Author Interview

New and Debut: Erin McLellan

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Today in New and Debut I'm happy to welcome Erin McLellan, author of queer romance. Her debut novel Controlled Burn, mm NA romance, is coming out from Riptide on Aug 14. Read to learn more about what inspires her, who some of her favourite books and authors are and what you can expect from her in the future. 


Meet Erin

1.      Tell us about yourself and why did you decide to become a romance writer?

First, thank you so much, Ellie, for the opportunity to be on your blog!
A little bit about myself—I’m a 27-year-old former public librarian from Oklahoma who now lives in Alaska, which is quite the adventure. I’ve started hiking and, you know, generally going outside more since moving to Alaska.
I’ve always loved writing, so I got my undergraduate degree in English with a creative writing focus. But it wasn’t until I was in graduate school for library and information studies that I really discovered romance and fell in love. One of the many things I adore about public libraries is the celebration of genre fiction and its readers! My first librarian job out of grad school was in the Houston, Texas area, and I had an atrocious commute that I spent dreaming up romance novels. Eventually, I decided I should sit down and write one, and here we are!

2.      Can you share some of your favourite books and authors?

Yikes, I have too many!! Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables were so influential to me as a child and teenager that I couldn’t have a list without J.K. Rowling and L.M. Montgomery on it. I also love nonfiction and am crazy about Mindy Kaling’s humor writing and Sarah Vowell’s history books. As for romance – Suzanne Brockmann was my first romance experience and I’m still crazy about her books. I also really like Amy Jo Cousins, Santino Hassell, Vanessa North, Kristan Higgins, Anna Zabo, Avon Gale, and Megan Erickson.
I’ve recently read An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, and loved it, and just picked up An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole and am excited to start it!

3. Who/what do you consider your writing influence/inspiration?

Setting is a huge inspiration to me. I have always felt really strong connections to certain places, like the Kansas Flint Hills, which is one of the settings in my debut. Often, I’ll be inspired by the particular emotions a place incites in me. But I find inspiration for characters everywhere: friends’ dating horror stories, music, nature, Instagram thirst traps.

4. What kind of stories can the readers expect from you (contemporary/historical/sci-fi, adult/NA/YA, etc)?

Sexy adult contemporary seems to be my sweet spot right now, and I’ve written a mix of adult and NA. But I’m certainly open to writing other romance subgenres. I love historical romance, paranormal, sci-fi romance, and sports romance, so maybe one day!

5. Please, introduce your latest/upcoming release.

My first novel is Controlled Burn, and it’s out August 14, 2017. It’s an m/m college romance about a man named Joel Smith, who is still dealing with the grief of losing his high school sweetheart in a texting while driving accident. He tries to outrun his grief by moving to Oklahoma for college, changing his name, and hiding his past from everyone. But then he meets Paulie McPherson, who absolutely tips Joel’s world upside down, and Joel must decide if he can risk opening himself up to love again. The story has angst, sexy times, and lots of dancing at a college bar.

I also have another m/m contemporary romance coming out this fall from Riptide Publishing called Life on Pause, which follows a dorky museum worker and a high school choir teacher as they fall in love. It has too many nights of Netflix, historical costumes, love of sci-fi, and choral music.

Blurb
At eighteen, Joel Smith’s life fell to pieces. His boyfriend died in a car crash while reading a sext from him, the local newspaper outed them both in the aftermath, and his parents got a divorce. Joel did everything possible to outrun his past: he moved to Oklahoma for college, legally changed his name, and started over.

Since then, he hasn’t let anyone get close—not his classmates, not his roommate, and definitely not his hookups. The strategy has served him well for over three years. Why would he change it now?

But Joel doesn’t plan on the articles about his boyfriend’s death being used as a case study in one of his classes. And he doesn’t plan on Paulie McPherson, who is sweet and giving and fun. In Paulie, he finds a home for the first time in years.

But love isn’t simple, and lies have a tendency to get in the way. Joel must figure out if he’ll allow his grief to rule him, or if his connection with Paulie is worth letting all of his walls come tumbling down.
   
