Seven Books I Love, part four–The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire

There’s a Facebook meme going around where you list seven of your favorite books in seven days. I thought I’d do mine as a series of blog posts. I’m going to cheat and do a few series mixed in with single books. This is not an absolute list–this is my seven of many favorite books. I could do one of these for children’s books, YA, adult, romance, and I’d still never even approach naming all my favorite books.

That said, here is book (series) four…The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire

The world of Faerie never disappeared; it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie’s survival—but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born.

Outsiders from birth, these half-human, half-fae children spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations. Or, in the case of October “Toby” Daye, rejecting it completely. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery…before the curse catches up with her.

–summary of Rosemary and Rue, book 1 in the series

Rosemary and Rue is the first book in the October Daye series. It opens with October “Toby” Daye, a half human/half Fae knight, tracking the man who has kidnapped her liege lord’s wife and daughter…and she fails, horribly. So horribly that the kidnapper turns her into a koi. She spends fourteen years in the pond, only to change back by some unknown exercise of her powers. By this time her ex and her daughter have moved on, and want nothing to do with her. She, in turn, turns her back on Faerie.

I think starting a series with a failure is a brave move. Everything that happens, and is still happening in the upcoming book twelve of the series, comes back to this failure and how it changed Toby. That said, books one and two are a little slow–I think in part to doing the heavy lifting in world building and introducing characters–but good. Book three, though, was when the series took off for me.

McGuire’s Faerie world borrows heavily from Celtic tradition with a twist all her own, as the Faerie Hills open into our world. Most of the Toby books are urban fantasy, largely taking part in San Francisco and the Faerie Hills near it. Living near San Francisco, part of me is always a little delighted to come across a setting from one of the book and is half hoping to see a Fae creature because I’m a bit whimsical.

Toby becomes a private investigator in her “real” life as well as picking up her sword again (more or less). This means the books tend to fall into a procedural or an investigation theme. Each book expands the world as we know it, adding characters, and deepening relationships and motivations. Some of my favorite characters are Tybalt, the King of the Cats and the Ludaeig, the sea witch.

McGuire’s books always have snappy dialog and pop culture references. Toby’s books are a bit less so because she’s fourteen years out of date–her relationship with cell phones is entertaining for one, and there’s a teenage character who thinks her taste in music sucks. Toby’s universe is also peppered with incredibly snarky characters as well as incredibly earnest ones as well as the baddies. There’s a lot of nuanced characters–the Ludaeig always demands a price, but as the books unfold you understand why she is the way she is. The man who turned her into a fish–Simon Torquill–is also an unexpectedly gray character, as we find out in either the most recent book or the second to most recent book.

I loved McGuire’s work as YA author Mira Grant (Feed will show up in my honorable mentions), so I started reading her adult work. The Incryptid series could easily have taken this spot as well. I sat down to start reading the Toby books in February and with a short break to read the new Anne Bishop, I devoured them all in under a month.

Urban fantasy your thing? Read the October Daye series.

Buy Rosemary and Rue (book one in the series) for 1.99 on kindle.

Seven Books I Love, part three–Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey

There’s a Facebook meme going around where you list seven of your favorite books in seven days. I thought I’d do mine as a series of blog posts. I’m going to cheat and do a few series mixed in with single books. This is not an absolute list–this is my seven of many favorite books. I could do one of these for children’s books, YA, adult, romance, and I’d still never even approach naming all my favorite books.

That said, here is book three…Magic’s Pawn

(Much of this blog post comes from another piece I wrote about it)

Though Vanyel has been born with near-legendary abilities to work both Herald and Mage magic, he wants no part of such things. Nor does he seek a warrior’s path, wishing instead to become a Bard. Yet such talent as his if left untrained may prove a menace not only to Vanyel but to others as well. So he is sent to be fostered with his aunt, Savil, one of the famed Herald-Mages of Valdemar.

But, strong-willed and self-centered, Vanyel is a challenge which even Savil can not master alone. For soon he will become the focus of frightening forces, lending his raw magic to a spell that unleashes terrifying wyr-hunters on the land. And by the time Savil seeks the assistance of a Shin’a’in Adept, Vanyel’s wild talent may have already grown beyond anyone’s ability to contain, placing Vanyel, Savil, and Valdemar itself in desperate peril…

It is damn near impossible for me to have any objectivity about this trilogy in general, and about Magic’s Pawn specifically.  There are books you will read during the course of your lifetime that so fundamentally alter who you are as a person that they become far more than a story to you.  Magic’s Pawn was one of these books.

