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Barefoot at Midnight

by Roxanne St. Claire
October 18, 2016 · South Street Publishing
RomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Turophile. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Mid-Length Contemporary category.

The summary:

Roxanne St. Claire’s “Timeless” books celebrate the appeal of the silver fox hero! A little older, a lot wiser, and completely sexy, the heroes in the Barefoot Bay Timeless books are men in their 40’s and 50’s who find a second chance at love. Roxanne says her readers aren’t 23…so why should the man of their dreams be that young? The Timeless books are all set on the moon-washed beaches of Barefoot Bay, a tropical island paradise that has been the setting for many beloved romances by this author. Joining the billionaires, brides, and bodyguards on the beach, readers can now kick off their shoes and fall in love with a man aged to perfection!

Barefoot at Midnight

Lawson Monroe is a chef without a restaurant…but his friend and mentor makes a deathbed promise to leave Law the only dive bar on Mimosa Key. Law has big plans for the place, until he walks directly into the luscious body and gorgeous face of Libby Chesterfield and her outrageous claim that the Toasted Pelican should come to her.

When Libby learned that the man who once owned the crappiest watering hole on the island was actually her biological father, she decided the least he owed her was his unclaimed business. The old man wasn’t there for her when she and her brother were growing up near Barefoot Bay, but his legacy can help her build a new future when she transforms the property into Balance, a yoga studio. The only obstacle? Her father apparently named former bad boy and current sexy silver fox Lawless Monroe his heir.

Law never thought he’d want anything more than the chance to make a living cooking his food for the people of Barefoot Bay…but Libby arouses an irresistible hunger in him. Battling an attraction that sizzles hotter than one of Law’s cast-iron skillets and uncovering long-buried secrets with more twists than one of Libby’s yoga poses, they’ll have find a way to both get what they want…especially if what they really want is each other.

Here is Turophile's review:

I’d like to start by applauding a series about mature adults finding romance – Gen-X adults even! As a woman who falls into that category I wholeheartedly approve. And if you can get past the crazy-sauce goofiness of the underlying book, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Our hero, Lawson Monroe, or Law for short, is a chef looking for a restaurant. He makes a deathbed promise to Jake, the man who saved him on many occasions, to continue operating the Toasted Pelican. Except Jake didn’t leave a will, at least one that Law could find, and he spends months after Jake’s death trying to track down the person who’s taken possession of the place.

That person would be Libby Chesterfield, and her brother Sam, former classmates of Law’s. Their ne’er do well mother claimed shortly after his death that Jake was their father and she had the birth certificates to prove it. Without a will, Sam determines that if they can keep operating the place for a year it will then be theirs. (I skipped Wills & Trust class in law school, but this seems really odd . .. )

When Law and Libby encounter each other – the sparks fly. The physical attraction is obvious. And despite their diametrically opposed interests in the property, they work together to determine who really should own the Pelican. Every time you think they have it figured out, there’s another twist to the story.

It’s a fun romance, but by no means perfect. The references to Libby’s “rack” detracted from the story, especially when paired with the name “Chesterfield.” I wish Libby’s character was more developed. It was hard to like her, especially during the first half of the book. For example, she ground her heel into her daughter’s foot. Who does that?! Other than the aforementioned rack, it’s difficult to determine what Law sees in her. Her character is fleshed out more in the latter part of the book, but at that point it seems too late.

It’s another book I’d love to rate higher, if for no other reason than to encourage more romance for and about Gen-Xers. It’s a fun, but flawed book so I’m going to give it a C.

Cake, FBI Agents, & Horses!

Jun. 22nd, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Under Her Skin

Under Her Skin by Adriana Anders is $1.88 at Amazon and $2.99 elsewhere! Readers warn that this is a contemporary romance on the darker side, but many say this is a great debut by Anders. I’m actually reading this right now and I love it. It’s definitely dark, so if that’s not your thing, stay away. But the hero is a blacksmith with Beta qualities. I’m in love!

Battered by a life determined to tear him down, this quiet ex-con’s scarred hands may be the gentlest touch she’ll ever know.

…if only life were a fairy tale where Beauty was allowed to keep her Beast

Ivan thought the world was through giving him second chances. Who’d want a rough ex-con with a savior complex and a bad habit of bringing home helpless strays? Everyone in Blackwood, Virginia knew he wasn’t good enough for the fine things in life; they knew he was too damaged to save. He just needed to keep his head down, work himself to the bone, and pretend he was content with the lot he was given.

Until she came into his life. Until she changed everything.

Until he realized he would do anything, fight anyone, tear the world apart if it meant saving her.

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A Gentleman’s Game

RECOMMENDED: A Gentleman’s Game by Theresa Romain is 99c! Redheadedgirl read this historical romance and gave it an A:

Theresa Romain basically created a series just for me, and the first full-length book just confirms it. She reached into my head and found the references and plot that would make me happiest, and gave those thoughts a beautiful cover and said, “Here!”

In Book One of Romance of the Turf, a refreshing new Regency series from rising star Theresa Romain, a mystery demanding to be solved brings unlikely allies together in more ways than one

How far will a man go

Talented but troubled, the Chandler family seems cursed by bad luck-and so Nathaniel Chandler has learned to trade on his charm. He can broker a deal with anyone from a turf-mad English noble to an Irish horse breeder. But Nathaniel’s skills are tested when his stable of trained Thoroughbreds become suspiciously ill just before the Epsom Derby, and he begins to suspect his father’s new secretary is not as innocent as she seems.

To win a woman’s secretive heart?

Nathaniel would be very surprised if he knew why Rosalind Agate was really helping his family in their quest for a Derby victory. But for the sake of both their livelihoods, Rosalind and Nathaniel must set aside their suspicions. As Derby Day draws near, her wit and his charm make for a successful investigative team…and light the fires of growing desire. But Rosalind’s life is built on secrets and Nathaniel’s on charisma, and neither defense will serve them once they lose their hearts…

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Special Agent Francesca

Special Agent Francesca by Mimi Barbour is 99c! This romantic suspense is bursting with catnip! There’s an introverted FBI agent who goes undercover. There’s a fake relationship. Plus, a psychiatrist/criminal profiler hero. Hello! This is a standalone and readers loved the heroine, but some found the pacing a bit uneven.

An introvert, Special Agent Francesca moves to Las Vegas to escape her powerful, domineering mother. On arrival, multiple obstacles challenge her. She needs to approach a father she’s never met, a man who doesn’t even know she exists. Then she must play the role of a loving fiancée with a stranger. One who makes her question every unexpected emotion he provokes. Craving the chance for real undercover work, she grabs the opportunity to be involved in cleaning up gang corruption in a nasty neighborhood. When she poses as the new owner of a hotel, the deadly-dangerous situation ramps up and she’s forced to fight her way from one conflict to the next.

Sean Collins, Psychiatrist and LVPD Profiler, has never known anyone like Francesca Donovan. From first sight, he believes her to be a screwball but her beauty and maddening personality attracts him. Despite her prickly disposition, which gets them into a load of trouble, her rotten driving skills and her constant battles, he’s hooked. Once he’s roped into a mock engagement with her, his desire to make it real takes precedence over everything else in his world.

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American Cake

American Cake by Anne Byrn is $1.99! This book make an appearance in a previous Redheadedgirl’s Historical Kitchen post. Readers loved the blend of recipes and history. However, some reviewers found the historical aspects a bit patronizing. See this Goodreads review for more on that.

Cakes in America aren’t just about sugar, flour, and frosting. They have a deep, rich history that developed as our country grew. Cakes, more so than other desserts, are synonymous with celebration and coming together for happy times. They’re an icon of American culture, reflecting heritage, region, season, occasion, and era. And they always have been, throughout history.

In American Cake, Anne Byrn, creator of the New York Timesbestselling series The Cake Mix Doctor, takes you on a journey through America’s past to present with more than 125 authentic recipes for our best-loved and beautiful cakes and frostings. Tracing cakes chronologically from the dark, moist gingerbread of New England to the elegant pound cake, the hardscrabble Appalachian stack cake, war cakes, deep-South caramel, Hawaiian Chantilly, and the modern California cakes of orange and olive oil, Byrn shares recipes, stories, and a behind-the-scenes look into what cakes we were baking back in time. From the well-known Angel Food, Red Velvet, Pineapple Upside-Down, Gooey Butter, and Brownie to the lesser-known Burnt Leather, Wacky Cake, Lazy Daisy, and Cold Oven Pound Cake, this is a cookbook for the cook, the traveler, or anyone who loves a good story. And all recipes have been adapted to the modern kitchen.


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The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Jun. 22nd, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by Redheadedgirl


The Alice Network

by Kate Quinn
June 6, 2017 · William Morrow Paperbacks
RomanceContemporary Romance

This is also part of my, “Okay, universe, just tell me what to read” campaign. This book has a lot of my catnip: lady spies, a dual chronology, and a host of people trying to put their lives back together after a war.

In 1947, Charlotte “Charlie” St. Clair is in England with her mother. She’s on her way to Switzerland for an abortion. She’s a college sophomore, unmarried, and her parents have decided that the way to handle her unplanned pregnancy is to remove it.  What she really wants, however, is to find her cousin Rose, who disappeared in France during WWII. Rose is the only person in Charlie’s family to understand Charlie, and Charlie is desperate to find her.

In 1915, Eve Gardinier is recruited to be a spy for the Allies. She’s stationed in Lille, France, which is near the Belgian border and occupied by the Germans. She speaks French, English, and German, and has one of those faces that looks completely innocent and incapable of lying. She gets a job in a cafe where German officers congregate, eavesdrops on them while clearing their plates, and passes any interesting and useful information on to the British. Her contact is a woman who calls herself Lili, and she has a network of spies and contacts up and down the border, called the Alice Network.

The main theme of the WWI portion is “How can I serve.” Eve, in her life in England, wants to serve her country, but no one will allow her, simply because she has a stammer. Because of the stammer, people assume she’s stupid or mentally disabled. But the captain in charge of running spies in France recognizes her talents and gives her a way to serve. The other women in the Alice Network are in similar positions: this option was the best way they had to help with the war effort. Of course, sometimes the desire to serve, to help with all of your abilities, costs a great deal, and there’s the question if you’re really willing to pay that price. Eve finds herself paying a great deal more than she ever expected, for decades.

The theme of the post WWII portions is related: what is the human cost of all this war and suffering? Eve is still suffering from the psychological (and physical) effects of her service in WWI. Eve has a driver, Finn, a Scotsman who was part of the group that liberated one of the concentration camps, and that experience still haunts him. Charlie, who was in high school during the war, did not serve, but her brother came back a different person, and eventually killed himself. Charlie’s response to that trauma was to try to find a way to feel things again by sex, which did not work out the way she intended.

The trick with a dual chronology is making sure the two stories weave together and come to a climax that complement each other. The other trick is making sure your two timelines are equally interesting. I found myself skimming the 1947 story to get back to the WWI story, which was  LOT more tense. 1947 was road trip through post-war France; 1915 was espionage. Which is more exciting?

