The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

Wp74100ac3_05_06Eva Ward is a little lost. Her sister and only family member has just died after a long illness. When her sister's widowed husband Bill entrusts Eva with finding just the right place to spread her ashes, Eva heads home to Cornwall.  She is welcome back to Trelowarth,, a large estate on the Cornish coast, where she spent most of her childhood summers.  At Trelowarth she is surrounded by old friends and memories but finds herself getting lost in time. Eva starts making uncontrolled trips 300 years back in time to when Trelowah was the home of the Butler Brothers, Daniel and Jack,  smugglers and Jacobites, that she at first tries to dismiss as especially vivid hallucinations caused by her grief.

Eva becomes heavily involved in the lives of residents of Trelowarth in both time periods.  In the past she becomes fascinated by Daniel Butler, a principled free-trader and increasingly pessimistic Jacobite contemplating exile in the face of increasing pressure. In the present day she gets caught up trying to rescue Trelowah from financial ruin, working to help her childhood friends Susan and Mark establish a tea-room and revitalize their heirloom rose business.

The Rose Garden is lyrical and Kearsley is one again able to evoke a powerful sense of place. The two Trelowahs are distinct in atmosphere and energy even as they are the same location separated by time. Both sets of secondary characters are interesting and engaging however I found the main romantic relationship underdeveloped. Daniel and Eva simply spend to little time together and I didn't feel like their relationship moved much beyond  physical attraction and some undefined magnetism.  Eva has a stronger more developed relationship with Feargal, Daniel's best-friend, pretends to be her older-brother and tutors Eva on everything from dressing her hair, lighting a fire to cooking barley. Secondary romantic relationships get much more developement.

While many GR reviewers complained about the way time travel was explained, I was entirely satisfied with it.  I liked that while some of the characters try to rationalize it scientifically in the end we are left assuming that is no explanation remnants of ancient magic and intersecting ley lines that allow the inhabitants of Trelowarth to occasionally be drawn across time by loves that call to them out of their own time.

The Rose Garden was atmospheric, interesting and moving story about grief, friendships and belonging with romantic elements.

RT Review Round up

I reviewed a ton (4) of books for RT last month.

One of the most interesting things about my RT reviewing is that I read a lot more books by a lot of new-to-me authors.  Some I quite enjoy like Seressia Glass's Sugar  others I leave me conflicted like  Virma DePaul's Billionaire boss romance Filthy Rich and others I simply struggle with like Meg Adams's In From the Cold, a Christmas/nanny romance.

I did get to read a book from Jill Sorenson, whose work I have read and enjoyed in the past. I enjoyed Shooting Dirty   as much as I enjoyed the first book in her Dirty Eleven series, Riding Dirty which I had reviewed last year when it was first released.


Rock Redemption by Nalini Singh

Rock-Redemption-186x300Singh's  Rock Kiss series has gotten better and better with each book.  Rock Redemption in the story of Noah St. John and Kit Devigny.  Kit is the daughter of a world-famous supermodel and champion tennis pro. Despite her star-studded childhood, she has been building a career as an actress under her own name for the last decade, slowly moving from Soaps, to small indie films and is finally on the verge of mega stardom. Along the way she has grown close to the "Schoolboy Choir" bandmates, through her friendship with Fox, the band's lead singer.  They are her brothers in fame but one band member was once almost more than that.

Noah St.John broke Kit's heart when after months of building an increasingly intimate if platonic relationship he orchestrated it so that Kit would walk in on him and groupie.  Kit received the message loud and clear,and walked out of the room and out of his life.  Noah has resisted apologizing or contacting her for months, till the night he hit rock bottom and called her in drunk stupor from red-light district motel. 

This is a second-chance at love story that truly acknowledges how hard it is to trust against after an intentional betrayal. Noah is exposed & vulnerable and Kit is angry and wary. Noah had been incredibly thorough in wrecking their relationship they start off very hesitantly and haltingly. The fractures, and absence of their former ease with each other is deeply felt. They are both hyper-aware of what has been broken. Kit knows Noah is refusing to tell her some very important details about his motivations and rightly holds back and resists reestablishing  even a casual friendship. Noah is big bag of mixed signals, terrified of letting her close.  