Somewhere around 1990/91 I’d given up reading kid’s books.  YA wasn’t really a genre at that point–there were a few shelves at the bookstore devoted to things like Sweet Valley High, Christopher Pike, and Lurlene McDaniels novels–so I transitioned to the adult section.  My local bookstore (anyone else remember Waldenbooks?) had a fairly small Sci-fi/Fantasy section, and every week I would be there pouring over books, trying to decide how to best spend my allowance (and/or baby-sitting money).  There were few enough employees that after a while we were on a first name basis.  One employee, Bryan, was a fellow sci-fi/fantasy nerd and I took his recommendations fairly seriously.

In 1995/1996 (when I was 17 and a senior in high school) Bryan turned me onto Mercedes Lackey with her book The Black Gryphon.  After reading it, I wanted to read more Lackey–but her catalog was so big that I was overwhelmed by which book to read next.  Bryan offered me Magic’s Pawn.

Growing up in the part of Massachusetts where the line between suburban sleeper community meets rural countryside in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I’d never met anyone who was gay.  Ellen hadn’t come out yet, and Will & Grace was years away from airing.  I understood that being gay wasn’t socially acceptable–the tone people took, the slurs, and the messages I’d picked up from from pop culture and the people in my life had taught that to me.  I was guilty of saying things like “Who cares who you sleep with, but why do I have to see two men kiss in front of me?”–as if I ever had, or even knew what I really saying–I was parroting what I was taught.

Vanyel was the first gay person I ever met.  Magic’s Pawn took me on his journey, and in doing so changed who I was.  After that book I would never say something like “why should two men kiss in front of me,” instead feeling infuriated that someone would dare question their love as less valid than mine.  When I moved to Boston for college, my mind and heart were ready to meet and ally physical (as opposed to fictional) LGBTQA individuals.  And when I went though my own realization and outing as bisexual myself a few years later, I found myself visiting with Vanyel all over again.

Mercedes Lackey is an infuriating author.  She can write books like Magic’s Pawn, and then she can write just some of the worst Mary Sue filled, ignore your own cannon, why can’t I forget you ever wrote this in the first place dreck like Exile’s Honor and Exile’s Valor.  These days I tend to avoid her new work as I’ve been disappointed far more often than I’ve enjoyed it–especially since she’s ignoring her own canon.  That said, her back catalog, particularly some of the Valdemar books remain some of my favorite books almost 20 years later.

Picture Credit-Drunkfu on DeviantArt

Vanyel has only one thing he’s ever dreamed of being–a Bard.  Unfortunately he’s also the heir to his father’s estate, so music isn’t a career that’s in the cards for him.  He’s too small and fine boned to sword fight like his larger bulkier brothers and cousins, but his swordsmaster feels that the fast feint and dash method that would match his build is “cheating.”  Jervis promptly breaks his arm in punishment for “cheating.”

Apart from his older sister Lissa-who is sent away within the first chapter to become a guardswoman (there’s one girl in every generation who bucks tradition–and you always know who because they inherited the “Ashekevron nose)-he’s left without close friend or ally.

When he’s sent to Haven-the capital city of Valdemar-he’s told that he can’t even take his horse.  Insult after insult is given–he’s taken to the city between two of his father’s guards like a common criminal.  He’s so hurt that he decides

It was so simple–just don’t give a damn.  Don’t care what they do to you and they do nothing.

But like every emotionally abused child who has ever thought that before or after Vanyel, all it does is serve to isolate him further.

Left in his aunt’s care, he has no clue what to make of his unexpected freedom, his lessons with the bards, or Tylendel (one of his aunt’s students.)  His lessons, though, only serve to crush his one remaining hope–that he would be taken into Bardic Collegium and be made a Bard.  He’s a beautiful musician, but he doesn’t have the bardic gift and he doesn’t compose–and he’d need one of the two for them to remove him from the position of his father’s heir.  Vanyel is left without hope for the future.

Vanyel’s drawn to Tylendel, but has no words to describe what it is he’s feeling or why until a girl at court mocks ‘Lendel’s sexual preferences.  It is a lightning bolt to Vanyel, who hadn’t even realized that such pairings were even possible.  Watching them come together is powerful, as is the scene from the next morning when they sit down with his aunt to talk about what will happen now that he and Tylendel are a couple…

“The first problem and the one that’s going to tie in to all the others, Vanyel, is your father.”  She paused, and Vanyel bit his lip.  “I’m sure your realize that if he finds out about this, he is going to react badly.”

Vanyel coughed, and bowed his head, hiding his face for a moment.  When he looked back up, we was wearing a weary, ironic half-smile; a smile that had as much pain in it as humor.  It was, by far and away, the most open expression Savil had ever seen him wear.

