How to Bang a Billionaire by Alexis Hall (Arden St. Ives #1)

31445002If England had yearbooks, I’d probably be “Arden St. Ives: Man Least Likely to Set the World on Fire.” So far, I haven’t. I’ve no idea what I’m doing at Oxford, no idea what I’m going to do next and, until a week ago, I had no idea who Caspian Hart was. Turns out, he’s brilliant, beautiful . . . oh yeah, and a billionaire.

It’s impossible not to be captivated by someone like that. But Caspian Hart makes his own rules. And he has a lot of them. About when I can be with him. What I can do with him. And when he’ll be through with me.

I’m good at doing what I’m told in the bedroom. The rest of the time, not so much. And now that Caspian’s shown me glimpses of the man behind the billionaire I know it’s him I want. Not his wealth, not his status. Him. Except that might be the one thing he doesn’t have the power to give me.

Review:

This is the second Hall book I’ve read and man, I like the way he writes romance.  The characters are well-formed, situations and feelings ring true, and any silly or crazy is enjoyed in the spirit it’s given.  I read How to Bang a Billionaire in a day during a readathon and put it down happy, excited to read the next book in the series.

Then I looked at the reviews.

It turns out it’s a retelling of Fifty Shades!  I have stayed away from any and all Gray so I had no idea.

I’m happy to report it’s an improvement of a retelling – gay as hell, written by a bi author, and not problematic (as far as I can see).  But learning the Fifty Shades connection was like a dunk in ice water – I needed to towel off and reevaluate.

The verdict:  I’m glad I read Hall’s retelling instead of the real thing.  I still want to see how these two get to an HEA, and I’m excited to keep digging into Hall’s backlist.

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The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert (Dirty British Romance #1)

40785611Prince Ruben of Helgmøre knows exactly what he wants—and his current obsession is Cherry Neita. Everything from her rollercoaster curves to her fearsome attitude commands his attention. And best of all? She has no idea who Ruben is.

Until the paparazzi catch them in a dark alley, her scarlet lipstick smudged, and his hands somewhere naughty…

All Cherry wanted was a night or two with the hottest man she’d ever seen. Turns out, that man is actually a prince, and now he needs her to play princess. Well, princess-to-be. One year as his fake fiancée, and he’ll make all her problems disappear. Easy. Right?

Wrong.

Review:

Trigger warning for child abuse and domestic abuse as well as some racist remarks.

At one point I was reading five books, none of them romance. (I don’t know how it happened, either.)  So as soon as I finished one I dove into my digital to-be-read pile and came up with The Princess Trap.

The last Hibbert book I tried to read opens with scenes of abuse and I had to put it down.  I’m okay with mentions, especially when they’re of past events, but extended scenes told in the present tense are hard for me to read.  Luckily the opening of this book is fine – heroine working at a job she doesn’t care for meets a “hidden royalty” hero, sparks fly, etc.  Being discovered in a compromising pose leads to an engagement of convenience, jetting to an island kingdom, and some steamy scenes as they fall in love.

So lots of good stuff.  The author is a woman of color, the relationship is interracial, the hero is bisexual, and side characters indentify as LGBTQIA+ in slick, ‘this is totally normal’ ways.

She’d never brought a boy home.  Her sister had never brought a girl home.  They had no point of reference for [how their parents would react].

Love it.

the-princess-trap.jpgFurther on in the book, though, we flashback to child abuse (present tense), domestic violence is insinuated, and we see the aftereffects of more child abuse to a different character.  As a result I struggled.  I love that the author has hotline numbers and encouraging words in the acknowledgements, and the whole situation is handled incredibly well, but still.  I had a hard time getting through.

The only other thing that bothered me was the hero’s convenient BDSM-lite.  It allowed him to show an alpha side early on and hint at delicious wickedness, but it wasn’t revisited after the first sex scene.

Despite the personal minuses I still started and finished The Princess Trap within 24 hours, so… ~shrug~.  I learned my lesson though – I’ll be checking reviews for trigger warnings before I pick up another book by this author, as much as I like her work.

Chi’s Sweet Home (#1) by Kanata Konami

Di18Y8mU4AEq278Chi is a michievous newborn kitten who, while on a leisurely stroll with her family, finds herself lost. Seperated from the warmth and protection of her mother, feels distraught. Overcome with loneliness she breaks into tears in a large urban park meadow., when she is suddenly rescued by a young boy named Yohei and his mother. The kitty is then quickly and quietly whisked away into the warm and inviting Yamada family apartment…where pets are strictly not permitted.

Review:

I love my neighborhood used book store.  It’s kinda dingy on the outside but climbing up to the second floor lifts you into paradise – shelves of books that reach ten feet high, with bins on the floor to hold the overflow.  Novels, non-fiction, manga – any book that’s had a tiny bit of popularity (and many that haven’t) are guaranteed to be here.