Quinn included, probably because she saw me coming, an extensive author’s note talking about how Lili was a real person, Louise de Bettignies, who did everything she does in this book.  I know there aren’t any spoilers in history, but if you don’t know about Louise, and her service record, and you’re going to read The Alice Network, maybe… don’t… read her Wikipedia page? (We didn’t link to it on purpose.) I had no idea how this story was going to go, and I didn’t know that Lili was a real person, so I was on the edge of my seat after the 2/3 mark.

The other thing that I enjoyed was the minutiae of spy craft, such as writing messages on slips of rice paper and winding them around hairpins, or drawing maps on petticoats. Or, ways to sneak past a border checkpoint when you don’t have the right paperwork – all the details are fascinating.

There is a romance. It’s not centered in the plot, it develops very slowly and organically, and the meat of this novel is the relationships between the women. They learn how to become a honeypot, if that’s what is required, how to support each other in the darkest of timelines, and how to continue to live after everything you ever knew was torn away from you.

If you read and loved Code Name Verity ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au ) this is a book for you. I said a couple of years ago that I expected a lot of World War I stories to come out of this centennial, and I’m pretty pleased to have been right. There are a lot of really interesting stories emerging.  I’m also really interested (for various reasons) in how people deal with the PTSD that come out of traumatic periods in history, and this story is a deeply layered exploration of just that.

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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Tell Me How This Ends

by Victoria De La O
November 1, 2016 · Swerve
Historical: AmericanHistorical: EuropeanLiterary Fiction

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Erica. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Mid-Length Contemporary category.

The summary:

Brothers Jude and Ryan McAllister are inseparable. When Jude stepped in to raise Ryan after the death of their mother, it became the two of them against the world. But the scars it left were bone-deep. Then Lizzie Price comes along.

Lizzie hopes Ryan’s kindness can help heal her wounds from a toxic relationship. But when she meets Jude, their powerful attraction makes him difficult to resist. The problem is, Lizzie doesn’t realize Jude and Ryan are brothers, and they don’t know they’re falling for the same girl.

By the time the truth comes out, everyone is in too deep. Ryan is in love, Jude is in denial, and Lizzie wants both brothers. All of them agree that no one deserves to get hurt. But love and desire have a way of testing even the strongest bonds.

Here is Erica's review:

I loathe this book. LOATHE. With the fiery passion of a thousand suns. It is the absolute worst.

Wow, I need to start learning to express myself, don’t I? I almost wrote a DNF review for this at the 53% mark, but since I already did that (although that was out of apathy, not complete mind-numbing rage), I tried to force myself to read it – challenging myself that maybe it wouldn’t end like I thought it would.

It did.

Spoilers probably abound, because I am just stream-of-consciousness writing to vent off my rage. CW for the book: talk of suicide, something like revenge porn, a couple of ableist phrases, etc.

So. This book starts out with our heroine, Elizabeth (called Lizzie by almost everyone), deciding to finally approach this dude, Ryan, in her Shakespeare class after she’s been crushing on him awhile. He’s really smart, and she has no talent for Shakespeare, so she asks if he’ll tutor her. He agrees, and she’s excited to finally hang out with him. That night, she goes out with friends and some chick brings along her current friend with benefits – and Lizzie and he, Jude, of course have an instant connection and attraction. They play pool and flirt.

Lizzie is gun shy about a relationship with a “bad boy” because she had a really bad experience with her ex-boyfriend, which is what led her to leave Utah and come to big bad California.

Ryan has been crushing on Lizzie for a while too, and he’s stoked about getting to hang out with her. He tells his older brother Jude about her and Jude tells Ryan about how he met this girl who has him all twisted up too. Jude has basically taken care of Ryan since they were kids – their mom died, then their uncle died, and Jude quit college to take care of his brother, and has sacrificed a lot to make their little unit of two something like a family.

Even though Lizzie (who Jude insists on calling Elizabeth) has some pretty hot chemistry with Jude, she decides that she’s going to go for safe, nice Ryan instead. She doesn’t know they’re brothers. They don’t know that both of them are hung up on the same girl.

And the drama commences.

I literally hate all of the characters in this book. If there is anyone with any redeeming qualities, it’s Ryan. He’s sweet, but he’s a little immature. Jude completely enables Ryan in staying immature. Jude.. Jude is like Angel in Buffy. He’s moody, he’s broody, he’s devastatingly hot (apparently a social worker didn’t think he’d be great guardian material because he must have an “active social life” which Jude read as code that he has a lot of sex with a lot of different women), blahblahblah. Who cares. And Lizzie is the absolute worst friggin’ person. She is so unutterably selfish, it blows my mind. Like, woman, grow the hell up and break up with Ryan and get out of their lives. You selfish, selfish cow.

This book reminded me, in a way, of Wuthering Heights. I viciously hate Cathy and Heathcliff and think they both should be horse-whipped. That’s how I felt about Jude and Lizzie.

Because of course Lizzie’s going to choose Jude. I mean, duh. When she officially starts dating Ryan she thinks about how really nice he is. And this girl – I mean, she’s making out with Jude one day, then pushing Ryan into a relationship, then making out with him, then there’s some handsy action with Jude again, and then her and Ryan start fooling around and have sex. And it’s all just… It’s weird. And I don’t know about you but I cannot STAND it when characters in a romance have sex with a person other than their future partner in the book. And all the sex was between Lizzie and Ryan. She goes from giving Ryan a blow job that Jude overhears to being a cozy little couple with inside jokes (that Ryan doesn’t get) with Jude.

God, I hate Lizzie. I hate Jude. I hate Ryan for being a clueless wimp. I hate this friggin’ book.

There’s a part where Jude calls Lizzie a whore. There’s a part where Lizzie is talking about her Tragic Backstory with her ex – basically he was a controlling, manipulative, soon-to-be-abuser. She broke up with him and he shared naked pictures of her with everyone. Her dad did some victim blaming. When she tells the story to Ryan, he gushes about how she never let that douche get the best of her, because she’s so strong and amazing. And it’s clear from Lizzie’s reaction that she’s unhappy with his idolization, but he is just not picking up the signs. When Lizzie tells Jude the same story, she expands on it by sharing the fact that after all of that, she tried to kill herself. Jude gets it. Because of course he does.

Then the ending happens way too quickly for the amount of drama in this book.

Show Spoiler
Lizzie finally gets out of their lives. Ryan grows a pair and leaves his brother to his brood, and goes to Japan to teach. Jude figures out his shit. Lizzie and Jude start texting and we hear about all the things Jude has been doing to not be such a broody little ass, but all of that is off paper. Then Lizzie throws him a birthday party, and they go home and have sex and then it’s over.


So. *ahem* Not a fan. Nope. The melodrama dripping from the walls and a cast of characters I actively wish bad things on — it’s just a recipe for suck. In my opinion. F.

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Posted by Amanda

Workspace with computer, journal, books, coffee, and glasses.Hello Hump Day! How is everyone doing? I’m in the midst of an amazing book, so I’ve currently lost all sense of time. Here are some good things, many of which might hurt your wallet!

We’ve picked a date for our next Book Club Chat! The book we’ve picked (in case you missed it) is Radiance by Grace Draven and the date of the chat is June 28th at 8pm EDT. We’ll post a link to the chat that afternoon. We hope to see some of you there!

Awesome Kickstarter alert! This is one that I’ve personally backed and needs a little help reaching its goal. It’s called Two Scoops: An Ice Cream Shop Dating Sim!

Two Scoops is a fresh, new visual novel + dating sim about love and ice cream! It’s the story of a big girl in a small town who finds romance at her local ice cream shop.

In this game, you take on the role of a young woman who has just started a new job at a local, family-owned ice cream shop. She’s taken on a big responsibility, too: two of the employees are going away soon, leaving her to fill their shoes! With only a week remaining before their departure, the situation seems tricky for our protagonist, but she is determined to show that she’s the right one for the job, all while growing closer to her co-workers along the way.

It has roughly two days left!

The Bawdy Bookworm box is taking preorders for their July box. I’ve gotten a sneak peek and it’s really amazing.

SMARTB gets free shipping in the US of $6 off International shipping for Bawdy Bookworms. And, if you’ve forgotten, this box grabbed the attention of Elyse’s cat, Dewey.

The Book Voyagers put together a list of Single Parents in Romance Books if that’s your catnip! They also have a helpful legend and mention common tropes.

USB Wall Outlet Adaptors!

What do we want? More USB ports! Where do we want them? EVERYWHERE!

Thanks to Reader Cleo for a heads up about this Riptide Publishing sale, where trans, genderqueer, intersex, and ace romances this week are 50% off.

More sales! Humble Bundle has a Best of Boom comics sale going on and it’s full of great selections, including Lumberjanes and Steven Universe. What I like about Humble Bundle is that you can pay as little or as much as you want. Plus, you can decide how much of what you pay goes to charity, Humble Bundle, and the comics creators. I highly recommend the site and they do this for video games and books, as well.

At RT17 in Atlanta this year, we met Luda Gogolushko, the founder of Includas Publishing. She put together a 20-minute vlog on her time there. We were lucky enough to be asked to be in the video, so you can see some of us between the 6:00-8:00 minute mark!

Don’t forget to share what super cool things you’ve seen, read, or listened to this week! And if you have anything you think we’d like to post on a future Wednesday Links, send it my way!

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Posted by Amanda

My Lady Quicksilver

My Lady Quicksilver by Bec McMaster is 99c! This is the third book in the London Steampunk series. I’m not sure if it can be read as a standalone, so maybe the Bitchery can help with that question. Readers loved the world McMaster created, but some found they didn’t enjoy the main couple as much as previous books. The first book is also on sale for 99c!

Determined to destroy the Echelon she despises, Rosalind Fairchild is on seemingly easy mission. Get in. Uncover the secrets of her brother’s disappearance. And get out.

In order to infiltrate the Nighthawks and find their leader, Sir Jasper Lynch, Rosalind will pose as their secretary. But she doesn’t count on Lynch being such a dangerously charismatic man, challenging her at every turn, forcing her to re-evaluate everything she knows about the enemy.

He could be her most dangerous nemesis—or the ally she never dreamed existed.

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The Hamilton Affair

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs is $1.99! This is a work of historical fiction that focuses on Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler’s relationship. Redheadedgirl mentioned that she’d read this one in a previous Whatcha Reading. She found it “good, but disjointed.”

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Revolution, and featuring a cast of iconic characters such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette, The Hamilton Affair tells the sweeping, tumultuous, true love story of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler, from tremulous beginning to bittersweet ending—his at a dueling ground on the shores of the Hudson River, hers more than half a century later after a brave, successful life.

Hamilton was a bastard son, raised on the Caribbean island of St. Croix. He went to America to pursue his education. Along the way he became one of the American Revolution’s most dashing—and unlikely—heroes. Adored by Washington, hated by Jefferson, Hamilton was a lightning rod: the most controversial leader of the American Revolution.

She was the well-to-do daughter of one of New York’s most exalted families—feisty, adventurous, and loyal to a fault. When she met Alexander, she fell head over heels. She pursued him despite his illegitimacy, and loved him despite his infidelity. In 1816 (two centuries ago), she shamed Congress into supporting his seven orphaned children. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton started New York’s first orphanage. The only “founding mother” to truly embrace public service, she raised 160 children in addition to her own.

With its flawless writing, brilliantly drawn characters, and epic scope, The Hamilton Affair will take its place among the greatest novels of American history.