“‘Badly’ is something of an understatement, Aunt,” he replied rubbing his temple with one finger.  “He’ll–gods, I can’t predict what he’ll do, but he’ll be in a rage, that’s for certain.”

“He’ll pull you home, Van.” Tylendel said in a completely flat voice.  “And he can do it; you’re not of age, you aren’t Chosen, and you’re aren’t in Bardic.”

“And I can’t protect you,” Savil sighed, wishing that she could.  “I can stall him off for a while, seeing as he officially turned guardianship of you over to me, but it won’t last more than a couple of months.  Then–well, I’ll give you my educated guess as to what Withen will do.  I think he’ll put you under house arrest long enough for everyone to forget about you, then find himself a compliant priest and ship you off to a temple.  Probably one far away, with very strict rules about outside contact.  There are, I’m sorry to say, several sects who hold that the shay’a’chern are tainted.  They’d be only to happy to ‘purify’ you for Withen and Withen’s gold.  And under the laws of the kingdom, none of us could save you from them.”

Looking back, it’s pretty revolutionary that this scene was written in the late 80’s when homosexuality was a huge cultural taboo and AIDS was a death sentence.  The Reagan administration was delaying research into HIV/AIDS because it was seen as a “gay disease.”  It was written long before conversion therapy was debunked as dangerous and damaging.  Lackey’s sex scenes are all off-page, but she was writing relationships like Tylendel and Vanyel (and even a potential all female triad relationship years earlier) long before we were having cultural discussions about LGBTQA representations in media and critiquing lack of representation.

While the spectre of Vanyel’s father looms over the relationship and has them playing a double game, the real danger to the relationship is from ‘Lendel.  More to the point, Tylendel’s obsession with a family feud his family has going with the Leshara family.  Lendel’s twin brother is the lord of their holding, and Lendel wants to take his side.  Heralds must be neutral, and Lendel is anything but.  When his brother is murdered, Tylendel’s control snaps, and he uses Vanyel to seek revenge.

—and that’s just the first half of the book.

Mercedes Lackey signs autographs at CONvergence (source wikipedia)

The book isn’t just noteworthy because it was before its time on LGBT characters.  These are complex characters.  Vanyel is hurting and emotionally damaged, but he can also be a jerk.  He’s dependent on Tylendel and he never really stops to wonder if ‘Lendel’s plans are a good idea.  He is self-centered and arrogant.  He’s also starving for love, sweet, and deeply caring.  Tylendel is obsessive, but doesn’t mean to use Vanyel in the way that he does.  Savil is aware of Tylendel’s obsession but doesn’t take it seriously enough.  Characters are imperfect and they screw up.

Her characters go on emotional journeys–they grow and they change and those moments are often painful.  The first time I read the book, it had me sobbing.  Rereading it over the past few days, even though I knew what was coming and what will happen in the next two books in the series, I was still blinking back tears.

If you like fantasy, I really can’t recommend Magic’s Pawn highly enough.

Short list of recommended Lackey books are–Black Gryphon (maaaaaaybe White Gryphon, definitely not Silver Gryphon), Vanyel’s trilogy, Vows and Honor duo, Arrow’s trilogy, By the Sword, Winds Trilogy, and the Mage Wars trilogy. The rest of the Valdemar books are questionable if not infuriating to me. Some of her work that has gone out of print that is excellent if you come across it used are the Serrated Edge books and the Diana Tregarde books. The Fire Rose is excellent. The rest of the elemental books are hit or miss. She’s great, but it’s too often a crapshoot for her to still be on my auto-buy list, although there was a time when she was.

You can buy Magic’s Pawn for 2.99 on kindle.

Seven Books I Love, part two–In Death series by JD Robb

There’s a Facebook meme going around where you list seven of your favorite books in seven days. I thought I’d do mine as a series of blog posts. I’m going to cheat and do a few series mixed in with single books. This is not an absolute list–this is my seven of many favorite books. I could do one of these for children’s books, YA, adult, romance, and I’d still never even approach naming all my favorite books.

That said, here is book (series) two… In Death by JD Robb (aka Nora Roberts)

 

Book 47–Leverage in Death, releasing Sept 4, 2018

For the airline executives finalizing a merger that would make news in the business world, the nine a.m. meeting would be a major milestone. But after marketing VP Paul Rogan walked into the plush conference room, strapped with explosives, the headlines told of death and destruction instead. The NYPSD’s Eve Dallas confirms that Rogan was cruelly coerced by two masked men holding his family hostage. His motive was saving his wife and daughter—but what was the motive of the masked men?