So when Meonicorn recommended Chi’s Sweet Home it was the perfect excuse… er, reason to make a trip.  It doesn’t hurt that the bookstore is close to my favorite breakfast place, either.

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I was good and didn’t get the fancy toast.

The manga is originally written in Japanese, which I read, and has been translated into English.  Chi is a kitten that becomes separated from her mother and is taken in by the Yamadas.  They’ve never had a cat before – and their apartment doesn’t allow pets – so they try to take care of Chi on the downlow.  If you’ve ever had a cat, especially a rescue, you’ll identify with what they go through.  Will Chi know how to use the litter box?  Will she try to run away?  And how can I buy back my kitty’s love after traumatizing her at the vet? 😉

The manga is in full color and is completely adorable.  Chi looks just like my cat when encountering a new toy:

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And I’m tickled by this depiction of a cat nightmare:

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It’s a quick read and not taxing in any way, but that’s kind of the point. If you like cats and need a pick-me-up Chi’s Sweet Home is just the thing.

Syncopation by Anna Zabo (Twisted Wishes #1)

37648566Twisted Wishes front man Ray Van Zeller is in one hell of a tight spot. After a heated confrontation with his bandmate goes viral, Ray is hit with a PR nightmare the fledgling band so doesn’t need. But his problems only multiply when they snag a talented new drummer—insufferably sexy Zavier Demos, the high school crush Ray barely survived.

Zavier’s kept a casual eye on Twisted Wishes for years, and lately, he likes what he sees. What he doesn’t like is how out of control Ray seems—something Zavier’s aching to correct after their first pulse-pounding encounter.

Despite the prospect of a glorious sexual encore, Ray is reluctant to trust Zavier with his band—or his heart. But touring together has opened their eyes to new passions and new possibilities, making them rethink their commitments, both to the band and to each other.

Review:

I absolutely loved Syncopation and gobbled it up.  There’s so much good here. Speaking of…

The good:

  • A nonbinary author writing about a queer rock band is all.the.yes. Loads of rep including aromantic, gay, and pansexual.
  • This is the first time I’ve read a romance with an aromantic character and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work.  The dynamic that develops between Zavier and Ray is wonderful and let me grok what one version of an aro relationship may look like.  It’s one of those cases where fiction gets something into your brain better than non-fiction ever could.Syncopation copy3
  • Ray doesn’t know that he’s into BDSM kink and Zavier guides him there with support and consent all the way.

    “I don’t want to be manhandling you and pressing you against a wall if that is not your thing.  Consent is sexy.”

  • I love not just the main relationship but the entire band.  Zabo fleshes the characters out and, at the same time, leaves you wanting more.  HEAs for everyone, I say!
  • This book has the best anaphylactic shock scene/rep I’ve seen in fiction.  If you suspect allergic shock Epipen first (while someone else calls an ambulance), ask questions later!  This is how you save lives, people.  All of the hospital stuff was thoughtfully done and this medical interpreter appreciates it.

The not-so-good:

  • The manager had so much more coming to him.  I needed more catharsis after all his crap.

I’ve never read Zabo before and I’m excited to check out more of their writing!  The next book in this series, Counterpoint, is an instant add to my TBR, and they have some backlist, too.  Oo.

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

36622743America is in the grip of a deadly flu. When Frank gets sick, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him. She agrees to a radical plan—time travel has been invented in the future to thwart the virus. If she signs up for a one-way-trip into the future to work as a bonded labourer, the company will pay for the life-saving treatment Frank needs. Polly promises to meet Frank again in Galveston, Texas, where she will arrive in twelve years.

But when Polly is re-routed an extra five years into the future, Frank is nowhere to be found. Alone in a changed and divided America, with no status and no money, Polly must navigate a new life and find a way to locate Frank, to discover if he is alive, and if their love has endured.

Review:

An epidemic dystopia with time travel?  I’m there!  Like much good sci-fi Lim uses the fantastical premise to examine the world we live in and let me tell you, it hits ya right in the chest.

The story is harrowing – Polly goes into the future as an indentured servant to pay for the medicine that will save her boyfriend’s life.  They agree to meet when she pops out 12 years later… but she ends up jumping 17 years instead. Oops.  Is Frank waiting for her?  And what has become of the world?

I don’t want to give away plot, but I will say that this book speaks viscerally about the refugee experience.  Instead of escaping an awful place, as many people are trying to do today, Polly escapes an awful time.  Due to the one-way nature of time travel the can’t be “deported” to where she came from, and this lowest of statuses means she’s treated as horribly as you would expect.

an-ocean-of-minutes.jpgEach injustice can be traced to something happening in the world right now, breaking my heart on the regular.  I would put the book down for a while but I always came back to see how Polly gets through, and what’s waiting on the other side.