Their efforts at rebuilding are put to the test when paparazzi catch wind of their renewed friendship and spin it in the media budding romantic relationship. Caught in the swirl of media attention at a very sensitive time in her career, Noah volunteers to pose as her boyfriend till attention winds down, and they can exit the relationship gracefully partly as penance and partly out of selfish desire to keep her close to him. 

I really loved that the demands of fame plays a very real toll on their lives and relationships. I also thought that Noah's secret pain that motivates his fucked up actions was really well done. Although I wanted to rail at him for making such poor choices, I understood the messed up way he got to them. Noah's messed up views of sex did really great things to the books dynamic.  Sexual tension didn't naturally lead to sex. Sex is something  the hero is actively trying to avoid moving towards. In Romance that is rare and it throws everyone off balance.

I was less thrilled with the stalker subplot.  I intellectually understood the role it was playing, thought it was well developed and even clever, I just didn't like that two of the heroines have been stalked in the course of series.  

I received advance review copy of Rock Redemption from Singh via NetGalley.

Rock Redemption is up for pre-order and is expected to be released on Oct. 6, 2015

Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker

51JElOK9JoL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Tamsen Parker's Craving Flight is engrossing and emotional marriage-in-trouble romance within a insular religious community. It is a story about marriage and commitment, of the big and small choices couples must make to a relationship work. The story is set in Orthodox Jewish community. Tziporah is a relative newcomer, an adult convert to practicing Orthodox Judaism after growing up secular.  Parker sensitively explores the many spheres Tziporah must navigate, the lonely place she inhabits, not fully accepted in her chosen community, and an oddity at work and the wider-world, where her colorful hair-scarves isolate her and identify her as someone living outside the mainstream.

Tziporah is a thrirty-seven year old divorced religious studies professor.  Five years previously Tziporah, marriage broke down due to her husband's persistent unfaithfulness and his disgust at her religious and sexual interests.  Her secular WASP husband failed to understands her interest in practicing Orthodox Judaism or her need for BDSM in the bedroom.  Since then Tziporah has slowly and intentionally integrate herself into a Orthodox Community of her choosing, making friends, immersing herself in religious studies, learning the traditions and proper practices.  When her rabbi's wife Bina once again broaches the subject of marriage, Tziporah is finally ready to consider marrying again.

Elan is a butcher and a widower who has grown up Orthodox. They agree to marry out of mutual respect and as act of faith.  They are blessed to discover themselves to be sexually compatible, but those shared pleasures as powerful as they are is not enough to sustain them through periods of mandated abstinence.  Tziporah slowly and somewhat painfully learn that she intentionally build a relationship with her husband that extends beyond their bedroom play.  I was fascinated by all the small moments, where Tziporah must choose whether to say or ask for something from Elan and the intimacy and trust required in that.

Elan and Tziporah's marriage is tested heavily in their first few months, and I loved how beautifully Parker built up the conflicts and then resolved them.  I loved the respect and care with which Parker crafted too deeply religious characters, and how deeply their faith affected their reactions.  I was moved by their love, devotion and choices.


Disclosures: I received a review copy of Craving Flight from the author Tamsen Parker.  Tamsen and I follow each other on twitter and we had a chance to meet at RWA this summer.  I have previously enjoyed her fantastic Personal Geography series.


In Her Defense by Julianna Keyes

DownloadLast spring I read Time Served by Keyes, and while I really enjoyed the romance I had issues with the way women interacted in the book.  I struggled  with how nearly all the other women were sexual rivals or total harpies or both. Caitlin Dufrense was the villainess of Time Served, blonde privileged bitch in heels. When I heard Keyes was making her the heroine of the next book, I knew I had to read it because redeeming her was going to be very very tough.

