Mini-Reviews: Reaper's Fall, Glory in Death, Fool Me Twice and A Midnight Clear

24582414Reaper's Fall (Reapers MC #5) by Joanna Wylde:  Levi "Painter" Brooks, is the king of mixed messages. While he undeniably lusts after her, he pushes Mel Tucker away at every opportunity. Their romances becomes a complicated  on-but-never-quite-off five year plus slog, as these two dance around each other, failing to trust or communicate. She fears being abandoned, and Painter is a master at being wishy-washy.  I think I am pretty much over these books.  There were really good moments in this, but I skimmed the long involved biker politics plot, I didn't like the sexual dynamics between Mel and Painter (he continues to sleep with who ever he wants while claiming to be with Mel, and trying to interfere in her dating life).   It honestly read more like a cautionary tale, "don't sleep with possessive but wishy-washy bikers"

268601Glory in Death (In Death #2) by JD Robb  Eve faces off against a serial killer targeting prominent and powerful women, while questioning her increasingly serious relationship with Roarke and her fear of learning more about her past.  Once again I figured out who the murder was very early on, and I once again didn't care. I am here for the romance and watching Eve struggle with figuring out how to let herself have normal emotions and relationships while continuing to be good at her job. There were some odd and uncomfortable depictions of people of color and racial dynamics in this one.  I wasn't sure what Robb was going for but it made me uncomfortable and sad.

18143986Fool Me Twice (Rules for the Reckless #2) by Meredith Duran  Olivia Mather goes undercover in the recently-widowed and reclusive Duke of Marwick's house in order to steal some incriminating information the Duke has on a man that has been threatening her life for almost a decade.  Her plans are complicated when she discovers that the household is in utter disarray with the Duke refuses to leave his room. I hate listened to the first half of this book. I really couldn't stand how Olivia became infatuated with the dangerously gaunt Alistair. The book didn't begin to click for me till around chapter 10, when Alistair discovers why Olivia has been in his house.   The book really picked up steam for me at that point, and I really found the second half very very strong, with great conflict and characterization.

27505814A Midnight Clear by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner: This novella is set in Annapolis in 1949, a dozen years before Star Dust and is the story of Joe Reynolds (another Perseid astronaut) and Frances Dumfries.    Frances is an Admiral's daughter, who constantly must fend of the attentions of ambitious midshipmen who want to rub shoulders with her father.  Joe, while ambitious and dedicated only has eyes for Frances.  The novella is sweet and romantic, as Joe sets out to impress Frances with his desire to seek her happiness above his own.  The conflict and resolutions both seemed real and believable. Barry and Turner did a wonderful job developing a great supporting cast without stealing any time from the young lovers.

Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Cotillion is fantastic comedic romp.  It is a coming of age story of sorts as it follows a young inexperienced miss as she learns to negotiate her way through British high society.  Heyer delights in this tale of fake betrothals, fortune hunters and flirts.

Kitty Charing is the adopted daughter of a rich but miserly gentleman. She has lived at the mercy of his eccentric and narrow generosity for years before he declares that he will settle his vast fortune on her only if she accepts a proposal from one of his many great-nephews. Mr. P's plans for are spoiled when his favorite grand-nephew, Jack, a rougishly handsome rake, fails to show up.  Instead Kitty must has to turn down proposals from Hugh. a stodgy and pompous reverend and Foster, a "soft-headed" Earl, frightened of his domineering and controlling mother. Kitty persuades Freddy Standen, another Mr.P's great-nephews to agree to a fake betrothal, so that she might leave Arnside and visit London for a month while she tries figure out what to do next.

Kitty's adventures in London were a great deal of fun.  She is transformed from a dowdy and naive country girl to a savvy and enchanting young woman.  While she gains "town bronze", learning to maneuver perilous social situations, present herself in the most impressive manner and discovering shocking and disappointing truths, she remains a compassionate and caring. Those qualities lead her to get involved in a series of complicated romantic schemes that all pay off in a fantastic final chapter where everyone has the HEA they deserve.

I didn't really know what to expect when I started reading Cotillion. I had not even read the blurb, and had selected it purely on the strong recommendation of several Heyer fans on Twitter.  KJ Charles's enthusiastic recommendation is the one I remember most clearly.   I was half-way through the book before I realized who the hero of the story was.  I am so used to reading romances where even the most unrepentant of rakes is reformed through the love a good woman, that for most of the book I didn't even consider that Jack might not be the hero. Even when Jack, thought to himself how content he would have been to continue to leave Kitty rusticating in the countryside till he was ready to make her his wife, and when he raged at how inconvenient it was him that Kitty had formed a friendship with his potential mistress, I somehow thought, he was going to have a dramatic change of heart.  For most of the novel I wanted to slap him as much as or more than Kitty did.

