Warrior’s Woman by Johanna Lindsey (Ly-San-Ter #1)

More romance backlist!  The NPR Swoon-Worthy Romance Novel list has my favorite synopsis:

763774There are probably more sensible books by the great Johanna Lindsey — she’s better known for the pirate yarn Gentle Rogue — but none so outlandishly fun as this tale of a space-faring security officer who lands on a planet of giant leather-trousered barbarian warriors and winds up claimed by the biggest brute of them all.

And I mean, look at that cover.  Perfect for my “give me the crazy!” mood.  (They put a more modern cover on the re-release, but that’s no fun.)

Originally punished in 1990, Warrior’s Woman is a paranormal romance before paranormal was a thing.  Tedra is a top-level security officer on the vaguely dystopian planet Kystran when her government is overthrown in a coup.  The new dictator’s hired muscle is a brand of warrior they’re unfamiliar with – tall and physically intimidating, they wield swords instead of phazors and still manage to win fights.

Tedra sneaks off planet with her supercomputer Martha and android Corth in search of help and end up on the warriors’ mother planet.  She promptly transfers down to say hi and loses a challenge to the most intimidating guy there, ending up in his service for a month.


As long as you know the hero is an alpha caveman who basically drags his woman back to the cave you’ll be just fine.  The world building is interesting as long as you don’t think too hard, the plot makes the 452 pages breeze by, and I was transported to another world for a few carefree hours.  Excellent.

There’s plenty I could nitpick but that’s not the point.  I read some backlist, upped my romance knowledge, and was able to escape from the real world for a few hours.  Seems silly to complain about that.


Peter Darling by Austin Chant

33358438Ten years ago, Peter Pan left Neverland to grow up, leaving behind his adolescent dreams of boyhood and resigning himself to life as Wendy Darling. Growing up, however, has only made him realize how inescapable his identity as a man is.

But when he returns to Neverland, everything has changed: the Lost Boys have become men, and the war games they once played are now real and deadly. Even more shocking is the attraction Peter never knew he could feel for his old rival, Captain Hook—and the realization that he no longer knows which of them is the real villain.


This is the second book by Chant I’ve read and I think I love it even more than the first.

The good:

  • This is a trans story written by a trans writer – huzzah own voices!
  • I love how Neverland lets Peter be most himself and how it relates to the romance in the story.
  • I know next to nothing about Peter Pan but it didn’t matter.  I’m guessing that if you’ve read the original there are parallels and references but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.
  • One of fiction’s most powerful side effects, I think, is experiencing life as someone utterly unlike yourself.  I’ve read about body dysphoria in a non-fiction sense but feeling what Peter goes through makes it more clear than any informative article could.
  • The writing is just what it needs to be – exciting during the adventure parts, romantic during the “oh wait maybe this is love” parts, and held together with a solid plot.  It’s utterly different from Coffee Boy but Chant switches gears seamlessly.

The not-so-good:

  • While the book fits its pages I wanted so much more than a novella.  I don’t know if Chant writes as this length because it’s comfortable but I think he could blow us away with double the space to run around in.

A fun read that took me away from the crazy of real life just when I needed it.  A must for anyone who’s into LGBTQIA+ reads or retellings.

Broken Play by Samantha Kane (Birmingham Rebels #1)

23834711Birmingham Rebels offensive linemen Beau Perez and Cass Zielinski are inseparable, on and off the field. Cass, the captain with the cowboy swagger, is a loose cannon. Beau, the veteran tight end, is cool under pressure. And ever since they were caught on tape in a steamy threesome, their exploits have fueled more than a few tabloid headlines—and naughty fantasies.

Marian Treadwell knows all about the video. And now that she’s the Rebels’ new assistant offensive coach, she can’t look at Beau and Cass without picturing their hard, naked bodies—with her pressed in between. Marian would like nothing more than to indulge those impulses, but she knows better than to get too close to her players, a bunch of adrenaline-fueled alpha males who don’t always follow the rules.