I loved,  In Her Defense.  Caitlin is working overtime yet again, reluctantly going over a case with a colleague when an emergency call comes in from a very important client. She makes a devastating mistake, which forces the senior partners to intervene and force her on holiday.  Caitlin is lost without work. Early on in life, she learned to throw herself with single-minded focus into whatever she wanted.  She has no hobbies, few friends and feels like she has almost lost her identity.  

One night she ends up at the Lonely Goat, a dive bar, where she knows no one.  Except someone there does,  Eli Grant, IT director and the man responsible for making sure Caitlin has no way to access the office or her files after-hours.  Eli Grant joins Caitlin in round after round of ill-advised shots because he has his own sorrows to drown and before long they are falling headlong into lust. What starts as something between hate-sex and drunk-indiscretion eventually turns into something deeper as the grow to enjoy each others company.  Sex with Eli is a great diversion while she is on reduced hours, but he doesn't stay in that neat compartment for long.

I really enjoyed Caitlin's struggles to find balance in her life, to branch out and slow down, to share credit and most importantly to trust.  Eli has his own trust issues to work out and I liked that he was much more of emotional mess than either of them thought at the beginning.

Some of my issues I had with Keyes previously remain, as once again almost all the female relationships are toxic or competitive but it bugged me less because Caitlin has competitive relationships with most everyone not just women. I believed in the emotional relationship conflict, and maybe I identified a bit too much with workaholic overachiever who hates being wrong. Caitlin is hard to love, but she is worth loving.

I received a review copy of In Her Defense from Carina Press via NetGalley.


Star Dust by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner

Stardustcoverv4It is 1962 and Anne-Marie is starting fresh in a new town. After leaving her husband, a serial philander, Anne-Marie left Dallas for an astronaut-mad Houston suburb to be closer to her parents. All she wants to do is prove to everyone that she is not going to fail, that she and the kids are going to be just fine on their own. Having handsome astronaut next-door is a distraction and complication.

Christopher "Kit" Campbell, knows all about the weight of people's scrutiny and expectations. His face is on the cover of every magazine along with his fellow Perseid crew members.  Fame is the price he pays for a chance to see the stars.  While he doesn't mind how easily women fall at his feet, the hero-worshiping kids really stress him out .  Even though he knows he shouldn't he can't help but keep making passes at Anne-Marie, whose freckles remind him of the constellations he wants to explore.

Anne-Marie takes an instant dislike of Kit, and his playboy charms, while Kit is immediately attracted to her in part because she rather glare at him than seduce him.   Intimate and smoky late night conversations in the backyard, and matchmaking astronaut's wives breakdown Anne-Marie's reserve.  However Anne-Marie is not willing to risk dating an astronaut, and exposing herself and the children to another round of public heart-break when he moves on. A secret affair seems safe enough but nothing about it turns out to be safe at all.

I really loved Kit and Anne-Marie, and how they try to negotiate their relationship, and then fail to stick to their boundaries and limits, stepping up and stepping in for each other against their better judgement.

The heart of this book however was in the female friendships.  As a divorcee Anne-Marie is on precarious social ground. Married and single women alike regard her with suspicion & men proposition her or pity her.   Anne-Marie is guarded and stand-offish out of self-protection but Margie Dunsford the lead astronaut's wife, completely steam-rolls right over her. Margie is a commanding figure, and she manages everyone in the neighborhood. After endless failed attempts at setting up Kit, she doesn't miss Kit's interest in Anne-Marie and does all she can to encourage the match. Anne-Marie cooperates to avoid turning Margie into an enemy.  She is surprised however how quickly they invite her to their boozy "bridge" parties, where the astronaut's wives share frustrations and information. Keeping her secrets, while making connections and accepting advice is a challenge for Anne-Marie and a lot of fun to read. I loved reading about Margie and I had to email Emma Barry about her as soon as I finished reading. I can't wait to read more about these ladies. 