Although I had decided I much preferred kind Freddy for Kitty, I just didn't notice how subtly Heyer was building him up. Even when Freddy unfailing acted to put Kitty's wants and desire above his own, and never failed to come to her rescue, I didn't realize he was actually going to be the hero. In fact I came close to googling to see if Heyer had written another romance for him, because I liked him so much and wanted him to have a HEA. Well Played, Ms.Heyer!   Freddy is a delightfully unconventional hero. He is not smooth, brilliant,  cynical or daring, but simply good-hearted.  He is popular and accepted in the Ton because he is a good dresser and always willing to dance.  He surprises everyone including himself with how he rises to the challenge of winning Kitty.  I loved his interactions with his Dad, a loving but patronizing man, who is greatly gratified and incredibly amused to see Freddy working so hard at figuring out things. I particularly liked that while he is moved to action he is never once moved to meanness.  The values and actions that win him Kitty are just extensions of the person he was before just a bit more intentional. I just loved him.

Cotillion was thoroughly enjoyable, full of humor, wit and heart.





Comfort Crack, a conversation about Kristen Ashley's books and joint review of Walk Through Fire

Ana: Reading Kristen Ashley’s books is intimately tied up with discussing them on Twitter with Michele, Gisele and Kaetrin. I’ve been chatting about KA books with them for almost as long as I have known them on Twitter. Several years ago I stumbled across a series of tweets in which Kaetrin and Michele had convinced Alexis Hall to try one of KA’s books. The conversation was hilarious. The conversation convinced me to try one for myself.   They have become my KA support group.

While we all love reading Kristen Ashley’s books, we don’t do so uncritically. Different things attract us to her books, and what works for one of us might not for the other. I love hearing how they respond to these books and listening to them helps me process my feelings for KA’s sometime problematic choices.  We tend to informally co-read the KA’s books when they are released and Kristen Ashley’s Walk Through Fire is no exception.

Michele Mills: Hahaha! Ana, I’d completely forgotten about that KA book club on twitter with Alexis Hall. I have a feeling that was the one where there were food jokes incorporated around the name of the hero. Yeah, good times. This shows you how we roll. I adore Kristen Ashley. She creates emotional page turners that keep me on the edge of my seat, at the same time I see all the faults and enjoy dissecting them. Is that odd? In a way though, I feel I am the only one who is allowed to crit her work, because I know I do it from a position of care and respect. I read pretty much all of her new releases, and I’ve read almost her entire backlist with the exception of Mathilda the Super Witch.

 Ana: I have only read her Rock Chick, Dream Man, Colorado Mountain and Chaos series fully. I haven’t ever tried her fantasy books and have decided to skip the Unfinished Heroes series. I did read Knight and it was a not a good choice for me.

Michele Mills: Oh funny, see how different we all are within our love for KA? Knight is one of my favorite KA books, I reread it routinely. It’s basically the only “Daddy” book I enjoy. Also I really like her fantasy books. But, her RC, DM, CM, and Chaos are probably my favorite. This is definitely one of Kristen Ashley’s strengths- she has such a vast and varied backlist with something for everyone to enjoy.


Kaetrin: I did read Knight eventually - I got it on special and I wanted the complete set for my “collection”. I didn’t love it anywhere near as much as I’ve enjoyed the Dream Man, Colorado Mountains, Chaos and Rock Chick series. What surprises me most about KA’s books is that I tend to like things about them that I don’t ordinarily like or read for. For instance, the female friendships and the “just living happily together” stuff.

Ana: I totally understand that feeling. Sometimes as I read, I think to myself “Why am I enjoying this so much...I normally hate this.”  I do love female friendships and angsty conflicts and KA does that well.

Kaetrin: I usually read for hero/heroine interaction and get annoyed by sections which take me away from them.  Maybe it’s because KA books tend to have so much of everything in them that I’m not bothered? I don’t know but the female friendships are fabulous in KA books and they don’t really interest me in most other books.

 Michele Mills: Oh, I love her female friendships too. It’s wonderful how she shows how important friendships are to women. I got hooked on that with the Rock Chick Series. What is also fun about a KA book is that feeling that you’re hanging out with a lively group of people. You get to sit in with them and join the party. I really enjoy the secondary characters she creates.

Gisele: My first KA book was Mystery Man and it was love at first read. Even though sometimes I get frustrated with her heros/heroines she’s one of the only authors that catches my attention completely.

 Michele Mills: My first KA was Mystery Man, too. Oh, Hawk. *dreamy sigh*

 Ana:  Her books have a immersive quality don’t they? While I am sometimes driven crazy by the super-detailed descriptions of everything, I think that is part of the world-building that sucks you in.

