Whatcha Reading? January 2020 Edition, Part One

Open book with light and sparkles floating up from the pages.It’s our first Watcha Reading of the year! I hope you’re all excited to talk about books!

Tara: I’m reading Polaris Rising because Amanda said on the podcast that it’s amazing and, well, it’s definitely amazing.

I’m also listening to 30 Dates in 30 Days by Elle Spencer, ( A | BN | K | AB )which is a pretty cute f/f romance. It has a lawyer who wants to find love and is reluctantly talked into going on (you guessed it) 30 dates in 30 days, and ends up most attracted to the bartender, who’s declared she doesn’t do relationships. They’re currently in denial about their feelings and I’m looking forward to seeing how it resolves.

Catherine: I’ve just finished reading Artistic License by Elle Pierson (Lucy Parker’s first pseudonym). It’s sweet and funny and comforting, but I can really see how she has developed since then.

And I’m alternating fiction reading with reading my way through Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, which is not so much a cookbook as a masterclass in the fundamentals of flavour. I’m really enjoying her writing style, which is lively and friendly and personal, as well as the little bits of food science and the experiments she encourages you to undertake to demonstrate her principles.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
A | BN | K | AB
Shana: I just started It All Falls Down by Sheena Kamal. ( A | BN | K | AB ) It’s the second thriller in a series and the first, The Lost Ones, was one of my favorite non-romance reads last year. I love a bitter, angry heroine. CW: assault backstory.

Maya: Ohhhhhhh I loved the Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat Netflix show and the book!! The illustrations in the book are so evocative of Nosrat’s relationship with food. Like you can feel the joy coming off the pages.

Catherine: The illustrations are gorgeous – so colourful and full of life! And I love her rationale for including illustrations rather than photos – that she doesn’t want people to look at a photo of a dish and think that this is the one true way to do it, she wants people to be inspired by food. It’s a lovely, lovely book.

Shana: This all makes me want to read Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. My hold on it finally came in last week but I’ve been waiting to pick it up.

Catherine: Do it do it do it!!! I mean, if you need more of perspective on this, I have So. Many. Cookbooks. I have recently acknowledged that I need to do a giant cull of my cookbooks, because I have two bookcases worth of cookbooks piled in and around one bookcase. And I still had to buy this one. (Which, on reflection, may be less of a recommendation of this book than an it is an admission of my raging addiction to cookbooks.) But still. It really is a unique and very useful book, and well worth trying to jam into an already overfull bookcase.

Her Scandalous Pursuit
A | BN | K | AB
Lara: I’m in the second half of Her Scandalous Pursuit by Candace Camp and the author has put her foot on the accelerator and I’m here for it!

Carrie: I’m reading Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley. ( A | BN | K | AB ) It’s a biography of Austen and it’s wonderful. Planning to review it, but short version – it manages to be academic and chatty at the same time – quite a feat.

Claudia: My winter break brought about an embarrassment of riches and after some dithering I decided to go for a couple of books and novellas I had been “saving” forever: Band Sinister ( A | BN | K | G | AB ) and The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh, ( A | BN | K | AB ) book and novella by KJ Charles, and Your Wicked Heart, a novella by Meredith Duran ( A | BN | K | G | AB ). I often do that: Save that last unread book from a favorite author for, I don’t know, some type of special occasion. In the Duran novella’s case I think it has been at least four years. I’m also the person who keeps the “good” china in the cupboard, so there.

Ellen: I just read the Beast of Beswick and I did love the dialogue although I agreed with a lot of the points in Catherine’s review. Currently reading A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers which comes out soon and oooooh boy do I have THOUGHTS which will be in my review. Nonfiction-wise I am reading Hexing the Patriarchy by Ariel Gore ( A | BN | K | AB ) and I’m enjoying it a lot! I’m really interested in the idea of crafting my own rituals as a component of ritual practice and i LOVE this new strain of social justice witch books we are getting!

I’m Afraid of Men
A | BN | K | AB
Sneezy: I’m reading I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya, which Tara recommended to me, and HOLY SHIT, EVERYONE SHOULD READ IT!!!!! Shraya is one of those bossed up ladies I wanted to be when I grow up, and she shares how she understands and experiences the binary gender structure in this book. Her writing is at once poetic and to the point, and plopped me right into the corner of her mind that she’s sharing from the first sentence. She makes me feel so safe while she’s talking about so many things that should’ve triggered my anxiety to fuck and beyond, and I think it’s intentional on her part.

Romance-wise, I’m reading A Sweet Mess by Jayci Lee. ( A | BN | K | AB ) I just got to the point where things are about to take off, but I’d made several notes about how much of a dick dingle the hero is since chapter 2, and I’m only partway through chapter 5. Redemption arcs can be pretty catnippy for me, not to mention the heroine is great and there’s cake, so I’ll keep reading, but HE’S SUCH A SHIT DINGLE RIGHT NOW!!!!

Sarah: In a complete departure from most things I am reading Howl’s Moving Castle, which I have never read before.

Tara: Ooh yeah, I totally recommend that Vivek Shraya book. I’m still reading it because I’m just savouring her prose, even though she’s talking about some of the difficulties of living as a trans woman.

Oh damn, Howl’s Moving Castle is great!


Howl’s Moving Castle
A | BN | K | AB
If you haven’t yet, you should absolutely watch Miyazaki’s film loosely based on the book, too! They’re very different, and story wise, I think the book is tighter, but they’re both SO SO GOOD!!

And Tara, thank you again for recommending it!! I fucking LOVE IT!!

Elyse: I woke up to presents from Past Elyse on my Kindle and I think I’m going to start with Long Bright River by Liz Moore. ( A | BN | K | AB )

Catherine: Just popping up again to second all the squeeing about Howl’s Moving Castle! Such a joy to read!

Ellen: Also obsessed with book and movie versions of Howl’s Moving Castle!! Movie Howl is my personal #1 style icon.