This is my second Kane book and man, does she have great characters.  They’re all deeply layered with flaws and ambitions and baggage, and their interactions feel real and unforced.  I fell in love with even minor characters, and I can’t wait to see them get their Happily Ever After.

And did I mention that all of the books feature MMF triads?

There’s a bunch of other good stuff here.  There’s racial and sexual diversity, hot sex, characters owning their kink, and more.  I only have one problem – Marian, an assistant coach, is in a relationship with two players under her.  The book skirts around the issue, saying that there’s no league rule against fraternizing because no one thought a woman would be in a position of authority on a football team, but it still irks.

I ended up liking Broken Play much better than the third book in the series, Jacked Up, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim

I picked up this book after seeing the Meonicorn’s lovely own voices review (check it out!) and watching Benaim perform what I think is the best poem, “Explaining My Depression to My Mother”.  Stop reading and take three minutes to watch – it’s amazing and has over six million views to prove it:

If you have ever experienced depression or anxiety or know someone who has these poems will speak to you, as they get right to the core of the experience.

at the grocery store i practice trying to make myself feel good by pretending i am a regular person buying her groceries & not a very sad person trying to distract herself from crying.

If you don’t know anyone with depression or anxiety the poems will open your eyes to what it’s like for you brain to go off in a direction you don’t like but are powerless to change.

36070215& this is why i have a hard time talking about my anxieties / not the big heavy anxieties / but the small ones / the ones that change my earrings / & chip at my general level of self-esteem / the ones that gorge on celery & watermelon after a heavy weekend / crying quietly / standing in line / behind you / the girl you’re pretending not to notice

In addition to these poems about mental health there are others about love, loneliness, abandonment, and memory.  With a couple of exceptions they don’t feel as strong but I’m having trouble pinpointing why.  Is it a personal thing, that they don’t speak to my lived experience? (Which seems silly, because I have loved boys who haven’t loved me back.)  Is it that the images aren’t as memorable or striking?  Or is my newbie poetry spidey sense picking up that they’re just not as “good”?  I’m not sure.

While this all sounds melancholy the poems aren’t fatalistic.  You sense that the author is working to understand herself and why things happen, all on the bedrock conviction that she will get through it.

i will let dance parties be the hospitals i heal in

if i need more help i will let the medication help me
i forgive my body for being a machine after all

A great read for anyone who has dipped their toes in these dark waters if only to know that:

i am not alone
because i feel alone


Beast by Judith Ivory

1130878An exquisite American heiress, Louise Vandermeer is beautiful, brilliant…and bored—which is why she has agreed to a daring adventure: to travel across the ocean to marry an aristocrat abroad. Rumor has it her intended is a hideous cad—a grim prospect that propels her into a passionate, reckless affair with a compelling stranger she never sees in the light of day.

Though scarred by a childhood illness, Charles d’Harcourt has successfully wooed Europe’s most sophisticated beauties. For a lark, he contrived to travel incognito on his own fiancée’s ship—and seduce the young chit in utter darkness. But the rake’s prank backfired. It was he who was smitten—while the hot-tempered Lulu, now his wife, loves only her shipboard lover, unaware it was d’Harcourt all the time! And Charles will never have her heart—unless he can open her eyes to the prince who hides within.


I’ve been wanting to try some older romances so I went through NPR’s 100 Swoon-worthy Romances list and dug in.  This book caught my eye immediately – the “beauty and the beast” trope is a favorite – so I dug in.

The good:

  • I love flipped expectations and here the beast is temporarily turned upside down.  Louise first meets Charles in shadowy corridors and staterooms, where he plays up a fake exotic angle (more on this later) and seduces her by word and deed.  Only when they meet for “real” she’s put off by his not-so-great looks and the usual fairy tale storyline kicks in.
  • While set at the dawn of the Edwardian era Louise lives as big a life as she can.  Before the novel starts she slipped away from her parents to go gambling in Montreal, and later she pursues her interests even though they’re not the most “ladylike”. Rock on.
  • Louise learned French to a high level in the classroom and her ability, mistakes, and frustrations are superbly portrayed.  She misses words in conversation, she doesn’t know any slang, and her formal speech, while perfect for parties and introductions to society, drives Charles nuts.

