forgotten by her family, left to be raised by her French relatives after her mother’s death. In her aunt’s household she grew up loved but still an outsider, not quite French not quite Scottish. When one of her older brother’s writes to invite her to join him and his family at  the Jacobean court in Saint-Germain, she is thrilled.  But she never makes it there for it turns out her brother has volunteered her to help with a covert mission to protect Jacobite operative fleeing from the English. Mary must deal with the disappointment of not being reunited with her family or sought after for herself while at the same time embracing the adventure and opportunity to remake herself in a new environment. Thrust into the company of strangers, who are even more skilled than she is at wearing masks to hide their true nature, Mary must learn to recognize friend from foe and learn to discern people’s true agendas and motivations if she is to survive long enough to make her own choices.

Kearsley shows considerable skill in structuring this story. She flips between Sara and Mary’s stories at just the right times, building suspense, while giving us satisfying chunks of narrative to digest. As the dual stories unfolded. The stories are complementary rather than parallel. In the diary Mary writes down fairy-tales that she is reinterpreting and re-telling in ways that are aspirational and contemplative.  Her stories inspire, clarify issues and allow her to express issues she can’t talk about openly. While they can be read and appreciated outside by listeners and readers ignorant of her inner life, they have fuller meaning when read in the context of her life as expressed in her diary.  In the same way Sara and Mary’s stories while distinct and whole, create a more expansive view of love when presented together.

I loved that Sara’s story is about learning that she can be loved and treasured for who she is.  She has to let go of long-held expectations of rejection and inadequacy. Through the relationships she builds she learns that is capable of more than she ever imagined.  Luc’s gentle persistent understanding helps her recognize love and accept it. Mary’s story is about finding her voice and creating a future for herself rather than waiting on others to want or remember her. She becomes the hero of her her story, claiming Hugh, when he unable a picture a future for them.  

Although this is only my second Kearsley novel (My first was The Winter Sea), Kearsley has shot up to the top of my favorite author list.  As a history lover, I appreciate the effort Kearsley takes in crafting her story. The historical and geographic research show in her ability to craft novels that grounded by their sense of time and place. Kearsley’s descriptions of locales, dress and customs lend her characters solidity without bogging down the narrative. Whether it is Luc and Sara wandering around street fair in Paris together or Mary tromping through a wilderness in the south of France before finding shelter with a farm family, Kearsley gives me enough for me to believe in and recognize those places in a way that lets me believe in the stories.  

My only caution to someone who hasn't read Kearsley before is that while her heroes are not under-developed in anyway, they are not the focus of the story. The stories are not told from the POV, so we are not privy to their private thoughts and struggles  the same way we are with the heroines.

I am eager to dive into Kearsley’s backlist and discover other heroines and romances worth my time and attention. 

I received a review copy of this novel from Sourcebooks Landmark via Edelweiss


Anticipation (Brothers Ink #2) by Sarah Mayberry

25165345Blue and Eddie have been friends for over 10 years. Ten years  of working side by side. Ten years of games, laughter and tears. Ten years of denial and want. When a close call shakes their world, they can no longer keep those feelings boxed up.

Ten years is a long time to know each other. Within hours of having met they both made a choice to ignore their sexual attraction and build a friendship instead.  Lovers have come and gone from both their lives but their friendship has endured even as it has been tested over the years. 

Blue grew up in a series of group and foster homes since the sudden accidental death of her parents when she was 6 years old.  Life on the move has made her a minimalist. She resists attachments to places, people and things. She keeps a spartan apartment &  keeps most people at distance, investing in only a few close friends, Eddie being the most important one.

Eddie is rarely alone. His easy smiles and seductive charms means he is always in demand.  No sooner does he break up with one woman, that another is looking to take her place. Sex and romance has always come easily to Eddie, but his relationships are short and fleeting never moving beyond casual. But outside of his brother the most important person in his life has always been Blue even if he has taken her for granted.  Seeing Blue's body fly across the payment after being hit by motorcycle made him realize how empty his life would be without Blue.  But breaking down 10 years of habits and walls is not easy especially when Blue is terrified of losing everything they have together if it goes wrong.

This novel hit all my emotional buttons. I've wanted Blue and Eddie's story since they first appeared in Satisfaction.  They interacted in such fun affectionate ways that like Maggie I wanted to know their story, the why behind their are they or aren't they vibe.

The story starts off with a bang, and I loved how Mayberry let the repercussions and emotions build over time. Their story stretches out over months and months, and I loved that. Both Eddie and Blue have serious feelings they need to work through and I would have not believed in the story unless they had the time to sort through and evaluate their feelings.  Even as Blue drags her feet and resists Eddie's determined assault on her heart even when surrendering to her physical need for him over the months it takes for them get together, the book never drags.

 I loved the journey Mayberry crafted because none of it was easy.  I loved that while their sexual chemistry is off the charts, they struggle to read each other emotionally.  One of the most painful and real scenes for me in the book happens early on. Eddie has bullied Blue into staying at his house during her recovery. Blue, emotionally raw doesn't want to be there because she feels like an emotional mess. Eddie goes all out to make her feel comfortable in his home, to show her how much she means to him, but he still screws up because he hasn't quite realized that he can't do that, and let other women walk into his life and steal his attention. He didn't do anything to intentionally hurt Blue, but it does and Blue can't watch it happen anymore, not till she has her feelings under control.  That moment is wake up call to both of them. For Eddie it makes him realize that his feeling for Blue go beyond her being his best-friend, and for Blue that she loves him to much to lose him over her feelings so she needs to bottle them back up.  That conflict is central to the rest of the novel. I love heroes in hot-pursuit and Eddie is fantastic in the role.  The depth of his commitment to pursuing Blue surprises everyone in their life. I loved that he had to overcome his own feelings of insecurity about his inexperience at relationships before being able to confront Blue about her own. He doesn't do everything right, Blue is infuriating at times in her resistance but every bit of it felt real.