Gisele: That’s true. I remember that when I finished Mystery Man, I searched her back list and read everything she had released to the date. I couldn’t stop myself. I love that she gives us a bit of the HEA before the end of the book. I love reading their routine together. I think that was what attracted me at first.

Michele Mills: I’ve gotten to a place where I now skim the descriptions. I read just enough to get an idea of place setting, but I skip the pages of detail. I guess it could be said that I’ve taught myself how to read a KA with an eye for the parts I like best. I know her way of writing, her patterns so well now, it’s second nature. I don’t mind doing this, the reward is worth it.

Kaetrin: I read it all!

Ana:  Michele, I think you have a great point about how selectively read parts of her books.  I suspect we all do that to some extent in all our reading but I know that giving myself permission to skim some parts have greatly increased my enjoyment.   I do love that little bit of extended HEAs.

 Michele Mills: She is the master of the epilogue.

 Kaetrin: My first KA was Motorcycle Man and I loved loved loved it. I’m usually a bit of a grammar nerd and her sentence structure confounded me a little - it is so different to what I’m used to reading. I call it “Kristen Ashley-ese”. But her style is so immediate and immersive for me that any concerns I had with technicalities just fell by the wayside. I was just too invested in what was going on in the story, once I found the rhythm of it. And yes, I’m all about the HEA so when there is lots of it, I’m generally a happy camper. For some reason I don’t get bored by it in KA books whereas I may do in books by other authors.

Ana: Yes, I can agree with that. My first was Law Man, smack dab in the middle of a series...I am not sure how I survived it. Syncing to her rhythm is key.

Michele Mills: I think it’s her voice, simple as that. It drags you in and never lets go. This is the essence of the “crack” everyone speaks of when they read her books and are instantly addicted. You start reading her books and it’s like you have to read your way out of it, going on and on, only stopping because there simply isn’t more to read.

Kaetrin: Her books don’t work for everyone but for those they do work for, well, she tends to attract a passionate following!

Michele Mills: I love how Sarah Wendell from SBTB always says concerning KA- “I can see the crack, I know that it’s there,  but I’m immune to it.” I think that sums up how some people feel about KA and why they can’t read her books.

Gisele: Her followers are passionate indeed, but sometimes I think they tend to overlook some of her flaws. Everything is very good, every time, and along the years she had a couple of bad books, like Jagged, but even that one is above average compared with some other authors.

Ana:  I kind of liked Jagged.

Kaetrin: Me too! LOL

Gisele: Jagged was boring and the hero liked Feb more than his heroine! haha. He called Feb “Gorgeous” and his lady “Cookie”. Enough said.

Kaetrin: I read Jagged before For You so I never thought Ham (ugh that name!) was still in love with Feb. But, I do have a habit (hopefully only in reading romance!) of seeing what I want to see in that kind of situation.

Michele Mills: Jagged was the one with all the food jokes centered around the hero’s name!

Kaetrin:  Why, oh why, did she not call him Reece???

Michele Mills: I remember Gisele and I read that last KA PNR. No one else was reading it but us, right? I remember you figured out there was a formula to reading it--make it to 52% for the secondary romance to kick in and then the book was gold. LOL It worked perfectly. Thanks.

Gisele: Yes, Michelle. Aurora and Yuri forever! They saved the book.

Michele Mills: Cutest secondary romance evah!

Ana:  I am going to end up reading those eventually...

Michele Mills: Sigh. We have such a great time reading KA, don’t we? :)

Kaetrin: We do! :D


Walk Through Fire Discussion:


Kaetrin:  I think I had a slightly different reaction to Walk Through Fire than the rest of you if our Twitter catch ups were anything to go by. I loved the last half and was frustrated by the first part. Once the big secret was out, that’s when the book really came together for me and I just settled in and enjoyed their domesticity and (mostly) their everyday kind of problems.

 Ana:  I was stressed out for most of the first half of WTF, (Heh).  I was really loving the current day storyline, while skimming furiously through the flashbacks.  While I didn’t love the threat in the second half, I wasn’t skimming any longer.

Michele Mills: I thought the first half of WTF (I’m cracking up at this acronym) was terrific and the second half was a bit of a slog. In fact, to be truthful I dnf’d at 96% out of boredom. I know, shocking. The first half, though THE CONFLICT- oh wow, the conflict, I was on the edge of my seat. I read that first half in one night! I stayed up late even though I had to be at work the next day and put up with bloodshot eyes in order to get to that middle. Wow. That was classic KA, exactly why I love her.

Gisele: The tension and angst of the first half was awesome. Yes, I skimmed the flashbacks too, but the building to their encounter and the big revelation of why she left him was very engaging.

 Kaetrin: I hate not knowing stuff and I felt like I was being teased about the reason they broke up 20 years earlier. It was the crux of the whole story and not knowing but it constantly being referenced just annoyed me. Once I knew, while I wasn’t 100% behind the reason, at least I could settle in. Up until then I was mostly just frustrated.