Barry and Turner did a great job at capturing the uneasy feel of the era, the feeling of transition away from the 50's values's at the start of the Space Age.  The Cold War is in full swing, the world still seems full of possibilities but nothing is actually as shiny and perfect as everyone wants to pretend it is. I loved the uneasy relationship the astronauts have with fame, and the uncomfortable intersection of ambition, patriotism and celebrity in which they have to stand.

I enjoyed Star Dust a great deal, and I hope we get a lot more stories from Barry and Turner. Their heroes and heroines  are smart, conflicted and anything but ordinary.


Disclosure: I am friends with Emma Barry.  We've never met in off-line but I've gotten to know her pretty well through twitter and email. I am big fan of her work. I received a copy of Star Dust from Emma. Emma recommended Genevieve's Las Morenas series, which I have enjoyed reading and reviewing.

Star Dust is available for Pre-order and will be released Oct. 14, 2015

Seduced & Tempted (Into the Wild, Bks 1 & 2) by Molly O'Keefe

Seduced-small-200x300I don't read many westerns. I've read only a handful since I started reading Romance because I can't help but think of the decidedly unromantic stories lurking right outside the frame of most historical western romances, particularly what happened to Native American tribes as white settlers moved West.  I am very thankful that Molly O'Keefe doesn't ignore the ugly historical realities. The ugliness of slavery, the horrors of the Civil War and the brutality of the West Expansion is not sugar-coated or excused; it isn't hidden or forgotten.

In Seduced, Melody has been dragged from her ruined home in Georgia to the Colorado Frontier by her abusive husband.  Jimmy has been hunting Steve Baywood, the Union solider he helped escape from Andersonville, and who then left him behind to be captured and branded by the Confederate Home Guard. Bent on revenge, he has tracked Baywood to his Colorado homestead. Melody and her sister Annie are caught in the middle, fearful for their lives but unwilling to let Baywood die. Only the unexpected arrival of Steve's brother saves them all from certain death.  Gratitude, guilt and desperation affect them all as they struggle to figure out how to live again.

Melody is striking.  A selfish, petty and frivolous southern bell reduced to desperation. She is aware every moment of the precariousness of her life and will do anything to secure safety and security for herself and her sister. She is deeply aware of her flaws.  She has no true vanity left, so deeply ashamed of the way she used to live but she is desperate so she will use all of charms  to seduce and manipulate.

Cole, like everyone else in the book, has been deeply changed by the war.  Cole was once sure that he would never be able to have proper feelings or be anything but ruined. Through his admiration of Melody, rediscovers that he has hopes and dreams. He starts remembering that he is more than a killer.

I was completely caught up in this story.  I loved the push-pull between Melody and Cole, her fear, his hope.  I loved seeing him hold out for more from her, not being willing to settle for her body and her desperation.  I loved how incandescently angry Melody is in her declaration scene. That scene was flawless, I believed every single line in it.

Seduced was a potent moving romance. O'Keefe convincingly brings together two painfully damaged people who need each other much more than they could have ever imagined. 

Tempted-small-200x300Tempted is the sequel to Seduced and it follows Melody and Cole's siblings, Annie and Steven. Annie is forging a new life for herself in Denver.  She owns a boarding house and works as Doctor's assistant. Steven checks in on her whenever he is in town for business. They have built a solid friendship, while each ignores the fact that they feel much more for each other than simple friendship. When Annie receives an unexpected proposal from a third-party, that tempts a curious Annie, they can no longer ignore their feelings.

Tempted was a very different kind of romance than Seduced.  Annie has never had any seductive charms.  She has always been the industrious "unnatural" daughter, determined, blunt and ambitious.  She is far from desperate,  happy living an unconventional life.  She has never wanted a man's protection or attention. But she is curious about sex, and increasingly aware of her attraction to Steven.

Steven was deeply traumatized by his time in the POW camp in ways he rather not speak about.  He was content with an intimate friendship with Annie because it was safe. He is forced into finally addressing the issues that haunt him or face losing Annie to another man.