Pre-Order Link: Riptide


Author Bio and Links
Erin McLellan writes contemporary romance, often set in the Great Plains, with characters that are complex, goodhearted, and sometimes a little quirky. Originally from Oklahoma, Erin currently lives in Alaska with her husband.

  



Blog Tour

Blog Tour for Spectred Isle by KJ Charles

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KJ Charles is starting anew trilogy of queer romance, a sort of spin-off of The Casebook of Simon Feximal, set in 1920s. Sounds pretty awesome, right! The first book, Spectred Isle, is out on August 3 both as ebook and in print. Read on for more information on it. You can also enjoy an exclusive excerpt from the book at the end of this post. Happy reading!


Title: Spectred Isle (Green Men #1)
Author: KJ Charles

Genre/Themes: Historical romance, paranromal
Release Date: 3 Aug 2017
Add on Goodreads
Sales links: Amazon / iBooks / B&N / Google Play / Kobo



Blurb 

Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense...except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.

Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there's something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.

Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.

Author Bio and Links

KJ Charles spent twenty years working as an editor before switching sides to become a full-time writer. She hasn’t regretted it yet. KJ writes mostly queer historical romance, some of it paranormal or fantasy. She lives in London with her husband, two children, and a cat of absolute night.

Excerpt

London 1923. Saul Lazenby, disgraced archaeologist, is reduced to working for Major Peabody, a crank who believes in magic and has sent him off to look for “sacred sites” in a North London park. This leads to his first encounter with the heavily sarcastic Randolph Glyde...

***

If my theory is correct, there will be a site on the west side of Oak Hill Park, Major Peabody had said. A burial, a standing stone, a sacred grove. A historical artefact or a local legend. Explore for me and see what your professional instincts can discover. 

Saul’s professional instincts were shaped by his doctorate in archaeology from Oxford and two years working on excavations in Mesopotamia. Major Peabody believed that if the ravens left the Tower of London, the city would fall. It was not a match made in heaven, but Saul gave the Major the best work he could and strove to be respectful without losing what little self-esteem he still had. 

There was no sign of any sacred Druidic grove or whatever bee was in the Major’s bonnet this time, but there was a truly magnificent oak dominating the landscape not far ahead. Saul took another step towards it, admiring the gnarled branches and the bright light green of its fresh new foliage, and it burst into flame. 

The fire erupted so violently that Saul heard a faint whoomph of air, like an explosion, and his immediate war-trained thought was, Mortar. He could see all around the heath, though, and there was no engine of war, no gun, no people, even, except for one man some way down the path who was running towards the tree with such urgency that Saul found himself jog-trotting, then sprinting, to meet him. 

By the time Saul reached the tree, it was blazing so hard he couldn’t go near it, waves of heat rolling out and stinging his eyes. The other man was standing, breathing rather less heavily than Saul, staring at the conflagration. 

“What the devil happened?” he demanded aloud, in a decidedly upper-class tone. 

Saul couldn’t tell if the man was asking him or the empty air; he replied anyway. “I’ve no idea. I thought it was a mortar at first but—”

“We’re not at bloody war any more.”

“At first,” Saul repeated. “That or lightning, but the sky’s clear as you like. Did you see anything?”

“Such as what?”

Saul had no idea. “Someone with some kind of gasoline? That blaze is—”

“Unnatural,” the man completed. He was regarding the tree with hard, sceptical eyes. Saul couldn’t blame him. The tree had been a living thing; if you’d chopped it down the wood would have taken a good year to dry out for burning, but the fire was so fierce he felt it heating his cheeks, and so loud that they were almost shouting over the noise of branches crackling and snapping. How in God’s name did a live tree burn like that?

“It must have been lightning,” he said aloud. “I had a view of the whole park.”

“And you saw a very small thunderstorm above?”

Saul had trained himself to endure contempt, but he didn’t have to take sarcasm from a stranger. He turned away from the inferno and had his first good look at the other man. 

He was of medium height, but thinnish and rangy, which made him appear taller: the sinew and whipcord build that Saul himself had, and liked. English from his features, with dark hair and much lighter hazel eyes under near-black, slanted brows. A saturnine, sardonic sort of face, clean-shaven; a mouth that seemed made to sneer. He looked like the kind of man Saul had met a great deal in the war in the officer ranks: a thoroughbred aristocrat, effortlessly superior, endlessly disdainful. 