Aarya: I’m in the early stages of two books: 1) Anna-Marie McLemore’s Dark and Deepest Red ( A | BN | K | AB ) and 2) Yaffa S. Santos’s A Taste of Sage. The former is a LGBTQIA+ retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes; the writing is beautiful but I’m not yet invested in the characters. The latter’s premise is fun and I hope the execution carries though. I like the enemies-to-lovers vibe between the chef protagonists and the delicious descriptions of Dominican cuisine. It’s too early to tell how the reads will be, so fingers crossed for the best.

A Taste of Sage
A | BN | K | AB
I’ll add on to the loving chorus to praise Howl’s Moving Castle. I adore that book. Howl is a drama queen who throws tantrums over hair products, but I wouldn’t have him any other way.

Maya: I DNF Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey. The trope of off-limits little sister + brother’s best friend is so extremely patriarchal at its core since the little sister is effectively stripped of all of her (sexual) agency and the way that it was handled in the book just really didn’t work for me. The final conflict at the end really ramped up how controlling that idea is and if it wasn’t an audiobook, it would have certainly been thrown at the wall. Which all bums me out because I am generally a fan of Tessa Bailey and enjoyed the set up of the book until the menfolk started actively controlling and restricting the lives of the women within their ambit.

To recover from all of that yuck, I’m reading Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raul the Third. A friend of mine took me to our local library branch and just started pulling graphic novels off the shelves for me to read and this was one of them! It’s about three friends who own their own garage and one day their cat gets catnapped by the Aztec god of the Underworld. The art is wonderful and the dialogue has a good mix of English with Spanish thrown in (with translations in the margins), so it’s both accessible to folks that do not speak Spanish, but with tons of puns in both English and Spanish it still would be a joy for folks who just might want to see their native language (and Latinx characters) represented in a fun graphic novel!

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth
A | BN | K | AB
Sneezy: You had me at cat and Aztec god, and bagged me at puns in English and Spanish.

Kiki: I’m reading Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson, ( A | BN | K | AB ) which, as you can imagine, is exactly as much fun as it sounds! In all seriousness it’s actually really affirming and has only made me cry on public transportation once!

I’m not sure what I’m reading next in terms of romance because I’ve been having a hard time really falling into anything and am slightly overwhelmed by just how much I have available right now (I got a bit one-click happy towards the end of the year). But book club is reading Kiss of Steel by Bec McMaster and I received it in our book exchange so I might be headed in that direction.

Susan: Sarah, I’m so excited for you to be reading Howl’s Moving Castle! It’s my favourite Diana Wynne Jones book!

I’ve just started Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey, ( A | BN | K | AB ) which I think is librarians carrying books all across an sf future version of the Old West. It’s already made me tear up on the tram because the bigotry of her hometown has torn the protagonist up inside, but it’s good so far! Hopefully it’s going to be unpacking queer tragedy as a narrative, but as a fair warning there is homophobia, transphobia, and queer tragedy in backstory.

I’m also reading RePlay by Saki Tsukihara, about two best friends who quit baseball to focus on their college entrance exams and have to work out what their relationship is going to be without sports to hold them together. So far it’s pretty cute, and there’s pining, which is always what I’m after!

Which books have you finished so far?

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  1. Msb says:

    Ai, I’m so far behind. I just finished Courtney Milan’s first two Cyclone books and enjoyed them very much. The second was so engrossing that I skipped an event I was supposed to attend, to stay home and keep tapping my Kindle til I finished. Looking forward to the third.
    SF is next on my list: CJ Cherryh’s Resurgence, Theodora Goss’ The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl and Pullman’s Secret Commonwealth. And I got Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer for Xmas (because I asked for it).
    So many books, so little time.

  2. Silke says:

    I binge-re-reading three Nora Roberts Novels at the end of year. A little bit of comfort reading. Loved “Montana Sky” and “Northern Lights” (Alaska and chief Nate !!)”Carnal Innocence” was a bit outdated.

    I´m currently reading “Crashing heat” by Richard Castle. I´ts okay and i will finish today.

    Looking forward to “Daisy Jones an the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. “The Seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo” was the highlight of my 2018 Reading year.

  3. Jill Q says:

    @Msb, I love, love the 2nd cyclones book (Hold Me). Anything where people are falling in love through letters, email, whatever, I’m there for it. And I feel like this one is perfectly plotted. That book is a comfort reread for me and I almost never reread.

    I’m starting my new year pretty slow actually. I did read “Off the Clock” I liked most of it, but I bounced pretty hard off her “network and engage with lots of work people” chapter. I definitely believe in being friendly and polite at work. If that leads to friendship, great. heck, if it leads to casual acquaintance-ship. great. But I’ve worked in too many toxic workplaces to agree that “just go to all the happy hours you can and have lots of lunches with people.” That usually means winding up with the energy vampires and the cabal spinners trying to lure you into their drama. If being a bit antisocial means I’ll never have career success, so be it. The rest of it was really good.

    I also read “One Bed for Christmas” by Jackie Lau which was really cute although the hero pined for 12 years. 12 years, man! I love good pining but that makes me a little concerned for you, dude.

  4. Ren Benton says:

    Currently reading The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso. YA fantasy in which a noble heir on a jaunt somewhere she shouldn’t be helpfuls herself into a lifetime commitment as the handler of a dangerous mage, which makes her much more politically interesting to everyone from her mother to hostile foreign powers.

    Finished Ash by Malinda Lo. Billed as a lesbian Cinderella retelling. Her “fairy godfather” and his ilk have goblin court energy (i.e., more likely to kill you than merrily grant wishes). The family-related parts were outstanding. Ash’s relationship with the huntress, on the other hand, felt underdeveloped, which I suppose is consistent with the “YES, NEAR STRANGER, GET ME OUT OF THIS HELL HOUSE” in all the prince versions, but it seemed like a missed opportunity to do a healthy, thriving romantic relationship.

    DNF’d I Am Justice by Diana Muñoz Stewart because the heroine was so determined to see her boss, she literally vaulted over the gatekeeping assistant to get into the office, whereupon she immediately lost her whole train of thought because OOH CUTE BOY. It would take a 5,000-word essay to adequately express my loathing of derailing a woman on an important mission with the mere glimpse of a man, and nobody has time for that.

