Dance with Me by Alexis Daria (Dance Off #2)

35832887Natasha Díaz is having a day. She’s trying to prove she can make it as a professional dancer, but when she comes home to find a hole in her ceiling and her bedroom flooded, she’s desperate enough to crash with the one guy she can’t quit.

Dimitri Kovalenko has never lived with a woman before. But when Tasha’s in need of a place to stay, he suggests she move in. Since their first dance, she’s never been far from his thoughts. Sure, she’s a pro and he’s one of her show’s judges, but they’re not currently filming, so no one needs to know.

When an injury forces Natasha to take it easy or risk her ability to dance, it’s his chance to show her that the rules have changed, and she can trust him with her heart.

Review:

In one line – “I really want to love this book because it’s so good but this particular collection of tropes is working against me, gaaaaah-”

It is good.  The storyline has much more angst than the first book, though, and that’s where you start to lose me.  If you don’t mind angst and (well explained!) miscommunication this is your jam.

The good:

  • The writing is solid and little things that sometimes fall by the wayside are perfectly in place.
  • The characterization is spun out slowly and realistically, aided by the duel points of view.
  • It’s a friends-with-benefits to lovers storyline, which I haven’t seen in quite this configuration before.
  • The baddie gets her due and ooo boy is it good.
  • Dimitri’s backstory is interesting and even fun in places.  Wait until you see what his breakout movie role was, bwahahahaha. 🙂
  • I love what Daria has to say about acceptance, the importance of friends, and the different ways one can be Latina.

The not-for-me:

  • Miscommunication is rife.  There are good reasons for it but my tolerance is pretty low.
  • One of the characters is always prepared to believe the worst and it drove me a bit nuts.  ‘This awful thing will totally happen, leading to this and that which mean ruin!’ No. Please breathe and think for a sec.
  • The reality show the series is based around is in the off season so there’s none of the associated happy crazy.  I don’t usually read contemporary romance and having something a bit outside of everyday real life makes it more interesting for me.

Even though this wasn’t the best book for me it’s still an easy recommend if your tastes run counter to mine.  I’m excited that Daria has more books planned in this universe, and a f/f relationship is teased in the prologue!  Love it.

Thanks to Swerve and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

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One Hot December by Tiffany Reisz (Men at Work #3)

29568847Never mess with a woman who carries a blowtorch in her backpack. Welder and artist Veronica “Flash” Redding’s playful sense of evil sometimes gets the better of her. Like when her insanely handsome, wealthy, suited-up boss gave her the most sensuously wicked night of her life…then dumped her. Yep, revenge is a dish best served hot.

Only Ian Asher isn’t quite letting Flash get away quite so easily. He’s not ready to forget the intensity between them. The searing heat when they touch. And the deliciously demanding control Ian wields in the bedroom. Now he has only the holidays to convince Flash that they belong together…and that even the most exquisite, broken things can be welded back together.

Review:

While I loved the first book in this series One Hot December was a so-so read for me.  The snark and fireworks I expect from Reisz are here but it’s not a solid story.

The good:

  • An own voices bisexual heroine, complete with spiky red hair and kick ass ink. Right on.
  • Flash is unapologetically strong and goes after what she wants.  As a welder at an all-male construction company she deals with a lot of crap but she gives as good as she gets.
  • The mental strain of dealing with prejudice and harassment in the workplace is explicitly covered.  Yes, Flash is doing a great job as a welder, but it saps her of the energy she needs to do her own metal art.  Changing jobs wouldn’t be giving in or giving up, it would be getting what she wants.
  • Feminism for the win.

    “He couldn’t date a professional welder when he worked as a teller at a bank.  His friends would never let him hear the end of it, he said.  He just couldn’t date a woman, no matter how hot – his words, not mine – who came off as more of a man than he did.  I said that was fine.  I didn’t want to date a guy who was less of a man than I was, either.  He called me a couple nice words after that and then he was gone.  Good riddance to him and his poor little ego.”

  • Everyone is reasonable and talks things out, from our couple to the hero’s father.  While there is a misunderstanding it’s legit and not even between the hero and heroine.
  • While Christmas is name checked and Hanukkah is a minor plot point it doesn’t feel like a “holiday romance”, which I really appreciate being agnostic myself.  And two religions mashed together in one book without feeling religious is pretty awesome.
  • Reisz’s snark is here in spades.