Tempted however doesn't become a book about sexual experimentation, instead it becomes a book about PTSD, addiction, suicide and grief. Annie rightly confronts Steve on his determination to heal himself before allowing Annie to love him.  Their HEA is not easily won or sex-magicked away, they are instead facing incredibly hard things together.

I was fascinated by all the secondary characters in this book. I will happily read more about Stella and Delilah and the other sex workers at Delilah's Brothel. I want to know more about Elizabeth, the black miner's wife and new mother who is boarding at Annie's house  and the vain, selfish and chloroform addicted doctor, whose proposal trigger the conflict in the novel.

Both Seduced and Tempted are well worth reading.

I received a review copy of Tempted from the author.


Lead Me Not by Ann Gallagher

LeadMeNot_500x750Issac Morris followed his father in to ministry. He has a passion for bringing people to Christ but his father's church is particularly focused on calling "Sodomites"out of their sinful lifestyle by confronting them with their sin through loud and aggressive protests. Issac has grown increasingly frustrated with their inability to persuade people to listen to them.  When he learns that one of his nephews is struggling with homosexual desires he is convinced that they have to try something new and different. He and his sister Ruth set out to film a documentary, one that will document his choice to become gay and then become straight again in order to convince homosexuals they too can choose to leave the lifestyle.  Although his family is hesitant to see him take such a dangerous and risky path, they reluctantly agree to support his endeavor. Ruth and Issac relocate to Seattle and Issac sets out to enter the gay lifestyle.

Coming out to his parents at 14, propelled Colton Roberts into a nightmare. After his family's rejection he spent the majority of his teen years alone on the street, raped, pimped, abused and addicted.  He found acceptance and Christ's love in the persons of Pastor Mike and his wife Gail who rescued him from the streets.  Faith, therapy, rehab and the love and support of the South Street Community Church have held him together through many struggles. He juggles bartending shifts at CapitolOUT with evenings working with at-risk LGBQT youth at the his church's youth shelter.  

Issac and Colton meet when Issac is assaulted by homophobic thugs outside of CapitolOUT. Colton can't help but feel concern for Issac as he is clearly overwhelmed and inexperienced. Sympathetic upon learning that Issac has only recently come out, Colton agrees to help Issac learn to navigate the gay community in Seattle and they slowly build a friendship that eventually blossoms into something more. 

Gallagher (who also publishes for Riptide as L.A. Witt), took on quite a challenge with this book. The novel is equal parts a story of self-discovery as it is as romance novel.  Issac's journey toward realizing that he is gay and struggling to figure out how he can reconcile it with his faith and call to ministry is tortuous.  I thought Gallagher did a great job illustrating how hard and painful it is for Issac to slowly realize that he isn't choosing to be gay for the sake of the documentary but instead for the first time in his life acknowledging his identity.  He is under incredible pressure from his family, which makes him extremely conflicted and confused. The way things unfolded in the later half after some fateful/unavoidable confrontations was for the most part believable, especially the lure denial hold for Issac.

The romance was gentle grounded in growing attraction born out of friendship and affection. While they are both certainly attracted from the beginning, Colton's cautiousness leads to take things very slow letting them building trust and intimacy long before they ever even kiss.  Issac's deception and betrayal have significant consequences and although I felt Issac should have groveled even more, their HEA developed in the extensive epilogue was perfect.

I couldn't help reading Lead Me Not through the filter of the current conversations and movements in the Evangelical community toward greater acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ people.  While Issac does have many conversations and reads one book (published in the 70s!) on how reconcile his faith and his sexuality I wished Gallagher had Issac engage with more current books and scholarship than he does in Lead Me Not. Books like God and the Gay Christian specifically address some of the issues Issac most struggles with, specifically the bad fruit his anti-gay ministry is bearing (inspiring attacks,  the rejection of vulnerable children & suicides) and tackling how the Bible can and has been reinterpreted without it losing its authority.  