Despite the chaos and bad publicity, blowing up one meeting isn’t going to put the brakes on the merger. All it’s accomplished is shattering a lot of innocent lives. Now, with the help of her billionaire husband Roarke, Eve must untangle the reason for an inexplicable act of terror, look at suspects inside and outside both corporations, and determine whether the root of this crime lies in simple sabotage, or something far more complex and twisted.

This makes the list because after forty-six books and a ton of novellas, Robb (acclaimed romance author Nora Roberts) manages to keep the series from being stagnant or bloated. I started reading the series fairly early on (book one was published in 1995), and have been reading it since around 2000/2001. I like it so much that I was willing to buy each book in hardcover, rather than wait for a library copy or for it to come out in paperback. Once I started reading consistently on kindle, around when we moved to Singapore in 2010, I started buying the books on kindle. When a new book in the series appears on my kindle (two are released a year) I drop everything to read it.

One of the things Robb does well is to develop our main character Eve’s story while continuing to develop and introduce a huge cast of secondary characters. Eve is the Lieutenant in the Homicide Department of the New York Police and Safety Department in 2161 (as of the last book), and we know her husband, her partner, her best friend and her family, most of the cops in her division, the chief psychologist, and other characters.

The characters grow and evolve–Eve’s partner starts off as a beat cop who becomes Eve’s trainee and her eventual partner, as an example. Eve meets her husband in book one and their relationship has grown and evolved.

Eve’s husband is a billionaire, so it does play into that trope. He’s also a tech genius who owns half of Manhattan. Because of that, Eve has access to an incredible arsenal of toys, which if you’re not into the trope might annoy you.

Each book plays out with a serial killer, and several murders occur over the course of the book. Fans of murder mystery/police procedurals will find it satisfying on that count. Romance fans will respond to the sex scenes between Roarke and Eve.

There is a phase where Eve is invincible and just magically figures things out that is somewhat frustrating if you’re reading them all back to back (a project I did last year), but for the most part she is fallible and can end up going in the wrong direction.

As long as the series stays this fresh, I’ll keep reading them.

Start with Naked in Death (book 1) 7.99 on kindle. I’m sure you could also jump in wherever you wanted and it would be okay, but I think it’s best to start at the beginning.

Seven Books I Love, part one–The Jewels series by Anne Bishop

There’s a Facebook meme going around where you list seven of your favorite books in seven days. I thought I’d do mine as a series of blog posts. I’m going to cheat and do a few series mixed in with single books. This is not an absolute list–this is my seven of many favorite books. I could do one of these for children’s books, YA, adult, romance, and I’d still never even approach naming all my favorite books.

That said, here is book (series) one…

 

Seven hundred years ago, a Black Widow witch saw an ancient prophecy come to life in her web of dreams and visions.

Now the Dark Kingdom readies itself for the arrival of its Queen, a Witch who will wield more power than even the High Lord of Hell himself. But she is still young, still open to influence—and corruption.

Whoever controls the Queen controls the darkness. Three men—sworn enemies—know this. And they know the power that hides behind the blue eyes of an innocent young girl. And so begins a ruthless game of politics and intrigue, magic and betrayal, where the weapons are hate and love—and the prize could be terrible beyond imagining…

The Jewels series by Anne Bishop is such a favorite of mine that I usually reread it annually, with dips into a single book or the audiobook of Heir to the Shadows here and there. Daughter of the Blood does the world building and heavy lifting. I often skip it in my rereads, but I recommend reading it for first timers. Heir to the Shadows is by far my favorite book as it’s the lull between the bad of book one and the big show down of book three, and features some hilarious secondary characters.

I really like this series for the same reasons I like Anne Bishop’s writing in general. I think her world building is creative and expansive. She understands how her worlds work (as Seanan McGuire says–you need to understand and follow your own rules and the reader will follow you) and doesn’t go around changing the rules unnecessarily or rewriting her cannon (I’ll bring this up again with regards to a different series). Her characters come alive and are a mix of clashing and complementary personalities. The dialog is good and the character’s voices are distinct.

Why the Jewels series and not the Others or Ephemera or Gaian? There’s a playfulness to this series, despite the at time extremely dark events going on. One of my all time favorite characters, Karla, is the Queen of Glacia and one of Witch’s childhood playmates. When she appears in book two, she’s the first of Janaelle’s friends to demand to see the friend who’s been gone for years (for reasons explained between the end of book one and start of book two). She has a wicked sense of humor and a tartness tempered by a good heart. She is a literary crush, and yes, I’ve written some fanfic in my head involving her.

Witch is Jaenelle, a child who is so powerful that basic Craft is impossible for her, but she can do things no one else can do. She is destined to be the Queen of Darkness, but has no desire to rule others. However, because she can’t do basic Craft her family thinks she’s a waste of space, and when she talks about the fantastic creatures and people she’s met (like Karla, and unicorns, and so forth) she’s told she’s mentally disturbed and institutionalized. That leaves deep scars on her that remain the rest of the series.