The not-so-good:

  • Said snark is of the shocking, no-filter variety, which isn’t everybody’s thing.
  • Flash and Ian have been lusting for each other since they met 18 months ago so we don’t see their relationship develop very much.  ‘I thought you hated me!’ ‘Nope, I love you!’ ‘Oh, good!’ ~sexy times~
  • Flash’s best friend is her downstairs neighbor, an elderly Jewish woman.  That is neat, but I don’t care for her role in the story.  Category romances often have a best friend that provides perspective and advice, but here it feels like allll advice, and of a motherly bent to boot.  I wasn’t sold on it.
  • There isn’t much of a plot.  Hero and heroine state that they’ve actually been in love all this time and… that’s about it.  I saw the misunderstanding from a hundred pages away so there was no suspense there, either.

A diverting read, but more enh than anything else.

Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling #1)

25578803In a world that denies emotions, where the ruling Psy punish any sign of desire, Sascha Duncan must conceal the feelings that brand her as flawed. To reveal them would be to sentence herself to the horror of “rehabilitation” – the complete psychic erasure of everything she ever was…

Both human and animal, Lucas Hunter is a changeling hungry for the very sensations the Psy disdain. After centuries of uneasy coexistence, these two races are now on the verge of war over the brutal murders of several changeling women. Lucas is determined to find the Psy killer who butchered his packmate, and Sascha is his ticket into their closely guarded society. But he soon discovers that this ice-cold Psy is very capable of passion – and that the animal in him is fascinated by her. Caught between their conflicting worlds, Lucas and Sascha must remain bound to their identities – or sacrifice everything for a taste of darkest temptation.

Review:

Singh is one of the big names in paranormal romance and while I have read from her Guild Hunter series this was my first foray into the world of Psy-Changelings. While I had no idea what I was in for I like what I found.

The Psy are Borg-like, shunning emotion and sharing a hive mind of sorts.  Uniformity and logic rule.  Changelings are were creatures that burst with emotion and sensual energy.  I see why this series is at sixteen books and counting – a romance between such opposites is a gold mine of internal conflict, and the mechanics of the world provide all the external oomph you could need.

A series opener like Slave to Sensation could be overloaded with info dumps but the romance balances out the world building nicely.  While part of me would love some more back story I’m more than willing to let it play out in the many books ahead.

As for the romance itself… it’s okay.  Lucas is sexy as all get out and respects Sascha’s professional abilities from day one, which is much appreciated.  Once the action plot kicks in, though, I got annoyed.  Any time the heroine is offered up as bad guy bait my mental alarm bells go off.  Luckily she’s not too stupid to live, and the way things went down stayed just this side of forgivable, but I’d rather it not happen in the first place.

A negative note, to be sure, but I’m excited to continue the series.  The world Singh is building holds a lot of promise and fans clamoring for volume eleven-zillion of a series can’t steer me too wrong.

Curry: Eating, Reading, and Race by Naben Ruthnum

34144408By grappling with novels, recipes, travelogues, pop culture, and his own upbringing, Naben Ruthnum depicts how the distinctive taste of curry has often become maladroit shorthand for brown identity. With the sardonic wit of Gita Mehta’s Karma Cola and the refined, obsessive palette of Bill Buford’s Heat, Ruthnum sinks his teeth into the story of how the beloved flavor calcified into an aesthetic genre that limits the imaginations of writers, readers, and eaters. Following in the footsteps of Salman Rushdie’s Imaginary Homelands, Curry cracks open anew the staid narrative of an authentically Indian diasporic experience.

Review:

A deep and thoughtful look at what Ruthnum calls “currybooks”, or books of the South Asian diaspora.  Curry has adapted to the many parts of the world it has been brought to, with spices and cream added and subtracted to cater to the tastes of a particular people.  Likewise, currybooks charge form based on different factors but have nostalgia, authenticity, and the idea of getting back to one’s roots as overarching themes.

Is there a problem with these expectations in the genre?  Only that they constrain and limit the potential methods of expression for brown writers.

Ruthnum examines novels, cookbooks, movies, and touches on his own experience as the son of Mauritian immigrants.  The writing is well-done and interesting, falling more on the educational side of things than entertaining.  There’s nothing wrong with that,  but go in knowing that Curry will require (and reward) your mental effort.  My e-copy is full of highlights that I suspect I’ll be returning to as I read more books set in and by authors from this part of the world.

Great for those interested in representation, the immigrant experience, race, and how they’re expressed in literature.

Thanks to Coach House Books and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Hold Me by Courtney Milan (Cyclone #2)

24348034Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.

But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…

Review:

I had such high hopes for this book but I didn’t like it as much as the first in the series, Trade Me. There’s still a lot to like, though!

The good:

  • The heroine is trans and that fact is not the reason for the novel existing. The focus is on the romance, as it should be.  Yea!
  • The hero is bi (or perhaps pansexual, no label is attached), there are more people of color than white, and the author is a woman of color.
  • Jay sees how he was a crappy ally of women in science and does a little work fixing that.