    That was one thing Polaris Rising handled memorably well: the heroine observed something to the effect of “that’s a nice-looking fella” upon her first encounter with the hero, and then solving the problem of her imprisonment proceeded as if manly hotness had no relevance to the situation. Yay for priorities!

  5. JenniferH says:

    @Maya – I am trying to read Fix Her Up and have not been enjoying it for the same reason as you – the forbidden little sister trope just isn’t working for me.

    I did like Blood and Blade by Lauren Dane – kick ass women and men who embrace and work with their partners’ strength.

  6. Qualisign says:

    Based on a recommendation from @Kareni in the holiday stress reads recommendations (posted Nov 27), I just finished the three Linesman novels (SF) by S.K. Dunstall. I started reading them on New Year’s day and finished the third last night, with a couple other books thrown into the mix, and they were just what I needed. Competence pr0n + integrity + humility + deeply caring about others = my catnip. The other books I’ve read have been listed on my reading spreadsheet and pretty well forgotten already.

  7. Another Anne says:

    I read the first book in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series over the Christmas holiday, which was delightful. I started the second in the series, but for some reason, it isn’t keeping my interest, so I put it aside. I think perhaps it isn’t a good series for me to binge read, so I will wait a month or so and then pick it up again.

    I started the New Year reading The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory, which was such a great read that I just renewed my membership in the Bad Decisions BookClub. Still, so worth it! I finished the book as the news broke about Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan stepping back as senior members of the royal family, so I may wait a little before reading the book about Maddie’s mother (which looks lovely —- but I think I might enjoy it more later this year).

    I am currently reading the Flatshare, which really just that I’m trying to read as slowly as I can, to make it last. I’m starting to think that it might merit an immediate re-read, which is cheering me up immensely. Next up is Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn, which I bought entirely based on the recs from the various favorite books podcasts.

    Speaking of the favorites editions of the podcast, would you consider doing some version of those more frequently? I like hearing from the reviewers about books that they love (romance or non-romance). Reading a bio or a written review doesn’t give the same flavor as listening to someone talk about their reading habits or books that they love.

  8. Crystal F. says:

    ‘An Offer From A Gentleman’ by Julia Quinn. It’s my first time reading one of her books. And, ohhh, what have I DONE to myself?

    I love it. I love Sophie and Benedict, but especially Sophie. I love the banter between these characters. If you asked me to choose between this and ‘The Duchess Deal’ there’s no way I could choose. And now I’m definitely going to have to breakdown and get more books in the series.

    I’m still on ‘Once Upon A Midnight’, by Nora Roberts and other authors, and ‘The Fiery Cross’.

  9. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    @Maya & @JenniferH: The “sibling’s best friend/best friend’s sibling” trope is so hard to get right and often seems to be a lazy way of signifying that there will be conflict ahead or that the MCs will struggle against their attraction for each other. Although I have liked some Tessa Bailey’s books in the past, I skipped FIX HER UP because of my dislike for the “sibling/friend” trope (and, frankly, because that cutesy, chick-lit cover seemed so tonally wrong for Tessa “Queen of the Dirty-Talking Alpha Hero” Bailey).

    Otoh, it’s a sign of a good writer who can take a dislikable, played-out trope and produce something fresh. Jackie Ashenden’s duet, HAVING HER and TAKING HIM used the trope very effectively. I also recently read Julie Kriss’s SEXY AS SIN, a second-chance romance between older characters (early 30s) who are connected by the “sibling’s friend” relationship. It was also very good.

  10. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    When I’d finished Taylor Fitzpatrick’s absolutely gutting THROWN OFF THE ICE, I kept thinking of two quotes: the first, attributed to Orson Welles, “If you want a happy ending, that depends on where you stop the story”; the second, to Ernest Hemingway, “All love stories have unhappy endings.” And, with that, I’ve probably revealed more than I should about this book. Had it not been for a rave review on AAR, I would never have looked twice at THROWN OFF THE ICE. The cover—which features a stylized male face with a black eye and bloody nose—does not signify romance in any way; but I was intrigued by the review and the sample of the book I read, so I decided to give it a try. Like Rachel Reid’s HEATED RIVALRY (my favorite book of 2019), THROWN OFF THE ICE is an m/m romance that covers many years in the relationship of two hockey players, but (other than both books being beautifully written and deeply emotional) it is there that the similarities end. I do have to emphasize that THROWN OFF THE ICE, while being a “romance” in the sense that it is about two people who love each other, does not have an HEA or HFN—so it does not qualify as a Capital-R-Romance. Also, while I hate reviews that essentially say, I can’t tell you anything about this book, you just have to read it (that’s a teaser blurb, not a review), I really can’t say too much about the book without spoilers, which I don’t want to include. The bare bones of the story is that an older (30-year-old) hockey “enforcer” (a player who uses brute force and fists to clear the path to enable more finesse players to score goals) begins a relationship with a younger (18-year-old) player. The older player is bi, but has always kept his sexuality to himself. The younger player is a virgin, but knows he’s gay and makes all the first moves on the other player; he has the passion and utter certainty of youth. He’s also much more emotionally open than the closed-off older guy. We see almost everything from the older player’s POV: how he is initially both attracted to and annoyed by the younger player, how their purely sexual relationship gradually evolves into something more, and how circumstances in their professional and personal lives begin to fray and tear what they have together. But it’s at this point I really can’t say much more, other than this book is both beautiful and devastating. If you’re looking for an emotional journey that will most assuredly make you cry, I can’t recommend THROWN OFF THE ICE enough. It might not be a romance, but it’s definitely all about the love. Highly recommended—but keep some Kleenex close by.

    Caitlin Crews’s latest HP, SECRETS OF HIS FORBIDDEN CINDERELLA, has some elements in common with one of my all-time favorite HPs: THE MAN SHE LOVES TO HATE by Kelly Hunter. In both books, the heroine is the daughter of a woman with whom the hero’s father was once involved; because of this prior connection, the hero makes negative assumptions about the heroine and is unwilling to acknowledge his attraction to her. Crews’s book adds another layer by having the h&h be former step-siblings (her mother was briefly married to his father) and having the heroine become pregnant after an anonymous hookup with the hero at a masquerade ball (she knew who he was, he did not recognize her). There will be angst, emotional turmoil, and a secret wedding (all against a backdrop of gorgeous Spanish settings) before the HEA fade-out.