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A Royal Pain

A Royal Pain by Megan Mulry is 99c! This is the first book in the Unruly Royals series and doesn’t have a cliffhanger. Readers really loved the premise and recommend it for fans of royal romances. However, some say the execution failed when compared to the plot description.

Bronte Talbott follows all of the exploits of the British royals. After all, they’re the world’s most preeminent dysfunctional family. And who is she to judge? Bronte’s own search for love isn’t going all that well, especially after her smooth-talking Texan boyfriend abruptly leaves her in the dust.

Bronte keeps a lookout for a rebound to help mend her broken heart, and when she meets Max Heyworth, she’s certain he’s the perfect transition man. But when she discovers he’s a duke, she has to decide if she wants to stay with him for the long haul and deal with the opportunities– and challenges– of becoming a royal.

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A Fine Romance

A Fine Romance by Christi Barth is 99c! This contemporary romance has a slight enemies to lovers trope. The heroine wants to open a “romance store,” which helps craft the perfect date for couples, and the hero is a baker. It’s a sweet romance, though some readers found the couple’s obstacles to be meh.

They say you form your first impression of someone within thirty seconds of meeting them. Or, in Mira Parrish’s case, within thirty minutes of not meeting them, when said person is supposed to pick you up from the airport and never shows. This is not a perfect start to her new life. Her friend Ivy is depending on her to run a new romance store, and Mira can’t afford to let her down.

Sam Lyons should probably apologize. But every time he sees Mira–which is often, since his family owns the bakery next to her shop–he can’t resist antagonizing her. There’s something about the sexy, straight-laced woman that drives him crazy. He can’t get involved, though. He has too much baggage to be any good in a serious relationship.

Despite his teasing attitude, Mira finds Sam too sweet to resist. (His hot body may be a factor.) But if there’s going to be anything permanent between them, they’ll need to let go of their pasts and look to the future…

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Posted by Elyse


Lost and Found Sisters

by Jill Shalvis
June 20, 2017 · William Morrow Paperbacks
RomanceContemporary RomanceNew Adult

Jill Shalvis is my go-to feel good author for contemporaries. I was stoked to see she had a new series coming out (Lost and Found Sisters is the first book in the Wildstone series). I enjoyed the book, but strictly speaking, it’s not a romance novel. So I enjoyed what I got -but I didn’t get what I expected. While I can’t fault the book for being tagged as a romance at places like Goodreads, I did have issues with how many plotlines were packed into one novel. There’s a lot going on, and the ending felt like a lot of it came together too fast.

Now, there is a romance plot line here and it’s an important part of the story, but it takes a backseat to the story of the heroine finding her place in the world and finding her family. Since the romance isn’t the fuel that drives the novel, and since the book is so focused on those other elements, this book falls into the category of Women’s Fiction.

For the record, I hate the term “Women’s Fiction” because it implies that women and men can’t enjoy the same things, and I hate when it’s used as a marketing tool to put a bunch of books with Adirondack chairs and flip-flops on the cover onto a table at Barnes and Noble. It’s Mother’s Day! Get your flip-flop and Adirondack chair books here!


Lost and Found Sisters is a really heartfelt, funny, sweet novel. It also features rogue chickens, a sassy one-eyed cat, and a geriatric golden retriever with hideous farts.

Quinn Weller is a sous chef in Los Angeles whose personal life has stalled after her sister, Beth, died two years ago. Quinn is just going through the motions now, numb to just about everything. Then one day she’s approached by a lawyer who tells her that was actually adopted and that her birth mother has died. Quinn’s birth mother has left behind a café in the small town of Wildstone, CA, and has bequeathed it to Quinn, and to Quinn’s fifteen-year-old sister, Tilly.

So for two years Quinn has been grieving the death of Beth, the sister she’s known her whole life, and now she finds out she has a sister that she’s never met, who is now more or less alone in the world.

Quinn goes to Wildstone, where she has a little breakdown on the beach. It’s there that she meets Mick Hennessey and his dog, Cooper, the one with the horrid gas. Cooper, with his big dopey golden smile, offers Quinn some comfort while she processes. Dogs are great, y’all.

For clarification, Quinn did not know she was adopted, nor that she and Beth were not (as it turns out) biologically related. Quinn and Tilly are. I have no idea about the legalities surrounding informing someone they were adopted after a birth parent’s death. I have, however,  spent time with geriatric golden retrievers and vouch that their farts are legitimately horrible.

Most of the book is about Quinn trying to connect with Tilly who is 1. fifteen 2. just lost her only parent and caregiver and 3. reasonably upset about shit and not ready to trust anyone. Quinn and Tilly both struggle with the fact that their mom didn’t tell them the truth about each other, and both are still badly hurting. Quinn is also upset at her adoptive parents for not being honest with her, either. It’s pretty shitty to find out you’re adopted from a lawyer.

Quinn has a life waiting for her back in LA with a good job, the guy her parents wish she’d marry, and friends who love her. In Wildstone, she has a café that the locals want reopened, a sister who is pushing her away, and a yard full of chickens who like to escape.

She also has Mick. He’s in Wildstone after the death of his father, helping his mother clean out the house and settle affairs. Turns out Mick’s dad was not an awesome guy, and he’s struggling to make peace with his own grief and anger.

Shalvis is really talented at writing characters who are struggling through complicated, difficult emotions and at making that journey feel genuine, but never heavy. For all its discussion of grief and disappointment in parents, this is not a depressing book. Rogue chickens help with that, of course.

There were scenes that kicked me in the Feels pretty strongly. Quinn sometimes sees Beth and talks to her – not as a hallucination nor a dream. I lost my brother-in-law suddenly to an undiagnosed heart condition (aortic dissection) six years ago. I still talk to him sometimes, and I still feel him here with me. The Quinn and Beth scenes made me tear up a little because it felt so close to home.

The romance between Quinn and Mick is sexy and it’s satisfying, but it’s not what’s driving the novel. For the most part, the conflict between them comes from the fact that Quinn is debating radically altering her life. Does she stay in Wildstone and become Tilly’s guardian or does she go back to LA? It’s not a great time to start a new relationship.

The primary conflict of the novel is Quinn finding her place, either in Wildstone or LA, and making peace with her parents, as well as with the family she didn’t know she had. I liked that there were no right answers presented for Quinn. There was never a clear path set out for her with regard to Tilly or the café or even Mick. No one tries to guilt her into guardianship (which was given to a neighbor after Tilly’s mom’s death).

Her relationship with Tilly also runs hot and cold, which to me seems like pretty realistic interactions with a fifteen year old. Sometimes it’s fun and popcorn and movies and adopting a one-eyed cat who wants to eat your chickens. Sometimes Tilly isn’t talking to her.

Even though this wasn’t really a romance I enjoyed the book. The only real problem was there was too much going on for one book to handle. Quinn and Tilly’s relationship could easily take up an entire book by itself, and when you throw in Quinn’s romance with Mick and her trying to reconcile the fact that her parents lied to her for her entire life…that’s a lot of plot.

The other issue is there are also subplots about the town of Wildstone struggling to stay afloat, a character named Brock who is the guy Quinn’s parents want her to marry (and whom I suspect is sequel bait), and a little bit of a suspense element at the end. If I listed everything that goes on in this novel, this would be a seriously long review. As it was, it’s too much for one novel and detracts from the overall story.

Lost and Found Sisters isn’t a perfect book, and it’s not really a romance. It made me laugh and it made me tear-up, but it wasn’t what I was expected when I picked it up.

Make Me Sin by J.T. Geissinger

Jun. 20th, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Make Me Sin

by J.T. Geissinger
January 12, 2016 · Montlake Romance
Women's FictionRomance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Julia S. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Contemporary category.

The summary:

Chloe Carmichael’s life feels pretty sweet—she’s both maid of honor and florist for her best friend’s A-list wedding, things are getting serious with her boyfriend, and her flower shop is about to get a spread in a national magazine. But it all quickly turns sour whenever the best man, Bad Habit drummer A.J. Edwards, shows his face…his handsome, unforgettable face. A.J. is everything Chloe doesn’t want: tattooed, selfish, and all-around bad news. So why can’t she stop thinking about him?

Goody two-shoes Chloe isn’t exactly A.J.’s type, either, but the chemistry between them is undeniable. A.J. will be the first to say he isn’t a saint, but there’s something he’s not saying—something that would devastate Chloe. The only way he can protect her is to push her away, but the drummer finds he needs her now more than ever. When a wedding-day confrontation reveals secrets they’re both hiding, will Chloe and A.J. ever find their rhythm again?

Here is Julia S.'s review:

This book is good. So goooooood.

But dark. So daaaaaark.

Content Warning: aggressive/stalker ex, disease/threat of death from disease, cheating, failure to have significant conversations, assumptions about what other people can handle.

Characters: Charming female hero with family issues. Brooding male hero with ALL. THE. ISSUES.

Also, when I say brooding, I mean brooding. Makes Heathcliff appear happy-go-lucky. Makes Darcy seem positively Pollyanna. Makes Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain, look like a preschool teacher. In a Waldorf school.

The man is dark, dark, dark, and more dark.

This is the second book in the Bad Habit series. If you’ve read the first book, Sweet As Sin, you are already aware that this series takes the dark edge of erotica seriously. These books are not just about hot sex, but about everything that could possibly be damaging to a psyche, making it happen, and then still bringing about healing and an HEA.

There is a point in Make Me Sin where I felt like an HEA couldn’t believably happen. It did, but it took work.

Chloe owns and works in a flower shop, to the dismay of her parents who had champagne wishes and caviar dreams for their daughter. A.J. is the drummer in the band, Bad Habit, and his history is mystery. Their best friends, Kat and Nico, respectively, are getting married. Chloe is arranging the flowers and is a bridesmaid. A.J. is the best man.

And…they hate each other.

Except that he doesn’t actually hate her.

Kat and Nico’s wedding planner has determined that everything in the wedding will go much more smoothly if all the people in the wedding party do things together. So the men come to the dress fittings and they all get together for other planning events as well. Because that happens in the non-book world.

The forced proximity ratchets up A.J.’s attraction and Chloe’s confused reaction to him. “Am I attracted to him? He hates me!”

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, as it were, Chloe does have a boyfriend who, um, really loves her.

I am making a solid attempt not to venture into any kind of spoiler territory. Pulling back to the wide-angle plot summary: boy likes girl, but is mean to her. Girl thinks boy is attractive, but doesn’t understand why he is mean. Girl has boyfriend.

Show Spoiler
Boyfriend is no longer in picture. Boy makes romantic overtures in the “every move you make” genre, which apparently does not skeeve out the girl. Girl and boy get together and make the hot sex. Boy has issues he does not discuss. Boy makes decisions for girl based on what he thinks she should handle. More of the sex is had. Drama. Ex-boyfriend is not as gone as previously thought. More drama. Sobbing, yelling, denouement. And scene.

I liked this book enough that I went back to read the first one and then pre-ordered the third and devoured it on release day. The female trio at the center of the books – Kat, Chloe, and Grace – are a good example of female friendships. There are secondary characters – some of which are ¾ developed and some less so. I would say none are fully developed with regards to motivation, history, or connection to the plot other than as a way for main characters to process or to appear more rounded.

