Alyssa Cole

Joint Review: An Extraordinary Union and A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole

00:00

Title: An Extraordinary Union (The Royal League #1)
Date of publication: 28 March 2017
Genre: Historical romance, the Civil War 

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads
Add to Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb

As the Civil War rages between the states, a courageous pair of spies plunge fearlessly into a maelstrom of ignorance, deceit, and danger, combining their unique skills to alter the course of history and break the chains of the past . . .

Elle Burns is a former slave with a passion for justice and an eidetic memory. Trading in her life of freedom in Massachusetts, she returns to the indignity of slavery in the South—to spy for the Union Army.

Malcolm McCall is a detective for Pinkerton's Secret Service. Subterfuge is his calling, but he’s facing his deadliest mission yet—risking his life to infiltrate a Rebel enclave in Virginia.

Two undercover agents who share a common cause—and an undeniable attraction—Malcolm and Elle join forces when they discover a plot that could turn the tide of the war in the Confederacy's favor. Caught in a tightening web of wartime intrigue, and fighting a fiery and forbidden love, Malcolm and Elle must make their boldest move to preserve the Union at any cost—even if it means losing each other

Review

I can't believe I waited this long to read this. It's a remarkable, engaging romance with strong suspense elements, a romantic spy thriller during the US Civil War.

I loved both the hero and heroine each of whom went through a journey of their own. Elle is one of the best romance heroine I have read in a while. She is strong and independent and super smart (with eidetic memory) and she is a spy for the Royal League helping the Union. As a free Black working under the disgiuse of a mute slave, she has a lot to deal with without the added complication of meeting a charming white man (who also happens to be spy for RL)

Malcolm was a complex and intriguing hero. Charming and easy going, he is in fact closer to a beta hero than an alpha. I liked how him meeting Elle and getting to know her forced him to examine his his own hero/white saviour complex. And he was not bitter or angry over but rather accept he had a lot to and improve about himself and the world went on making both of them better. 

There was no easy sway for them to be together. They both first had to believe it was possible and then start working on making it a reality while still doing their mission. Their romance was very physical but also based on mutual respect and admiration. Elle is smarter than him and he is not intimidated by this, but rather in awe of her strengths, endurance.

She takes a risk, opens her heart to the impossible. There was much focus on the inner struggles between what she feels is her duty to herself and her people and the love she feels for Malcolm, willing to trust him. In the end they we were working together for the benefit of her people while following their hearts.

The story was full of plot twists and turns that kept me on the edge the whole time I was reading.

This is an exquisitely written story, rich in detail in the lives of slaves and slave owners and soldiers and rebels. All character are vivid, memorable. Highly recommended read!

Purchase links: Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | B&N

*** *** ***

Title: A Hope Divided (The Royal League #2)
Date of publication: 28 Nov 2017
Genre: Historical romance, the Civil War 

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 3 Stars

Blurb

The Civil War has turned neighbor against neighbor--but for one scientist spy and her philosopher soldier, war could bind them together . . . 

For three years of the War Between the States, Marlie Lynch has helped the cause in peace: with coded letters about anti-Rebel uprisings in her Carolina woods, tisanes and poultices for Union prisoners, and silent aid to fleeing slave and Freeman alike. Her formerly enslaved mother's traditions and the name of a white father she never knew have protected her--until the vicious Confederate Home Guard claims Marlie's home for their new base of operations in the guerilla war against Southern resistors of the Rebel cause.

Unbeknowst to those under her roof, escaped prisoner Ewan McCall is sheltering in her laboratory. Seemingly a quiet philosopher, Ewan has his own history with the cruel captain of the Home Guard, and a thoughtful but unbending strength Marlie finds irresistible.

When the revelation of a stunning family secret places Marlie's freedom on the line, she and Ewan have to run for their lives into the hostile Carolina night. Following the path of the Underground Railroad, they find themselves caught up in a vicious battle that could dash their hopes of love--and freedom--before they ever cross state lines.

Review

This is the second book in the series and it's very different in tone than the first book despite the outward similarities. This is the story of Ewan, Malcolm's brother (who is a soldier and interrogator for the Union) falling for Marlie, a free mixed race woman (spy for the Union and healer woman).

It's a very character focused story where the suspense elements are less prominent than in the first book. For me it read like an exploration of the human soul with its darkest, scariest corners but there was also light and hope there too.

Marlie comes from tradition of healers but she also believes in science and she pracitces a mixture of hoodoo beliefs and scientific approach to healing. She leads a sort of privilege, sheltered life, while still helping the Union in her own small way. Then her world gets turned upside down and she finds herself questioning her own identity, her place and role in life. She goes through a lot of change in order to come to accept and understand the past, to find room for dreams and hopes for the future.

Ewan is just as complex, his world is actually in turmoil though outwardly he appears calm and in control of his life. It's only towards the end we see more of his inner struggles when he truly opens to Marlie. I admit I was taken aback by the whole torture aspect and his ability to rationalise and justify it. I much more subscribe to her view of violence/torture as hurting you as much as it hurts the other person. I remain ambivalent toward the hero, all the violence he did and the way it comes so easy/naturally to him makes me hesitant to fully stand by him. 

As far as the romance is concerned, I really wanted more of it. They meet under difficult circumstance and most of their time together they are on the run, hiding, which is not perfect situation for a romantic affair to bloom, yet my issues with it were different. Marlie and Ewan feel strong physical attraction to each other and find pleasure and comfort in each other's company but also they are keeping a lot of secrets, never really admitting it all, never truly opening up to each other until the very end. Add to this the fact that they have massively different views (which they both change in the course of the story) and I feel they didn't truly connect for most of the book. Their intimate connection is only forged after they share their worst secrets, and there are some ugly and scary things that the war has brought to the fore.