I really appreciated the attention Gallagher paid to the power of family relationships to affect a person's well-being. Colton struggles with accepting his parents' rejection for years. Issac works to reconnect with family members he has shunned, while wrestling with the family who fear losing him. Although the book asserts you can't choose who you love, it really meant who you fall in love with. Both Colton and Issac's family consistently stopped acting in a loving way toward those they disapprove of.  The novel does really illustrates is that while you can't choose who you are attracted to, your identity, are related to, or who you fit with most, you can choose to love them even when you disagree.

Inspirational romances are not generally something I enjoy reading. I struggle to not get stuck on some minor point of theology or get annoyed easily if I think something is being misrepresented but I think overall Lead Me Not succeed in being both a credible inspirational romance and a satisfying love story. I rolled my eyes occasionally but not enough to diminish my enjoyment of the story.


Disclosure: At RWA I had opportunity to meet Sarah Frantz Lyons,  Editorial Director of Riptide Publishing who is friend of my friend Elisabeth Lane. During one of our conversations Sarah mentioned being excited about Lead Me Not, because it was something that they had never done at Riptide or to her knowledge anywhere else, a M/M sweet inspirational.  I was immediately intrigued because although I am not typically an inspie reader, I am very interested in the intersection of the Faith community and the LGBT community so I knew I had to read it.  Check out the #FaithfullyLGBT hashtag on twitter if you want to know more about LGBT people who are working to live out their faith.

I received review copy of Lead Me Not from Riptide via Netgalley.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

41LaBpUJBHL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_My brother is seven years younger than me.  As a family we frequently talk about how he grew up in a different family than my sister and I did.  My parents were married, my father juggling night-school and a full-time job, while my mom was a stay-at-home mom. My parents were just generally getting started in life (starter cars, starter homes). His parents were divorced, both had busy careers and there was generally more than enough money for travel and fun. As a result our attitudes toward our parents and our expectations are often very different.  His experience of dating and romantic relationships is also vastly different than mine and not just because we are different genders. I was married at 21 to someone I met in college, starting a family at 24.  He is in his early 30's, had some serious heartbreak and much to my parents's frustration is not even close to settling down. My brother is also Aziz Ansari's age, so as I listened to Modern Romance, I couldn't help but feel it was listening to someone explain the vastly different landscape of love and romance my brother is navigating.

Modern Romance was an interesting but not wholly successful book. The mix of comedy and serious research was often uneven and uncomfortable.  In the audio version, Ansari's comedic voice was irreverent, self-deprecating and occasionally biting but didn't always transition well in segments meant to be insightful or argumentative.  The chapters that focused on the international dating scene (Qatar, Japan, Argentina & France), were dull and lacking in any real attempt at research. The observations felt superficial and poorly researched.

The more interesting chapters were the ones were Ansari tried to make sense of his generation's dissatisfaction with dating. his own personal struggles to connect, the effort it takes to build lasting relationships in a world full of seemingly endless choices. His advice to become aware and self-conscious about the way experiences in the "phoneworld" bleed into face to face interactions and to invest more than one date into the people a dater encounters were thoughtful and sensible.

I really appreciated the way the book tried to place in historical context the vast changes in expectations people have about romantic relationships, and marriage. They provided a wonderful overview about the way expectation of personal happiness,  increased personal autonomy and economic freedom have reshaped how people view marriage and romance.

Ansari does acknowledge in the introduction that the book is not fully inclusive of LGBT relationships and instead deals for the most part with only heterosexual relationships. While I understood their choice, the lack was felt most strongly in the chapters that addressed how and why people have entered marriage relationships over time. Much of his discussion on the rise of soulmate marriage over good-enough marriage feeds into the growing cultural acceptance of same-same marriage.  I also felt that the book could have benefited from a woman's voice, as I felt Ansari was often too sympathetic to men who ineptly try to message women online and he generally glosses over many of dangers and inconveniences women encounter in the dating scene.

Overall the book was entertaining, pointing out the positive and negatives of the new relationship marketplace. I feel like I have a better understanding of the unique challenges my brother's generation faces.  It makes me wonder how much it will change again by the time my daughters are both out there dating too.

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