    Naima Simone’s THE BILLIONAIRE’S BARGAIN (published by Harlequin Desire) is a good category romance with a strong, likable heroine. The story features both one of my favorite tropes (a man falling for the widow of his late best friend) and one of my least favorite (the hero retains a negative opinion of the heroine, long after her actions reveal how inaccurate the opinion is, because of…reasons). Despite the dichotomy, I found that overall I enjoyed this story of a widow determined to approach her late husband’s wealthy family to ensure that her son is financially secure. Her marriage was not a happy one—her late husband was a classic gaslighting emotional abuser who lied about her to his family—and she has a great deal of trepidation in becoming involved in any way with his best friend. The way the couple begin to open up to each other and see each other in a new light is handled with well-written flair—and I liked the fact that, once the truth comes to light, the heroine does not immediately feel that she has to forgive her late husband’s family for their previous cruelty toward her or her son.

    Eve Dangerfield’s SWEETER is a fun, sex-positive novella set in Bozeman, Montana. The heroine is the proverbial starving artist (she works mostly in ceramics and I loved the descriptions of some of her pieces) who gets cat-fished on a Sugar Daddy website. She ends up getting involved with the business partner of the man who was doing the cat-fishing. The hero is rich because of an app he developed, but the heroine does not want to take his money. When she thought she was getting involved in a straight-up Sugar Daddy monetary exchange, she had no qualms about taking money from a wealthy man, but now she has an emotional connection with a man, she’s squeamish about allowing his money to help support her. There’s also Daddy-kink in the story—which Dangerfield might have planned as a teaser for the upcoming publication of NOT YOUR SHOE SIZE, sequel to her DD/lg classic, ACT YOUR AGE.

    SWEETER is packaged with a short story titled SWEETEST which has the same h&h as SWEETER. SWEETEST takes place on the opening night of the heroine’s big art show. It’s a quick read, but could have used an extra edit (for instance, “Korean fried chicken” is rendered as “Koran fried chicken,” which certainly gave me pause).

    ACTING LESSONS by Katie Allen (aka Katie Ruggle) is apparently the “in a fake relationship but attracted to someone else” story I didn’t know I needed. The heroine (a struggling actress) agrees to be the fake girlfriend of a young man for a visit to his family during the Christmas holidays—then she meets her fake boyfriend’s uncle…and sparks fly. Because of…reasons, the heroine finds herself involved in several layers of fake relationships: the original fake relationship where the young man is trying to fool his uncle; then a situation that requires the heroine to be in a fake relationship with the uncle—to whom she is attracted, but the uncle initially thinks her relationship with his nephew is real; then the heroine’s parents show up, under the impression she is seriously involved with the uncle; the heroine is constantly checking to remember which level of “fake” she needs to reflect in any given situation. I generally don’t like humor in romance novels, but Allen hit my funny bone and (despite a regrettable tendency to paint most of the female characters other than the heroine as bitchy weight-&-appearance-obsessed caricatures) she makes the story a madcap romp. The book does include Daddy-kink and age-play (the worst of which was the hero brushing the heroine’s teeth—ugh, no thanks), but I didn’t think it overpowered the story.

    Jackie Ashenden has been a long-time favorite of mine—and, with the exception of a couple of truly awful MC romances she wrote, I’ve liked, sometimes even loved, most everything she’s published. But there’s a certain going-through-the-motions feel to DIRTY DEVIL, her latest from Harlequin’s Dare line. Billionaire hero from a rough background? Check. Friends/business partners who will undoubtedly be featured in upcoming books? Check. Heroine with mysterious past and murky motives? Check. Unwilling attraction between hero & heroine? Check. History of family dysfunction for both h&h? Check. Usually, even when following what I term the “Ashenden template,” Jackie will find interesting and surprising things to throw into the story, but—other than the heroine being a cat burglar and the hero being, um, pierced—DIRTY DEVIL was pretty much a rote/color-by-numbers romance for me. Competently written, but nothing out of the ordinary.

    Elyse Springer’s WHITEOUT (not to be confused with the upcoming Adriana Anders book of the same title) seems to be two separate books, each in search of its other half. I really enjoyed the first part of the story: a man wakes up in a snowbound cabin with no memory of who he is, where he is, or if he can trust the only other person in the cabin—a man who claims to be his partner. As the hero’s memories start to return in non-chronological flashes, it becomes obvious something isn’t quite right between the couple. Springer really ratchets up the tension in this part of the book—there’s ambiguity, suspense, and some twists. I would have thoroughly enjoyed it had Springer spun that story to novel length. Alas, once the mystery is solved, the second part of WHITEOUT is a bit of a letdown—a rather standard second-chance romance. I’m not saying the second half of the book is terrible, but—based on the first half of the book—Springer had the opportunity to create a really twisty novel of psychological suspense and decided not to follow through.

    There’s a lot going on in Ann Mayburn’s STILL: it’s part military romance, part Domme/sub bdsm, part examination of PTSD, part recovery from grief, part love story, part critique of the toll multiple deployments take on our military—and it’s also the first book of a duet that continues with PENANCE. The h&h are military veterans (he was a Marine gunnery sergeant, she was a Navy doctor) who first met on deployment in Afghanistan, where she saved his life after an attack. Fast forward a few years and both are civilians living in the Austin area. They reconnect when the hero’s PTSD causes him to be charged with drunk and disorderly conduct and the heroine offers to “treat” him at her secluded ranch—a somewhat unorthodox treatment involving him being a sub to her domme. I think that would have made a good story—isolated ranch, on-going D/s erotic training scenarios—but so much more kept happening, the book felt cluttered and I was never really sure how being a sub was supposed to help the hero with his PTSD. Plus the story desperately needed a “timeline edit” as things kept happening at strange times (for example, the h&h wake up in the middle of the night and a delivery man arrives at the door). In a way, Mayburn reminds me of JA Huss: a prolific writer, with lots of ideas and books, who might benefit from taking things a little slower, with a lot more excising and editing.