That said, I loved the details of the world he author (re)created, the complexity and multilayered-ness of the society both in the South and in the North. This story strays far away from the familiar stereotypical stories about the Civil War. It shows a less idealised, more real picture of all ordinary people who lived through it and how it affected from the very their very physical corporeal existence to shaking and fully destroying their souls.

There is a minor detail having to do with fertility problems which really bothered me and I just can't let it go. It's personal thing and most readers wouldn't notice/pay attention to it but for it was big deal and affected my enjoyment of the story.

Overall, I liked the story, the focus on the issues of identity and what makes us who we are, how free/not-free everybody is wase interesting to read. The romance didn't quite work for me and I felt its resolution was rather rushed, it left me wanting more redemption of the hero and more independence for the heroine.

I remain pretty invested in this series as a whole and I'm looking forward towards the next installment, An Unconditional Freedom, coming out in 2018.

Purchase links: Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | B&N

Author Spotlight

Friday Favourites with Tamsen Parker

02:00

I'm happy to have the lovely Tamsen Parker over today sharing her Friday Favourites and talking a bit about her latest book, Love on the Tracks,which was released earlier this week. It a mf romance between a female luger and a boy band lead singer. This is the first in a crossover series of 5 winter sports romances to come this winter.




1. Favourite place
I’m a New Englander at heart, I can’t really imagine living anyplace else for any length of time. That being said, I love to travel. New Orleans and Montreal are two of my favorite cities to visit. When I want to pretend reality’s not a thing, a long weekend in Las Vegas is nice—I don’t even gamble, I just like all the food, shows, spas…the whole place is a giant spectacle. Kauai is lovely, and I like going to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania at any time of year. Probably my favorite small place is a little church courtyard in Stockholm. There’s a tiny little statue called Järnpojke and I loved going to visit him, especially when I was having a bad day. He’s so tiny, and yet he brings people so much joy—reminds me that even when we feel small and helpless sometimes we can actually have a bigger impact than we think.    

2. Favourite food and drink
My favorite drinks are sweet Rieslings, gin cocktails, and pretty much anything with elderflower liquor in it. Food is so much harder! My favorite junk foods are Kit Kats (they disappear RAPIDLY from my desk, Idek where because I swear I didn’t eat that many) and Bugles (which I only get at airports to limit my consumption). I also really enjoy a good steak—which, if one more wait-person tries to give Mr. Parker my steak and pass his fish off on me? I’m going to start flipping tables. And after a childhood of loathing Brussel sprouts, they’re now one of my favorites. Also Kane’s doughnuts, pot roast, empanadas from this little place in Chicago that I get when I go see Amy Jo Cousins. Um, it’s possible I should’ve waited until after lunch to answer this question…

3. Favourite music/genre/artist/song
I tend to listen to my book playlists while I’m writing, so what I’m listening to shifts based on what I’m writing. But right now, I’m listening to a lot of stuff by The Head and The Heart, Lord Huron, Michael Kiwanuka, Alpha Rev, Leon Bridges, and Anderson East.

4. Favourite movie/TV series
Right now I’m watching mostly things I’ve seen before because I’m multitasking, and I watch a lot of kids movies because I have a six year old. Moana, The Avengers movies (especially Captain America), Star Wars, Wonder Woman are all on regular rotation. I love Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, BBC adaptations of Jane Austen novels, and I just watched Alias Grace which was really good but also profoundly disturbing. We’re also devotees of John Oliver, so Last Week Tonight is one of the few current shows I watch.

5. Favourite hobby besides writing, if you consider writing a hobby
I’m a planner addict! Which means I have truly excessive amounts of washi tape and stickers in my office. I also collect Funko Pops, but only badass women figures. I like watching movies, and we have season tickets to the Boston Pride which is a women’s pro hockey team. When my friends and I aren’t just going out for dinner, we like to do artsy things like clay classes, paint nights, hand-lettering workshops, and our next adventure is a crash course in glass-blowing. And of course, I love to read.

6. Favourite books (feel free to list as many as you want; all-time favourites or newly released ones; grouped by sub/genre or other criteria)
Oh, this is a terrible/wonderful question to ask an author!

My auto-buy authors are KJ Charles, Rose Lerner, and Alyssa Cole, so pretty much everything by them makes the list.

The Subs Club series by JA Rock
Old School Discipline and Working Out the Kinks by Misha Horne
Off Campus (and pretty much everything else) by Amy Jo Cousins
Comfort Object by Annabel Joseph
The Comte by Edie Harris
The Fly Me to the Moon series by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner (with bonus points to Earth Bound, which just killed me)
Reawakening by Charlotte Stein
Wanderlust by Skye Warren
A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant
A Gentleman in the Street by Alisha Rai

This is in no way exhaustive! I could keep going all day, but I should probably go take care of edits on the fifth SIG book…

7. Please introduce your latest/upcoming release (what inspired you to write, what can the readers expect from it, etc.)
Love on the Tracks is Book 1 in my new Snow and Ice Games series. I got the idea for the series when I was speaking to my editor at SMP Swerve, and she mentioned that she and her team had been talking about Michael Phelps (it was right after the summer Olympics). He’s been the dominant men’s swimmer in the world for a while now, but he got beat—and beat by Joseph Schooling, who’d met Michael Phelps when he was just a kid. Which, HI, does that not scream m/m romance? I thought it did. So I came up with a five book series and here we are.

Love on the Tracks is inspired by the super cute relationship between Simone Biles and Zac Efron. Theirs was platonic, but Love on the Tracks is basically about what might happen if it didn’t stay that way, and with a luger heroine and a boy band singer hero.

