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Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

December 4, 2019

7 Tales of Romance

by MK French

Part of the fun of romance novels is finding that person to make the hero or heroine excited about sharing experiences. It's a sense of comfort and completion as well, and it doesn't hurt if the couple is attractive! Sometimes they find the future in the shape of a person they never expected to find, which makes the story that much better to read.

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Attracted to the Earl by Bronwen Evans

Attracted to the Earl
May 2019; Loveswept: ebook (200 pages)
Victorian romance
Guy Neville had run away to the army as a teenager because he was ashamed of his inability to learn how to read or write. He had an excellent memory and was a great strategist, but felt compelled to hide this secret because he was the second son of an earl. After his brother died and he was named Earl of Argyle, Guy had even more reason to hide this secret, especially when his cousin expressed interest in the estate. When the bluestocking artist Abigail Pinehurst arrived to sketch a rare orchid and inventory his library, he wanted to continue the farce, especially when he wasn't sure if she was working for his cousin. She was, as his cousin threatened to expose her past, but the two had an instant attraction despite their differences in station.

As part of the "Imperfect Lords" series, this is another standalone novel about a nobleman has a serious flaw that he is desperately trying to hide. This makes him fear he will never be able to marry, as he endured terrible abuse from his father as well as threats and ridicule. Abigail's past is rather sordid, though not through her own doing. Both fear exposure in society, which is the biggest stumbling block to their happily ever after throughout the novel. The cousin is such a caricature of a villain, and the ending that allows that happy reunion is distinctly a deus ex machina that comes out of nowhere. I would have liked to see some kind of clue leading up to it, as opposed to feeling like the author had painted herself into a corner because of the societal strictures and had no way out otherwise. Aside from that criticism, I did enjoy the story and the way these unconventional characters meet and grow to truly care for one another. The epilogue is really sweet, and what they do deserve.

Buy Attracted to the Earl at Amazon

Avenging Angel by Charles S. Isaacs

Avenging Angel
April 2019; Black Rose Writing; 978-1684332472
ebook, print (393 pages); multicultural romance
Cassandra had been raped by three KKK members at age twelve in a racially motivated attack. After eight years of training, she intends to seek out vengeance by using herself as bait on the streets of Brooklyn at night, then attacking the would-be attackers. When a passerby tried to help her, Cassandra develops a relationship with Mike Borelli, and together they expand on her vision to help those in need and protect those that can't protect themselves.

Cassandra never discusses the trauma that led her father to move them from Mississippi to New York City in 1963; he doesn't even know why she suddenly became so angry and reticent to speak but thought he was escaping the wrath of white men angry with him for trying to register to vote. She does mention it later, and the flashback chapter is thankfully devoid of details regarding the excruciating trauma. We see her training and then the revenge she seeks, all told in a matter of fact kind of way. There is a stark disconnect through all of this so that once you get past the awful violence of it, there are few details, no emotional content, no connection whatsoever. She brightens up a bit when she takes on a protector role in Brooklyn and goes "hunting," but it still feels very much like we're getting only a surface description of events.

Mike's chapters are interspersed with Cassie's, so we see his life and training in the NYPD, then getting set up to take the fall for a shooting gone wrong. His chapters are first-person point of view rather than the third person of Cassie's chapters. Even so, there is still the same emotional distance to his part of the story in the beginning. While one part of it could be explained as the drugged haze in the hospital, I still found it difficult to emotionally attach to him. The casual conversations about mafia families are interesting, especially when they reference known families operating out of Brooklyn in that period. It also makes sense that he could casually talk to them and ask for favors and that this connection leads to a lot of his difficulties in life and in his burgeoning relationship with Cassie.

Interestingly, there's a little less of the emotional disconnect with the characters as Mike and Cassie begin to orbit each other. It's as if they weren't fully in touch with their emotional lives until they bring out of each other, and now they're fully realized and actualized people. I don't know if that was deliberately done, or if it was a way to push through the past to get to the current story arc. There is a lot of drama in both of their lives, and the casual racism of 1971 only adds to it. Policemen and random passersby make comments, but it's also amazing that the people that matter most to Cassie and Mike accept their attraction and love for each other. There is also more emotional content and background for the other characters at that point, and they start working together as a team, not just for Cassie's vigilante justice on behalf of women, but to help others in New York that don't know her personally.

I think the novel found more of its stride moving past the choppy descriptions of violent and angst-filled pasts and into how all of the characters use that pain and transform it into a way to better the lives of other women all around them. In the process, they find their own sense of community and a purpose for the future. It ends on a far more hopeful note than it began with, and that is the part that resonated with me.