    “Tu, tu. Use it”, he said, encouraging the intimate verb construction.  The language used between lovers and friends.

    “I don’t know those conjugations.  My instructor thought they were too intimate.”

    As someone who uses her second, learned language in everyday life it feels all too real and true.

  • I didn’t know a thing about ambergris going in and now my head is full of the stinky stuff.  It’s fascinating.

The questionable:

  • Like it says in the synopsis, Louise gets intimate with her husband thinking he’s someone else entirely.  If this affair-but-not-an-affair isn’t your thing stay away.
  • One of the ways Charles hides his identity is by pretending he’s a Muslim man from Northern Africa, as there are some people by that description on the ship.  It makes him Other and exotic and Louise gobbles it up, often daydreaming about “her pasha”.  On one hand it’s troublesome, and I would rather it wasn’t in the book at all, but Ivory tries to be fair.

    “You must hate the Arabs for that.”

    He shrugged. “Oh, Arabs, Moors, Frenchmen” – he laughed – “Americans. We’re all about the same, good ones, bad ones.”

    Exotic dark-skinned heroes are no stranger to romance (just search for sheikh on Goodreads) and this muddied my already complicated thoughts on the issue.

The not-so-good:

  • The story is split neatly in two with a hot, lusty shipboard part and a wary, hmmm-can-I-ever-like-this-guy part.  Things move quickly while crossing the Atlantic but on land our couple maintains a cautious holding pattern.  There’s also over description in the second half (including what kind of countertops are in a room they spend a few minutes in) and we spend a lot of time wallowing in their repetitive thoughts.
  • In one scene Charles acts completely out of character, flipping the table he and Louise are eating at.  It may have been meant that way – he was so frustrated he did something out of character – but it made me worry for her physical well being. Not cool.
  • Building Louise and Charles’ emotional connection the second time around takes a lot of time and is frustrating, making the ending less satisfying.

All in all Beast has aged well considering it was written twenty years ago.  While the questionable parts still bug me the flipped trope makes for an interesting read.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

33815781Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist.

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about the other…

They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century–or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…


There’s a lot to like in the first half but as the book went on I got more annoyed and ended up disappointed.

The good:

  • Interracial romance written by a person of color – totally my thing.
  • Both the hero and heroine are awesome at their jobs, and there’s no throwing away of a career for the sake of love.
  • I love marriages of convenience in historical romance so this “date of convenience” is just the thing for me.
  • The banter is on point and we get to see it with different people from the couple, friends/co-workers, and family.
  • The fact that Alexa is black and Drew is white doesn’t matter to them, but there are parts of society that do notice.  Drew is clueless but Alexa points out troublesome stuff and offers a subtle education.

The neither-good-nor-bad:

  • The sex is shown through foreplay but fades to black once a condom comes out.  I like my novels more steamy; your mileage may vary.
  • I had medical nitpicks but most novels written by a non-doctor will have something off, so whatevs.

The not-so-good:

  • The amazing communication that kicks off the book devolves into a Big Misunderstanding that had me pulling my hair out.  How could two people who were so good at talking suddenly suck at it?  GAH.
  • While the first part of the book reads like a single title romance (better writing, more complicated story for its 300+ pages) as it wears on it devolves into a 200-page category romance.  Sure, there’s a few more characters and scenes but the resolution and Big Mis were a disappointment.

While The Wedding Date has a lot to like early on the resolution hurt my overall enjoyment.  The book has a lot of early buzz, though, so I may be an outlier!

Thanks to Berkley and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

33295690As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.

But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.


I like a lot about this book, so much so that it gets over my usual “enh, YA”-ness. This is no small feat, guys!

The good:

  • Everything comes together well – the plot moves at a nice clip, characters and their relationships change and grow, and you end up caring about everyone, even people you don’t necessarily like.
  • There’s loads of questioning rep.  Billie is attracted to both a guy and a girl and she wrestles with her feelings and gender identity.
  • The group of six friends is close, and guys and gals are allowed to have platonic friendships.  Billie’s best friend is a guy – so rare, so appreciated.
  • At the same time love is a big theme.  What’s the difference between friendship love and romantic love?  How about love born from a long shared history versus the fireworks of a new acquaintance?
  • Perspective shifts serve the story well and don’t turn gimmick-y.