She could go towards Darkness if the High Priestess gets her way, or to the Light if the High Lord of Hell can protect her.

The trilogy is the basis for the rest of the series. I also like the two books of three novellas each she’s released as well as The Shadow Queen and Shalador’s Lady, the latter two of which focus on another main character but feature the characters from the trilogy. I was not a huge fan of Tangled Webs–I think it’s the weakest book in the series, but the framing device of a horror house that can actually kill you, set as a trap for the SaDiablo family didn’t work for me, nor did I think Surreal carried a book on her own well.

If you like fantasy with an edge of dark eroticism, you’ll like this series.

Trigger warning–there is a rape of a child in book one and the repercussions of that rape echo through the rest of the series.

You can buy an omnibus of the trilogy in paperback here  for 20 USD or you can separately buy Daughter of the Blood (2.99 on kindle), Heir to the Shadows (5.99 on kindle), and Queen of Darkness (8.99 on kindle).

Book Review–Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

My love for Alisha Rai’s writing is established. She’s one of a small list of authors on my auto-buy list (others include JD Robb’s In Death Series, anything by Anne Bishop, Seanan McGuire, or Beverly Jenkins).

Hate to Want You is the first book in the Forbidden Hearts Trilogy.

One night. No one will know.

That was the deal. Every year, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler would share one perfect night of illicit pleasure. The forbidden hours let them forget the tragedy that haunted their pasts—and the last names that made them enemies.

Until the night she didn’t show up.

Now Nicholas has an empire to run. He doesn’t have time for distractions and Livvy’s sudden reappearance in town is a major distraction. She’s the one woman he shouldn’t want . . . so why can’t he forget how right she feels in his bed?

Livvy didn’t come home for Nicholas, but fate seems determined to remind her of his presence—and their past. Although the passion between them might have once run hot and deep, not even love can overcome the scandal that divided their families.

Being together might be against all the rules . . . but being apart is impossible.

The Kanes and the Chandlers were as close as families could get. Livvy and Nicholas’s grandfathers founded a grocery chain together. But when Livvy’s dad and Nicholas’s mom die in a car together, when they weren’t supposed to even be in the same state, the relationship falls apart. Nicholas’s dad somehow acquired the Kane half of the stores, Livvy’s brother is jailed for arson–burning down the flagship store, and Livvy left town.

Livvy may have quit town, but Nicholas is harder to quit. He shows up at the tattoo studio where she’s working and ignites everything she’s tried to forget.

Rai’s writing–as always–sparkles. You care, deeply, about Livvy and Nicholas. You want to know what really happened the night of the car wreck. You can’t help but be sucked in. The entire trilogy ends up being fast reading because you just don’t want to put the books down.

Livvy and Nicholas are both three dimensional, with strengths and faults. Livvy has panic attacks. Nicholas is manipulated by his father. They have their own history to deal with, and not just the years of the one-night-only rule. They each have a unique voice, and you never blur who’s point of view we’re in at any given moment.

The pacing is good. The present unrolls, introducing us to the characters and doing the heavy lifting for world building for the series. The past is unveiled tantalizing slice by tantalizing slice–both the history of the families, and the history between Livvy and Nicholas.

I highly recommend not just this book but the entire series.

 

Review Six Weeks with a Lord by Eve Pendle

Grace Alnott’s dowry comes with a condition: she must marry a lord. Desperate for money to rescue her little brother from his abusive but aristocratic guardian, she offers half her dowry in return for a marriage of convenience.

Everett, Lord Westbury, needs money for his brother’s debtors just as cattle plague threatens to destroy his estate. Grace’s bargain is a perfect solution, until he is committed and realizes gossip exaggerated her wealth. So he makes his own terms. She must live with him for six weeks, long enough to seduce her into staying and surrendering her half of the dowry. But their deal means he can’t claim any husbandly rights. He has to tempt her into seducing him.

Their marriage is peppered with secrets, attraction, and prejudices that will change everything.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This is a great book, friends–I finished it in just over a day. I’m a sucker for a relationship of convenience that turns to romance. In 2018 with all the sexist bullshit and #metoo, I’ve also become a huge fan of enthusiastic consent. And of course, I need an independent female protagonist.