    Tori Carrington was recommended on the recent “Erotic without BDSM” Rec League. I hadn’t heard of her, but my library had her Harlequin Blaze romance, OBSESSION, so I gave it a try. OBSESSION takes place in New Orleans; it was written prior to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but was published soon after, so the book is about 15 years old—and I think the age tells. There were things I liked about OBSESSION, especially the evocative descriptions of Louisiana’s hot and humid weather, the old-world feel of the heroine’s rundown Bourbon Street hotel (balconies, ceiling fans, no air conditioner, claw-foot bathtubs), and the heroine’s commitment to holding on to this inheritance from her grandmother even when it doesn’t seem economically feasible. But there were things I disliked about the book: the page upon page of tell-not-show exposition, negative comments directed toward the homeless, some very unpleasant “dog whistle” comments about the heroine’s cousin who receives government assistance, and referring to the heroine’s biracial mother as a “mulatto” (I don’t think that term was acceptable even a decade-and-a-half ago). The hero (who is secretly trying to persuade the heroine to sell the hotel to his client) remained a bit of a cypher to me, even when we were seeing things from his POV. And frankly, I didn’t find the sexy times very sexy (particularly a scene where the hero puts his cayenne-covered fingers inside the heroine—oh hell no!). For a book, 15 years old is probably the worst age to be: too old to be recent, too new to be history, just the right place, unfortunately, to be very dated.

  11. I read WELL MET by Jen DeLuca, which was a fun rom-com. I really liked the Renaissance Faire setting.

    Up next, I’ll probably switch gears and read some fantasy books, like THE RUIN OF KINGS by Jenn Lyons; THE BLACKSMITH QUEEN by G.A. Aiken; and SPIN THE DAWN by Elizabeth Lim.

  12. Jill Q. says:

    @DiscoDollyDeb, that Tori Carrington book sounds like a lot of yikes. I knew that name was ringing a very particular bell. Anyone else remember “Private Sessions” by Tori Carrington reviewed here by Smart Bitches very own Sarah? I couldn’t remember the title, but let’s just say I googled some anatomy terms and found it pretty easily. If you’re in the mood for an entertaining F review, I recommend it. The review has stuck in my head for 9 years apparently.

  13. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    @JillQ: OMG! How did I not remember that classic review? And, based admittedly on reading only one Carrington book, I completely agree with Sarah that Carrington uses many “wooden” plot points and utterly unsexy (but extremely detailed) sex scenes.

    As a side note, it’s interesting that Harlequin shut down the Blaze line and replaced it with the supposedly more adventurous and explicit Dare line, but (while I’ve not read every book published by Dare) I’ve only read references to anal sex in Dare, never full-on descriptions of the h&h having it…and yet, it was happening in Blaze books over a decade ago.

  14. Read and loved UNDERCOVER BROMANCE by Lyssa Kay Adams (I liked it even better than the first one), and really enjoyed HEADLINERS by Lucy Parker (people who love enemies to lovers will be super into this one). Both of them had a nice balance of pathos & humor.
    Next up is A HEART OF BLOOD AND ASHES by Milla Vane, aka Meljean Brook, and I’m just so excite for barbarians + Meljean’s writing!!

  15. Heather C says:

    Let It Shine, Alyssa Cole: “good” girl and boxer fall in love during the civil rights movement
    I had listened to a podcast reviewing what I THOUGHT was this book and was very confused until half way through when I did more research and discovered it was NOT this book. So that did distract a little

    The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter (KJ Charles, 4 stars): Novella in the Lilywhite Boys series. Singer falls in love with a repairman/fence for the Lilywhite Boys

    I signed on to the kindle unlimited .99 per month for 3 months deal so I’m going to be reading mainly KU books

    The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings (Lily Morton, 5 stars) I LOVE the cover. Man inherits a haunted house and falls in love with a Ghost Tour guide who can actually see ghosts

    To Touch the Light (EM Lindsey 3 stars) Trans Chef falls in love with a Russian, vision-impaired dishwasher while trying to setup a Hanukkah dinner

    Seriously H*rny: Redneck Unicorns (Piper Scott, 3 stars) Recommendation was from Will of Jeff&WillsBigGayFictionPodcat. Omegaverse Unicorn shifter and Dragon shifter. Reaction: What did i just read?

  16. Kristen A. says:

    I’ve been DNFing a lot of stuff lately. My first book of the new year was an ARC of The Faceless Old Woman Who Lives in Your Home by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, the third Welcome to Night Vale book which I’ll be reviewing for Shelf Awareness and which was good.

    After that I started The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. The first fifty pages or so setting up the premise were interesting, but then the next fifty turned mostly into a dull domestic drama about people cheating on each other, which is not why I pick up something by Margaret Atwood billed as a dystopia.

    Then I read Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, which was good fun as an SF thriller.

    I also reread The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as prep for when the library book club I read discusses it next month.

  17. Mary says:

    I haven’t caught one of these threads in a long time!

    First, my recent DNFs:
    -The V Girl by Mya Robarts – it was confusing and the sexy parts were not sexy to me
    -Beautiful Stranger by Christina Lauren- I usually love their books but I guess the older stuff is not for me. The MCs hooked up four times within the first 1/4 of the book, and the last time (that I read) was in an empty… mirror… warehouse? IDK, I know some people love this series, but I couldn’t get into it.


    -THE KINGMAKER and THE REBEL KING by Kennedy Ryan- really satisfying political romance with an awesome Native American heroine!

    -TAJI FROM BEYOND THE RINGS by R Cooper – holy shit people, if you like sci-fi romance (with nonhuman characters) and M/M, read this book now. I loved it so much. Taji is a human translator, and translators/librarians/word nerds are my favorite. The romance is sweet and the sex is HOT. And the politics and world building is top-tier.

    -THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT by Jessie Mihalik – I thought I was reading the sequel to Polaris Rising at first, which was silly of me, and I was bummed it was so short. This one turned out to be a separate novella, and it was a LOT of fun. The romance doesn’t really get going in this one but it had political maneuvering, ass-kicking, and interesting sci-fi.

    I’m sensing a theme here.

    Looking forward to going through the comments and adding stuff to my library holds and TBRs!