If you like Kristen Ashley or Tiffany Reisz, this is totally in your wheelhouse. If this sounds a little too angsty, dark, or violent, it is and this is NOT for you. The drama was almost too much for me and I didn’t feel like I got enough of an interior sense of Chloe (lots of action, less reflection), but I finished the book, read the others, and could see myself reading this again. I give Make Me Sin a solid B+.

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Posted by Amanda


RECOMMENDED: Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins is $2.99! Redheadedgirl gave this book an A and reminded us all how lucky we are to have an author like Jenkins:

What Jenkins has been doing for decades upon decades is giving her readers strong three-dimensional Black women who are loved, desired, and cherished. I can’t tell you how important that is. Eddy gets to be strong, but also loved and supported by her community and her man, and that is the thing I loved most about her.  I’m so glad Jenkins is writing these stories and giving voice to these times and places and people. We’re really lucky to have her in our community.

USA Today bestselling author Beverly Jenkins returns with the first book in a breathtaking new series set in the Old West

Rhine Fontaine is building the successful life he’s always dreamed of—one that depends upon him passing for White. But for the first time in years, he wishes he could step out from behind the façade. The reason: Eddy Carmichael, the young woman he rescued in the desert. Outspoken, defiant, and beautiful, Eddy tempts Rhine in ways that could cost him everything . . . and the price seems worth paying.

Eddy owes her life to Rhine, but she won’t risk her heart for him. As soon as she’s saved enough money from her cooking, she’ll leave this Nevada town and move to California. No matter how handsome he is, no matter how fiery the heat between them, Rhine will never be hers. Giving in for just one night might quench this longing. Or it might ignite an affair as reckless and irresistible as it is forbidden . . .

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

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Season for Temptation

Season for Temptation by Theresa Romain is $2.99! This is book one in the Holiday Pleasures series, and it focuses on a hero who is engaged to one sister but unwillingly attracted to the other. Some readers found the pacing uneven, but Romain is an auto-buy author for many. All four books in the series are on sale and you can get them all for less than $12.

Two Sisters. . .

Julia Herington is overjoyed when her stepsister, Louisa, becomes engaged–to a viscount, no less. Louisa’s only hesitation is living a life under the ton’s critical gaze. But with his wry wit and unconventional ideas, Julia feels James is perfect for Louisa. She can only hope to find a man like him for herself. Exactly like him, in fact. . .

One Choice. . .

As the new Viscount Matheson, James wished to marry quickly and secure his title. Kind, intelligent Louisa seemed a suitable bride. . .until he met her stepsister. Julia is impetuous–and irresistible. Pledged to one sister, yet captivated by another, what is he to do? As Christmas and the whirl of the London season approach, James may be caught in a most scandalous conundrum, one that only true love, a bit of spiritous punch–and a twist of fate–will solve. . .

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The Lady and the Laird

The Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick is $2.99! This is a historical romance with an enemies to lovers and marriage of convenience romance. Readers loved the Highland setting, but found the book to slump during the middle. Have you read this one?

An Indecent Proposal!

Lady Lucy MacMorlan may have forsworn men and marriage, but that doesn’t mean she won’t agree to profit from writing love letters for her brother’s friends – letters that become increasingly racy as her fame grows. That is, until she deliberately ruins the betrothal of a notorious laird, Robert, Marquis of Methven.

Past centuries of bloodshed have left the Methven and MacMorlan families bitter enemies and Robert is furious that Lady Lucy’s letters have cost him the bride he needs so urgently to save his ancestral clan lands. Now he makes Lucy a shocking proposal; in return for his silence she must become his wife and provide him with the heir he needs. It is an inconvenient marriage of convenience but can the rugged laird and the bluestocking beauty fight against the power of love?

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Taking Care of Business

Taking Care of Business by Brenda Jackson is 99! This is a Kindle Daily Deal and is being price-matched! This is a contemporary romance with class differences and a one night stand. The book was originally published earlier (mid-nineties, I believe), so some readers say it feels a bit dated in regards to interracial relationships. It has a 4-star rating on Goodreads.

He wants her no matter what the cost…

From the moment she met gorgeous media tycoon Tag Elliott, Renee Williams could only fantasize about darkened bedrooms, whispered promises and how his lips would feel on hers. But Renee is a social worker—and an excellent one at that, thank you very much—and Tag belongs to one of Manhattan’s wealthiest families. It’s not he’s out of her league, it’s that he’s from a different world.

Tag isn’t looking for forever, but he starts falling hard and fast for the beauty assigned to his ailing mother. When Renee finally agrees to one night to live out their fantasies, he tries to ignore how quickly his heart gets tangled up with this intelligent, passionate woman. But their fling only fans the flames, and Tag is certain that once is not enough. Now he wants more…no matter how much scandal he’ll create!

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HaBO: Shifters Party at Local Bar

Jun. 20th, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by Amanda

This HaBO request comes from Tammy, who wants to find a pretty raucous paranormal series:

My husband and I spent two hours last night trying to find a series that I thought was no my Kindle and had read several years ago. Here are some of the keywords/phrases I can think of (although these books sound even more ridiculous when reduced to keywords 🙂

    • at least two books in the series, one involved brother/cousin? wolves and a human female. The other involved two brothers who were big cats and the female
    • contemporary time frame
    • small town in mountains populated by changers of multiple types (wolves, bears, cats, etc)
      a bar/saloon is central to many of the scenes
    • periodically (full moon, maybe) things get pretty wild in the bar with an all night moon-mad everyone in heat thing (kind of like your average frat party but with less drinking and better looking dudes)
    • magical matings for life that are threesomes
    • there is an evil demonic (?) threat (because quasi-beastiality in threesomes isn’t enough excitement???)
    • I have no idea what color her dress was or wasn’t on the cover or anywhere else

As someone who loves paranormal romances and good menage scene, I feel like I desperately need this series in my life.

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Posted by Elyse

Elyse Watches The Bachelorette with Kraken Rum and Coke with a big rose at the bottomAfter a week’s hiatus, it’s time again for the zany WTFery that is The Bachelorette.  Last week Whaboom and Blake E went home, Rachel dismissed DeMario with glorious ferocity, and Eric claimed that his name was in everyone’s mouth.

Before we go any further, I want to address the recent news regarding Bachelor in Paradise. Filming has been suspended, possibly canceled, due to an incident of misconduct that occurred between DeMario and Corinne. That’s all we know. There’s rampant speculation regarding what that misconduct was, but nothing has been confirmed. I want to say that while I enjoy all the WTFery these shows provide, I do so with the expectation that the cast is always safe and willingly participating in the process. Reality TV like this is, for me, about fun, and it is absolutely not worth the price of anyone getting hurt.

So, back to The Bachelorette. This week I’m traveling for work which means that right now I’m stone-cold sober. The next two hours will be a test of my fortitude. I will also be like 40% less funny. Sorry, y’all.

We open pre- Dreaded Rose Ceremony with Eric literally shouting “MY NAME IS IN YOUR MOUTH!” at a bunch of the other dudes, most notably Lee.

Lee gives us the season’s first, “I didn’t come here to make friends.”

Normally it would time for a slug of liquor.

Also, WTF is Lee doing to his hair? Is he smuggling parakeets in there? How much gel does he use?

A still picture of Lee. His hair is really big.
This is Lee. Lee isn’t here to make friends. Lee has some serious sculpting gel issues.

He interrupts Kenny, who is having a normal adult conversation with Rachel about work and travel commitments, to present her with, I SHIT YOU NOT, a piece of wood he carved the word “Enchanted” into. For the record, he carved it with his dead grandpa’s knife. He was very specific about that.

But here’s the thing, I’m not talking about some really gorgeous whittling or anything. He just super shittily carved the word into a piece of scrap wood he found laying around. It probably had splinters and shit.  I tried to get screengrab of this crafting fail, but it was so awful it was like the camera guy was embarrassed to even keep it in frame very long.  I’m guessing it took him two minutes tops. He did not Pinterest first.

Kenny tells Lee that he’s disrespectful and they get into an argument. From somewhere else in the McMansion (I feel like it’s actually really tiny inside) Rachel looks up because she hears more shouting.

“I can’t even concentrate,” she says.

I feel like Rachel is well within in her rights to kick off her heels, walk out the door, and stop for ice cream on the way back to her hotel.

“If I’m completely honest, I’m disappointed with the guys tonight,” Rachel says. “And I don’t know how to handle it.” She gets teary-eyed, exhausted from their bullshit.

There’s a very candid moment when Rachel says that she’s under extra pressure to make good choices on the show because she’s the first Black contestant, and that the behavior of the men isn’t making her feel any better. My heart honestly hurt for her. I wanted to hug her.

Rachel has her hand thrown up in frustration, her eyes teary.
Rachel is done with this shit.

Chris Harrison approaches Rachel and tells her, “Everybody is here to help you.” Then his voice gets super serious, almost chilling. “Just tell me what you want. I can facilitate anything.”


I feel like we’re just starting to plumb the depths of Harrison’s secret life.  Maybe he’s not cursed to live eternally in the McMansion. Maybe he makes blood sacrifices to stay on as host. A brutal offering to the Rose God.

They cut straight to the Dreaded Rose Ceremony. Rachel should be (but isn’t) swigging directly out of a bottle of wine.  For reasons that boggle the mind, she keeps Lee.

Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek does an amazing both hands face palm

Up next the group goes to Hilton Head Island, SC. Free travel, baby!

The first one-one-one date goes to Dean. The pair have a picnic, spill some champagne, and then go for a ride on the Goodyear blimp.

Dean admits he’s terrified of heights and doesn’t seem super enthused. As someone who is afraid of flying, I feel his pain.

“It’s literally like riding in a bus!” Rachel tells him.


Dean chills out, no one gets airsick, and they make out for awhile.  At dinner Dean reveals that he was raised in a close-knit, very religious family. His mother died of breast cancer when he was fifteen. After her death his family fell apart, and Dean tears up as he tells Rachel about it.

Dean and Rachel hug in front of the Goodyear blimp

It’s clear that Rachel is affected by their conversation, and she gives Dean a rose.

After dinner they go to an impromptu concert by someone named Russell Dickerson. Amazing how these concerts just pop up around The Bachelor / Bachelorette! It’s like up-and-coming singers follow them around like stray cats!

Charlie from Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia says I'll get you another cat. I got followed here by, like, 10 cats. They're starting to follow me these days.

I don’t know who Russell Dickerson is, but he keeps tapping his pec while he’s singing, like “love song, love song, love song”–IMPROMPTU NIPPLE CHECK–“more singing, lalalala.”

The next day is the group date. Everyone gets on a ship and goes for a cruise. Everyone is drinking these fruity tri-color drinks, and I want one so bad. SO BAD YOU GUYS.

Lee’s hair kind of deflates in the humidity, so that made me feel better.

After the booze-cruise, Rachel surprises the dudes with a spelling bee.

FUCK. That’s not fair Rachel! I can’t spell receipt sober, let alone after a day of sun and three of those ombre cocktails.

After eating the souls of the contestants who did not get a rose, Chris Harrison is briefly able to leave the McMansion to host the spelling bee.