The Snow and Ice Games books are all coming out around the Winter Olympics so you won’t have to wait long for them (Love on the Tracks: 12/5, Seduction on the Slopes: 1/16, On the Edge of Scandal AND Fire on the Ice: 2/6, On the Brink of Passion: 3/6). They are category-length (~55k words) so they’re fast reads with the pulse pounding excitement people love about sports romance but with sports that don’t tend to get a lot of play—luge, slalom skiing, women’s hockey, figure skating, speed skating, and pairs figure skating. Also, you should know that Fire on the Ice is so dirty my editor had to stop reading it on the subway because it made her blush so hard.

I’m so excited to welcome everyone to the SIG snowglobe, thanks so much for reading! xoxo

Blurb

Welcome to the Snow and Ice Games where the competition is fierce and the romance is HOT.

Rowan Andrews is the unexpected darling of the Denver Snow and Ice Games. Luge has never captured the American public’s imagination as much as figure skating or even hockey, but her outsized personality and dare-devil ways have got everyone’s eyes glued to the track. Including a certain chart-topping heartthrob.

Zane Rivera is the lead singer of License to Game, the hottest band in the country. When Zane finds out Rowan Andrews has had some complimentary things to say about him, he arranges to meet her while he’s in Denver enjoying the games. And when a photo of him kissing Rowan on the cheek goes viral, they both see the advantages of faking a relationship for the publicity.

After Rowan’s injured in her final race, their relationship starts to feel all too real to Zane. But is this rock star ready to fall in love?

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Google Play / iBooks / Kobo




Author Bio and Links

Tamsen Parker is a stay-at-home mom by day, USA Today bestselling erotic romance writer by naptime. Her novella CRAVING FLIGHT was named to the Best of 2015 lists of Heroes and Heartbreakers, Smexy Books, Romance Novel News, and Dear Author. Heroes and Heartbreakers called her Compass series “bewitching, humorous, erotically intense and emotional.”

She lives with her family outside of Boston, where she tweets too much, sleeps too little and is always in the middle of a book. Aside from good food, sweet rieslings and gin cocktails, she has a fondness for monograms and subway maps. She should really start drinking coffee.

Social Media Links: Facebook / Reader Group / Twitter 



Contemporary Romance

Review: Cherish Hard by Nalini Singh

00:00

Title: Cherish Hard (Hard Play #1)
Author: Nalini Singh
Date of publication: 14 Nov 2017
Genre: Contemporary romance 

Author's links:

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb

Sailor Bishop has only one goal for his future – to create a successful landscaping business. No distractions allowed. Then he comes face-to-face and lips-to-lips with a woman who blushes like an innocent… and kisses like pure sin.

Ísa Rain craves a man who will cherish her, aches to create a loving family of her own. Trading steamy kisses with a hot gardener in a parking lot? Not the way to true love. Then a deal with the devil (aka her CEO-mother) makes Ísa a corporate VP for the summer. Her main task? Working closely with a certain hot gardener.

And Sailor Bishop has wickedness on his mind.

As Ísa starts to fall for a man who makes her want to throttle and pounce on him at the same time, she knows she has to choose – play it safe and steady, or risk all her dreams and hope Sailor doesn’t destroy her heart. 


Review

This was a nice and sweet story but I had some issues and in the end, there was nothing memorable about it.

Isa is young woman who longs for a family, looking for a balance between work/time with family/friends. Writing a heroine like her carries the risk of her being seen as a cliche and anti-feminist, yet she didn't read like either to me and I appreciated the effort Nalini Singh took in presenting a heroine like her in contemporary romance. Unfortunately, this is almost all I liked in her. She came off as too perfect, too caring, too much the opposite of her mother (who was the evil business woman absentee mother stereotype incarnate).

Sailor was an interesting hero, younger than Isa, focused on his career, passionate about his work and the people close to him. wants to give her everything she never had. He fell for Isa hard and fast and made it his mission to provide her with everything she was missing in her life and to convince her he is the right one for her. Unfortunately along with his tenderness and care and affection, he came off as too possessive, too protective, too certain she is the one for him. I'm ok with insta/meant-to-be romance in Nalini Singh's  shifter series, it makes sense to me re mates but in contemporary it bothers me. His conviction that she is  his from the get-go and he just needed to convince her of this fell off on many levels.

A common feature in all of this author's work which I like a lot is the ethnic diversity of her characters. Isa is half-Australian/half-Icelandic and her mixed cultural background was present in the story. I also very much appreciate the variety of family relationships we see in this story, biological and chosen family mix and balance each other.

There were some interesting family/friendship dynamics and the romance was very emotional and intense but none of it made the story stand out from any other contemporary romance out there.

Overall, I prefer Nalini Singh's paranormal romances to her contemporary ones which so far has been a hit or miss for me. I'm open to reading more in this series but I will definitely approach the next books with caution and lower expectations.

Purchase links: Amazon/ B&N / Kobo / iBooks

'Nathan Burgoine

Friday Favourites: 'Nathan Burgoine

00:00

It's time for Friday Favourites and I'm extremely happy to have 'Nathan Burgoine, author of queer SFF and romance, over today. Read on to learn of his favourite things and because of the season they are all Holidays related. You can check out his latest release, Handmade Holidays, a m/m Christmas romance, which was released earlier this week by Nine Star Press and which I absolutely loved (my review)!



Friday Favourites with 'Nathan Burgoine

1. Favourite place
I know there are no “rules” to the Friday Favourites, but it’s snowing out right now, and given that I’m trying to get into the right mood for the holidays, I’m going to try to answer all of these with a winter or holiday bent. 

So: British Columbia, specifically the Okanagan Valley. When I lived there for a year, it was the most magical winter ever. I was in high school at the time, and made some of the best friendships I’d ever make, and between the mountains and the snow, it was just beautiful. 

2. Favourite food and drink
Once the snow starts to fall, it’s all about mugs of white hot chocolate after walking the Husky. I can’t have regular hot chocolate thanks to it triggering headaches, but a white hot with a dollop of Bailey’s? Winter perfection.