“See anything you like?” the man enquired, those finely shaped lips twisting, and Saul realised he’d been staring. 

Well, sod you, fellow. “I can’t say I do, no,” he replied affably, and wasn’t sure if the flicker in the man’s expression was amusement or affront.


Adriana Anders

Review: In His Hands by Adraina Anders

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Title: In His Hands (Blank Canvas #3)
Author: Adriana Anders
Date of publication: 1 Aug 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Abuse, Religious cult

Author's links:
Add to Goodreads

My rating: 4 stars


Blurb


He is Her Salvation



Abby Merkley has been a member of the Church of the Apocalyptic Faith since she was a child, and there's no way out―except death. She will fight the odds to survive, but there's no one in the world she can trust, nowhere she can run that the cult can't find her...until her handsome, brooding neighbor takes her into the safety of his arms.

Luc Stanek craves a quiet life. But he doesn't hesitate when a desperate woman lands, bloodied and branded on his doorstep. Soon he finds himself drawn into her chaotic world, caught in the center of an apocalyptic war...and determined to save the fierce beauty no matter the cost.


Review

I absolutely loved Adriana Anders' debut book, Under Her Skin, and when I got a review copy of this one, I grabbed the chance to read it. It was no surprise that I ended loving this one too.

This is an intense and raw story of two very different characters who discover they are exactly what the other needs.

Abby is trying to escape a religious cult, while Luc is on the run from his past. She wants to experience life to the fullest, he is living as a recluse and wants to keep it that way.

We have the mix of strong, irresistible sexual chemistry with slow opening up to real intimacy which brings them together. He helps her escape, she helps him start enjoying life again.

The whole aspect with the religious cult was very much along the lines of what I expected, still the levels of manipulation and physical abuse were truly staggering. So much pain, so much uncalled-for violence/hate.

I really liked Abby and found her to be a very real, believable heroine. She was determined to escape the cult and its teaching, yet still very much under their influence, we see her struggle, her growth as a person of her own, one thinking and making choices for herself, no longer brainwashed by the teaching of the cult.

Her lack of much experience in the world outside the cult is shown but it's not overdone for the sake of presenting her as more innocent and naive than she really was. I liked it was not a virgin heroine trope, tough she was very much a virgin at every thing to do with intimacy besides the sexual act itself.

Luc was very much a misanthrope or rather he did a spectacular job pretending to be one. He was hurt by his family and like Abby, he was on the run from his old life, trying desperately to build himself a new one. She brought (back) the human(-loving) side of him, she made him care, about her, other people, brought back the life in him.

I loved how the story explored the relations between emotions and physical connection/intimacy, how notions of shame and taboo were questioned.  It's ultimately a celebration of life, enjoying it to the fullest - through food and drink and sex and just interacting with people on one's free will, forming relationships (with friends, with family, with lovers). Overall, this is a great addition to the series and a highly recommended read. 

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

Friday Recs

What to Read: Romances Set All Over the World

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I have been meaning to do a post with recommendations for romances (contemporary) set outside the US for a while now. It turned out I haven't read many like that and most of the ones I have read were set in the UK. So in order to be more inclusive and for purely selfish reasons of finding more romances set around the world for me to read, I asked romance Twitter for recs and they literally showered me with suggestions. So many new books to add to my TBR list!

I'm starting with my own favourites first, contemporary romances set outside the US which I have read and enjoyed a lot. Then I will proceed with all Twitter recs. Hope you will find something new and interesting for you to read

Note (all links take you to Amazon, for the series I have linked the first book)