Chris Harrison stands in the middle of a crowd, talking into a mic.

A group of twelve-year-old girls is helping Rachel judge. The girls are not impressed. Its obvious that a spelling competition after a day spent guzzling rum drinks doesn’t reflect well on the contestants. There’s a lot of sweating.  The parakeets inside Lee’s hair are drowning.

Kenny gets outed on the word “champagne.” Iggy loses it on “boudoir.” The final winner is Josiah, but to be fair he got words like “stunning.”

Josiah gets a shiny gold trophy and he kisses it a bunch of times.

Three 12 year old girls help Rachel judge the spelling bee.


They go to the Hilton Head Yacht Club for cocktails and Josiah drinks his out of his giant trophy…and promptly pours it right down the front of his pants. Good work, dude.

Peter is standing out as one of the few dudes who is actually mature and engaging. Rachel asks him if he’d leave Wisconsin, and he says that he would. I’m not saying this because I’m biased toward my home state, but there is genuine chemistry between Rachel and Peter.

During his one-on-one time with Rachel, Iggy tells Rachel that Josiah is fake. He leaves out the fact that Josiah is currently sitting in a puddle of booze because he didn’t realize drinking out of a giant trophy would lead to disaster, so that was nice of him.

Then like a minute later, Iggy tells Josiah that he just told Rachel that he’s fake. WTF. The gossiping about other contestants thing never goes well on these shows to begin with. Iggy confronting Josiah about it is just stirring the shit pot.

In a cutaway Josiah says that Iggy “shoots steroids in his nuts.”

JESUS. I hope not. That sounds painful.

Josiah also calls Iggy a bitch.


You don’t get to just call someone a bitch. “Bitch” is a title you earn and I’ve put in years to get mine, okay?

Rachel approaches Lee (his hair back at full-mast) about the drama going on in the house. He immediately starts rambling on about Kenny. It occurs to me at this point that she also nudged Iggy into spilling some dirt on his housemates. Holy shit, I think Rachel has a plan to see who responds to this sort of gossipy-needling and eliminate them.


Jean Luc Picard grins and points

Kenny worries that he’ll get sent home because Lee told Rachel that Kenny was aggressive (the shouting, remember?). The two dudes go outside to chat, and once again I’m exhausted by the amount of drama among these guys. We get a TO BE CONTINUED and the voiceover hints that Kenny and Lee come to blows next week. We see a medic dabbing blood from Kenny’s eye. IDK. Maybe one of the parakeets that lives in Lee’s hair just went rogue and pecked him.

Also next week is a two night event! And I’m home so I’ll be tipsy Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday is going to be rough, y’all.

Are you still watching? Why do you think Rachel kept Lee? And what’s he keeping inside his hair?

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Posted by Amanda

If you haven’t heard, The Ripped Bodice is putting on an awesome reading challenge this summer. And there are prizes! You can click the link to their site for an explanation of the rules, plus a printable copy of their bingo board. Or! You can check out their helpful tweet:

We’re playing along in our Goodreads group and offering suggestions when we can. You can also follow The Ripped Bodice on Twitter for reading recs. However, for those who aren’t fans of social media (I don’t blame you), we thought compiling a list of recommendations here would be helpful. Plus, any suggestions from the Bitchery are always welcome.

In the suggestion list, we’ve left off a couple of the easier categories like the Romance Novel Free Space, Elaborate Proposal Scene, Rake or Rogue in the Title, and Conflict Could Be Solved With One Conversation. I feel like those might be way easier to find.

For the recs, we’re pulling from books that have been mentioned here on SBTB, are well-known, or have been recommended to us!

Published pre-1980

Georgette Heyer! We have some recommendations from an older Heyer sale post.

Plus, I highly recommend you check out some of Carrie’s reviews. She frequently reviews classic romances.

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson ( A | BN | K | iB )

Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon ( A | BN | K | iB )

Heroine named Rachel

This one is tough to search for and you might have to get lucky while searching through your TBR!

From our GR group:

Mclaudia suggests To Have and To Hold by Patricia Gaffney ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). She also says it’s a great book, but advises that readers check reviews for issues around consent.

Three suggestions by Willaful:

Archangel by Sharon Shinn ( A | BN | K | G | iB )

Twelve Days by Teresa Hill ( A | BN | K )

Cat used the All About Romance site and found Daughters of the Bride by Susan Mallery ( A | BN | K | G | iB ).

A hint of magic

I’m interpreting this as romances that aren’t full on fantasy or paranormal. Let’s go with magical realism!

I can’t recommended Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen enough ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au ). It’s on my Keeper Shelf.

For an option with more of a central romance, there’s A Little Night Magic by Lucy March ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au ). I also think the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews would qualify; the series starts with Magic Bites ( A | BN | K | G | iB ).

Rag and Bone by KJ Charles ( A | BN | K | G | iB ) has hints of magic too.

Non-mammal shifter

The easiest way to mark this square off is to go dragons!

Darkest Flame
A | BN | K | iB
I started the Dark Kings series and I’m enjoying it. Dragon shifters who own a scotch distillery! The first book is Darkest Flame by Donna Grant.

Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au ), Dragon Actually by G.A. Aiken( A | BN | K | G | iB ), The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe( A | BN | K | G | iB ) are all great dragon shifter romances as well.

Or you know…take a page out of Elyse’s book, get crazy with it, and read Passions of the Wereshark!


The obvious recommendation for this would be the Call of Crows series, which Sarah loves! The first book is The Unleashing ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au ).

Elyse has also read and enjoyed romances with vikings. There’s The Warlord’s Wife by Sandra Lake( A | BN | K | G | iB ) and a time travel romance titled Beautiful Wreck by Larissa Brown( A | BN | K | iB )!

Hero has a pet that’s not a dog or cat

Shacking Up
A | BN | K | iB
This one can be a bit tough, especially to find specific suggestions. Characters who work with animals in some capacity are a good lead! Oh and…horses!

Shacking Up by Helena Hunting – hero has exotic pets!

Mr. Ridley by Delilah Marvelle – raven pet! ( A | BN | K | iB )

Hero smells like some kind of tree

It’s hard to pinpoint a book that I know for certain has this, but some general tips are to gravitate toward books with outdoorsy heroes! To help narrow things down, Google Books will sometimes let you search inside books for terms and phrases. I frequently use this for a “word hunt” challenge I do on Goodreads.

Some potential leads for outdoorsy, tree-scented heroes or books recommended in our GR group:

Under Her Skin by Adriana Anders ( A | BN | K | G | iB )

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas ( A | BN | K | G | iB )

Her Naughty Holiday by Tiffany Reisz ( A | BN | K | G | iB )

In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish ( A | BN | K | G | iB )

All I Am by Nicole Helm ( A | BN | K | iB )

Queer YA/NA

Of Fire and Stars
A | BN | K | iB
After going through past reviews, queer YA books seem to be easier to find than NA, so we’d love some suggestions from that genre.

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova ( A | BN | K | G | iB )

Draw the Line by Laurent Linn ( A | BN | K | iB )

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Dreadnought by April Daniels ( A | BN | K | iB )

Geek/Nerd elements

Thanks to our Goodreads group for these suggestions:

The Wrong Kind of Compatible by Kadie Scott ( A | BN | K | G | iB )

The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au ), which Sarah loved and I believe is on sale!

Heat Wave by Merry Farmer ( A | BN | K | G | iB )

I’d also recommend the Slices of Pi series by Elia Winters, with the first book being Even Odds ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). Most of these recs are contemporary or erotic romance. Maybe we can get some historical romance suggestions with nerdy elements!

Baking/Sweets described in delicious detail

A | BN | K | iB
Baker characters seem like an easy why to mark off this square!

Buns by Alice Clayton

The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand ( A | BN | K | iB )

Plus, there’s a huge list of romances where the character as a dessert-related profession.

Person in uniform on the cover

Characters who work in law enforcement or are firefighters!

Playing with Fire by Kate Meader ( A | BN | K | G | iB ) – I enjoyed this one and it has a firefighter heroine.

Unfortunately, a lot of the romances who have uniformed characters don’t feature uniforms on the covers. Just lots of dirty, white tank tops, it seems. Or shirtless dudes with guns, which isn’t exactly work appropriate. Also…I think a sports uniform would still qualify.

Melissa in the Goodreads group suggested The Captain’s Kidnapped Beauty by Mary Nichols ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). Which brings up a point that military uniforms also work!

Heroine inherits a business

I’m definitely stuck on this one, as most of the things I think of, there’s no inheriting going on for the heroine. I also think this is something more common in historical romances.

What do you think? Any suggestions?

Non-Regency set historical

Tiffany Girl
A | BN | K | iB
Ah! An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole! It was a previous book club pick and was much loved by us and the Bitchery. ( A | BN | K | iB )

The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match by Julianna Gray is one that fits and Sarah loved. ( A | BN | K | G | iB )

Most books by Deeanne Gist would probably fall into this category and I definitely recommend reading Tiffany Girl.

American historical romances seem like the easy way to tick this box off.

Sub-genre you’ve never read before (honor system!)

A lot of our readers pick up romances across the genre, myself included, which makes meeting this category rather difficult. Some suggestions aside from the typical subgenre labels (historical, inspiration, paranormal, etc.) could be menage romances, rockstar romances, or motorcycle club romances. Think of niches!

Heroine taller than the hero

We recently did a Rec League on tall heroines. Many of them aren’t necessarily taller than the hero, but tall in a general sense. However, there might be some suggestions lurking in the comments.

Heroine smells like a food item

Pretty Face
A | BN | K | iB
See the “Baking/Sweets” category! A heroine who works in food will probably smell delicious.

Suggestions from the group:

Pretty Face by Lucy Parker. The heroine smells like vanilla because of her perfume.

My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan Quinn ( A | BN ). More vanilla smells!

Nuts by Alice Clayton ( A | BN | K | G | iB )

Broke hero

So far, I’ve seen this interpreted two ways. The hero can be broke as in poor. Or he could be broke as in “broken.”

For the former, a historical seems best given how money often plays into romances with marriages of convenience or class differences.

For the latter, dark contemporaries would be the way to go, especially with anti-hero or mafia characters.

I interpreted as the first option, but I’m finding that it’s much easier to find a Rich Hero/Poor Heroine story than the reverse.

Character on the run

Characters can be on the run of the law, a terrible ex, or maybe is just a runaway bride!

Under Her Skin by Adriana Anders ( A | BN | K | G | iB ) could fit for this category too. Be warned that this romance is rather dark.

Sins & Needles by Karina Halle ( A | BN | K | iB )

A book in Anne Bishop’s The Others series ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au ) as the main character is in hiding.

Beach read, set in a beach town

Jude Deveraux’s Nantucket Brides series is cute and light. It also has some ghosty elements. ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au )

Ladies’ Night
A | BN | K | iB
Mary Kay Andrews does a lot of beach-setting books as well!

Austen retelling

Goodreads has some great lists, including Jane Austen retellings in adult and young adult categories.

Some individual suggestions:

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Scribd ) – a YA, scifi novel based on Persuasion.

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet  by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick – based on the Emmy-award winning YouTube series. ( A | BN | K | G | iB )

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star by Heather Lynn Riguard ( A | K | G | iB | Scribd ). It spawned this bananas awesome guest review!