As for food… Hm. Y’know, it’s a total comfort food thing in Winter to have a bowl of chili and toasted bread that’s pretty much been made floppy with the amount of butter I’ve put on it. Especially, again, if I’ve just come back from thigh-deep snow with a bouncing Husky who is totally already pining for his next trip.

3. Favourite music/genre/artist/song
Once the snow starts, I kind of duck and cover and turn off the radio. After decades of working retail, it’s safe to say the vast majority of the holiday music out there leaves me, well, cold. But! There are a few. 

First, Sting’s “Soul Cake.” I love it, and it’s folksy. Finding the lesser-played songs get me through the holidays. Loreena McKennit’s winter albums, “December Will Be Magic Again,” by Kate Bush, “The Closing of the Year,” from the Toys soundtrack, “Christmas Wrapping,” by the Waitresses (the best Christmas carol ever, in case anyone’s asking), and—of course—The Pogues and Kristy MacColl’s “Fairytale of New York.”

4. Favourite movie/TV series
Keeping to my self-imposed winter theme? The Hogfather put on by the BBC was brilliant (the actress who played Mary in Downton Abbey plays Susan to perfection). I love everything about that series, and really, what’s not to love? Terry Pratchett meets Santa Claus. 

I also re-watch A Christmas Carol every year (the one with Alastair Sim, and the black and white version, thankyouverymuch). I try to pretend I don’t see the camera in the mirror, and when he does his dance and nearly-stand-on-his-head moment, I pretty much cackle with delight, no matter how much the season might be getting me down. 

5. Favourite hobby besides writing, if you consider writing a hobby
During the holidays, baking comes to the forefront, as does snow-shoeing. The show-shoeing thing comes from the aforementioned Husky, who will happily bound through snow that’s up to his chest. I’m less happy about trodding through the stuff, so my snow-shoes help tremendously.

Baking, on the other hand, fills the house with lovely scents and helps me fill the “I’m always hungry!” that seems to come with the arrival of winter. Swiss Ginger Cookies, Pecan Points, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Coconut Cookies, Lemon Squares… I’m not a good cook (I follow recipes and do so adequately), but I love baking, and have the knack. And there are enough social opportunities in winter that I can give away half of every batch or cake or what-have-you.

6. Favourite books 
I have a two-pronged attack for the holiday season when it comes to reading, and there’s a lot of re-reading, too. The first involves earbuds under my hat, hood, scarf, and winter coat: audiobooks. I have some go-to holiday titles. The Patrick Stewart performance of A Christmas Carol and Eli Easton’s Blame it on the Mistletoe (anything narrated by Jason Frazier is pretty much a one-click for me) get a re-listen every single year (I tend to save “Blame it on the Mistletoe” until I’m baking cookies, because the main character is super anti-sugar and I’m contrary like that), and I try out new queer audiobook holiday stories as I can find them. This year I bumped into Merry Christmas, Mr. Miggles (another Eli Easton), and will no doubt find more.

On the physical book reading side, without fail I always revisit Becky Cochrane’s A Coventry Christmas, and then I try to find new queer holiday novellas to add to my collection. This year I bumped into Heart’s Alight, by Elliot Cooper (a lovely Hanukkah novella) and Sock it to Me, Santa! by Madison Parker (a cute, YA Christmas story). I also try out lots of anthologies, as it’s a great way to meet new authors, I love short fiction, and they’re bite-sized for a daily sit-down dose of holiday cheer. Upon a Midnight Clear, edited by Greg Herren, gets pulled out again year after year, but I’m always on the lookout for more.


Title: Handmade Holidays
Author: 'Nathan Burgoine
Genre: MM holiday romance

Purchase links: Publisher / Kobo / B&N / Amazon


Blurb

At nineteen, Nick is alone for the holidays and facing reality: this is how it will be from now on. Refusing to give up completely, Nick buys a Christmas tree, and then realizes he has no ornaments. A bare tree and an empty apartment aren’t a great start, but a visit from his friend Haruto is just the ticket to get him through this first, worst, Christmas. A box of candy canes and a hastily folded paper crane might not be the best ornaments, but it’s a place to start.

A year later, Nick has realized he’s not the only one with nowhere to go, and he hosts his first “Christmas for the Misfit Toys.” Haruto brings Nick an ornament for Nick’s tree, and a tradition—and a new family—is born.

As years go by, Nick, Haruto, and their friends face love, betrayal, life, and death. Every ornament on Nick’s tree is another year, another story, and another chance at the one thing Nick has wanted since the start: someone who’d share more than the holidays with him.

Of course, Nick might have already missed his shot at the one, and it might be too late.

Still, after fifteen Christmases, Nick is ready to risk it all for the best present yet. 


Author Bio and Links

'Nathan Burgoine grew up a reader and studied literature in university while making a living as a bookseller. He loves to write shorter fiction and has had dozens of short fiction pieces and two novellas published. His first novel, Light, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. Since then, he's written two more: Triad Blood and Triad Soul; all three are available from Bold Strokes Books. A cat lover, 'Nathan managed to fall in love and marry Daniel, who is a confirmed dog person. Their ongoing "cat or dog?" détente ended with the adoption of Coach, a six-year old husky. They live in Ottawa, Canada, where their tree is full of ornaments.


'Nathan Burgoine

Mini Reviews: Two Holiday Novellas

00:00

Title: Handmade Holidays
Author: 'Nathan Burgoine
Genre: MM holiday romance

Author links: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads
Purchase links: Publisher

My rating: 4.5 Stars


Blurb

At nineteen, Nick is alone for the holidays and facing reality: this is how it will be from now on. Refusing to give up completely, Nick buys a Christmas tree, and then realizes he has no ornaments. A bare tree and an empty apartment aren’t a great start, but a visit from his friend Haruto is just the ticket to get him through this first, worst, Christmas. A box of candy canes and a hastily folded paper crane might not be the best ornaments, but it’s a place to start.