The not-as-good:

  • The lawyer-ly logical banter of the first book turns into science banter, and even though I grok most of it I don’t find it charming.  Your mileage may vary.
  • It’s a hate to love story, but instead of growing attraction Jay’s attitude changes on a dime depending on who he thinks he’s talking to.  It’s hard to know which Jay is real, the arse on campus or the sweet guy in chat.

I was hoping Hold Me would be in my wheelhouse, but sadly it is not.  It looks like the third book in the series will go back to the first couple… I’m curious to see how it goes but won’t be running out to get it.

Take the Lead by Alexis Daria (Dance Off #1)

35832861Gina Morales wants to win. It’s her fifth season on The Dance Off, a TV celebrity dance competition, and she’s never even made it to the finals. Her latest partner is handsome, rippling with muscles, and stars on the popular reality show Living Wild. With his sexy physique and name recognition she thinks he’s her ticket to the finals—until she realizes they’re being set up.

Stone Nielson hates Los Angeles and the fact that he had to join The Dance Off due to family obligations… but he also can’t deny his growing attraction to his bubbly Puerto Rican dance partner. Neither of them are looking for romantic entanglements, but as they heat up the dance floor it’s only a matter of time until he feels an overwhelming urge to take the lead. When the tabloids catch on to their developing romance the spotlight threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their careers and their shot at the trophy.

Review:

I’m not a reality television fan but it doesn’t matter, Take the Lead is a fun contemporary romance that charmed me from the beginning.

The good:

  • Own voices romance with a Puerto Rican heroine, huzzah!
  • The story sucked me in, which doesn’t always happen when I read contemporaries.  I like my romances to be a bit separated from normal life and this fits the bill, with two celebrities falling in love while on a competitive tv program.
  • Both Stone and Gina know that tv people are kind of evil so neither one is caught off guard when producers push them into a “showmance”.  I appreciate that one character doesn’t have to school the other on how Hollywood works, keeping the couple on an even footing.
  • I was there for all the dance scenes, despite not being all that into dance.
  • The writing is solid, and I wouldn’t have thought this is a debut.  Well done.

The not-so-good:

  • While I was having fun the show season feels a bit long to me.
  • The story trades in secrets and miscommunication, not my favorite tropes.

I really enjoyed this book despite it not being in my romance wheelhouse.  So if you like celebrity culture, family secrets, competition, and a tiny slice of (fun!) crazy, this is the perfect book for you.

Thanks to Swerve and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

33395053As the country grapples with racist division at a level not seen since the 1960s, one man’s voice soars above the rest with conviction and compassion. In his 2016 New York Times op-ed piece “Death in Black and White,” Michael Eric Dyson moved a nation. Now he continues to speak out in Tears We Cannot Stop—a provocative and deeply personal call for change. Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted.

“The time is at hand for reckoning with the past, recognizing the truth of the present, and moving together to redeem the nation for our future. If we don’t act now, if you don’t address race immediately, there very well may be no future.”

Review:

A must-read primer to race in America, especially for people who are new to racial justice.  Aimed specifically at white people but readable by anyone, Dyson explains why history, police brutality, and white fragility matter.

Don’t be put off by the fact that the author is a minister – he’s not pushing a god on anyone, much appreciated by this agnostic.  Using the framework of a sermon Dyson goes through the stages of white guilt, the construction of whiteness, the specter of slavery, and more.  As a primer he avoids going overly deep, which is perfect for what he’s doing.  Other authors have covered the specifics elsewhere and he lists dozens of them if you’d like to read more.

What gets to me is that the people who need to read this most – whites with no grounding in racial justice – are the least likely to pick it up.  So read it yourself and put it in other people’s hands.  We need to get the message out.

Trade Me by Courtney Milan (Cyclone #1)

24600366Tina Chen just wants a degree and a job, so her parents never have to worry about making rent again. She has no time for Blake Reynolds, the sexy billionaire who stands to inherit Cyclone Systems. But when he makes an offhand comment about what it means to be poor, she loses her cool and tells him he couldn’t last a month living her life.

To her shock, Blake offers her a trade: She’ll get his income, his house, his car. In exchange, he’ll work her hours and send money home to her family. No expectations; no future obligations.

But before long, they’re trading not just lives, but secrets, kisses, and heated nights together. No expectations might break Tina’s heart…but Blake’s secrets could ruin her life.

Review:

I gotta be honest – I wasn’t exactly looking forward to reading this book.  Contemporary romance isn’t a wheelhouse for me so I’m picky about tropes, and rich buy/poor gal is pretty low down my list.