Michele Mills: It was me, I admit it. Kaetrin forced me to tell her the real reason Millie left High! She DM’d me at knife point!

Kaetrin: Note that Michele wouldn’t tell me until I’d guessed. Meanie.

Ana:  I was annoyed by the flashbacks because I knew the truth wasn’t going to show up in there, or it wouldn’t make sense, till the current day. Which is what happened.

Kaetrin: I guessed from the flashbacks.(Yes, I read them all).

Michele Mills: I skimmed all the flashbacks too. I was having a hard time understanding their purpose...

Ana: So what about the reason? I frequently run into problematic stuff in KA books and this storyline was killing me! For me, I could see how KA tried to make it work (she was young, there was the one line about the test...etc), but man I didn’t like it one bit.

 Gisele: She was young, fine, but I think she didn’t stop to think at all. That annoyed me. When the secret was revealed I was like, WTF?! I could see 300 other options to solve her problem, but that’s a common feature with KA heroines, they are very impulsive.

Ana:  Good point on the impulsivity.

Kaetrin: I needed way more information. What was this “one simple test”?  As someone who had problems in that area, I think it’s far more complicated than that. Unless maybe you’re a guy. Maybe.  

And, there was no real consideration of other alternatives. Then again, those alternatives were fewer 20 years ago I suppose. But I got hung up on how she was so positive that the “one simple test” was completely accurate. So I didn’t give the rest loads of thought.

 Michele Mills: I couldn’t believe how adoption wasn’t even mentioned until toward the end and only in passing. I didn’t like the connotation that High was a Dad only because he had biological children. Also, she didn’t have sex with anyone, ever again? She saved herself, like in a time capsule, for 20 years? I thought that was sad. Next book, I want to see a hero who waits 20 years, without sex, for the heroine!

Gisele: Michele, I don’t think we’re ever gonna see something like that! KA heros have to have lots of experience, otherwise how they’re gonna rock the heroine’s world? LOL. But serious, she could have moved on with her life too, that kind of “sacrifice” was unnecessary.

 Ana: I hated how it essentially turned Deb into their surrogate (the kids look like High), which I thought was all kinds of shitty. KA tried to balance that out by making Deb such a good mom, but it made me real mad when she would say things like “I gave them to you.”  Um, no you didn’t.

Michele Mills: Good point Ana!

Kaetrin: I understood what she meant when she said it. High never would have left if Millie hadn’t forced the situation. In that sense she paved the way. But yes, Deb was an integral part of that equation!!

 Gisele: They so crazy and intense that if you try to look at things through their eyes, you can actually understand what they did. The thing with “I gave them to you” is that her love for him was so big that she was willing to let him go so he could have his dreams come true. I can understand that.

 Ana: That is a KA strength.  Her characters might make crazy decisions but they tend to be internally consistent decisions.

 Kaetrin: At least High said he thought that decision was wrong, with the hindsight of 20 years.

 Michele Mills: I kept reminding myself that Millie was only twenty-one when she made that fatal decision...

 Ana: So we have talked about a couple things that drove us crazy...what did you love in WTF?

 Kaetrin: Is it bad that I’m kind of snickering at the acronym for the book?

 Ana: It is fabulous...did no-one notice it at editorial?

 Gisele: LOLOL. Now I got it. Duh, Gisele!

 Ana: hehe

 Ana:  One thing I love in most KA books and I enjoyed in WTF is how KA is able to check-in with so many former heroes and heroines without having them take over the whole book.

 Kaetrin: Yes I love this too. And the little bit of Tack and Tyra in WTF was great.

 Michele Mills: She really is amazing with that, and crossing over with her characters from all her series that are based in Denver. That’s always fun.  

 Gisele: She got better at that after Rock Chick Revolution and The Promise. I loved seeing Hawk and the girls back.

 Ana: Is that the last Rock Chick book? I haven’t read that yet.

 Kaetrin: Me neither.

 Ana:  I am waiting for it to go on sale, because  I heard such negative things.

 Gisele: Yes, is the last one. That book was disappointment. The hero disappeared and he could have saved the book. *sighs*

 Michele Mills: I can’t remember if I read it or not, I assume I did, but that tells you how much it stuck with me.

 Gisele: So, a thing I loved in WTF is that even with some problems, the ex was not portrayed as an evil person. That’s a good change.

 Michele Mills: Yes!!! I agree. I was so relieved she wasn’t eeeevil. That storyline is getting old.

 Ana:  Yes I have noticed that in the last few books she has been redeeming the exes rather than just killing them off or making them fully awful.  Even the bad exes are getting some sort of good resolution, like learning to be good fathers, even if they failed at being a husband.