There are moments of hope but it’s not a feel good read, so know that things get worse – a lot worse – before they get better. That plot drives the book.  Lim writes some beautiful passages, making language the second biggest slice of the “doorway” chart, and the setting has stuck in my mind.  We rarely follow a character for long, though, and while they feel real in a moment I can’t say they develop, quite.  They’re more likely to turn in an unexpected direction instead.

In sum, An Ocean of Minutes is a heckuva story that examines current issues through the lens of speculative fiction. I’m curious to see if it grows in my memory in the months ahead.

Thanks to Touchstone and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell by Avon Gale (Tour Dates #1)

34824809Victoria “Vix” Vincent has only two weeks to find a replacement fiddle player for her band’s summer tour. When classically trained violinist Sawyer Bell shows up for an audition, Vix is thrilled. Their friendship soon blossoms into romance, even though Vix tries to remember that Sawyer’s presence is only temporary.

Sawyer’s parents think she’s spending the summer months touring Europe with a chamber ensemble. But Sawyer is in dire need of a break from the competitiveness of Juilliard, and desperately wants to rediscover her love of music. Going on tour with her secret high school crush is just an added bonus. Especially when Vix kisses her one night after a show, and they discover that the stage isn’t the only place they have chemistry.

But the tour won’t last forever, and as the summer winds down, Sawyer has to make a tough decision about her future—and what it means to follow her heart.

Review:

If you like romance be sure to check out Cats and Paperbacks, where Natasha writes reviews highlighting lgbtqia+ books.  She posted a list of her favorite books with lesbian main characters and I jumped on this one – rock band! Touring! Queer romance meets stardom!

In my ‘must read NAO’ haste, however, I missed that while the book covers a diverse rock band, they are not rock stars.  The group crams into a van, drives all night between gigs, and at times plays to half-empty houses.  There is nothing wrong with this – in fact, it makes for lovely romance – but it pushes the book out of Kazen catnip territory.

Moving on, the book!  Sawyer is a Julliard violinist but she loathes going back to school.  Instead of touring with a prestigious chamber orchestra she tries out with a rock band and gets the part.  Over the course of touring she sparks fly between her and the lead singer Victoria, they fall in love, and things happen.

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell is one of those books that’s very good at what it does while simultaneously not being quite my thing.  If you’re looking for a realistic contemporary f/f romance you won’t go wrong.

When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri

31684565Katie Daniels is a perfection-seeking 28-year-old lawyer living the New York dream. She’s engaged to charming art curator Paul Michael, has successfully made her way up the ladder at a multinational law firm, and has a hold on apartments in Soho and the West Village. Suffice it to say, she has come a long way from her Kentucky upbringing.

But the rug is swept from under Katie when she is suddenly dumped by her fiance, Paul Michael, leaving her devastated and completely lost. On a whim, she agrees to have a drink with Cassidy Price-a self-assured, sexually promiscuous woman she meets at work. The two form a newfound friendship, which soon brings into question everything Katie thought she knew about sex—and love.

Review:

While reading I kept thinking, “this is the perfect category romance, filled with LGBTQIA+ folks that make it even more awesome.”  So much to love.

Cassidy is in the mold of a Harlequin Presents hero, a high-powered New York lawyer that works hard and plays harder.  She wears exquisitely tailored suits by day and plows through a large swath through the NY lesbian scene by night. Katie, on the other hand, has become unmoored from her social network after her engagement is broken off by her cheating fiancee Paul.  She pulls herself together to do the lawyer thing and ends up in a boardroom negotiating with Cassidy, another firm’s counsel.  Their immediate connection makes Katie wonder if she’s ever truly known herself, while Cassidy wonders why she can’t toss Katie aside like her other lovers.

So we have an alpha heroine, another heroine that wants more from life, glamorous work in a stunning city, topped off with a meet-cute.  Straight-talking best friend? Check. Romantic weekend getaway? Check. Two people falling in love, both because and in spite of their best efforts? Check and check.

It reads fast, is perfectly plotted, and kept me invested in the love story throughout.  The characters are well-rounded and have fully-realized motivations, and there’s no Big Misunderstanding that makes me want to smack a heroine on the upside of the head.  Katie and Cassidy’s love is earned, and it is delicious.

The writing is good, too:

Katie had never been a fantasizer of any kind.  She was more of a planner, a doer. She was a pleaser of others – not one for exploring self-pleasure or whatever….

But Cassidy was hot. And the only other women Katie ever thought of as hot were the ones she wanted to be. Not do. Be.

She could almost see the other photos in a family album somewhere, of the two of them bullet-belted, toting rifles, flashing huge grins over some enormous dead animal. They were the kind of guys Cassidy would cross the street to avoid because her intolerance of them was palpable, yes, but also in fear they’d attack her for sport, too, if she came too close.