A year later, Nick has realized he’s not the only one with nowhere to go, and he hosts his first “Christmas for the Misfit Toys.” Haruto brings Nick an ornament for Nick’s tree, and a tradition—and a new family—is born.

As years go by, Nick, Haruto, and their friends face love, betrayal, life, and death. Every ornament on Nick’s tree is another year, another story, and another chance at the one thing Nick has wanted since the start: someone who’d share more than the holidays with him.

Of course, Nick might have already missed his shot at the one, and it might be too late.

Still, after fifteen Christmases, Nick is ready to risk it all for the best present yet. 

Review

Oh, this was so lovely, a bit nostalgic a lot of hopeful, just the perfect holiday read for me.

I loved the concept of following a group of queer friends through their Christmases spent together over 15 years. This is a story about life and love and friendship and the meaning of the holidays - a time to share with those who you love and who love you. Those young queer people created a chosen family for themselves and set new traditions which we see them follow and enrich over 15 years.

It's was not all happiness and holiday cheer though. There was some pretty painful moment to read. There was no glossing over the hardships the characters face as young queer people dealing with life on their own - heartbreak, betrayal, racism, transphobia (even within the queer community itself).

It's a poignant story which packs a punch in novella length. It was emotional, engaging, real and made me reminisce about my own last 10-15 Christmases.



Title: A Special Delivery
Author: Laura Bailo
Genre: MM holiday romance

Author links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads
Purchase links: Publisher

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

Colin only meant to take a wrongly delivered package to a house a few streets over. But a sudden snowstorm leaves him with no option but to beg shelter from his unknown neighbour James. During the course of a long night, a cozy fire, a little hot chocolate and the snow outside conspire to draw the two men closer. But will their connection outlast the storm?

Review

The was the flufffiest of fluff m/m romance. It's tender and gentle, perfectly heart-warming, like a cup of hot chocolate on a chilly winter day. Two very real and likable characters meet by chance and fall for each other. Nothing more, nothing less, just the perfection of making a connection with another human being, sharing some of you with them. All this, plus an adorable dog. What more can you want from a Christmas story.

There was an easy flow to the writing and the story, it projected a sense of warmth and intimacy, happiness. Overall, it's low-key story of two ordinary people with ordinary lives finding each other and starting a life together.



Author Interview

New and Debut: Kate Clayborn

00:00

I'm so happy to welcome as my guest in New and Debut author spotlight the lovely Kate Clayborn. Her debut Beginner's Luck, mf contemporary romance, was just released on Oct 31. I've already reviewed it and can't praise it high enough. It's such a delightful story, complex and fun and realistic and in short, contemporary romance at its finest. Read on to learn more about the author and her book and don't miss the excerpt from Beginner's Luck at the end of this post.


Meet Kate 

1. Tell us about yourself and why did you decide to become a romance writer?
Probably like a lot of romance authors, I started writing because I really, really loved reading romance. I’ve always loved to write, and do some writing as part of my day job, but I don’t think I had a strong vision of myself as being a writer of novels. But when I started reading romance, I felt like I had found my “thing,” my people, if that makes sense? What I really loved most about romance was that much of it had a very strong sense of community - not just a partnership between the central couple, but friendships, family relationships, work relationships. In my own life, community is really important - it’s what gives my life a lot of its meaning. I’m from a close family and have many lovely, dear friends as well as a husband who is fun and funny and supportive. So as a writer, I wanted to write books that pay tribute to community like that. I love building those communities around a central romance pairing in a way that feels natural and realistic. 

2. Can you share some of your favourite books and authors?
How much time do you have? I have so many favorites, and I’m such a compulsive re-reader when I find books/authors I love. Some of my favorite contemporary authors are Sarah Mayberry, Ainslie Paton, Ruby Lang, and Alisha Rai (especially her new series, which I love so far). My favorite contemporary of the last year or so was probably Sally Thorne’s terrific The Hating Game. I love historicals, too, especially Courtney Milan and the new Alyssa Cole Loyal League series, as well as Tessa Dare and Sherry Thomas. 

3. Who/what do you consider your writing influence/inspiration?
The first romance I ever read was Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me, and her heroines—who are smart and fierce and imperfect and complicated—were certainly an influence in how I went on to read romance. I look for heroines like that as a reader, and I gravitate toward writing heroines like that. But I also try to take inspiration from unexpected places—a beautifully written piece of journalism that makes me think differently about something I already knew, or that teaches me something entirely unexpected, a great movie or a TV show, even a passing interaction with a stranger. I’m inspired by character, always—so learning something interesting about someone’s job or hobby or history or habits will often inspire me to think of stories that supplement those characteristics. 

4. What kind of stories can the readers expect from you (contemporary/historical/sci-fi, adult/NA/YA, etc)?
I write contemporaries with a lot of a humor and heart, featuring strong, independent heroines who have to work hard to find a place for love in their complicated lives. I like to match these heroines with heroes who are complicated, too—competent at what they do, and emotionally mature and invested in friendships and family relationships.

5. Please, introduce your latest/upcoming release.
BEGINNER’S LUCK is the first book in the Chance of a Lifetime series, which features three best friends who win the lottery. For each of them, the lottery is a chance to go after a long-desired goal, and for the heroine of BEGINNER’S LUCK, Kit, that’s to buy a house in the city she’s come to think of as home. As a trusted research scientist at the local university, Kit’s feeling pretty stable for the first time in her life, but the arrival of a handsome corporate recruiter named Ben—who’s offering her a new job and some extra help on her newly-purchased home—threatens to upend her carefully constructed plans. But since Ben is as charming and kind as he is handsome, Kit starts to wonder whether it’s possible to have both stability and the man of her dreams.