The not-so-good:

  • Billie’s dad is a pastor and her circle of friends form the church’s youth group so religion comes into the story a bit.  I’m agnostic and shy away from scripture in my fiction but if you’re nominally Christian I doubt you’ll bat an eye.  The religious teachings aren’t pervasive, but they’re there.
  • While the plot moves well once things get going they follow the track you’d expect.  The contest later in the book is particularly anti-climatic, more of a checkbox so later events can come together as ordained.
  • As a result the end is telegraphed and, despite some action, not as satisfying as I had hoped.

If you are a fan of contemporary YA, books that follow a group of friends, and questioning/queer representation Dress Codes for Small Towns is the book for you.  I’m surprised I haven’t seen it around more – it deserves more hype.

Bad for the Boss by Talia Hibbert (Just for Him #1)

36493723Theodore Chamberlain is notorious for his razor-sharp focus, his terrifying temper, and his anti-social tendencies. What most people don’t know is that the powerful businessman is just as demanding in the bedroom as he is at the office.

So when model employee Jennifer Johnson stumbles into his life, Theo turns his infamous intensity towards a masterful seduction. The plus-sized knockout may be the office’s angel, but only Theo sees the flames simmering beneath.

Jen knows better than to risk the job she desperately needs for a relationship that can’t last. But when a threat from her dark past surfaces, Theo overturns her protests to protect her from the danger.


Is this a perfect romance?  No, not at all.  But it’s working to fix some of the ills in the genre, especially the “rich guy/younger gal” type, so I forgive it completely.  I mean, check all this out:

The good:

  • It’s an interracial romance with an Asian hero and a black heroine, written by a black woman.  I will always and forever be here for this.
  • The heroine is a large gal and Theo loves her for it.  Not qualified “even though you have curves” kind of love, but:

    Her brown skin shone luxuriously over full, luscious features, and her body curved like a country hillside beneath her plain, grey skirt suit.  She was a big girl, but that skirt was deliciously small.

  • When Theo asks about Jen’s past boyfriends she throws in that she dated a girl and he accepts it without question or drama.  Yes, she is (or maybe has in the past has identified or questioned being) bi and guess what, that’s normal! Yea!
  • The meet cute is delicious – Jen emails a friend to vent about a coworker who won’t take no for an answer, but she misclicks and sends it to Theo, a higher up at her firm instead.  She only realizes her error when she gets his funny, charming reply which boils down to, ‘Hey, that’s sexual harassment – I’ll remind him of our company policy and you can tell him to fuck off.  For good measure.’
  • All the consent, all of the time.  It’s a balm when the real world is all dumpster fire.
  • More positive modeling – Jen tells Theo that she doesn’t want to put her job at risk by dating him and he gets it.  He really gets it, to the point where he has a lawyer friend draw up a contract giving her all the info she needs to sue his ass if the relationship doesn’t end well.  He gets that there’s a power imbalance and does what he can to correct it.
  • Jen’s roomie Aria has the best advice ever.

    Now, the third and final rule is this: nothing you do during sex is bad. As long as all involved parties are wholeheartedly up for it, don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad for whatever it is you end up wanting.


The not so good:

  • The instalust/love is strong with this one.
  • There’s a bit of BDSM-lite that is unnecessary and jarring.  It feels like it’s thrown in so the hero seems alpha enough, or whatever, but it doesn’t fit.
  • While it’s discussed and dealt with on the page the age difference and boss/employee thing doesn’t sit right with me.
  • I’m not big on suspense and this had a big suspense-y thread most of the way through.

So while Bad for the Boss isn’t in my wheelhouse I still gobbled it up.  I’m not sure I’ll like the next book in the series (ex-con-turned-author really isn’t my thing) but I’ll be looking out for this author all the same.