My recommendations

  1. 1. Alexis Hall - The Spires is a loosely connected series of queer romances set set in Oxford, UK. It includes Glitterland, Waiting for the Flood, For Real and more to come. As a huge fan of this author I have read and loved them all. His Rita 2017 nominated queer romance Pansies is also set in the UK, the small Northern town of South Shields.
  2. Act Like It and Pretty Face, mf romcoms by Lucy Parker. I absolutely loved these books, both of which are set in the London theatre world.
  3. Abroad by Liz Jacobs, queer NA, a kind of coming-of-age romance which was just released and which is quiet and introverted and gave me all of feels. It's set in London.
  4. Muscling Through by JL Merrow, sweetest mm romance between an academic and a neurodivergent character (the story is told from his POV)
  5. Foxes, heart-breaking and heart-warming NA mm romance with neurodivergent character and a character with eating disorder (TW abuse, violence, extreme poverty);  Light Up the Dark, contemporary mm with Gothic overtones, really dark (TW abuse, violence, manipulation)
  6. Glasgow Lads series by Avery Cockburn - mm football romances set in Glasgow, Scotland which as a football fan myself, I very much enjoyed.
  7. Cara Mckenna has a couple of books set outside US which I've enjoyed a lot. Her Best Laid Pans (NA erotic novella, set in Ireland) and the Curio series of novellas set in Paris featuring an agoraphobic male prostitute and an American museum worker who is virgin. Unbound, an erotic romance exploring kink, is set in the Scottish Highlands.
  8. Amour et Chocolat series of contemporary mf romances featuring top French chefs are all set in Paris, France. She also has a series with female chefs set there too (Paris Nights), La Vie en Rose is another series of her, this time set in Provence and centering a family of rose oil producers and perfume makers.
  9. The Assassins series by Carolyn Crane - one of my favourite romantic suspense series. Book 2, Off the Edge is set in Bangkok, book 4, Behind the Mask in Peru.
  10. The Rain in Spain by Amy Jo Cousins, a low-heat but very intense novella following one couple on their one-night adventure along the streets of Seville - Amy Jo Cousins

Twitter recommendations

UK
  1. Heart (standalone mm romance, TW for sexual abuse), Misfits & Strays (mm romance series) by Garrett Leigh
  2. Housemates series on NA queer romances Jay Northcote (includes characters with different sexualities - gay, trans, bi)
  3. Tyack and Frayne series by Harper Fox, set in Cornwall. It was recommended for very authentic presentation of the geographic location by British readers. The series are contemporary with some paranormal elements.
  4. His Royal Secret and His Royal Favorite by Lilah Pace, series of two mm romances about royals 
  5. About Last Night by Ruthie Knox, mf romance set in London. While I have read and loved many of this author's books, I haven't gotten to this one yet and I hope to remedy that soon.
  6. Broken (mm romance, TW per GR page for mental illness, self-harm, suicide ideation), Who Are We by Nicola Haken 
  7. Jefferson Blythe, Esquire by Josh Lanyon, mm romance/mystery 
  8. True Brit by Con Riley, mm romance set around musical reality competition  
  9. Unsticky by Sara Manning, mf romance/chick-lit
  10. Rugby series by Penny Reid and L.H.Cosway, mf rugby romance
  11. London Legends series of rugby romances by Kat Latham

The rest of Europe
  1. Return of Investment and Witches of London series of mm romances by Aleksandr Voinov, set in Europe
  2. The Sun Still Rises by Laura Bailo, mm novella set in Pamplone during the San Fermin festival 
  3. And It Came to Pass by Laura Stone, mm romance featuring a young Mormon character on a trip to Barcelona
  4. Fall Hard by JL Merrow, mm romance/mystery set in Iceland 
  5. All Roads Lead to You by Harper Fox is set in Italy
  6. Heaven & Hell series of mf by Kristen Ashley (Italy)
  7. Kiss & Ride by Teodora Kostova, mm holiday novella (Italy)
  8. I Love You More Than Pierogi by KA Merikan, mm romance (Poland)
  9. True Love series of mm romance by Anyta Sunday (Germany); Nest, YA mm romance
  10. Fjord Blue by Nina Rossing, YA mm romance set in Norway

The Philippines
  1. Beginner's Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions by Six de los Reyes, nerdy mf romance (on 0.99 sale at the time of posting)
  2. If the Dress Fits by Carla de Cuzman, NA romance (diverse, fat-positive)
  3. Better at Weddings Than You by Mina V. Eguerra, NA mf romance; 
  4. Cover (Story) Girl by Chris Marian, mf romance with Filipino hero and Korean heroine (on 0.99 sale at the time of posting)