Grace is bent but not broken by her father’s will. He wanted her to marry Lord Rayner, but after everything that happened between the Lord and her maid, she wants nothing to do with him. Moreover, as leverage for her father’s attempts to matchmake Grace with Lord Rayner, he has given the Lord custody of Grace’s five year old brother Henry. The only way to get Henry back is to satisfy the condition put on her dowry–the only money she was left by her father–is to marry a Lord. So she decides upon a marriage of convenience in exchange for half her dowry. She gets the means to pursue custody of Henry, and her husband gets cash.

Of the three suitors Grace finds, Lord Everett is the only reasonable candidate, so she marries him. He negotiates a six week period in which he plans to seduce her into giving him her half of her dowry so he can pay his brother’s debts.

I love the evolution of the relationship. Everett falls first, which is a lovely change, and his honoring of the deal that he not claim any rights–that she must make the first move–is very hot. The slow burn between the two of them is well done, and the reader gets easily caught up in it.

The dialogue reflects that evolution as well. Grace starts off more reserved around Everett. Her experiences with Rayner have deeply affected her view of the aristocracy and she doesn’t trust him. She’s counting the days until she can leave at the beginning. But over time, she opens up and begins to let her guard down, and as she does so, the dialogue reflects that shift. On Everett’s side, what start out as calculated approaches turn genuine. It also stays consistent with other historical novels I’ve read, where the dialogue is period-appropriate, but not stilted.

I do not have a degree in Victorian England, but as a reader nothing jumped out at me as an obvious anachronism. From my perspective, Pendle has a strong grasp on her time period.

The secondary characters could be a little more fleshed out and that the resolution of the story was a bit fast for me. But those are very minor complaints.

 

Six Weeks with a Lord is available for pre-order. It will be published on 6/25

 

Review: Rogue Hearts

I recieved a copy of Rogue Hearts in exchange for an honest review.

Rogue Hearts is the fourth book in the Rogue series.

From high office to the heartland, six brand-new romances about #resistance for readers who haven’t given up hope for a Happily Ever After…

In Her Service by Suleikha Snyder

U.S. Vice President Letitia Hughes has one thing that’s hers and only hers: her relationship with much younger Secret Service agent Shahzad Khan. When push comes to shove, what will take precedence: political ambitions or protecting their hearts?

In Her Service was one of my favorite stories in this anthology. I wish Letitia Hughes was the VP already. It’s 2020-2024 in this story, and Hughes and the president (also a woman!) are cleaning up the mess of the administration that came before them. But in private, Letitia has Shahzad, a man devoted not just to protecting her body, but to loving her. I adore a  forbidden romance, especially when there’s a power dynamic as well, and it’s great to see the woman as the more powerful one in a m/f story.

In Her Service also has plenty of hot sex as well as heart.

Run by Emma Barry

Public defender Maddie Clark doesn’t want to be a candidate for the state senate—but she’s running. Her high school nemesis turned campaign advisor Adam Kadlick shouldn’t be back home managing campaigns—but he is. They definitely should avoid falling for each other—but they won’t.

Another favorite story. Maddie and Adam have this great slow burn of a relationship. The evolution of Maddie as a candidate is done in a deft, believable way. When it comes out that Adam was planning to return to LA, it breaks the burgeoning relationship, and Adam has to work to repair it. Meanwhile, Adam is struggling with the decision of whether or not to go back to LA or to stay in Montana. The story has depth and it’s easy to root for Maddie and Adam.

The Rogue Files by Stacey Agdern

Reporter John DiCenza wants to go back. To New Jersey, to his life, the hockey team he covers, and the fanbase he’s proud to know and support. Back to before he had the Rogue Files, documents rumored to be the final nail in President Crosby’s term.

Journalist Sophie Katz wants to move forward. Toward her new TV show, and a life where the stories she tells will make a difference. She needs the Rogue Files and the story behind them to get there.

But when life comes at them, John and Sophie realize that the true story behind the files is standing up for the truth right where you are.

John and Sophie have history, but neither wants it to get in the way of the story. John has the information but is tired of looking over his shoulder, and Sophie wants to expose the corruption in the files. The story is good, although a bit disjointed at times.

Coming Up Rosa by Kelly Maher

When her mother’s health crisis forces Rosa Donnelly back to her hometown, she crosses paths with her former crush, and town goldenboy, Ian Stroman. Ian’s shine is even brighter thanks to his advocacy work to fight inhumane government policies. However, their past hurt sand a current business threat may spike their chance at happiness.

Another favorite is Coming up Rosa. Rosa is uncomfortable in the small town she comes from, but she has to go home to support her mom. She has a lot of insecurity about how her family has taken handouts from the Stromans in the past, and Ian’s mother picking up the tab for her mother’s medication at the start of the story only reinforces that. Ian has begun to speak out about injustice in a company newsletter, just as he knows his grandfather would have. But his relatives believe his political beliefs will hurt their bottom line.