An anthology

The Sight Unseen anthology just came out, where the authors of each story are kept secret. Sarah did a recent podcast with some of the authors. ( A | BN | K | iB )

The Knitting Diaries ( A | BN | K | G | iB ) is a sweet anthology that Elyse liked!

Gambled Away ( A ) is an anthology with historical settings across the world.

Whew! Are you playing along this summer? What categories have you stumped and what would you recommend for other readers?

Summer of Supernovas by Darcy Woods

Jun. 19th, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Summer of Supernovas

by Darcy Woods
May 10, 2016 · Ember
RomanceContemporary RomanceErotica/Erotic Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Shannon B. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Best First Book, YA Romance category.

The summary:

Fans of Jennifer E. Smith and Jenny Han will fall in love with this heartfelt and humor-laced debut following one zodiac-obsessed teen as she struggles to find the guy of her cosmic dreams.

As the daughter of an expert astrologer, Wilamena Carlisle knows that truth lies within the stars. So when she discovers a planetary alignment that won’t repeat for a decade, she’s forced to tackle her greatest astrological fear: The Fifth House—relationships and love. But Wil must decide whether to trust her heart or her chart when she falls for a sensitive guitar player whose zodiac sign points to cosmic disaster.

If Wil’s fate is truly written in the stars, then this summer is about to go supernova. . . .

Here is Shannon B.'s review:

First off, I am absolutely smitten with the heroine, Wil. She is pretty much everything I wish I was at seventeen. To be honest, she’s pretty much everything I wish I was today at twenty-seven. She is strong-willed and so incredibly clever and cheeky. Woods definitely has a way with providing so much of her character just through Wil’s incredible internal dialogue – I caught myself I giggling out loud many times.

Butts aren’t meant to be seen moving at this velocity.

Then it hits me. I could die!

And here I am, traveling at the speed of ass, and I can’t form a single profound though. Pray. Yeah, I should pray…

I mean, C’MON. I wish my internal dialogue were that clever.

Wil is curvy and loves vintage dresses. She comes across as just truly being herself and stays true to those traits and values. She is just trying to navigate the world as she knows it in the best way (and perhaps the only way) that she knows how – based on the star chart that her mother put together for her before she passed away. And really, this is the catalyst for pretty much everything.

Then you have the Walker brothers, Grant and Seth. We meet Grant early on and I pretty much fall for him as a character straight away. He’s pretty much the teenage equivalent of tall, dark, and handsome, with a healthy dash of broody. But after Wil and her best friend, Irina, embark on a mission that takes them to a local nightclub, they run into Grant’s younger brother Seth – a charming smooth-talker who also takes a quick liking to Wil and her quirky-ness. Cue the love triangle plot line.

To be honest, I can totally see why someone might not like this book – if we knew certain characters’ star signs from the get-go, this book probably would have been wrapped in just a few chapters. While that is usually something that bothers me in a book, Woods has a talent for putting together a story that captures your attention and interest. Even though assumptions could be made, I was still delighted to keep reading and see how everything played out for each person involved. And Woods certainly has a way with writing the romantic interactions – she can sure write a kiss!

But I think this kind of fate-like plot is just a specific catnip for me. Do you remember the 2003 ABC Family original movie Lucky 7? The plot pretty much revolves around a girl who navigates her love life through the timeline that her mom put together before she passed away. She puts so much value in this timeline that she feels the need to make sure that the man she does end up falling in love with is number seven, just as the timeline predicted.

If you understand and love this movie as I do, you will understand and love this book.

If you understand that this is a grief coping mechanism, you find your heart feeling all the feels for this seventeen year old just trying to navigate one of the most complicated parts of life – love and relationships. You can understand that she is just trying to figure everything out while still feeling like she’s respecting and honoring her mother.

But what I really loved about this book were all of the relationships that surround Wil, not just the romantic ones. I find myself enjoying secondary characters more and more in stories and the ones in this book are gems. We have Irina, the fiery best friend who takes no shit. We have Gram who is equally fiery with a little bit of feisty and a whole lot of love for Wil. Even smaller characters like Crate the tattoo shop owner and Manny, Grant’s best friend, bring so much life and color to the few pages that they occupy. Everyone just feels so fleshed out and whole. And everyone is just trying to do what they think is right for the ones that they love.

This book includes everything I love in a YA romance but while this book has found it’s way onto my favorite list, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Although, I do believe that it makes a perfect summer read and I think that many people will find it as lovely and endearing as I have.

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Posted by Amanda

I Love This Bar

I Love This Bar by Carolyn Brown is 99c! This is the first book in the Honky Tonk series and features a feisty bar owner. It’s light on sex scenes, but readers who don’t normally read contemporary westerns seemed to like this one. However, if you are a fan of contemporary westerns, a bunch of Brown’s books are priced at 99c.

From New York Times and USA Today-bestselling author Carolyn Brown comes a contemporary Western romance inspired by the hit country music song, featuring the romantic adventures of the feisty new owner of the Honky Tonk beer joint and the hot, hard-headed cowboy who is out to steal her heart.

Daisy O’Dell doesn’t need anything but her bar. She has her hands full with hotheads and thirsty ranchers, and she’s determined to run the Honky Tonk until they drag her cold dead body through the swinging doors. But when a damn fine cowboy walks in one day, her whole life is thrown into turmoil.

Jarod McBroy was looking for a cold drink and a moment’s peace. Instead he found one red hot woman. She’s just what Jarod needs to deal with his ornery Uncle Rural, who won’t listen to a damn thing he says until he brings home a good woman. Now if only he can convince her to come out from behind that bar, and come on home with him…

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Millie’s Fling

Millie’s Fling by Jill Mansell is $2.99! After several recommendations, Sarah read this one and gave it a B. She also found it to be a great comfort read:

I think part of what makes this a comfort read for me is that, aside from the complete resolutions and the ease of wealth problems being solved, it has a very strong sense of place.

Bestselling novelist Orla Hart owes her life to her friend Millie Brady, whose rotten boyfriend has just left her. So Orla invites Millie to Cornwall, where Millie looks forward to a summer without any dating whatsoever. But Orla envisions Millie as the heroine of her next novel and decides to find Millie the man of her dreams. Except the two women have drastically different ideas about what kind of guy that should be.

With Orla and Millie working at cross-purposes, and a dashing but bewildered hero stuck in the middle, the summer will turn out to be unforgettable for all concerned…

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The Making of a Duchess

The Making of a Duchess by Shana Galen is 99c! This historical romance is the first book in The Sons of the Revolution series and the heroine has been sent to spy on the hero. Readers loved the sense of adventure in the book, but said there was a bit of a WTF plot twist. Many of Galen’s books are on sale as well, if you’re hoping to fill any gaps in your TBR pile!

A very dangerous attraction…

Julien Harcourt, Duc de Valère, is more than willing to marry the lovely young lady his mother has chosen. Little does he know, she’s been sent to prove him a spy and a traitor.

And an even more dangerous secret…

Sarah Smith’s mission is to find out whether the Duc’s trips to the Continent are as innocent as he claims, but the way he looks at her is far from innocent.

Their risky game of cat and mouse propels them from the ballrooms of London to the prisons of Paris, and into a fragile love that may not survive their deceptions.

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Engaging the Bachelor

Engaging the Bachelor by Cathryn Fox is 99c! This is a contemporary romance with a second chance romance, a doctor hero, and a fake relationship. Readers really loved the hero and his care for the heroine. However, the book is a bit on the shorter side at a little less than 200 pages. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads.

Hot, Southampton doctor, Carson Reynolds isn’t the kind of man Gemma Carr should be playing with. But his offer of a fake engagement comes with sexy, late night house calls, and despite her bad girl reputation, it’s been far too long since she’s taken two and called anyone in the morning.

When Carson sees Gemma at a charity event, he knows he has to have her. It’s been ten years since he’s had her in his arms, but that hasn’t lessened his intense need for her. To save her reputation and get his parents off his back, he makes her an offer she can’t refuse.

It’s the perfect set-up—until this fake engagement starts to feel a little too real…


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Posted by Guest Reviewer



by Jean Webster
RomanceYoung Adult

Squee from the Keeper Shelf is a feature wherein we share why we love the books we love, specifically the stories which are permanent residents of our Keeper shelves. Despite flaws, despite changes in age and perspective, despite the passage of time, we love particular books beyond reason, and the only thing better than re-reading them is telling other people about them. At length.

If you’d like to submit your reasons for loving and keeping a particular book for Squee from the Keeper Shelf, please email Sarah!

Jean Webster—Alice Jane Chandler Webster (1876-1916) if you want to be stuffy about it—was a grandniece of Mark Twain, and it shows. She died relatively young; Daddy-Long-Legs is her best-known book.

Trigger warning: Daddy-Long-Legs came out in 1911. If you look at it with modern eyes, you may find something creepy and even stalkerish in the way the love story plays out. Therefore, do not look at it with modern eyes. Really. I mean it.

Meet our heroine. Jerusha Abbott was raised in an orphanage. (Spoiler alert: We never learn who she “really” is. It is not that kind of book.) In her last year of high school she writes an essay about “Blue Wednesday”, the day the orphanage’s trustees come to visit. The management are Not Amused … but one of the trustees is. In fact he is so amused, he arranges for Jerusha to go to college to be educated as a writer. The only condition: She must write to him regularly. Her letters—with wonderfully crude stick-figure illustrations—make up the rest of the book.

Crudely drawn comics about what Judy has learned to do, like skating and sliding down ropes.

Our heroine gives her benefactor the name “Daddy-Long-Legs” because all she has ever seen of him is a tall shadow. He refuses to give any information about himself, asking her to call him Mr. Smith. One of her first letters includes the impassioned query “ARE YOU BALD?” No reply. In fact he never writes back; it’s a strictly one-sided correspondence. Everything from his end is relayed through a secretary.

Do you dread the prospect of, well, Jerusha? I feel your pain. I once read a 20th-century novel whose heroine was named Beulah, and kept waiting for the author to jump out and say Haha, just kidding, it’s really Betty. (Spoiler: She never did.) But Jerusha Abbott is another story. The moment she arrives at college, she informs everyone that her name is now Judy. Ahh, that’s better.

Freshman year:

We meet Judy’s roommates: Sallie McBride who is nice, and Julia Pendleton who is stuck-up. They both have their uses, though, as Sallie has a nice brother at Princeton named Jimmie, while Julia has a nice uncle named Jervis. So there’s your two Potential Men, right off the bat.

Judy goes out for the freshman basketball team. (“I’m little of course, but terribly quick and wiry and tough.”) Did you know that girls in 1911 played basketball? They sure did; in fact the sport was tailor-made for them. An indoor arena meant the young ladies wouldn’t get wet or muddy—and if they built up an unbecoming glow, you could always lock out everyone but close friends and relatives. Eat your heart out, WNBA.

One of Judy’s most appealing traits is that she’s not perfect. She does make the basketball team—Julia, neener-neener, doesn’t—but she also fails two classes, and has to retake her exams. (Spoiler: She passes.) And, unlike Harry Potter, she is not dumped back in the orphanage each summer. Daddy-Long-Legs arranges for her to stay on a farm. And here the plot thickens: By amazing coincidence, the owner of the farm knows Julia’s Uncle Jervis—“Master Jervie” to her—from way back. He comes to visit, and sparks fly.