  18. Mary says:

    Oh gosh, I can’t believe I forgot this one because I loved every moment of it:

    -EMPIRE OF SAND by Tasha Suri – read for the Romance Sparks Joy book club since I just joined twitter and am trying to get involved (PS @gief_graves though I literally haven’t tweeted anything except 1 response to Kate Clayborn lol). It was really sad and powerful and the setting was almost its own character. Really lovely.

    Up next for me is Love Lettering by the aforementioned Clayborn (real life book club!) and maaaaybe The Stranger I married by Sylvia Day.

  19. Emily B says:

    Currently reading SWEET TALKING LOVER by Tracey Livesay, the first in a series about a group of 4 friends, all women of color. Each book will focus on a different friend, and the first focuses on a career driven heroine working for a cosmetics company who falls for the mayor of a small town where she’s been sent to shut down one of their factories. It’s started out a bit slow, which is pretty typical of a new series, but the writing is solid and Livesay writes good sexual tension. The hero is a bit generic so far. The best part has been the banter between the girlfriends.

    Finished reading WHO’S THAT GIRL by Mhairi Mcfarlane and really enjoyed it. Also read another Mcfarlane, YOU HAD ME AT HELLO, which I loved. Mcfarlane has such a great voice, witty but also compassionate. Her heroines are always women who’ve experienced some sort of life setback, but never with the goofy incompetence you see in other books, and while there is always a romance, it’s generally secondary to her heroines doing the work and figuring themselves out. They’re always very believable and sympathetic. I will warn about YOU HAD ME AT HELLO, a very sweet second chance romance, that when the characters reconnect 10 years later, the hero is married, and while there is no actual cheating, there’s definitely something of an emotional affair that may be off putting to some readers. I actually felt like the emotional repercussions of this were dealt with nicely in AFTER HELLO, a short little novella length follow up, where the heroine has to deal with some feelings of jealousy that stem from her guilt around this. I find sometimes epilogues or bonus stories are just fluff, but this one is worthwhile if you enjoyed the main book.

    ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER by Hazel Prior – Nothing about this book really worked for me. It felt like she was going for a sort of whimsical feeling, but none of the characters felt real.

    SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE by Jill Shalvis. My first Shalvis! I know, I know, but I just had never gotten around to it. I also have a bit of a completist mindset around series, and Shalvis series tend to have quite a few books in them, plus her books are on the pricier side. I told myself I would only read them through the library. This one is the first in her Lucky Harbor series, and focuses on three somewhat estranged sisters who come home after the death of their mother to renovate the inn that they’ve inherited. This first one is about the middle sister, who needs to learn how to stand up for herself, and the hot mayor she falls for (man, hot small town mayors is really a whole trope, isn’t it?) The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the use of a past abusive relationship as part of the heroine’s characterization – I find this is overdone and can feel like somewhat lazy character building. Total popcorn book though so I definitely see Shalvis’ appeal – it’s not the absolute best thing I’ve ever read, but I can’t wait for my hold on the next one to come through.

    CHAI FACTOR by Farah Heron – loved this one. Canadian-Indian Muslim scientist heroine falls for ginger bearded lumberjack looking barbershop quartet singing hero. Touches on issues of xenophobia, racism, sexism in ways that felt very real. The heroine was a bit too prickly at times for my taste, but she was aware of her prickliness. No on the page sex, which was a bit disappointing only because it’s implied that they have very hot sex. Princess Bride role play, which is a thing I didn’t know I needed in my romance novels.

  20. HL says:

    Regarding Howl’s Moving Castle – I listened to the trilogy, highly recommend.

    Currently reading Juliette Cross because I ran into her name here with reference to her new book Wolf Gone Wild. I started with her Nightwing series and am now into the second book of her Vessel trilogy. Lots of fun and exactly what I wanted right now.

  21. Joyce says:

    Finished Love Lettering…the long musings about her craft were skimmable for me.

    Normal People by Sally Rooney started off strong and then made me want to throttle the main characters by the last half.

    Had fun reading Forever My Duke by Olivia Drake. Heartily recommend.

    Amanda Quick is my new gateway drug. Never liked mysteries, but she hooked me. Went through all the titles at my library, must request more. I like them all.

  22. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    @EmilyB: if you’re looking for a romance with Princess Bride role-play (or, perhaps more accurately, a romance where the hero’s sexuality developed from the Westley-Princess Buttercup “As You Wish” dynamic) try OPEN HEARTS by Eve Dangerfield.

  23. Pre-Successful Indie says:

    My February resolution should be “better time management,” because my January resolution to write more has eaten my reading time, and it’s giving me a bit of a sad.

    Thank you for the Adult Children… rec, though. Might take a deep breath and plunge into either that or Running On Empty. I’m sure either would be useful.

  24. AmyS says:

    I have the Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat book on my soon to be read pile because I am reading it for continuing Ed. So reading it while answering hundreds of questions may dull the shine, but I’m hoping not. I read a LOT of cookbooks.

    I finished the ARC for Tessa Bailey’s new book in her series and liked it better than the last one. LOVE HER OR LOSE HER was enjoyable for me because of focusing on a married couple trying to find their way again. Not a lot of that out there and I liked the change of perspective.

    Also enjoyed HIS FAVORITE PLAYER and BEING ENOUGH by Alie Nolan. They are both M/M in the same series that revolves around a football team. There is some predictability and a little cheesiness that some may not like, but I found them both charming.

    Finally got around to THE FRIEND ZONE by Abby Jimenez and I liked it a lot. I know some had problems with it, and it is not perfect, but it worked pretty well for me.

  25. Carole says:

    Just read the latest book in the Goddess with a Blade series by Lauren Dane called Blood and Blade and whoa the romance factor in this one was dialed waayy up – it was lovely and sigh-worthy romantic, as well as fun to reconnect with the kick-ass heroine Rowan and her magical and vampire associates. I really loved this series, and while this book ended a story arc, I am hoping there are more books to come.

  26. Harmonyb says:

    My first read of the year was Rachel Reid’s HEATED RIVALRY. Big thank you to all who raved about this book as it was fantastic. I immediately had to reread the last third – twice. I’m normally not a big fan of flashbacks as I prefer my timelines more linear, but the constant tension of the rivalry and their growing relationship kept me completely engrossed.