In Anticipation, Mayberry crafts a passionate & genuine emotional journey through friendship, sexual tension and love for Blue and Eddie that was worth waiting for.

I received a review copy of Anticipation from Ms. Mayberry.


Time Served by Julianna Keyes

Cover59341-mediumOnce upon a time Rachel had a boyfriend that she loved, a car, an alcoholic mother and a whole lot of ambition.  One night her mother in a rare moment of lucidity gave her a wad of cash and told her to take the money and get out of town. Rachel took the money and ran. She ran to a new life, one where she worked her way through college and law school, where she remade herself to remove any traces of her trailer park past. She now lives in showroom-spotless apartment, she puts in late hours at her firm and she has a perfectly boring golf-loving boyfriend that she can't stand.  

But when prep-work for a large class-action case brings Rachel to depressed neighborhoods that remind her too much of her old hometown, the last person she expected to run into is Dean. Dean is the boyfriend she left behind.  Her surprise abandonment shook him & set him on an even more self-destructive path than he had ever been before, one that led him not long after she left to a felony arrest and conviction for Armed robbery.

When Dean runs into Rachel he is very angry.  In some ways Rachel left a lifetime ago but now that he has served his time,  he wants answers and now that he knows where she is he is not going to give up till he has them.

Dean and Rachel's encounters are fraught.  They have so much history, hate, regret, guilt & sexual tension.  They end up agreeing to hate-fucking arrangement that serves as a twisted form of closure/revenge as they try to work each other out of their system once and for all.  Their encounters leave them both raw and confused. They stop knowing what they are to each other and what they can ask from each other. Their time together reignites feelings that they don't dare trust in light of their history.  Keyes does a fantastic job building the angst as Rachel and Dean try to sort out what they are and what they want against the backdrop of Rachel's increasingly distressing work-life.

The story really worked well as second-chance at love/reconciliation story.  Both Dean and Rachel have changed since they first knew each other as teens.  They are intimately aware of the baggage they carry from those days. The way they challenge each other is quite remarkable and compelling well grounded in their history together. Dean can question and interrogate her about her life choices in ways even her best-friend Parker can't because he didn't know her then. Dean can push her to consider whether she has the life she wanted, if it is everything she wanted it to be because he was there when she first started dreaming of a life outside the trailer park.

When Dean re-enters her life, Rachel realizes that somewhere along the way she has lost sight of her goals. Running into Dean helps her see that she has never stopped running from herself and her feeling of inadequacy.    Rachel however has a hard time accepting and understanding Dean's seeming lack of ambition. I really liked how hard it was for Rachel to understand what Dean wants out of life.  She has been on approval seeking carousel for so long, that his goals are baffling in their simplicity.  I loved that in the end all Dean wants it to be happy, and that he defines happy as being with Rachel.  He only starts seeing a future for himself and  becomes motivated to advance in his career when it becomes something that might help him stand by her side. 

The whole relationship arc was fascinating —  They move from playing  painful dominance games, to tentatively building trust that crumbles into disappointment, to experiencing  defeat and surrender, before being able to start clean again.  In the end they need to figure out how to stop keeping a tally of hurts and wrongs and to  start again with forgiveness & maturity. 

However, as much as I was sucked in by the raw angsty romance I really struggled being able to finish the book. Some secondary elements about Rachel's workplace rivalry really made me uncomfortable, nearly kicking me out of the story.

At work Rachel and Parker are working on gather evidence and plaintiffs for their class action suit. Rachel's number one workplace rival is Caitlin.  Caitlin is Rich-Blonde privilege personified, beautiful and highly connected. She is everything Rachel with her trailer park roots can never be and she is tipping the scales in her favor by sleeping with some of the senior partners.  Rachel is fixated on that, and tends to reduce her problem with Caitlin down to that consistently describing and defining her as a "whore".  While Caitlin is morally & professionally compromised and seemingly all-around shady, it bugged me every time she was called a whore by Rachel. It bothered me that their complicated relationship was reduced to base-sexual judgment. While it made sense for Rachel to have screwed up relationships with women, stemming from her difficult relationship with her mother, I found it  off-putting and troubling that with the exception of her secretary Belinda and Parker's wife Moira, (who is friendly but Rachel finds intimidating),  all the women in Rachel's life are either enemies, sexual rivals or both and Rachel never recognizes that as problem.

I have mixed feelings about this book.   It reminded me of some of my favorite Cara McKenna books, Willing Victim and Hard Time. I found the emotional arc quite profound,  the sexual relationship  hot while complicating and advancing the plot.  In the end I did really connected with it despite the fact the stuff that bugged really bugged me. 

I received a review copy of Time Served by Julianna Keyes from Carina Press via NetGalley.

 


Living in Sin by Anastasia Vitsky

Today I am over at Elisabeth Jane's blog: Cooking up Romance . Elisabeth and I  enjoy a lot of the same kinds of books and thought it would be fun to review one together.  We had so much fun we plan on doing it again sometime soon.

We both read Living in Sin, a Lesbian Romance novella by Anastasia Vitsky from Less than Three Press.

We both received review copies from Less than Three Press via NetGalley.