Canada
  1. Back to You by Chris Scully, mm romance/mystery thriller 
  2. Arrows Through Archer by Nash Summers, mm romance Triggers/tags from GR page: grief, age difference, family, loss, mentions of suicide, recovery, hurt/comfort, homophobia
  3. Wardham series of mf romances by Zoe York (first two books are free at the time of posting) 

Australia and New Zealand
  1. Her Best Worst MistakeThe Other Side of Us and most of the romances by Sarah Mayberry
  2. Butterfly Hunter by Julie Bozza, mm romance
  3. Red Dirt series (book 1 is 0.99 at the time of posting) of mm romance by NR Walker (set in the Australian Outback), Imago series (set in Tasmania and Queensland)
  4. Sydney Smoke Rugby series by Amy Andrews, mf romance
  5. Floored by Ainslie Paton is a Sydney to Perth road romance, most of her books are set in Australia
  6. Tigers & Devils series Sean Kennedy, mm sports romance 
  7. Rock by Anyta Sunday, YA mm romance

Peru
  1. Killing Time by Cindy Gerard, mf romantic suspense
  2. The Path by Ariel Tachna, mm about falling in love on the Inca Trail in Peru
India
  1. Bollywood Confidential series of mf romances by Suleika Snyder 

Alisha Rai

Review: Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

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Title: Hate to Want You (Forbidden Hearts #1)
Author: Alisha Rai
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, Depression
Release Date: 25 July 2017

Author links: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads
Add on Goodreads

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb

One night. No one will know.

That was the deal. Every year, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler would share one perfect night of illicit pleasure. The forbidden hours let them forget the tragedy that haunted their pasts-and the last names that made them enemies.

Until the night she didn’t show up.

Now Nicholas has an empire to run. He doesn’t have time for distractions and Livvy’s sudden reappearance in town is a major distraction. She’s the one woman he shouldn’t want…so why can’t he forget how right she feels in his bed?

Livvy didn’t come home for Nicholas, but fate seems determined to remind her of his presence–and their past. Although the passion between them might have once run hot and deep, not even love can overcome the scandal that divided their families.

Being together might be against all the rules…but being apart is impossible.

Review

This is my first book by Alisha Rai and I absolutely loved it. It had everything I enjoy in contemporary romance - interesting, complex characters, a captivating love story, passionate scenes of intimacy, tightly woven plot and very fitting and real HFN.

I love romances with strong heroines and Livvy is definitely one of them though she didn't see herself like that. Just the opposite, she though of herself as weak because she let a man break her heart and still she loved him and couldn't stay away from him. She thought she was weak because she had depression and some serious episodes brought her to the edge. But she was a fighter, strong and determined, and everyone knew it, all the people who loved and cared for her saw her strength and beauty and free artistic spirit and the author made it so that the reader saw it too. There was not a moment of doubt in my mind as to her strength despite her own doubts and misgivings, despite seeing her lose herself in her fears and insecurities. She always got up again (it was not always easy and she needed help and got it), she fought for herself (though she carried her shame in her all the time), fought to build a life for herself and to find a path to happiness.

She had her heart broken and her life torn apart and she came back to reclaim it all, her life, her family, even her love (though it was much more complex then just winning Nico back). She was a force of nature  though she never quite realised it herself. I found her depression and her struggles with mental issues to be presented in a very compassionate way which made it easy for me to relate to them. She was not being dramatic, just struggling with mental health issues which made her sensitive and fragile. We get to see the lying face of depression and anxiety, the build up of I-am-no-worthy, I-am-a-loser mentality and it was scary and painful and raw. We saw how she struggled with it, how she tried to have some control over it, how she fought with herself and the world to be able to live a fuller life. 

And Nico, he had issues of his own. His love for her was no weaker than hers for him - all-consuming, the center of his existence. It brought him both pleasure and pain, relief from the pressure of in his professional/family life but also tension because it appeared to be impossible.We see how the verbal abuse and emotional manipulations of his father made him who he was - someone who shut down his emotions, who compartmentalized every aspect of his life, who became obsessive with controlling himself at all cost. He also carried the sense of being responsible for everyone - he placed himself under enormous pressure all the time, never giving himself the chance to feel, to act on his feelings. Apart from that day once a year he spent in a hotel room with Livvy. It was pretty dysfunctional arrangement, hurting them both but it did take a lot of effort and even more pain to try to change it. It was all worth it.