Title: Beginner's Luck (Chance of a Lifetime #1)
Author: Kate Clayborn
Date of publication: 31 Oct 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Add to Goodreads

Purchase links: AmazonB&N • iTunesBooks-A-MillionGoogle PlayKobo

My rating: 5 stars

Blurb

When three friends impulsively buy a lottery ticket, they never suspect the many ways their lives will change—or that for each of them, love will be the biggest win of all. 

Kit Averin is anything but a gambler. A scientist with a quiet, steady job at a university, Kit’s focus has always been maintaining the acceptable status quo. A sudden windfall doesn’t change that, with one exception: the fixer-upper she plans to buy, her first and only real home. It’s more than enough to keep her busy, until an unsettlingly handsome, charming, and determined corporate recruiter shows up in her lab—and manages to work his way into her heart . . .

Ben Tucker is surprised to find that the scientist he wants for Beaumont Materials is a young woman—and a beautiful, sharp-witted one at that. Talking her into a big-money position with his firm is harder than he expects, but he’s willing to put in the time, especially when sticking around for the summer gives him a chance to reconnect with his dad. But the longer he stays, the more questions he has about his own future—and who might be in it. 

What begins as a chilly rebuff soon heats up into an attraction neither Kit nor Ben can deny—and finding themselves lucky in love might just be priceless . . .

Author Bio and Links

KATE started writing stories on the extra wide-ruled notebook paper her first grade teacher passed out for handwriting practice, dreaming up everything from fairy princesses to secret agents, to fairy princesses who were also secret agents. She got gold stars for her handwriting, and side-eyes for the secret agent stuff.
Those stories were packed away in a memory box while Kate grew up and did lots of things—a master’s degree, a PhD, work, travel, home renovation, life in general—always with a book at her side.
A jolt in the form of a great romance novel reminded her to start writing stories again, but this time on a laptop (though she still has excellent handwriting).
These days Kate’s favorite stories to write are the ones that make people snort-laugh and happy-sigh—stories about smart, strong heroines who face the world alongside true friends, complicated families, and good men who recognize exactly how amazing the women they love are.
Kate is lucky enough to spend her days reading and talking about all kinds of great books. When she’s not doing that, she’s writing them, thinking about writing them, or remembering edits she needs to make in them. There’s also the thing where she takes long walks around her neighborhood and makes her handsome husband and sweet-faced dog listen to her talk about books and writing. They’re never bored and she’s not single-minded at all.



EXCERPT 

Here’s an excerpt from Kit and Ben’s very first meeting, when he comes to her research lab to make his first attempt at recruiting her: 

“Excuse me,” comes a deep voice from behind me, and it’s so unexpected that I jump a little, hitting my elbow on the creep frame I’ve just finished cleaning. 

“Ow,” I mutter, turning to meet—oh, only the most attractive person I have ever actually seen in real life, unless something is happening to my vision. I raise a hand immediately to my face, noting the lab goggles I am wearing—right, this is ideal—over my actual glasses. I pull them off, the rubbery strap getting a little stuck in my hair, and wince when a few strands come out. Once I’ve got my glasses straightened, I have another look. 

And, yeah. Still the most attractive person I’ve ever seen, tall and broad-shouldered with sandy-blond hair and a square, set jaw, eyes so blue I can see them even from several feet away, where he’s standing in the doorway. I don’t usually go for guys in suits, probably because most of the men in my line of work are more the rumpled-khakis or jeans type, but damn. This guy wears a suit like it’s his job. Which, it probably is his job, since it’s noon on a Friday. 

“I’m looking for E.R. Averin.” Excellent voice too—deep and smooth, and I had not really realized until this moment that I am so hard up if I am noticing this man’s voice so forcefully. Maybe there was something to Zoe’s constant haranguing about my nonexistent dating life. 

“Well, you found her,” I say, glad to hear that my own voice, at least, sounds normal. 

“I—” He paused, looked back over his shoulder. “I have?” 

“You have.” He blinks, unbuttons and then rebuttons his jacket. It is awkward to a high degree, and let me tell you what, you don’t spend your life around a bunch of experimental scientists without getting a real skewed sense of what’s awkward. This guy seems completely thrown. 

“You’re E.R. Averin?” he says, a little edge of doubt in his voice, and it’s at this point that I get almost relieved to know what I’m dealing with. Not for nothing am I the only female—not to mention the youngest—lab technician to ever work in this department, and in fact the only woman working in a lab tech role in the College of Engineering. I’ve dealt with a lot of dudes who have doubted me. 

“I think I’ve made that clear, Mr....?” 

He has the decency to look genuinely chastened. “My apologies, Professor Averin. I’m Ben Tucker.” 

He steps forward, holding out his—well, very nice, very large—hand, but I hold up the bottle of ethanol and my rag, shrugging in half-hearted apology. “Hello, Mr. Tucker. I’m not a professor.” 

“Right, yes. I apologize.” 

“That’s okay,” I say, and I almost feel sorry for him. There’s something about him, some weary feature behind his handsomeness, that gives me the sense I’m getting him on a bad day.

“Please, call me Ben.”

“Okay, Ben. Call me Ms. Averin.”

Austin Chant

Friday Favourites: Austin Chant

00:00

Friday Favourites are back in full swing and today my guest is Austin Chant, author of queer fiction. His trans retelling of Peter Darling released earlier this year and I only got to read it last month and it completely blew me away! His latest book is the trans pnr Caroline's Heart which I somehow loved even more. You can learn more about it and read an excerpt from it in the end of this post. First, though you get to learn what some of Austin's favourite things in the world are.



