Friday Recs

Friday Recs: 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
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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

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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

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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

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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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