This is powerful, emotional story, told with depth and compassion. All the characters we meet feel like real people with strengths and weakness, fighting very real battles while trying to navigate their lives. 

Highly recommended read to all fans of contemporary romance!

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

Coming of age

Review: Abroad by Liz Jacobs

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Title: Abroad (Abroad #1)
Author: Liz Jacobs
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, Queer, Coming of age
Release Date: 27 June 2017

Add on Goodreads
Author's links: Twitter / Instagram / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 5 stars


Blrub 

Nick Melnikov doesn’t know where he belongs. He was just a kid when his Russian-Jewish family immigrated to Michigan. Now he’s in London for university, overwhelmed by unexpected memories. Socially anxious, intensely private, and closeted, Nick doesn’t expect to fall in so quickly with a tight-knit group of students from his college, and it’s both exhilarating and scary. Hanging out with them is a roller coaster of serious awkward and incredible longing, especially when the most intimidating of the group, Dex, looks his way.

Dex Cartwell knows exactly who he is: a black queer guy who doesn’t give a toss what anybody thinks of him. He is absolutely, one-hundred-percent, totally in control of his life. Apart, maybe, from the stress of his family’s abrupt move to an affluent, largely white town. And worrying about his younger brother feeling increasingly isolated as a result. And the persistent broken heart he’s been nursing for a while . . .

When Nick and Dex meet, both find themselves intrigued. Countless late-night conversations only sharpen their attraction. But the last thing Nick wants is to face his deepest secret, and the last thing Dex needs is another heartache. Dex has had to fight too hard for his right to be where he is. Nick isn’t even sure where he’s from. So how can either of them tell where this is going?

Review

What a powerful, memorable debut! This a quiet and understated, yet unforgettable coming-of-age story of finding yourself and your place in the world.

We have three main characters in this story and an array of their friends who equally interesting and compelling to read. We have Nick, a Jewish Russian immigrant on study abroad in London coming to terms with being gay while falling in love with Dex, a Black British openly gay and broody chemistry student. Then there is Izzy, who brings everyone together and who has her own sexual awakening to deal with. She is like the glue that holds together this circle of friends with different sexualities, backgrounds and life experiences whose lives we follow in the book.

I'd describe this as chatty kind of story, especially at the beginning when Nick meets everyone and is completely overwhelmed by them. As a reader I felt in a similar position, so many new characters introduced almost at the same time was a bit confusing but it didn't last long. They all had unique, distinctive voices I could hear in my head while reading.

I loved how the author made all her characters feel like real people one could meet on the street. I really, really liked everyone of them and very much like I would have wanted desperately to be their friends while also worrying I'm not good enough for them. Nick's anxiety, his fears and doubts, as well as his hopes and dreams, and his youthful confusion and indecisiveness were presented with such tenderness and understanding, made vivid and real, something I could relate on a personal level. Even though my life couldn't have been more different from any of the characters' I could identify with bits and pieces of them all through the story and I find this connection truly magical. This is what I love the most about reading fiction - finding pieces of me in character who are nothing like me on the surface.

While i loved Izzy, (who wouldn't love her?), I also felt distracted by her at times. We got two parallel stories going on at the same time and it made me wonder why this choice as made. I think she deserves the spotlight of her own book. This is just a minor quibble I have and in no way it deducts from the amazing gorgeousness of this nuanced, rich book.

This is a slow-building romance, there is some angst and secrets and confusion and a very tentative HFN at the end. We also get to experience the stress of being in your final year in university, navigating school, family, while finding your own place in the world. learning to take care of yourself but also how to be with someone, how to love and be loved, building friendships and romantic relationships.

Highly recommended read and I can't tell you how excited I'm to read more about Nick and Dex and Izzy and the rest of gang in the next book.



