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.


Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling #3)

458034As an Arrow, an elite soldier in the Psy Council ranks, Judd Lauren was forced to do terrible things in the name of his people. Now he is a defector, and his dark abilities have made him the most deadly of assassins – cold, pitiless, unfeeling. Until he meets Brenna…

Brenna Shane Kincaid was an innocent before she was abducted – and had her mind violated – by a serial killer. Her sense of evil runs so deep, she fears she could become a killer herself. Then the first dead body is found, victim of a familiar madness. Judd is her only hope, yet her sensual changeling side rebels against the inhuman chill of his personality, even as desire explodes between them. Shocking and raw, their passion is a danger that threatens not only their hearts, but their very lives…


When the world gets tough, the tough read romance.  I turned to the Psy-Changing series because I wanted to escape with paranormal in a well-thought out universe, but sadly the tropes worked against me.

Both our hero and heroine are damaged – Brenna after being abducted and abused by an Evil Dude, and Judd as part of his Psy upbringing.  I don’t often read romance where the trauma comes from both directions and it’s not really my thing.  I never completely bought the romance between the two and the thought that Judd was being hurt (like, blood dripping out of his ear hurt) when he felt love for Brenna doesn’t do it for me.

I would have given up a third of the way through but I don’t want to give up on the series yet.  There’s an overarching plot through all the books and I hate the idea of missing something so I plowed on.  Here’s hoping the next book is more my thing.

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.

Darkest Flame by Donna Grant (Dark Kings #1)

18169912Denae Lacroix is a beautiful MI5 agent on a deadly mission. Sent to the Scottish Highlands to spy on the mysterious Dreagan Industries, she discovers too late that she’s been set up—as human bait. She is an irresistible lure for a man who has not seen or touched a woman for centuries. He is a man with a destiny—and a desire—that could destroy them both…

It’s been twelve hundred years since Kellan has walked among humans—and there’s no denying the erotically charged attraction he feels for Denae. But as a Dragon King, he is sworn to protect his secrets. Yet the closer he gets to this smart, ravishing woman, the more her life is in danger. All it takes is one reckless kiss to unleash a flood of desire, the fury of dragons…and the fiercest enemy of all.


Trigger warning for assault.

The world has been overwhelming in a holy-crap-they’re-doing-what-now way, and at times like this I turn to romance.  And not just any romance but over the top, steamy, fantastical romance, the crazier the better.  When I’m like this I’m willing to forgive almost anything.  Instalove?  Go for it!  Poor characterization?  Whatever, bring on a pinball plot!  I’m actually more likely to knock a book for not being crazy enough. (Exhibit A: that time a cop went undercover as a slave on a BDSM planet and fell in love with an alien was a bit too tame.)

This book, though, I can’t forgive, because the heroine is sexually assaulted by the bad guy in front of the hero.  She’s tied up, stripped naked, and forced to orgasm against her will.

Oh, hell no.

She does have the feelings you would expect after being assaulted, so a point for that, but as soon as the coast is clear she and the hero have sex to clear her system or something.  Gah.

After that all of the other faults grated, including those I was inclined to overlook – instalust, bad phonetic renditions of accents, a fae deus ex machina, and three HEA couples even though this is book one (??) come immediately to mind.  Ugh.

Why Darkest Flame is so highly rated on Goodreads I do not know.  Stay far away, even if you’re in the mood for some crazy.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #2)

34050917The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.


I was worried this wouldn’t be as good as The Bear and the Nightingale but you know what? I think I like this one better.

If you liked the slow set up and epic scale of the first book you may be disappointed, as there isn’t as much here.  Instead we have Vasya off on an adventure, seeing new places and meeting all kinds of people.  Even so Arden reintroduces us to characters in a gentle, non-jarring way, making it easy to follow the story even if you’ve forgotten who is who.

While some parts made me cringe – Vasya is young and makes her share of foolish mistakes – they’re in character and part of her development.  The only regrettable part for me is when she runs headlong into danger near the end.  I get the reason, and in a twisted way it was a smart thing to do, but it was a little too close to heroine bait/meaningless self-sacrifice for my liking.

Morozko is my favorite character and we get a lot of time with him here.  Everyone else, from Vasya’s siblings on down to servants is fleshed out and well characterized.

There’s no slump in Arden’s sophomore effort and I eagerly await the last book of the trilogy.

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.

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

35297339This is one of those books that I love so much that it’s hard to review.  I’ll start by saying that if you like stories that mess with narrative and structure, if you like your fiction to be a bit out of the box while remaining beautiful, if you like the Goldsmiths Prize – this is the book for you.  Close this tab now and get your hands on it, and come back when you’re finished so we can discuss.

There is so much to discuss.

Asymmetry has two storylines.  In one a young professional falls in love with an award-winning author, and in the other an Iraqi-American PhD student is being held at immigration at Heathrow Airport.  On the surface there’s nothing in common between the two but the connections dawn on you as you read.

It’s delicious, and these connections are my favorite part of the book.  After finishing I immediately went back to my highlights and they took on new meaning.  I would open to a random page and find a line that illuminated the narrative in an entirely different light.  My favorite books are onions, with layers of insight, and Asymmetry is just that, roughly chopped into pieces and tossed in the most beguiling way.

The themes run the gamut from what it means to be an artist to post 9/11 politics to, as you could guess, asymmetries of all sorts.  And the writing!  The dialogue is smart and flowing yet doesn’t strain credibility.

For all his assurances, he himself became gloomy.  Not without pleasure, Alice felt herself being tested by these dramatic circumstances.

“Of course,” she said, “we all have to worry.  I could get cancer. Or tomorrow, in the street, you could be–”

He closed his eyes and held up a hand. “I already know about the bus.”

I love the insights as well, and they’re often laced with humor.

Then, going cheerfully around the room, he would switch off the phone, the fax, the lights, pour himself a glass of chocolate soymilk, and count out a small pile of pills.  “The older you get,” he explained, “the more you have to do before you can go to bed.  I’m up to one hundred things.”

The writing style changes from section to section and while I respect the reason I feel the middle part falls oh-so-slightly flat in comparison with the beginning and end.  That’s my only complaint, though.  It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel.

I can’t wait to reread Asymmetry, and I can’t wait for you guys to read it so we can get in all kinds of discussions about it.  Perfect for those who like the slightly unconventional, book clubs, or anyone that enjoys their mind being gently twisted as they read.  Highly recommended.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

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.