Visions of Heat by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling #2)

215643Used to cold silence, Faith NightStar is suddenly being tormented by dark visions of blood and murder. A bad sign for anyone, but worse for Faith, an F-Psy with the highly sought after ability to predict the future. Then the visions show her something even more dangerous – aching need…exquisite pleasure. But the very emotions she yearns to embrace could be the end of her.

Changeling Vaughn D’Angelo can take the form of either man or jaguar, but it is his animal side that is overwhelmingly drawn to Faith. While Vaughn craves sensation and hungers to pleasure Faith in every way, desire is a danger that could snap the last threads of her sanity. And there are Psy who need Faith’s sight for their own purposes. They must keep her silenced – and keep her from Vaughn.


It’s settled – I’m all in for this series.  There’s a lot to like.

The good:

  • While the books focus on different couples there’s a strong story arc that pulls them together and advances as we go.  I love that urban fantasy and paranormal romance often are set up this way because it’s like following a favorite TV series, watching characters and events develop over a longer period of time.
  • The contrast between the touchy-feely Changelings and cerebral Psy makes for interesting conflicts.  With different species of shifters and different designations of Psy it’s easy to see why the series is going on strong over twenty books in.
  • Visions of Heat is sexy, it’s fun, it’s full of characters I’ve come to care about, and it got my mind off the real world at a time I seriously need some escapism. Excellent.

The not-so-good:

  • This is the second book in a row where a woman Psy who is cut off from her emotions is paired up with a red hot Changeling male.  Nothing wrong with it, but I’m looking forward to the trope flipping in future books.

Huzzah for finding a new series to gorge on!  I’m not the type to swallow series I love whole, though, so I’m planning to leave two months or so between books so they have room to breathe properly in my brain.  I guess paranormal romance is like fine wine. 😉

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

32768606Struggling to cope with urban life – and life in general – Frankie, a twenty-something artist, retreats to her family’s rural house on “turbine hill,” vacant since her grandmother’s death three years earlier. It is in this space, surrounded by countryside and wild creatures, that she can finally grapple with the chain of events that led her here-her shaky mental health, her difficult time in art school-and maybe, just maybe, regain her footing in art and life.


A Line Made by Walking is a frustrating book for me because as I’m reading I can tell the writing is amazing.  I mean, right here on page five is a passage that speaks to me and my life with an image I never would have dreamed up:

Why must I test myself? Because no one else will, not any more. Now that I am no longer a student of any kind, I must take responsibility for the furniture inside my head. I must slide new drawers into chests and attach new rollers to armchairs. I must maintain the old highboys and sideboards and whatnots. Polish, patch, dust, buff. And, from scratch, I must build new frames and appendages; I must fill the drawers and roll along.

I highlighted pages’ worth of passages even more wonderful than this.  When I’m in the book it’s beautiful, even a little haunting.  But after putting the book down it took a lot of effort to bring myself back to the page, namely because there is no plot to speak of.

Now, this is a very individual thing.  It’s one of the reasons I dive into romance and urban fantasy but have to pick my way around the edges of Booker longlists – more often than not nothing happens!  I once heard literary fiction cheekily defined as ‘white people sitting around talking’.  That isn’t true for the entire genre, of course, but it’s the part I like the least, and the part this book falls into.

If literature (with a capital L or in scare quotes, your pick) is your thing A Line Made by Walking is the book for you.  I admire the writing and the depiction of mental illness in an up close and personal way.  Baume’s descriptions of performance art sent me scurrying to the internet and YouTube to see pieces for myself.

Works about Time, I test myself: Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010. A 24-hour film, a collage of extracts from several thousand other films, the complete history of cinema. Each extract represents a minute of the day. Mostly, though not exclusively, by means of a clock face. Wherever the film is screened, it is played in sync with actual time. But I have never seen it for real. Right the way through from beginning to end. I don’t imagine many people have. Nevertheless, I love this piece. I love the idea. I love that an idea can be so powerful it doesn’t matter whether I’ve seen the artwork for real or not.

I was there for each moment of the book but the lack of direction and nothingness of the plot kept me from engaging.  A five star read for some people, but a three star read for me.