Contemporary Romance

Review: Lost Without You and Where I Belong by Molly O'Keefe

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Title: Lost Without You (The Debt #1)
Author: Molly O'Keefe
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, Abuse
Release Date: 19 June 2017

Add on Goodreads
Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 3.5 stars


Blurb
ALL DEBTS MUST BE PAID

Tommy
Seven years ago, I thought I could save Beth, the girl I loved from the monster who was supposed to take care of us. I thought I could keep Beth and all the other kids at St. Jude’s Home for Court Placed Juveniles safe. 
I failed. Badly. Now we all have blood on our hands and owe a dangerous man a very dangerous debt. We don’t know when he’ll come calling for payment, but when he does – we pay, or we suffer. 
When my turn comes, I’m ready for anything.
Except seeing Beth again. 
LOVE IS NEVER FREE

Beth
No one ever tells you that the cost of having your dreams come true is literally every single other part of your life. Yes, I’m a huge pop star these days, but I’m pretty much a mess, too. 
I’ve spent my life hiding behind disguises, make-up and costumes, all to protect myself from the kind of pain that comes from revealing your true self to someone. 
I did that once. With Tommy. The only person I ever loved. It didn’t turn out so well. 
And now, with everything else falling apart around me, I’m suddenly in the backseat of his car.
Being kidnapped.
And the past we’ve both tried to run from is catching up with us. 

Contains The Debt: A Prologue and 50,000 more words in the continuation of Tommy and Beth's story.



Review


I want to start my review with the preface that book 1 ends in a terrible cliffhanger and since the next book came very soon after it, I have decided to review together.

That said, this was not an easy read. The story has the depth and intensity typical for the author but this one was rather dark and heavy to read at times due to covering the subject of child abuse. I feel a trigger warning is needed for child abuse, including attempted rape presented in real time in the Prologue and in flashbacks later in the story.

Beth and Tommy are two very broken characters that cannot be easily fixed. They have this almost cosmic connection and it seems they are each others' only salvation. The road to their HEA together was not an easy one and often in this story, I couldn't imagine how they will get the happiness they deserved, being together seemed absolutely impossible.

Tommy broke my heart, he felt real, easily accessible, his suffering and dilemmas i could understand.I felt a strong connection with him and think I understood him better. Beth remained a bit of mystery, we never get crucial details about her past and that kept me from understanding her better.

This read like the start of Tommy and Beth's journey both literally and figuratively. I wasn't sold on the whole thing with Bates and the attempted kidnapping of Beth. Tommy and Beth just started unpacking all the hurt from their past and story ended. I strongly recommend reading the next one right away.

Purchase link: Amazon


Title: Where I Belong (The Debt #2)
Author: Molly O'Keefe
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, Abuse
Release Date: 26 June 2017

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Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 3.5 stars

Blurb

THE GIRL I LOVED IS THE WOMAN I CAN’T HAVE
It was simple: Pay the debt and I stay out of jail. Pay the debt and I stay alive.
But I sacrificed it all for Beth.
I didn’t pay what I owed. I’m sure punishment is coming, but I can take it - as long as Beth is safe. Away from her mother and everyone else who would hurt her.
I gave it all up for two days with her. And it was worth it.
She always was. 

THE SECRETS WE KEEP ARE WHAT TEARS US APART
We’re supposed to be done. Over. Tommy goes his way, I go mine. Cue the heartbreaking music.
I’m supposed to forget him, but I don’t think I can. And when the danger closes in on Tommy, we’re on the run again. From Bates. From my mother. From our past. And there are no safe places to hide.
Except one. And it’s the place that will hurt Tommy the most. 
But maybe it’s time for me to face my past. My demons.
Maybe it’s time for me to save Tommy for once.

Review

The emotional and physical journey of Beth and Tommy continued in the second book. It was even more intense that the first one. And a lot more sex was included which made me feel like the characters were trying to solve all their issues with sex. No matter how intimate and liberating it was, I was not convinced it was the right approach. I felt they needed more talking and less (rough) f*cking especially considering the traumas they were both dealing with.

The story was very raw and emotional, tugging at the heart strings. There were plotholes, though, that took me away from the story, the business with Bates, the missing reasons behind the behaviour of Beth's mom at the past and in the present.

The situation with Tommy granddad was difficult and conflicting and not easy to process and I like that it was not sugarcoated but it was presented as something exceptionally painful for everyone involved, something that needs time and a lot of effort to accept.