 Kaetrin: I liked how Deb was portrayed here. I know you didn’t like some aspects Ana, but I know someone like that - kids essential, husband optional - so it rang true to me. And Deb and Millie got along great. Which was awesome.

 Ana:  I really liked Deb, I just didn’t High’s opinion about her. Like you I know several women who are like Deb and there is nothing wrong with that.

 Gisele: I like how she writes kids in her books too.  

 Ana:  Yes, many of the  kids are flawed and normal, but I have major issues with most of the parenting choices made by characters.  Some of the young dudes in the series set in Indiana drive me crazy.

 Gisele: Yes, yes. I absolutely hated what High said to Zadie after the cat incident. I hated. He practically said that he was going to walk away from her if she didn’t accept his girlfriend. No, you don’t say that  to your kid. Never.

 Ana: Yes, that was beyond ludicrous.

 Kaetrin: I didn’t read it the same way. I was pretty pissed off with Zadie at that point. I thought High was making the point that Zadie was putting him in an impossible position. And Zadie’s behaviour needed a massive correction.  

 Gisele: Kaetrin, my sister told me the same thing, but I still think he could have said another thing. It just made things worse for Millie.

 Michele Mills: I thought that was weird too. I especially didn’t like how Millie let Zadie off the hook and didn’t say anything when she was kicking her under the table and bruising her leg.

 Kaetrin: I wondered how High didn’t appear to notice the bruises on Mille’s legs!

 Gisele: Yes, I wondered that too!

 Ana: Zadie needed the riot act read to her, but it didn’t sit well with me.

 Kaetrin: Did anyone, other than me, think that Zadie’s turnaround was super sudden (and therefore a bit unbelievable)?

 Gisele: I don’t think so.  The scare was too big and deep down I think Zadie knew Millie was a good person. She just wanted her dad for herself.

 Kaetrin: I just thought she had been such a brat, that the complete turnaround with gift cards was unreal. I get why the other thing scared her but she’d turned around before then, mostly.

 Ana: Like you I didn’t believe it at the giftcards/shopping spree. I honestly wanted that to blow up in Millie’s face. But having someone save you from kidnappers and throw themselves in for you can make quite an impression.  I don’t think Zadie was fully on board with Millie till that moment.

Kaetrin: Maybe not, but she’d stopped being a complete brat. In my experience, kids are smarter than that. They’d still take the gift cards, but it wouldn’t change the behaviour. (At least, this was true for me after my parents split up - not that mum’s boyfriend bribed me with anything so good as gift cards. It was mainly donuts.)

 Ana:  Yeah, no kidding.  I would have lost all respect for a bribing adult.

 Kaetrin: I also liked that Zadie’s bad behaviour was directly related to High indulging her for so long. It was his fault, not Deb’s! And, High admitted it for extra bonus points.

 Gisele: The kidnapping was disappointing. I was hoping for more drama. She was pretty safe through the whole thing.

 Michele Mills: I felt the same way, like it was a fake kidnapping. Nothing really happened. It was just an excuse to get a lot of hot guys to RIDE and act tough. Not that that’s bad...

 Ana:  That was all build-up for the next few books, which was surprising. Most of the time I feel like KA throws everything but the kitchen sink into the final conflict, but there was no payoff for a lot of it.

 Michele Mills: This was part of the reason why I felt the second half of the book was a slog. Also, it mainly comprised of “I love you” “No, I love your more.”  

 Gisele: She’s going to drag the Valenzuela thing until the last book, I think. His parts were so very boring.

 Kaetrin: I wasn’t too bothered by the Valenzuela subplot. I was reading for the romance between High and Millie so that bit, while I agree it was anti-climactic, didn’t really factor into my overall reading experience.

 I loved Millie and High together once the truth came out. I didn’t like High’s behaviour at all at the beginning. No matter what, it’s not okay to treat women that way. Some of it bordered (or maybe more than) on non-consensual.  But he won me over once he knew the truth (I tend to be far more forgiving in fiction than I would be in real life!)

 Gisele: Ooo, he treated her like trash! Didn’t like that, but it fits his persona and all the resentment he had buried inside him.

 Ana: I actually loved how wrong and dark Chaos went.  They really screwed up. I liked seeing them make such a bad mistake. It really showed the dark side of the brotherhood.

 Kaetrin: I don’t like it when the heroes act unheroic. And High was a real dick at the start.

 Ana:  That was almost un-redeemable but it reminded me of how dickish Tack was at the beginning of Motorcycle Man to Tyra.

 Michele Mills: Yes, Tack was dickish to Tyra. LOL But, I enjoy almost unredeemable heroes (Knight?) and dark rom, and I like exploring non/dub con, so I really liked the journey between the h/h during the first half of Walk Through Fire. I loved how dark it was, how it brought out so many emotions, and how they were able to get past it to a believable HEA.