    My other favourite reads this year have been rereads of my favourites from last year. Go figure.

    POLARIS RISING was just as kick-ass as I remembered.

    And I really didn’t think it was possible, given how deeply I loved it after my first read thru, but RED, WHITE AND ROYAL BLUE was even better the second time around. I really can’t organize my word enough to explain how absolutely amazing this book is, but it leaves my heart feeling ready to burst with love and hope each time. It gives me the biggest and best kind of book hangover and is really why I love reading romance so much.

    Other notable reads are:

    THE 5th GENDER by GL Carriger – sweet romance with a non-human MC and a compelling (and socially relevant) mystery plot.

    THE HENCHMEN OF ZENDA by KJ Charles – this has been on my list for so long and was just added to the Audible Escape package. I do enjoy swordplay as foreplay.

    GAME CHANGER by Rachel Reid – This is the first book in the series but I read it after HEATED RIVALRY. I listened to the audiobook and had a really hard time getting into the story, mostly because the narrator made some ‘interesting’ choices with the voices of the MCs. Not sure if I was less interested in this one due to the narration or to the fact that it was a sweeter story with none of the tension that made HR so compelling. I suspect a bit of both.

  27. Kate says:

    AAH, I read Howl’s Moving Castle for the first time just over a year ago and loved it so much. I haven’t read the others in the trilogu because I went on a Chrestomanci deep dive right after.

    My New Years book was Bury Your Dead in the Inspector Gamache series, which was stunningly good–the best so far. I am reading these slowly as they become available at the library.

    Just finished Love Lettering and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m pretty immersed in the planner community which overlaps heavily with lettering peeps so she was already speaking my language. I also liked that the story wasn’t just about the romance but also addressed her friendships, and that the author made the heroine competent without giving her an adorable flaw to compensate as so many do.

    Currently reading Radio Silence which was on sale the other day. Not Alyssa Cole’s strongest, but I love a good apocalypse and it has been on my list forever.

  28. EmilyB says:

    @DiscoDollyDeb I’ve read Open Hearts! It was recommended so much during a Rec League here that I had to try it out – definitely a good read.

  29. Saltypepper says:

    Blew through the first two books in The Elemental Trilogy, by Sherry Thomas and am trying to slowly savor the third, The Immortal Heights, but slow isn’t happening. I bounced off about five different things before this series stuck so I’m very interested to see what other people have been enjoying.

  30. Lizabeth S Tucker says:

    I was in a SF mood lately so I dove into a book picked up at a local library book sale: THE SFWA GRAND MASTERS, VOL. 2. A collection of short stories and novellas written by Andre Norton, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, and Ray Bradbury. Bester was new to me, although I knew his name. A great collection edited by Frederik Pohl, the stories took me away to a time when SF was exploring new tropes and ideas. It had me checking out THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES from the library, the first SF story that I ever read.

    In honor of the hell that Australia is going through, I bought a Lucy Walker romance, THE CALL OF THE PINES. Her sweet romances entertained and educated me about the Outback, helping to grow the fascination that I’ve always had for Australia, a longing to visit that never came about. Alpha heroes and strong-willed heroines and scenery that constantly stole the book.

    Once finished with that and THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, I think I’ll be switching between SF and romance. I’m a bit burned out on NF history and mysteries.

  31. Katie C. says:

    I hope everyone is off to a great reading start for 2020!

    Paddington Abroad by Michael Bond – the fourth in the children’s lit series following Paddington. This one is just as charming as the others and follows Paddington’s adventures as the Brown family prepares for and takes a vacation to France.

    The Inheritance by Charles Finch – the tenth in the Charles Lenox mystery series set in Victorian London, I just love these books. All the characters feel like old friends and the mysteries are engaging and thoughtful, but not overly violent. The perfect read for winter. This one seemed to wrap up quite a few loose ends and the author has only written three prequels to the series since this one was published, so I hope this is not the end to the adventures for Lenox and Co. This particular mystery involves an old school friend of Lenox, who is summoned to London to receive an anonymous inheritance, but while there two attempts are made on his life. There is also a secondary plot involving a mysterious break-in at Parliament. If you like historical mystery series, I highly highly highly recommend these books (starting with A Beautiful Blue Death).

    Very Good:
    Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Baby by Tracy Hogg with Melinda Blau: My OBGYN recommended this book especially on the topic of infant sleep. The best part, to me, was the discussion of the importance of routine and then how to best structure a routine. A little bit of the information in this book is dated, but overall I really enjoyed it and found it very helpful.

    Their Newborn Baby Gift by Alison Roberts: A Harlequin Medical romance about a hospital receptionist heroine and pediatric cardio surgeon hero who find an abandoned baby on the grounds of the new children’s hospital they work at. This started off strong, but the emotional growth of the characters was too fast to me and the ending wrapped up things a little too neatly. However, I really really really enjoyed the heroine who gave too much to everyone else and had to figure out how to carve out time and space for herself. CW for death of a child in the backstory of one of the characters and the on-page death of another child in the hospital (NOT the titular abandoned baby).

    Hot Christmas Kisses by Joss Wood: A lovers to friends to lovers story between a human rights lawyer hero and a CFO heroine. Both have family issues and the heroine hates Christmas as a result. The problem here was this was part of a series although it was not advertised that way and there is an entire secondary plot involving the widowed mother of the heroine’s best friends and a retired MIT professor that was continued from an earlier book and not resolved here. Even though I enjoyed the secondary plot, it took up a lot of the story in a category romance where space is at a premium for character development. This was published under the Harlequin Desire line, but I felt like it would have been more at home at the now defunct Blaze line – both the primary and secondary plots revolved heavily around sexual desire which, in this particular case, seemed to give short shrift to the emotional development of the characters. This book would fit the recent Rec League of heroines who have cut off toxic family members. CW for miscarriage and infertility issues.