I love When Katie Met Cassidy and hope Perri keeps writing books in this vein – brava.

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Translated by Srinath Perur

30267604A young man’s close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes overnight. As they move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a larger house on the other side of Bangalore, and try to adjust to a new way of life, the family dynamic begins to shift. Allegiances realign; marriages are arranged and begin to falter; and conflict brews ominously in the background.

Elegantly written and punctuated by moments of unexpected warmth and humor, Ghachar Ghochar is a quietly enthralling, deeply unsettling novel about the shifting meanings—and consequences—of financial gain in contemporary India.

Review:

This book has been on my radar for a while so when it was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award I was happy to pick it up on audio.

Ghachar Ghochar may be short, clocking in at 128 pages, but it packs a punch. The history and current circumstance of a rags-to-riches family is built in layers.  Mosaic, non-linear chapters give the sense that something is going on here, and Shanbhag leaves spaces for your mind to fill with the most diabolical possibilities. I blew through the book and thought about it for days.

On one hand I’m glad I listened to the audio, as the male narrator has the accents and pronunciation firmly in hand.  The male voices are especially varied and fun to listen to. On the other hand there are times I feel the prose would pop even more on a page than in my ears, and the narrator only had one female voice that he pitched up and down for different characters.

Overall a very good read, one I may find myself returning to in print form.

The Chateau by Tiffany Reisz (Original Sinners #9)

35497678Reisz is one of my favorite authors, so much so that I ration out her books, saving them for 14-hour flights and other such “emergencies”.  After a particularly difficult day at work I started The Chateau and it was just what I needed.

If you like erotic romance get thee to The Siren, the first book in the Original Sinners series, of which The Chateau is book nine.  The story is a flashback so you don’t need to read the previous eight books but the more you know about the characters the more you’ll enjoy it.  For reference I’ve only read through book five (I know!  Rationing!) and only a line or two at the end left me with a ‘huh’.

Anywho, The Chateau!  Here we follow Kingsley in 1989 when he’s doing secret missions for France’s special forces.  He’s asked to extract someone from a sex cult and… things happen.  From an author Q&A included with the advance copy:

Q: Inside the cult’s chateau, women reign and men are their willing slaves.  How did the idea for such a community come about?

A: Wishful thinking?

It’s a gender-flipped and toned down take on The Story of O.  Everything I love about Reisz’s writing is here – amazing characterization, hot and kinky sex, and beautiful writing that packs a gut punch.  Her favorite devices also take a turn including stories within stories and an exquisite mind fuck.  As with all the books in this series there’s own voices bisexual rep.

An idea that runs through all of Reisz’s work is that sex should be fun and enjoyable for everyone involved.  You should be able to crack jokes in bed and delight in your partner’s pleasure as well as your own.  It shouldn’t feel revolutionary but, sadly, it kinda is.  Here we see many people having sex, both as part of the main plot and side stories, and everyone is having the time of their life.  The only shame is for causing someone (unwanted) pain and anguish, and let’s just say that guy is dealt with justly.

Props all around for another kinky, sex-positive novel-length addition to an amazing series.  Reisz has two more books coming down the pipe – western contemporary and fantasy-esque erotic romances – and I cannot wait.

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

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

36142487Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.

Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.

When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

Review:

An amazing gut punch of a book.  Heads up – Oshiro faces police brutality (including murder by cop) straight on.

The good:

  • The author is queer, Latinx, and lives in Oakland where the story takes place, so all kinds of own voices representation.
  • Overall the range of rep is as wide as can be – black, brown, Latinx, queer (including bisexual, gay, lesbian, trans, ace, and nonbinary), undocumented immigrant, and adoption (specifically interracial adoption).  One character uses a wheelchair, another has a chronic invisible illness, another wears a hijab. There’s rep for anxiety and mental illness as well.
  • Specifically in regard to a nonbinary character, I love that Oshiro describes them in such a way that there is no clue what their assigned gender at birth was, or what gender people perceive them to be.  It’s pure – they are them, and that’s just how they want to be.
  • I had my heart ripped out and stomped on in the best way.  It almost seems dystopian in a “this can’t be real” sense, but then you think about news you’ve seen recently and you realize it’s happening right now.
  • The writing is solid.  I believe all of these characters as people, and even though there are a ton of secondary characters I was able to keep them straight.  Many got a turn in the sun and a chance to show their awesomeness.
  • And the themes – the power of family, the power of friends, the power of gathering, the power of women in making change, the power of teenagers, the power of love.  The power of saying their names.

My brain is still wrapping itself around this one so I’m having trouble finding more to say – just know that Anger is a Gift is amazing.

Thanks to Tor Teen and Netgalley for providing a review copy.