 Kaetrin: Speak no evil of Tack!! LOL  He (Tack)  tried to get Tyra to quit but he didn’t have sex with her and treat her like a whore. So I could more easily excuse his behaviour in MM.

 But I did like how KA redeemed High from the dickishness of his attitude when Tack was taking over Chaos. I never really expected to see High as a hero at all.

 Gisele: I didn’t like that Millie “accepted” him in her bed so quickly after the way her treated her. I wanted more backbone. She was like: “Oh, he treated me bad, but I can’t resist him”. Yes, you can!

 Ana:  I did love that she finally cracked and went off to Paris without him, because damn.

 Michele Mills: In the end, I’d give Walk Through Fire a B-. The first half was terrific, the second half not so much, but the KA magic was still there. I’m definitely reading the next book in the series - and hopefully we can book club it again on Twitter, the only way to go!

 Kaetrin: I gave it a B. What about you Ana and Gisele?

 Ana: I think it was a B for me too. It was a comfort to read, and overall a great ride but the reason for their original split bothered me greatly.

 Gisele: It was a B- for me. Not my favorite, but still had most of the things I love about KA, I just needed more action on the second half.

Kaetrin has her own blog, Kaetrin’s Musings, where she reviews both print and audiobooks, as well as contributing reviews Dear Author and AudioGals.  Kaetrin reads and listens across the romance genre – the only thing that is mandatory is a happy ending. :)


Gisele is a travel agent who loves travels - of course - food, music and is addicted to books. She has a blog, My books My stuffs - which needs serious attention - but you can always find her on twitter talking about everything and anything.


Michele Mills teaches High School English to unruly teenagers and enjoys cooking for her husband and two sons. DIE FOR YOU, the first book in her new post apocalyptic series from Samhain releases spring 2016. You can find her pretending to be professional on both Twitter and Facebook.

Once Beloved by Amara Royce

OnceBeloved_hires2 (2)More than a year has passed since Helena Martin was widowed tragically. Although she struggles to leave the house and brave the bustling streets of London, she is determined not to disappoint her children and agrees to escort them to the Grand Exhibition accompanied. Once there, however, the press of the crowds is too much, and she rescued by the last person she would ever expect.

Daniel Lanfield is shocked to discover the attractive woman he had been admiring just before her swoon is none-other than his brother's  ex-fiance and his former neighbor. In his hometown, Helena is notorious. Her elopement with an agent of the railroads was a social and economic disaster for them.  By eloping she wrecked a plan that would have united the lands that the railroads sought to acquire. That failure led to the town being passed over by railroads and entering into a steep decline.

Daniel and Helena's uncomfortable re-acquaintance would have been brief if not for the arrival of an unexpected summons from Helena's ailing but estranged grand-mother. Although Daniel tries to dissuade her, he ends up escorting her home. Once back,both have to face their past and the consequences of their choices.

I love enemies to lovers, and I think Royce did a wonderful job showing how Daniel and Helena come to appreciate each other.  I love that Helena had deeply loved her husband and had been loved in return but at the same time, could now see with the eyes of a parent, the her elopement in a different light.  She can recognize its rashness and count herself lucky for the happiness she had enjoyed. Royce also does a wonderful job developing characters who carry griefs and hurts but are not defined by or cured of them magically.  There are serious obstacles to their growing relationship and those aren't magically overcome either. The resolution didn't sit well with me at first because it was a departure from what I have come to expect as a HEA, however, the more I thought about the more it made sense for the characters.

Once Beloved is a smart and mature Victorian-era romance about facing with consequences and making choices to trust and love against the lures of bitterness and resentment.


Disclosure:  Amara and I have followed each other on Facebook and Twitter for several years and I met her in person last summer at RWA.  She is a lovely person online and off-line. I am glad to have finally read one of her novels.  I will be going back and reading the ones I have missed.

RT Review Round-up, November

One of the things I love about reviewing for RT is that I review such different things.  For October's issue I ping-ponged between contemporary with a NA/Rom Suspense flavor to Romantic Science Fiction menage and then back to Contemporary.


Vindicate by Beth Yarnall. NA Romantic suspense with young woman who has dedicated her life to freeing her brother who she believes had been wrongly convicted of murder and the spoiled son of the private investigator that can help her crack the case.

Sunsinger by Robin Bachar.  This was the last chapter in  SF menage romance trilogy. The heroine is empath assassin, and the heroes are formerly enslaved data hacker and  a closeted virgin lord.

For His Pleasure by Suzanne Rock. Over-the-top contemporary romance with a runaway bride. Fast cars, blackmail, and old lovers out for revenge.