    The Bad:

  32. Dana says:

    How is Your Wicked Heart by Meredith Duran? And super serious question… will Meredith Duran write again? Or is she on permanent hiatus? I have read and really enjoyed everything she has written in the main series that starts with Duke of Shadows but have not read her novellas yet. I will be super sad is she is not planning to release more books and can’t find anything online!

  33. Lynn S says:

    I’ve read some good ones lately:

    Finally read THE BRIDE TEST by HELEN HOANG. I loved this one. Helen is definitely a new author favorite.

    ONE IN A MILLION by LINDSEY KELK got a nice review on this site, so I took a chance and read it. It’s a modern social media infused version of My Fair Lady, gender flipped. It’s got a Sophie Kinsella British chick lit vibe so that’s catnip for me. It started a bit slowly but then flew by the end.

    THE THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE by KATHERINE CENTER. As many noted during the Good Reads awards nominations, this book isn’t a straight up romance. More women’s fiction with a romance in it. I loved the story but I have to say the prose was very BESTSELLER simplistic 3rd grade level. It’s written in the first person and it’s like you’re listening to someone telling you a story in a straightforward manner. No elegance at all. So that threw me off. But the story was well done, so ultimately I found the book a winner. I guess maybe I am more used to literary fiction, and given the category of this book, it was odd that it read more like James Patterson/Janet Evanowich.

    Currently reading CITY OF GIRLS by ELIZABETH GILBERT now. While well reviewed, this one won some kind of honor for worst sex scene, lol. Curious what the context will be for that atrocity. This is my book club pick. The following month is that Daisy and the Six book, which strikes me as polarizing (people seem to either love or hate it) which is actually good for a book club.

  34. Emily A says:

    @Maya Thank you for your comments about Fix Her Up and the little sister/BFF pairing. Sexist stuff like can really dampen my enjoyment of the genre.

  35. Grace says:

    I finished Elle Spencer’s 30 Dates just before the Holidays. It resolves nicely and I enjoyed the book. I liked it quite a bit more than her last one – The Road to Madison, which I felt was unrealistic in it’s scope of a father’s hatred for all things lesbian. Right now I’m reading a lot of SB’s end of year recommendations. Sweet Agony (I downloaded it to Kindle almost a year ago.) Read it all night and wow, just wow! I loved it! Also Jennifer Ashley’s The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. LOVE! Winter Love Songs, by Eliza Andrews, a novella that was introduced in the collection Winter Hearts last year – made me happy once again this Holiday season. I also just finished If The Shoe Fits by E.J. Noyes. It’s the third book in a trilogy, 1st Ask, Tell – 2nd Ask Me Again and then Shoe Fits. I read them all just to be right there for the last book. Great writing! The character development because of the 3 books is just awesome! I also read The X Ingredient by Roslyn Sinclair which I liked quite a bit. Fun inventive sex scenes – even if the lawyer character comes off as quite cold at times. Thanks for all the content you put out! It makes my reading choices so much more interesting!

  36. Margaret says:

    I’ve only been on line sporadically the last few weeks (all my time taken up by following the RWA fiasco), so I might have missed something, but what happened to the “heart” icon? Maya, I’m glad you wrote what you did about Fix Her Up, because everyone seems to have loved it, and I HATED it. (And I too, usually like the author’s books.)

    And you guys are some kind of trendsetters: I just went to my library to see if I could put Howl’s Moving Castle on hold, and there’s now a huge queue!

    Always late to the party, I just read Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone, and it was fantastic (though a bit heart-wrenching). I listened to a fun new author: Krista Sandor; her first book was Man Fast. She has a few others out, but that’s the only one currently available in audio (though apparently the others are coming). I also really enjoyed Alisha Rai’s The Right Swipe, and in historical fiction: The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad about a pigeon keeper in WWII Britain who meets an American who’s ended up in the middle of the war completely by accident. It was well-done: both quite informative and very moving.

  37. Dejadrew says:

    @Msb I LOVE Hold Me, it is one of my constant comfort rereads. The particular dynamic of online banter is captured so well, and the hero’s realization of the depth and breadth of his screw ups is SO satisfying.

    Diana Wynne Jones is the BESSST. Tiny twelve year old me burned through every single book of hers the middle school library had available. I remember her as being the first favourite author I discovered entirely by myself. Tamora Pierce, my Dad brought home for me. Anne McCaffrey, I borrowed my mom’s collection. But Diana Wynne Jones wasn’t a gift or an inheritance, she was a discovery.

    I just read the latest Wayward Children novella by Seanan McGuire, COME TUMBLING DOWN. I adore that series, and this was a solid outing. Though I wish more of my favourite characters could have found doors back to their fantasy worlds (these books put you in the very strange position of hoping the characters you like will find an escape hatch and disappear from the series. “This character is awesome! I hope they leave and I never see them again!”)

    Currently coming up on halfway through THE STARLESS SEA, the new novel by Erin Morgenstern. It’s gorgeous prose, though I’m still a little fuzzy on the plot. Honestly, though, I’m still fuzzy on the plot of her first novel, THE NIGHT CIRCUS, and I didn’t care one whit while I was reading it. I think imagery is more the point of a Morgenstern. It’s sort of like reading a very long themed poetry anthology. Plot is just an excuse for cool word pictures.

  38. Kareni says:

    Since last time ~

    — The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams was an entertaining contemporary romance.
    — The Last Run by J. Scott Coatsworth was a short science fiction story with a hint of romance. It was a pleasant story but not something I’ll likely reread.
    — The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite which I quite enjoyed. It’s a regency era romance with two heroines.

    — Free Hand (Irons and Works Book 1) by E. M. Lindsey, a contemporary male/male romance, which I enjoyed.
    — reread Linesman, Alliance, and Confluence by SK Dunstall and enjoyed them all again!
    — Plus a host of book samples.

  39. Kareni says:

    @Qualisign, I’m delighted to learn that you enjoyed the Linesman books. As you can see from my post, I was reading them about the same time.

    I’m curious to know if you continued on in Lyn Gala’s Claimings series after having read the first two books.

  40. Kareni says:

    An asexual romance about which I’ve heard good things is currently FREE for Kindle readers.

    Mindtouch (The Dreamhealers Book 1) by M. C. A. Hogarth


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