Sophomore year:

At year’s end, conflicts develop. Judy has been invited to spend the summer with Sallie’s family, including the nice Princeton brother. Instead of being glad to be rid of her for a few months, Daddy-Long-Legs vetoes the plan and packs her off to the farm again. Spoiler: This is the last time he will win this particular battle. The quest for independence will be a big part of Judy’s character development over the next two years.

During the summer, Judy learns that in spite of those freshman-year fails, she has won a scholarship that will free her from Daddy-Long-Legs’ support. Not that she’s got anything against him—how could she, when she’s never set eyes on the guy?—but she wants to make her own way. This time he can’t prevent her from accepting. (“Are you still harping on that scholarship? I never knew a man so obstinate and stubborn and unreasonable, and tenacious, and bull-doggish, and unable-to-see-other-people’s-points-of view as you. If you make any more fuss, I won’t accept the monthly allowance either.”) Go Judy!

Junior year:

Victory again! (Score to date: “Mr. Smith” 1, Judy 2.) Come summer, Judy flatly refuses to go along with Daddy-Long-Legs’ plans for her, and instead goes to work tutoring two college-bound sisters. In the meantime, we’ve seen a lot of her hanging out with the other students, getting involved in student government, writing for the school paper, tramping across the countryside in “short skirts”. (In 1911, this can only mean—horror!—above the ankle.)

By year’s end, it is obvious that Brother Jimmie is out of the running. He’s just too young—only a year older than Judy. Uncle Jervis, on the other hand, is a comfortable 14 years older.

Senior year:

Clouds on the horizon—and some disgruntlement, as Daddy-Long-Legs doesn’t show up for Judy’s graduation. Maybe he’s offended at the way she keeps refusing his help. When he learns that Snooty Julia is going to Europe after graduation, he offers to send Judy too. Once again she declines, and instead spends a final summer at the farm writing, writing, writing. Her first novel is accepted! (Publishers worked a lot faster in those days.) With the advance, she starts paying back Daddy-Long-Legs. Surprisingly, he doesn’t even try to send back the money. By now he knows who he is dealing with.

But all is not well. We learn from Judy’s letters that Jervis has proposed, and she has turned him down. You may remember that he is related to the rich Julia; Judy can’t bring herself to come clean about her own raised-in-an-orphanage background. She is miserable. So is Jervis; he runs off to Canada, and comes back deathly ill. By grievous coincidence, Daddy-Long-Legs is also dangerously ill—and this, at last, forces him to break his resolution about letting Judy meet him.

Final letter:

My very dearest Master-Jervie-Daddy-Long-Legs-Pendleton-Smith,

P.S. This is the first love letter I ever wrote. Isn’t it funny that I know how?


I don’t know when I first discovered Daddy-Long-Legs. I only know that it’s one of those books you can reread an almost infinite number of times, and it always leaves me feeling happy.

Daddy-Long-Legs comes from Louise Rose’s Keeper Shelf! When Louise isn’t making ebooks, Louise writes about things nobody in their right mind would be interested in at Fifty Words for Snow.

And It Came to Pass by Laura Stone

Jun. 19th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by SB Sarah


And It Came to Pass

by Laura Stone
May 18, 2017 · Interlude Press

I met Laura Stone at the 2017 RT convention after the book signing. She mentioned she had a podcast about her former faith, Mormonism, called “Oh My Heck.” I live near enough to the DC Mormon temple that Instagram keeps asking me to tag my pictures like I’m currently there. (I’m not, but there’s a pretty solid Pokestop in the parking lot.) So I was curious about her podcast, both because I have many Mormon neighbors, and learning about different faiths is fascinating for me. During one episode, Stone mentioned her new book, so I downloaded a sample, and once I started, I couldn’t stop reading.

Adam Young is in Barcelona for the first of his two years as a Mormon missionary. Due to a harsh, judgmental, and devout father who holds very high standards for his children, Adam is anxious about his performance on his mission. Anything short of perfection is failure for Adam, and he’s a little overwhelmed by the expectations. He is paired with Brandon Christenson, his mission companion – and according to the rules, they must stay together at all times except when they are bathing or otherwise using the bathroom. So they are around one another constantly.

In the beginning, Adam focuses on doing his very best to convert the Spaniards around him, and on living the devout, observant Mormon life his upbringing demands. He comes to admire Brandon deeply, because he’s warm and welcoming, and as the group leader for some of the missionaries in Barcelona, he takes care of everyone around him. Brandon exhibits a caring, nurturing masculinity that Adam has never witnessed, and he moves from resentment and shock to admiration and appreciation for Brandon’s leadership and fellowship style. Brandon leads with love and affection, not terror and strictness.

Brandon also begins questioning their beliefs, and the directives they receive from the church about converting others, proselytizing, and about daily habits and the standards expected of them as missionaries. Adam exists in a state of near panic about Brandon’s questions – which he is beginning to ask as well – because any questioning he brought to his father when he was a child was met with condemnation and humiliation in front of their entire church. Adam was taught in painful ways to never question the church or what he’s told to do. Obedience is faithfulness.

In contrast, Brandon’s parents are loving and welcoming, sending care packages that include Adam and his love for toffee bars, and answering Brandon’s letters with responses that take Brandon’s questions seriously, encouraging him to keep seeking the answers he needs. Adam is completely baffled by Brandon, by his family, by his loving example, and by how he can mix his devotion and belief with questioning and challenging, while maintaining contentment and joy, and the ability to care for others.

Brandon’s previous companion had been sent home due to illness, and when Brandon explains how his former companion’s fanaticism and over-dedication had risked alienating and offending their neighbors, Adam is unsure how to respond.

Young thought it was disloyal to talk about someone who wasn’t there to defend himself, someone who had to go home sick, someone who seemed to have tried anything they could to have a successful mission. Adam’s dad would expect him to knock on doors at lunch, cultural disrespect or not. “Aw, maybe he was all right. A little over-zealous, but isn’t that what we’re here for?”

Christensen looked him dead in the eye. “No. We’re here to learn more, ourselves. But mostly we’re here to try and spread some joy to the local people. We’re not here to freak them out and make them hate Mormons more than the rest of the world already does. If we bring some of them to the Gospel, that’s gravy.”

That shocking statement that seemed to go against everything he’d been taught sent another thrill through Adam.

Eventually, Adam realizes how attracted he is to Brandon, and that his admiration and respect were evolving into something else, something he couldn’t accept or even consider, due to his beliefs. The Mormon church and his own family were fiercely against homosexuality and Adam worries that his feelings for Brandon are a sign of his own sinfulness, of his unworthiness in every respect. Anxiety is a perpetual state for Adam, really, after being raised in an environment where he never measured up, was never good enough, and never treated with affection or care.

But of course Brandon is also attracted to Adam, and pretty quickly, the strength of their affection and desire overpower the religious doctrines that tell them everything that they’re thinking and doing is wrong and a terrible sin. They struggle to reconcile the messages of their religion about love and honor and the feelings they have for one another against the condemnation of their church and the policies and penalties for acting on their feelings. The trouble is, there is no way for them to be devout and practicing Mormons and be gay and happy together.

Their romance is complicated and emotionally staggering, with layers of internal and external tension. I loved the detailed explanation and portrayal of Brandon and Adam’s daily life as missionaries, how they practiced their faith and struggled with it and kept trying to be worthy of the expectations placed on them. There is a lot of detail here about Mormon observance.

Once the poo hits the air circulation device, however, the slow and painstaking tension built between and around Adam and Brandon becomes a plot that resolves very, very quickly. The ending was a little too fast for me – I wanted to know more about their future, what they’d do to move on with their lives, or what direction their faith might take. There is a lot that’s left open and unfinished, and while Brandon and Adam are safe, I wanted to know more about the foundation of their happiness, because it has to be constructed on entirely new ground. Very little of their upbringing and their lives up to that point remains accessible to them. I ended the book happy for them, but concerned for their mental health and well being, as well as for their futures. Also, only at the end does Brandon have chapters from his point of view, which was a little jarring, though I appreciated that he was as consistent as a point of  view character as he was when being described by Adam.

I loved the way their romance included exploration of their faith, and their fearless examination of divine love as interpreted by their church vs described by the scriptures. Part of the anguish and tension is that there is no room for them inside the faith in which they were raised. Though their relationship and their joy in finding one another augments their faith in God instead of diminishing it, they can’t stay within the community in which they were raised. Because of the first 2/3 of the story, I know how devastating that would be for Adam and for Brandon; because the last 1/3 doesn’t fully balance their losses with a potentially happy future, I was left unsure and wanting more.

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Posted by Guest Reviewer


The Pages of the Mind

by Jeffe Kennedy
May 31, 2016 · Kensington
GLBTRomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by PamG. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.

The summary:

An Orphan’s Throne

Magic has broken free over the Twelve Kingdoms. The population is beset by shapeshifters and portents, landscapes that migrate, uncanny allies who are not quite human…and enemies eager to take advantage of the chaos.

Dafne Mailloux is no adventurer–she’s a librarian. But the High Queen trusts Dafne’s ability with languages, her way of winnowing the useful facts from a dusty scroll, and even more important, the subtlety and guile that three decades under the thumb of a tyrant taught her.

Dafne never thought to need those skills again. But she accepts her duty. Until her journey drops her into the arms of a barbarian king. He speaks no tongue she knows but that of power, yet he recognizes his captive as a valuable pawn. Dafne must submit to a wedding of alliance, becoming a prisoner-queen in a court she does not understand. If she is to save herself and her country, she will have to learn to read the heart of a wild stranger. And there are more secrets written there than even Dafne could suspect…

Here is PamG's review:

I’m a sucker for word nerd characters in my reading. Devotees of books, language, writing, libraries—bring ‘em on. And when a novel is as well written as The Pages of the Mind, it’s time to bring on the squee as well. Hence my whole-hearted enjoyment of The Pages of the Mind comes as no surprise, nor does my affection for the character of Dafne.

Dafne is librarian, scribe, historian, and advisor to Ursula, the recently crowned queen of the Twelve Kingdoms. In the years of conflict leading to Ursula’s ascent to the throne, Dafne has raised the art of self-effacement to virtual invisibility. She is more than resigned but less than happy with her lot in life, feeling herself valued yet still an outsider in her own home. Still, the last thing she ever expected or wanted was to leave home behind, board the Hakyrling, and embark on an information gathering mission for her queen. Neither did she ever expect to be left behind in a strange island kingdom while her companions sailed away to complete what she had believed to be her task. Unfortunately, extreme culture shock, scorched feet, lack of a common language, and the demands of King Nakoa KauPo tangle her in an indecipherable diplomatic situation.