Harlot by Victoria Dahl

Harlot_LargeVictoria Dahl is one of my favorite contemporary romance writers.  I have really enjoyed her Jackson Girls' Night Out series. She doesn't write cookie-cutter characters, they always surprise me in someway. She can be vulgar and profane one moment and gentle and sentimental in another. Last year  I read Dahl's  little western erotic romance novella, The Wicked West about a very innocent looking but very kinky widow who seduces the her neighbor a very straight arrow sheriff, and since then I have been hoping she would write another Western. While Harlot is a western, it is a very different kind of book than The Wicked West. Harlot is a darker, sadder, and angrier. 

Caleb left two years ago to make his fortune in California, hoping to come back home a rich man worthy of claiming his beloved Jessica's hand.  He returns home to find her old home empty, her neighbors and former friends calling her a whore. He hopes it is all a terrible misunderstanding but everything seems to be confirmed when finds his way to her desolate house outside of town where she lives with her tenants, Melisande an African-American former prostitute and her white lover, Bill.

Jessica accepts his scorn, his rage and his coin, punishing him and herself for all their lost dreams and hopes. Caleb's anger burns itself out in her arms, but holding him and touching him ignites Jessica's.   It is the plain-spoken words of Melisande, who planted the seed of perspective in Jess, reminding her that she is not dead, and that her value wasn't in her virginity.

This little novella packs a wallop. I believed in the HEA for Caleb and Jess and I believed in their new start because she got angry, because she let him have her anger.  The fact that those who victimized her don't ever fully pay for what they did is besides the point, she is done letting them define her worth. I wished we had just a little bit more Caleb and Jess, post-grovel and a whole lot more of Bill and Melisande but I loved what I got.


The FIrebird by Susanna Kearsley

FirebirdIn January I read the first in Susanna Kearsley's Slains series, The Winter Sea.  I loved the book but I admit that it has a somewhat bittersweet happy ending.  At then end of the Winter Sea, we only have the faintest of notions about how life turned out for John and Sophia, and the fate of one character, their first born daughter Anna, is left quite open ended.

In Firebird, Kearsley returns to Slains Castle and Anna.  

Nicola Marter is an art dealer specializing in Russian artifacts, with a psych gift she hides from most everyone. One day when she is asked to look at a small wooden carving of a bird, called The Firebird. The Firebird is a treasured family heirloom believed to have been given by Empress Catherine of Russia (Peter the Great's wife) to the owner's great-great-grandmother, Anna. When she inadvertently has a vision that confirms the family lore but is not able to say anything without betraying her gift. Although Nicola tries to forget the incident, she can't let it go, eventually going so far as to seek out her former lover, Rob McMorran for help.

Rob McMorran (Robbie of Kearsley's Shadowy Horses) is a police officer, whose psych gifts are much stronger than Nicola's. Rob's gift is so strong, he doesn't try to hide it, something that deeply distresses Nicola and caused a rift in their relationship.

Through Rob and Nicola's determined tracking, we learn how Anna, once hidden with a fisherman's family,  comes to be in St. Petersburg as young woman. I loved seeing her grow from young innocent girl into a brave and bold young woman.  Anna's story is at times heartbreaking, full of twists and turns but in the end beautiful and satisfying.

Kearsley's historical heroes and heroines always sacrifice much in service of their Jacobite cause and Anna is no exception.   Kearsley never sugarcoats the cost and in this novel she focuses keenly on the impact those sacrifices had on families. Anna might be a child but at a very young age becomes aware how the commands of kings and love of family can tear someone apart.  The choices she makes in response out of love are remarkable but wholly believable.  The novel is an ode to the impact of small conversations and little moments to shape the course of history.

The modern and historical romances were very different kinds of romances but they were still tied together, by how complicated their relationships are and the hard choices they had to make in order to live together.  Both and Anna and Rob see more in Ned and Nicola than they see in themselves.   I continue to be enchanted and moved by Kearsley's subtly emotional stories.  

Kearsley's  The Firebird, is rich in historical detail, fascinating characters and engaging plotlines.  So engaging that I had to cheat on the wonderful audiobook narrated by Katerine Kellgren, because I couldn't wait till the next car ride to know what would become of Anna next.

I have one print copy of The Firebird to give away.  Leave a comment or tweet me @anacoqui, saying that you would love to read it and I will select a random winner from the respondents.

The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev

The Bollywood Bride gave me a lot to think about. Sonali Dev followed up her romantic comedy, The Bollywood Affair, with a very different kind of romance.  Although both novels are set in boisterous Indian-American household, frantically hosting grand weddings, filled with doting Aunties, the stories couldn't be more different in tone. While Dev once again celebrates the sounds, sights and taste of Indian-American culture while capturing the tensions of bi-national immigrant life, but she goes deeper, tackling the stigma and isolation mental illness within the context of modern Indian society.