But I really want to read the second book in the series so I sucked it up and I’m glad I did.

The good:

  • The romance is both interracial and intercultural, and as someone in such a relationship myself I appreciate the representation.
  • Tina’s roommate is a trans woman and while she doesn’t play a huge role in this book she’s the heroine of the next.  Mixing LGBTQIA* couples with cis couples in a series is awesome and I cannot wait to start book two.
  • Blake is a good guy and he models good behavior in a heartwarming way.  When Tina says that she’s scared she’ll be come attached to him he respects that.  He doesn’t say “don’t be scared, baby” or “trust me,” but comes back with the ideal:

    Is there anything I can do to make you feel safe?

    People need to hear this to know it’s the right thing to say. So glad it’s here.

  • The rich/poor thing doesn’t get overly crazy or annoying.
  • I also liked the small flipped trope that I’m not going to go into because spoilers.
  • Tina’s mom is hilarious.

    Good thing he’s not your boyfriend, though, Tina.  He’s so skinny, I think a condom would pop right off.

The not-so-good:

  • There’s a part near the end where I could see exactly what was coming and the dread nearly did me in.
  • I started to lose interest when rich people problems came up, especially near the end.

A solid romance that overcomes some of the limitations of its tropes.  I may just have to start book two about… now.

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

Translated by Elisabeth Jaquette

30186905In a surreal, but familiar, vision of modern day Egypt, a centralized authority known as ‘the Gate’ has risen to power in the aftermath of the ‘Disgraceful Events,’ a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate in order to take care of even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the Gate never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer.

Citizens from all walks of life mix and wait in the sun. Among them is Yehia, a man who was shot during the Events and is waiting for permission from the Gate to remove a bullet that remains lodged in his pelvis. Yehia’s health steadily declines, yet at every turn, officials refuse to assist him, actively denying the very existence of the bullet.

Ultimately it is Tarek, the principled doctor tending to Yehia’s case, who must decide whether to follow protocol as he has always done, or to disobey the law and risk his career to operate on Yehia and save his life.

Review:

Authoritarianism has been on my mind lately and The Queue is a fascinating way to approach it in fiction.  What struck me the most is how people can and do adapt to almost anything.  Need an eye exam?  Wait in this line so you can get a document allowing it.  No, the line is not moving – it will when the Gate opens.  Please wait.

So they do.

It’s a reminder that human resilience is a double edged sword – while it allows us to get through horrific things, we can also put up with far more than we should.

I will admit that I had a hard time getting into the story, probably because I was reading in short bursts.  With longer reading sessions I became more interested, wondering what the heck is going on and how it all will end.

While the setting and circumstances are a far cry from the current situation in the US every now and then a passage startled me, hitting too close to home.

He wrote a hard-hitting and well-researched article about the [boycott] campaign – its grounds and implications, and how many people joined each week – but the newspaper didn’t print it.  Instead, they gave him a stern warning about “fabricating the news.”

I would recommend The Queue if you like literature in translation, dystopia, and don’t mind a healthy dose of uncertainty.  It’s not a breezy read but it has given me a lot to think about.

The Red by Tiffany Reisz

30755704Mona Lisa St. James made a deathbed promise that she would do anything to save her mother’s art gallery. Unfortunately, not only is The Red painted red, but it’s in the red. She soon realizes she has no choice but to sell it.

Just as she realizes she has no choice but to sell it, a mysterious man comes in after closing time and makes her an offer: He will save The Red if she agrees to submit to him for the period of one year.

The man is handsome, English, and terribly tempting…but surely her mother didn’t mean for Mona to sell herself to a stranger. Then again, she did promise to do anything to save The Red…

Review:

Reisz has been in mainstream mode lately (The Night Mark, Her Halloween Treat) so I’m thrilled to see she’s come back to hot, kinky erotica.  Huzzah!

The good:

  • This is porn with a plot.  Mona agrees to have sex with a mysterious man over the course of a year in order to save her art gallery.  Each encounter is based on a painting and could easily become episodic but the thread of the story carries through wonderfully.
  • Ooo boy, the sex is hot.  The kink is thick and there’s guaranteed to be something that challenges you… which is just way I like it.
  • There’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see that brings everything full circle.  Well done.

The not-so-good:

  • The ending is a bit rushed, and while it didn’t bother me too much it could have used a little more development.
  • The characters are rounded but lack some depth.

All in all I’m sooo happy to see Reisz stretch her kinky wings again.  On Twitter she teased an upcoming title, calling it a “sexy sex cult”… so it looks like I have more to look forward to!

Thanks to 8th Circle Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.