Austin's Friday Favourites

1. Favourite place
Everyone who's ever heard me talk about Austin, Texas, is groaning and covering their ears right now. But seriously: did you know there are swan boats (and also literal swans) sailing around the city every night? Did you know there's a 400-acre park with natural hot springs right across from downtown Austin? Did you know that the margaritas are cheap and delicious? Did you know that a colony of 1.5 million precious little bats lives in the city during the summer and that they eat all the mosquitoes? I once saw a Disney villain-themed drag show there with the world's most beautiful Captain Hook. Last time I visited I had cactus tacos for breakfast. Austin is perfect.

Yes, my name has made this relationship awkward, but I don't care. I'm in love with the city of Austin and nothing will stand between us.

2. Favourite food and drink
I'll take a blended jalapeno margarita or a strong cup of Earl Grey any day of the week, and I'll take either with a good burger or pulled pork sandwich.

3. Favourite music/genre/artist/song
I tend to change up my playlists depending on what I'm writing, so I listen to most genres, but if I'm just keeping myself entertained it's a mix of southern rock/alternative and pop. My favorite band at the moment is The Revivalists and I've been jamming to their song Wish I Knew You all year. 

4. Favourite movie/TV series
Jurassic Park is my all-time favorite movie, and Over the Garden Wall is probably my favorite TV series, although that might just be the Halloween spirit talking.

5. Favourite hobby besides writing, if you consider writing a hobby
Video games! I've been a big gamer since I was a kid, and gaming is still my favorite way to relax; it's a total change of pace from writing, but it's still creative and engaging. I love how much storytelling potential the interactive form has. Also, I've put more hours into Overwatch this year than I want to talk about. 

6. Favourite books 
Not that this could ever be a complete list, but my all-time favorites include Howl's Moving Castle (and many others) by Diana Wynne Jones, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, The Book of Salt by Monique Truong, the Captive Prince series by CS Pacat, and The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by KJ Charles. Recently, I've really enjoyed The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, Nevada by Imogen Binnie, and Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell.

Austin Chant's latest release is Caroline's Heart, Western trans romance with cowboys and witches and spells and magic and HFN! Buy link: 

Blurb
Cecily lost her soulmate years ago, leaving her with nothing but the clockwork heart that once beat in Caroline's chest. They say it's impossible to bring back the dead, yet Cecily's resurrection spell is nearly complete and grows more powerful by the day.
But when a cowboy she barely knows is fatally injured, the only way to save him is by sacrificing an essential piece of the resurrection spell—and all possibility of seeing her lover again.
Purchase link: Amazon 

Author Bio and Links

Austin Chant is a bitter millennial, a decent chef, and a queer, trans writer of romance and speculative fiction. His fiction includes Peter Darling, Coffee Boy, and Caroline's Heart. He co-hosts The Hopeless Romantic, a podcast dedicated to exploring LGBTQIA+ love stories and the art of writing romance. He currently lives in a household of creative freelancers who all spend too much time playing video games.


Excerpt

Roy puts the horses out to pasture under the watchful gaze of the witch candles, his nose itching every time the wind carries the pale smoke in his direction. He keeps an eye out for the witch, but there's no sign of her; he overhears John talking about how witches only travel under cover of darkness, because the light of day will burn their blighted skin. Roy's curiosity starts to fade to resignation. Maybe he won't see her at all. Maybe Weber will keep her away from the men entirely; maybe he fears that a hex on one of them would be a hex on the whole ranch.

Around midday, he retreats into the stables to repair a stall door that one of the mares kicked down. It's unpleasant work, downwind of the house so the air reeks of smoke as well as manure and straw dust. He sneezes till his eyes are running and his throat is raw. It seems like it's getting hotter every minute, feverish almost. Soon his chest aches with each breath.

He stops to wipe his brow on his sleeve and notices that the straw is stirring around his feet as if picked up by a breeze, but there's no wind, just a strange agitation in the air.

A coil of soft heat, like a cat's tail, brushes the back of his neck.

Roy startles and glances over his shoulder. There's nothing out of the ordinary, just saddles and tack and a bare wall, but the air pushes around him like a hot bath. He takes a thick breath, his head swimming, and moves toward the stable door. Better sit down, he thinks, before you fall down—

But then he sees it: a seam of light cutting its way across the bare wall like a shooting star.

Roy stands stock still, staring at the light. He's filled with a giddy fear like the kind he used to get from his pa's candlelight stories. The heat is dizzying, past intolerable, the air swelling urgently around him. Roy blinks sweat out of his eyes, watching the light's progress as it traces a rectangle the size of a door.

Then the door cracks inward, and the pressure goes all at once. The air left behind is cold and thin and smells of flowers.

Roy sags against the wall, shivering and staring, as the witch steps through.

She moves like a deer, dainty and aloof, turning to press the glowing door closed behind her. She's dressed like Mr. Weber's young wife, in gray and white, with a bow around the high collar of her dress and a straw bonnet trimmed with silk. Roy hadn't expected her to be so pretty. She's the kind of lady who would make him stumble over his tongue if he met her in the street. Her lips are rosy, her cheekbones striking; her hair is dark and tame, pulled back into a shiny braid, loose ringlets curling over her brow and along her cheeks.

He realizes he's exposing his soul for her taking a moment too late when she turns and catches his eye. She looks straight at him, not in the forthright way that some people do, but like a cat watching an insect. Her eyes are black, languid—her eyelashes so thick and dark they seem to pull her eyelids down for each dispassionate blink. Roy, flushed and now freezing, finds himself unable to move.

"Do you need something, cowboy?" she asks, a cool voice with a distinct Texan drawl.

#readRchat

#readRchat: Frequently Asked Questions

01:00

Have you seen the #readrchat hashtag on Twitter and wondered what it was about. Or you might have never heard of it but now you are curious? Here is a short FAQ to give you a general idea what it is about.