Ria Parkar is the Ice Princess, a cool, untouchable heroine on the Bollywood screens.  Her icy demeanor off screen hides her painful shyness and pain. Ten years ago she sold her sell for a chance at Bollywood stardom, leaving her old name and loves in the past in desperate attempt to keep the one promise she could bear to break.  The rigors of staying star-shaped, the pressures of production and crushing loneliness make it harder and harder to keep up the smiling facade from cracking. When her beloved cousin Nikhil asks her to come home for his wedding, she can't refuse his request even though she desperately wants to. Distracted and preoccupied she makes an impulsive decision that gives a blackmailing paparazzo the shot of a lifetime.  A brief vacation to a family wedding in Chicago is just the respite she needs, even if it means risking seeing the first love she betrayed once again.

In Ria, Dev creates a complicated character, guilt-ridden, fearful  and fiercely independent.  As a child she felt the sting of her mother and grandmother's mental illness, physically and emotionally. Her father sends her away to school, and later to his sister's home in Chicago out of desire to protect her. To Ria, a child who does not understand what is happening with her mother or why she was sent away, it feels like being punished and banished.  As adult, she fears that she will become dangerously ill herself one day. She fears becoming a burden those she loves, and she can't understand the choices her parents made. She hides all this confusion, and vulnerability behind her perfect looks and a practiced smile. She feels dirty and soiled after being coerced into a sexual relationship with her first co-star.  She harshly judges herself, though it is clear to the reader that she was a victim,  sexually exploited.   The paralyzing anxiety, panic attacks and self-loathing depressive thoughts that haunt Ria are easier to hide than her mother's schizophrenia but not less needing of care and support. These jagged edges make her a vastly different character than wide-eyed Mili from The Bollywood Affair.

Vikram Jathar, is no less complicated even though he is not the central focus of the story. Vikram was once Ria's first-ever friend, then her best-friend and eventually her first love before Ria left him without explanation.  He has spent the last ten years of his life trying to get over her. His reaction to seeing her again is far from perfect, although his anger, and confusion are understandable.  His initial selfish prideful choices in reaction to his hurt expose him to be darker than the perfect first love Ria holds in her memory.  

A happily-ever-after for Ria involves much more than being reunited with her first love. Ria and Vikram have to peel back layers of pain, before she can let herself be loved and before he can make the choice to love. While Vikram is stead-fast in insisting that she is worth loving, he has his own growing up to do in order to do it.

In Bollywood Bride,  love does not magically heal hurts, protect from horrible things from happening at some future date. Love is choice not to fear and take chance on happiness together, to chose to partner through what could the darkest of days. 

While I liked The Bollywood Affair, it didn't sink it hooks in me like the Bollywood Bride which I read in one sitting, unable to stop once I started reading and I am looking forward to reading whatever Ms. Dev writes next.


I received a ARC of The Bollywood Bride a gazillion years ago from its publishers Kensington Books

via NetGalley. The novel has been available at all the usual retailers since Sep. 29, 2015

Otherwise Engaged by Amanda Quick

Amity Doncaster is believes herself to be a worldly-woman.  The time she spent learning at her doctor's father's side and the years of solo international travel have uniquely prepared her to rescue a gravely wounded Benedict Stanbridge when she finds him bleeding out in dark alley in small Caribbean island just feet away from their ship.  They spend many hours together in conversation during their journey, and part after sharing one kiss.  Amity returns to London and Benedict continues on to California hoping to track down the man who attacked him. Rumors about their ship-board relationship spread upon her arrival to London, she takes the rumors in stride, only concerned that the rumors might delay the publication of her travel guide for young ladies.  She is only ruffled after serial killer called the Bridegroom, attempts to kidnap her and kill her.  Her deft use of her deceptively lethal fan saves her, and allows her to escape.

Benedict arrives back to London just in time to discover Amity at the center of public fascination once again, with lurid tales about her brush with death on the front page of all the papers.  He persuades a very disgruntled Amity to a fake engagement, in order to restore her reputation and give them greater freedom to investigate together who the Bridegroom might be and why he chose to target Amity.

Otherwise Engaged was occasionally funny, occasionally suspenseful but the espionage and serial killer plot were too neatly tied up in somewhat ludicrous way. The connection between the plots came out of nowhere, and I honestly felt I must have missed a chapter because, the conclusions and deductions the pair agreed on seemed so far-fetched. It soured me on what had been quite the enjoyable romance up to that point. I liked Amity's cool composure and Benedict's firm desire that Amity really know him to be a staid engineer he is.

I was particularly engaged on the secondary romance of Amity's widowed sister, Felicity and Detective Logan and I wished we had seen more of their story. 



TBR Challenge Review: Naked in Death by JD Robb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The audiobook was capably narrated by Susan Ericksen.  

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