Rosa had a crush on Ian as a young woman, but he’d brushed her off. But now, he wants to win her over. The development and hiccups in their relationship are well done, and I enjoyed it immensely. I especially love the way Maher includes snippets of the company newsletter that is causing all the controversy in Ian’s life.

The Sheriff & Mr. Devine by Amy Jo Cousins

There’s a new sheriff in Clear Lake and he has Eli Devine, the town librarian, on edge. Between arguing with the town council about inclusive library programming and keeping his three grandmas from getting into trouble, Eli has enough on his plate already. He doesn’t need the imposing Sheriff Baxter to be so very . . . distracting. Luckily for Eli, John Baxter is full of all kinds of good ideas, both for the town and for one stubborn librarian in particular.

The Sheriff & Mr Devine is a sweet romance. Eli has an instant crush on the new sheriff, until he suggests that one of his aunts might be developing dementia. Meanwhile, John has plans to win over Eli.

I really liked this story, but it feels incomplete. There’s a lot of set-up, but it feels like there isn’t really a payoff. We never see the issue of the aunt’s dementia resolved, for example. Cousins sets up what looks like a great m/m romance, but it just stops. Cousins says that she plans a longer story about them, and I would be very interested to read it.

Good Men by Tamsen Parker

Laid-back Benji Park is the keyboard player for the world’s hottest boy band, License to Game. While LtG is no stranger to charity gigs, Benji’s never been what you’d call a social justice warrior. But when smart, sexy, and ruthless immigration lawyer Jordan Kennedy comes along and asks Benji for a favor, he just may change his tune.

Good Men has an excellent extended sex scene. I love the emphasis on consent, and the way Benji is willing to stop if Jordan is uncomfortable. The set-up is well done–we know where the band came from, and why Benji cares about immigration. Jordan convinces Benji, who in turn convinces the band, to play at a benefit concert. But I would’ve enjoyed a longer story with these characters.

 

I highly recommend Rogue Hearts, and I’m now interested in reading the other books in the series. Buy it on Amazon today.

Review: A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

A Princess in Theory kicks off Alyssa Cole’s new series, Reluctant Royals.

I couldn’t put this book down. Ledi and Thabiso’s story is part modern fairy-tale (a prince in disguise) part secret identity exposed (prince? Or fuckboy?) and a hell of a lot of fun.

Ledi is a broke grad student working two jobs (in a lab and at a restaurant). She keeps getting these emails telling her she’s the betrothed of an African prince. Finally sick of deleting them, she finally responds FUCK OFF. Thabiso is the heir to the throne of Thesolo. His betrothed’s family disappeared when she was a little girl. When his assistant tracks Ledi down, he goes to the restaurant where she works to demand to know where she’s been, why her family left, and to see this woman who would dare tell him to FUCK OFF. When he arrives, she mistakes him for the new server she’s supposed to be training that night. So Thabiso becomes Jamal, and predictably fucks up, including accidentally starting a literal fire, which Naledi ends up putting out.

As Jamal, Thabiso rents the apartment opposite Ledi’s for the week that he’s in New York. She’s mistrustful at first, but things heat up between them. Thabiso knows he should tell Ledi the truth, but keeps putting it off. Ledi’s friend takes her to a fundraiser where the guest of honor is some prince from an African country–and Ledi is shocked and betrayed when she learns of “Jamal’s” deception.

That would be the end of the story, but a mysterious illness is affecting people in Thesolo, including Ledi’s grandparents. As a epidemiologist, Ledi has the qualifications to help diagnose and understand the illness. She agrees to pose as the future princess in order to help with the illness.

Will Ledi leave Thabiso? Can he persuade her to stay?

This is a great book. I love that the heroine is a scientist and completely dismissive of Thabiso, who has never been treated that way before. Thabiso is three dimensional, and his feelings and guilt evolve in a sympathetic way. The illness, and the lingering questions of why her family left Thesolo create great background for Ledi and Thabiso’s story.

Ledi’s best friend Portia is a hot mess. She has issues with alcoholism, and Ledi struggles to draw a line with her. She’s the star of the follow up book, A Duke by Default (out in 2018), having sworn to turn the page. She also has a twin (in a wheelchair–yay for inclusion) with whom there are as yet unexplored simmering tensions. She’s fleshed out enough to be intriguing, and I look forward to seeing more of her.

Thabiso’s assistant Likoti is great. She’s his one real close friend who gives no fucks that he’s her prince (and boss) and calls him on his shit. She has her own off-screen adventures in NYC that are alluded to, and her dynamic with Thabiso gives Thabiso depth. I wish we saw more of her.