Overall, I see Beth and Tommy's story as an emotional and raw tale of an almost fatal attraction, exploration of how loving and hurting the person you love often go hand in hand. I have my doubts regarding the representation of trauma survivors but I'm not an expert, so I can't really say if was wring or right. The pacing was uneven at times, there were some plotholes, which did take away from my enjoyment of this series. The prologue worked rather well on its own but I  can easily see book 1 and 2 being just one tighter, more cohesive story.

Having said all that, I still love Molly's writing and think she can spin a story of exceptional depth and intensity but this is not one of my favourties of hers. I expect that we will be getting more stories in the series (Simon, Carissa) and I'm just intrigued enough to continue reading them.

Purchase links: Amazon

Historical Romance

Review: An Unnatural Vice by KJ Charles

02:02


Title: An Unnatural Vice (Sins of the Cities #2)
Author: KJ Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical, MM romance
Release Date: 6 June 2017

Author's links: Website / Twitter / FB Group / Goodreads
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My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

In the sordid streets of Victorian London, unwanted desire flares between two bitter enemies brought together by a deadly secret.

Crusading journalist Nathaniel Roy is determined to expose spiritualists who exploit the grief of bereaved and vulnerable people. First on his list is the so-called Seer of London, Justin Lazarus. Nathaniel expects him to be a cheap, heartless fraud. He doesn’t expect to meet a man with a sinful smile and the eyes of a fallen angel—or that a shameless swindler will spark his desires for the first time in years.

Justin feels no remorse for the lies he spins during his séances. His gullible clients simply bore him. Hostile, disbelieving, utterly irresistible Nathaniel is a fascinating challenge. And as their battle of wills and wits heats up, Justin finds he can’t stop thinking about the man who’s determined to ruin him.

But Justin and Nathaniel are linked by more than their fast-growing obsession with one another. They are both caught up in an aristocratic family’s secrets, and Justin holds information that could be lethal. As killers, fanatics, and fog close in, Nathaniel is the only man Justin can trust—and, perhaps, the only man he could love. 

Review 

This is the second book in the Sins of the Cities series and it continues the mystery/suspense plot from the first book as the background of a rather unexpected romance.

Justine Lazarus, the Seer of London, a fake psychic making money by deceiving  gullible rich people who turn to him is very much at the heart of this story. And he is such a special character, he is so unapologetically bad you can't help cheer for his HEA. Justine is a shameless crook, who has no regrets and second thoughts about what he does for a living. Yet, we gradually see another side of him - he is smart and observant and crafty and resourceful and ultimately, someone with a moral code of his own, someone who cares about his people, wants to do better, live a better life.

He is not an easily likable character, especially at the beginning, but I had no trouble understanding him, relating to him, accepting as legitimate the reasons that made him act the way he did. Deep down he is a good person, caring in his own way, and what makes him even more special is that despite the difficulties he had been through , him acting like a cold-hearted cynic is  all more or less a mask, a role he plays to perfection in order to survive. And still, he has dreams, and hopes, is able to love and show compassion and care.

Nathaniel was a bit harder for me to pin down as a character - strong and stoic, recovering from the loss of his lover. He was a sort of a justice warrior, guided by strong moral principles. While I'm sympathetic to his struggles to come to terms with his attraction to someone like Lazarus, he acted too superior and judgmental for my liking. His privilege was showing in his insistence for Justin to change his ways. Even though in the end he accepted him the way he was, I didn't like his attitude for most of the story.

They are an unlikely pair, which started with an irresistible sexual chemistry in a enemies-to-lovers scenario. I felt the attraction was a bit instantaneous and while I see it as fitting Lazarus, it felt forced with Nathaniel. He's been mourning his partner for a long time and suddenly his attraction awakes, just like that, out of nowhere and it draws him to the unlikeliest of love interest

The mystery/suspense part of the story was full of plot twitst and turns that kept me on my toes the whole time while reading. It was exciting and unexpected and intense and moving without ever going into melodrama and really enjoyed it.

The writing is we have come to expect by KJ Charles flawless, engaging, full of nuanced detail, creating a rich sense of place and time.

As the solving of the overarching mystery of the series progresses, not it's time for Mark to get his story told and I can't wait to read it later this year. 

Purchase links: Publisher / Amazon / Kobo

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