1. What is #readrchat?
#readRchat is a monthly romance readers chat that takes place on Twitter. It includes 10 questions a topic that we choose and announce beforehand. We ask the questions within one hour but the chat usually goes for 1.5-2 hours.

2.Who runs it?
It was started by Ava Kingswell and me (Ellie Reads) in January 2017. During the summer Ana Coqui joined us. Today we run the chat with the support of a couple of more reader friends - Mary Lynne, Kini and Joy

3. When is it happening?
The chat takes place every first Saturday of the month at 10pm CET /4pm EST.

4. Can I participate on my on time (since the time of the chat is not convenient for me)? 
Yes, you can answer the questions any time that is convenient for you.

5. What topics have been covered so far?

  • Introducing #readRchat: Share Your Passions
  • Romance Tropes and Subgenres
  • Series and Standalones
  • Choices, choices: How do you pick what to read next?
  • Best reads of 2017 so far - special mid-year chat
  • Let's Talk All Things Erotic in Romance
  • Summer Reading
  • Adventures in Romance
  • The Reader/Author Interaction: Dos & Don'ts

6. Where can I see the upcoming topics?
I will be posting them every couple of months here on my blog. The next chat will be on Nov 4th and we will be talking about People of Color and Romance. 

We want to the #readrchat to be a fun and pleasant experience for everyone and we are always open to suggestions how to do that. We are actively seeking new topics that romance readers feel passionate about and want to discuss with each other. Feel free to reach out to us on Twitter or you can leave a comment on this post if you prefer.

Contemporary Romance

Review: Beginner's Luck by Kate Clayborn

01:53

Title: Beginner's Luck (Chance of a Lifetime #1)
Author: Kate Clayborn
Date of publication: 31 Oct 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's links:
Add to Goodreads

My rating: 5 stars


Blurb

When three friends impulsively buy a lottery ticket, they never suspect the many ways their lives will change—or that for each of them, love will be the biggest win of all. 

Kit Averin is anything but a gambler. A scientist with a quiet, steady job at a university, Kit’s focus has always been maintaining the acceptable status quo. A sudden windfall doesn’t change that, with one exception: the fixer-upper she plans to buy, her first and only real home. It’s more than enough to keep her busy, until an unsettlingly handsome, charming, and determined corporate recruiter shows up in her lab—and manages to work his way into her heart . . .

Ben Tucker is surprised to find that the scientist he wants for Beaumont Materials is a young woman—and a beautiful, sharp-witted one at that. Talking her into a big-money position with his firm is harder than he expects, but he’s willing to put in the time, especially when sticking around for the summer gives him a chance to reconnect with his dad. But the longer he stays, the more questions he has about his own future—and who might be in it. 

What begins as a chilly rebuff soon heats up into an attraction neither Kit nor Ben can deny—and finding themselves lucky in love might just be priceless . . .

Review

What a fantastic debut! It had everything I love in contemporary romance - an engaging plot with lots of real-life details and interesting complex characters finding their HEA.

There is so much I liked about this book, I feel I can talk about it for weeks. The story covered so many aspects of life without ever being superficial about them, while still not drowning the reader in details. There is a richness to the characters (both main and side ones), to the background and the plot itself has a few twists that kept me invested in the story the whole time. I was both in a hurry to find out what happened next and at the same time I wanted to read slower in order to savour all the beauty of the writing and to fully appreciate all the tiny details the text offered.

Both Kit and Ben are wonderful characters, I really can't say whom I liked more. They are complex and realistic, dealing with different heavy issues in a mature way.

Kit is a scientist, a professional, a close friend and the daughter of a father with alcohol and gambling addiction. She is pretty much self-made and works hard to make a home for herself and to feel settled and secure. I loved the dynamics of her found family with her best friends Zoe and Greer and I appreciate so much the emphasis on female friendship and the support they gave each other.

Ben, oh Ben, he was a troubled soul. On the surface he is successful, even happy with his professional and personal life, seemingly in control, but he is thrown in for a loop when his father suffers a nasty fall and he has to come back to his home town temporary to care for him. I read him as neuroatypical (ADHD?), and he had some anger management issues in his adolescence that still troubled him. I liked how we see so much of him dealing with his family, with his colleague and friend Jasper, with River, a troubled teen that they get to help them in the salvage yard, with his conflicting feelings for Kit. There are no easy solutions to his problems and fought hard to make things work for everyone.  

There is a strong caregiver aspect in the story which I found important. Both Kit and Ben do their best for their family, despite the strained family dynamics. I like the depth of with which they were explored. We see their pasts really shaping much of their present and the people we see today. 

It's a slow burn romance, tender and intense, emotionally charged, happening under unusual circumstances. I liked how their professional entanglement was handled, and really respect Ben for giving up on recruiting her when he developed personal connection with her. 

It's essentially a story of two grown-up people meeting and falling for each other despite the circumstances. We follow them as they find a way to work through the obstacles in their way, and these were some real obstacles, practical ones. There was no magical solution, but a compromise, a personal growth in both of them which allowed them to be together. In a way both came to a decision on their own and I liked that, unlike in most romances, it was her who did the grand gesture in the end. And rightly so.

We get to meet two leads falling in love and turning their lives around to start a new one together. There are unforgettable side characters, a well developed background - places and jobs, lovely details on the work in the salvage yard and Kit's job and house restoration (as a fan of all such TV shows I loved that so much). They all gave richness to the story which I greatly enjoyed. 

Powerful debut which I greatly recommend to fans of contemporary romance! Can't wait to read the next one in the series, coming in March 2018.

Purchase links: Amazon • B&N • iTunes • Books-A-Million • Google Play • Kobo

Flickr Images