From his first appearance King Nakoa KauPo is both extremely significant and dauntingly other to Dafne. There is a Kiss; there is smoldering attraction; there the major obstacle of serial miscommunications. There is also the unfamiliar magic of Nahanau’s archipelago to be parsed. Though the setting and people of Nahanau, resemble a mash up of Pacific island cultures encompassing both tropical climate and volcanic geology, the island country seems an appropriate vehicle for the sense of strangeness that Dafne feels. Fortunately, Dafne possesses a gift for languages and excellent instincts as well as wisdom in the ways of research. It is also clear that Nakoa is perceptive, intelligent, and determined to communicate with his new. . . lady friend. Though Dafne narrates her adventures with insight and dry humor, Nakoa’s powerful personality and his appeal shine brightly throughout the narrative. It is fascinating how the inability and the effort to communicate allows the reader to follow all the nuances of their developing relationship even when related from the first person perspective. In Nakoa’s case, actions do speak louder than words.

Though I kinda loved Pages, there are several potential obstacles between the reader and full enjoyment of this novel. In all fairness I think it’s necessary to mention them, before launching a little dignified squee.

First of all, Pages is a follow-up to a previous trilogy, The Twelve Kingdoms, and the start of a new trilogy, The Uncharted Realms. I haven’t yet read the earlier series and I had no major problems understanding Pages. Although Dafne’s account makes many references to earlier events, there is neither an info-dump nor any sense of being at a loss within this unfamiliar world. The number of proper names was a mite confusing, but overall the novel is satisfying and complete and doesn’t require reading the earlier books. However, having read Pages, you may want to read The Twelve Kingdoms really, really badly. I certainly do.

The second possible issue is the use of that first person point of view. Many readers seem to feel that this perspective limits their understanding of other characters in the novel. I personally love first person as long as the characters are well developed by the author. Good character development has never required readers to be silent auditors of multiple internal monologues; rather, it requires mastery of the telling detail to make characters become people you really know and care about. And that skill can be demonstrated from any point of view. Kennedy is very, very good at this. She reveals much through Dafne’s sharp observational skills, her clever humor, and her occasional naiveté, and even more through the fine-tuned use of dialogue between characters—even the mostly non-discursive communication between the Nahanauns and their visitors.

The third potential problem is perhaps the most serious. At the core of the conflict between Dafne and Nakoa is a misunderstanding that may easily be considered a consent issue. Without going into detail (because major spoilers), Dafne’s remaining on the island and her relationship with Nakoa is due at least in part to coercion. There is never any question of rape, but Dafne’s choices are truncated by the requirements of diplomacy, her burnt feet, and the language barrier. Dafne indicates that she has a pretty fair understanding of her possible role in Nakoa’s life before her friends depart, so in some sense, she does reclaim her choice. Still consent is a troubling element in this story, but I think a necessary one.

When I first read this book, I enjoyed the fantasy and adventure elements, loved the characters, and the slow burn of the romance. I might have given it a B or B+, had someone asked me to grade it. However, reading Pages a second time for this review kicked it up to kind of A-mazing. There is so much more to this than Dafne’s word-nerdery and a little improv sign language. The entire novel is built on the importance of language and communication, with words as the essential building blocks. How many times are we frustrated by romance couples who generate their own conflicts because they do not use their words? In Pages, the hero and heroine literally have no words. So much of the action is built around Dafne’s and Nakoa’s attempts to communicate with one another. Nor is the full burden of understanding dumped on the in-comer heroine’s shoulders. Without reading Nakoa’s mind, we see by his actions the heroic effort to “see to understand.” These people are grown-ups, and when they do consummate their relationship, it is an act that goes far beyond simple lust. Oh, yes, and emotional maturity aside, it’s pretty damn hot.

Once I became caught up with this idea, I began to see it as an over-arching theme layered through the story at many levels. Dafne’s conversations with her queen in the earlier chapters deal with the difficulties of interacting with even the people one cares most about. Ursula’s somewhat awkward inquiry into Dafne’s personal needs and wants is an oddly touching portrayal of the antisocial reaching out to the antisocial. Dafne’s response is terse and practical.

“I never met anyone I liked enough to marry.” Or even spend time with. It had always been easy to decline the rare offers. To stay safe and quiet instead. “Like you, I’ve been busy with other things.” My morning for saying the wrong thing, no doubt due to missing sleep. “That is, until you—“

“Met Harlan? An extraordinary development, true. And, as you witnessed, not something that was easy for me to adjust to. It still isn’t, to be honest.” She hesitated over something. “It wasn’t all being busy for me. I hope there isn’t. . .” She trailed off, uncomfortable, and I shared her embarrassment. Both of us so private and protected, in our different ways. She, as always, possessed more courage than I and forged on. “This is more Harlan’s area of expertise than mine, but he seems to think I should be the one to talk to you. I have an idea of what it’s like to take refuge in being busy, focusing on the goal and telling myself that I didn’t need, well, human connection.” She huffed out a breath and shook her head. “Harlan would laugh at me for avoiding using the word ‘love.’ But that’s part of it. It takes courage to let another person in, to let them love you. More to open up enough to allow for the possibility of loving in return.”

Dafne is part of a tightly knit circle of women including Ursula and the friends who accompany her on her journey, but she is clueless about her own importance to the women who have her back, even though she herself is fiercely loyal, especially to her queen. In fact, the conflict between her loyalty to Ursula and her love for Nakoa ends up being a greater obstacle between Dafne and Nakoa than earlier misunderstandings. As Dafne’s loyalties become more divided, she herself refers to her growing inability to find the right words to say what she needs to Nakoa.

But, as they had been doing lately, words evaded me, fading before they formed, leaving my mind as empty as a blank page.

Later, as she tries to work things out with Nakoa, she tells us:

. . . the silence stretched on, no longer peaceful, but full of all the words we both hesitated to speak.

Words can be learned, but communication requires honesty and courage to speak the words. The misunderstanding that launches their relationship is balanced by the difficulty of saying what must be said to resolve their differences and the bravery required to say those necessary words. In short, consent requires words. And the relationship requires explicit consent from both parties. I think the story resolves this very well. To me, creating a successful relationship on the page is all about balance. Nakoa and Dafne are not the same, but in some essential way, they balance each other beautifully.

Maybe none of this qualifies as squee, but I definitely felt pretty squee-ish as I finished this book. Jeffe Kennedy has landed on my must buy list, and I look forward to reading both The Twelve Kingdoms and The Uncharted RealmsThe Pages of the Mind is a definite and enthusiastic A.

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Posted by Amanda

The Gamble

The Gamble by Kristen Ashley is $1.99 and a price-matched Kindle Daily Deal! This is also the first book in her Colorado Mountain series, which seems to mostly be a contemporary romance with suspense elements. Two more books in the series are also part of today’s KDD! New readers of Ashley had a few minor complaints about getting used to her writing style, but overall people couldn’t get enough of the emotional rollercoaster set in a small, snowy town. It has a 4.2-star on GR.

Love is the greatest gamble of all…

Nina Sheridan desperately needs a timeout vacation. With a fiancé who can’t even remember how she takes her coffee, Nina wants some distance to rethink her engagement. Flying halfway around the world from England to a mountain town in Colorado should do the trick. But when she finds a gorgeous man at her rental cabin, Nina’s cold, lonely adventure suddenly heats up.

The owner of the house, Holden “Max” Maxwell is surprised by the beautiful woman who turns up at his door. But when Nina becomes ill, Max spends days nursing her back to health. A private man with a broken heart, Max finds himself drawn to the strong-willed woman. Soon it becomes impossible for Nina and Max to deny their growing attraction to one another. Yet even as these two wounded lovebirds think about taking a chance on a relationship, a dangerous secret from Max’s past emerges-and threatens to end their love for good.

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The Beautiful Ashes

The Beautiful Ashes by Jeaniene Frost is $1.99! This is the first book in her Broken Destiny series, which is a New Adult paranormal romance/urban fantasy. Some readers mentioned having some confusion as they weren’t sure if Frost was trying to write something similar to New Adult, young adult, or a straight adult urban fantasy. However, others thought the blend of action and suspense balanced well with the romantic aspects. I’m sure some Bitchery members have read this one. What do you think?

In a world of shadows, anything is possible. Except escaping your fate.

Ever since she was a child, Ivy has been gripped by visions of strange realms just beyond her own. But when her sister goes missing, Ivy discovers the truth is far worse—her hallucinations are real, and her sister is trapped in a parallel realm. And the one person who believes her is the dangerously attractive guy who’s bound by an ancient legacy to betray her.

Adrian might have turned his back on those who raised him, but that doesn’t mean he can change his fate…no matter how strong a pull he feels toward Ivy. Together they search for the powerful relic that can save her sister, but Adrian knows what Ivy doesn’t: that every step brings Ivy closer to the truth about her own destiny, and a war that could doom the world. Sooner or later, it will be Ivy on one side and Adrian on the other. And nothing but ashes in between…

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The Girl with Ghost Eyes

RECOMMENDED: The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson is $1.99! This is a scifi/fantasy novel in a historical setting. Carrie gave this an A- in a Lightning Review:

It’s a great paranormal/fantasy in a historical urban setting that focuses on a group of people too often ignored in history and in non-fiction. And Li-lin is a wonderful heroine: smart, determined, and struggling against all kinds of barriers including her own sense of self. I’m very much hoping that Li-lin and her floating eyeball friend will return in a sequel.

It’s the end of the nineteenth century in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and ghost hunters from the Maoshan traditions of Daoism keep malevolent spiritual forces at bay. Li-lin, the daughter of a renowned Daoshi exorcist, is a young widow burdened with yin eyes—the unique ability to see the spirit world. Her spiritual visions and the death of her husband bring shame to Li-lin and her father—and shame is not something this immigrant family can afford.

When a sorcerer cripples her father, terrible plans are set in motion, and only Li-lin can stop them. To aid her are her martial arts and a peachwood sword, her burning paper talismans, and a wisecracking spirit in the form of a human eyeball tucked away in her pocket. Navigating the dangerous alleys and backrooms of a male-dominated Chinatown, Li-lin must confront evil spirits, gangsters, and soulstealers before the sorcerer’s ritual summons an ancient evil that could burn Chinatown to the ground.

With a rich and inventive historical setting, nonstop martial arts action, authentic Chinese magic, and bizarre monsters from Asian folklore, The Girl with Ghost Eyes is also the poignant story of a young immigrant searching to find her place beside the long shadow of a demanding father and the stigma of widowhood. In a Chinatown caught between tradition and modernity, one woman may be the key to holding everything together.

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From One Night to Forever

From One Night to Forever by Synithia Williams is 99c! This is the fourth book in the Henderson Family series, but it can be read as a standalone. It has a one night stand and the off-limits romance trope. Some readers said the romance has a slow start at the beginning, but they really loved the main couple. It has a 4.3-star rating on Goodreads.

Trucker Aaron Henderson always loved his life of freedom on the open road, but a business opportunity from a friend finds him settling down in Resilient, Tennessee. On his first night there, he meets a singing beauty at a bar who stirs feelings he’s long forgotten. He’s all in for a night of fun . . . until the next day when he realizes his one-night stand is his new business partner’s baby sister.

Kacey Randal just wanted to a quick fling to blow off steam before diving into her last semester of business school. When she learns that Aaron’s working with her brother and has a list of female conquests as high as the mileage on his big rig, she’s perfectly willing to pretend their night together never happened.

But the fire burns hot between these two, making their secret nearly impossible to keep. Yet even as their feelings blossom, Aaron’s roaming ways make Kacey wonder if they can truly go from one night to forever.

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February 2017


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