The sex scenes are H-O-T. I definitely squirmed in the good way more than once.

The only real weaknesses is that the illness and the mystery of why Ledi’s parents left is dealt with a bit more quickly than I would’ve liked. Ledi’s mom was the queen’s best friend and her disappearance (and Ledi’s reappearance) are a big part of why the queen interacts with Ledi the way she does. But given that Ledi’s parents are dead (she grew up in foster care) without a flashback scene or more exposition I’m not sure how Cole could’ve given us more there.

I love Alyssa Cole’s style, and am looking forward to the second book. If you’re looking for fluffy romance with great sex scenes, you should read A Princess in Theory.

Buy A Princess in Theory on Amazon

Review: Game of Hearts by Cathy Yardley

I’m a huge nerd, and it’s rare for me to find a romance with a nerdy girl/guy at the heart of the romance. Enter the Fandom Hearts series by Cathy Yardley–I’d previously read and reviewed Level Up, the first novella in the series.

Although I somehow missed book two in Fandom Hearts, this third installment still worked as a stand-alone as well as part of a series.

Kyla and her brother own a mechanic’s shop. But when Billy breaks his arm and expects Kyla not only to take up the slack but to defer her dream of staying a costuming business, she finds another solution. Jericho left town nine years ago, and has been drifting around the country doing custom motorcycle builds and mechanic work. But when Kyla asks him for help, he’s willing to go back to Snoqualmie for a short break. But the Machinists, the motorcycle club he’s been with since he left, need him too.

I loved the chemistry between Kyla and Jericho. They were both great characters, but they made each other better. The sex is well written and steamy.

The dialog is snappy, and peppered with pop culture references. As a geek, I love this series because the women are just like me and I can relate to them so well. And what good is a romance if you don’t find a way to connect with the leads?

The side characters are also well fleshed out, and even having missed a book, I was able to see the connections and get a glimpse into their backstories. I appreciate, even as a side character, that there is someone with severe agoraphobia who isn’t pitied or seen as someone to fix. There’s also a gender fluid character who is similarly just accepted as they are.

Whether as part of the series or a standalone, I recommend this book.

Buy it on Amazon

Review: Hunt Her by Elle Q Sabine

Hunt Her

When I decided to read Hunt Her, I expected I was settling in for a Vampire book. Which I was. Sort of. Sabine blends Vampire lore, Irish tales of the Sidhe (familiar to most fantasy readers as fairies), and even some Angelic mythology, throws it in a blender and comes up with something entirely new. To put the cherry on the sundae, the “vamps” are actually human women necessary for a vampire’s survival, and his very sanity.

I think this is one of the book’s biggest strengths. As someone who has been reading fantasy for three decades, I am in love with the story of the Sabine’s vampires and how what I think I know about many different groups is both right and wrong. However, as someone who has been reading fantasy for three decades, I often had to stop, force myself to step away from every assumption I have about words like “vampire” and “sidhe’ and let her do her world building. That isn’t a weakness in Sabine, but if you are also a long-time fantasy reader, you need to be open to letting Sabine change up the tropes.

I liked the relationship dynamic between Valor and Meghan. They have a dynamic that allows for Valor’s alpha personality, and Sabine ensures that Meghan is no pushover either. Meghan has a mysterious backstory that unfolds in tandem to her search for her brother and her relationship with Valor. She isn’t going to let Valor’s arrival derail her search.

This is the first in a series, so we have many more books to come to help continue to flesh out her world. I hope the second book deals at least in part with an ending plot point of Valor’s general finding his vamp and her wanting nothing to do with him. I want to see more of them.

Her life on hold for a decade, Meghan’s ready to take it back and move forward. Valor is ready too. The Vampire Master won’t let her disappear, not ever again. Meghan doesn’t understand the dreamwalker who comes to her at night. After years of sleeping medication to subdue nightmares, she is unprepared when the handsome stranger who stood guard over her childhood returns to her dreams. Now that she’s grown, he’s intent on possession and seduction. When he shows up in her life, real and not a dream, she’s horrified . . . and enthralled. But life isn’t waiting around for Meghan to play out the traditional script of meeting, falling in love and living happily ever after. Desperate to reclaim some part of her childhood, Meghan leaves behind the man who wants her in search of her long-lost brother. But Valor is not a man who is willing to be left behind, not again. The years he spent unable to find Meghan-not knowing if she was happy, healthy or even safe-were difficult enough. He’ll find Meghan and bring her into a world she doesn’t even imagine exists, and he’ll find a way to keep her at his side-forever. Because he’s not just some man Meghan met in a library. Valor isn’t a man at all.

Hunt Her is available as an e-book and paperback everywhere, including Amazon.