Buy Avenging Angels at Amazon

Their No-Strings Affair by Charlotte O'Shay 

Their No-Strings Affair
May 2019; Wild Rose Press; 978-1509225620
ebook, print (324 pages); contemporary
Honey took off for the city, leaving behind her cheating boyfriend and determined to focus on her career. She needs a job and a place to stay, nothing more, and Jake is working at his security job. He has his own list of failures in his past, and a future that he's trying to avoid. Neither needs the complication of a relationship and figure something physical to blow off steam is just what they need.

Instead of a meet-cute between Honey and Jake, we get a glimpse of their characterizations right away: Honey blows off a server trying to hit on her by dumping a tray full of glasses on him, and Jake not only fires her for impersonating a staff member, he fires the security guard for harassing her in the first place against company policy. The second time they meet is more of a meet-cute, and they circle each other for a time before the relationship turns physical. That part goes amazingly well, and they catch some feels after that. Jake, of course, wants to do the right thing by his mother, as he had promised he would marry whatever Italian woman with noble background she wanted him to, which leads to the heartbreak that tells him exactly how much Honey means to him.

This is an adorable contemporary romance and one that ends well for everyone involved.

Buy Their No-Strings Affair at Amazon

Nikolai of Semar by Aurorra St. James

Nikolai of Semar
September 2019; 978-0990465843
ebook, print (296 pages); shifter romance
Dragon King Nikolai Beaudin vows to never fall in love after he saw how devastated his father was when his mother died. The girl he had rescued years ago has returned and overwhelms that resolve, though people keep dying around her. Arianrhod has secrets of her own, and fears that her growing desire for Nikolai could be his undoing.

This is a dragon shifter paranormal romance, and the third in the Lords of Magic series. I didn't read those earlier books and don't often read shifter romance novels. Still, the addition to the summary mentioned that this is a steamy romance with dragons, the fae, action-packed sequences, and funny sidekicks, which are all elements of paranormal romance novels that I do enjoy. This novel runs concurrently through the timeline of the first two books in this series, but it's not entirely necessary to have read those first. I easily picked up the relationships between the characters without reading the first two books, though I also get the sense that it would feel a lot less glossed over if I had read them.

Niko from the start is rather dour and dismissive of others' feelings, while Aria at the start is fearful of hurting those she's close to. Of course, the two immediately feel a sense of connection, though Aria fights it from the start because she has to lock herself away overnight. Helene doesn't take well to being tossed aside by Niko at the start of the novel, so we immediately know who will generate a lot of conflict within the story. It's clear to the reader that Aria isn't the one that the cause of all the deaths in Semara, but Aria automatically feared she was the cause because of her Other that comes out at night and the superstition of other people never seeing her after dark. Niko is drawn to this side of her, as he has his own other side as well.

The romance part of the book proceeds much like any medieval romance novel, as Niko has his kingly duties to attend to and is working to save his people from threats that he can sense are closing in. Aria is apparent commoner that drew his interest, but has a past she doesn't feel comfortable sharing. Some pieces of it she doesn't even know, which adds to the reason why she's so special and necessary for Helene's plans to take over the fae realm and get back at Niko. The tension in the people, fight sequences and the descriptions of the strigoi are very well done, and it definitely was worth the additional aspect of the summary to highlight. They're fairly realistically done, in that someone with two days of training isn't going to heroically pull the coup de grace, and that it will take heavy sacrifices to truly eliminate a threat of this nature. I will have to go back and read the first two books to get the full story on all of these characters that had been hand waved in this one.

Buy Nikolai of Semar at Amazon

What Heals the Heart by Karen Wyle

What Heals the Heart
Oct. 2019; Oblique Angles Press; 978-0998060453
ebook, print (324 pages); western romance
Following the American Civil War, Joshua Gibbs elected to move back home. He picked up the ability to treat most ailments during the war, so now he was Cowbird Creek’s doctor. Clara Brook was a recent arrival to town with her parents and brother, as well as Freida Blum, an older widow from New York. Freida is determined to play matchmaker for Joshua, and discouraging her has no effect. Perhaps finding her a new husband will keep her occupied...

We start off slowly in this story, with Joshua reflecting on the differences with being in Nebraska vs. in the middle of a war, a hint of lingering PTSD symptoms. His day to day life is outlined, and he’s far more open-minded about different medicines and cultures than many of the townsfolk. It’s interesting to see the prejudices of the time period, and that the age-old whisper campaign and social ostracism was present even then. We also have the older women frequently seeing the doctor to gossip and not feel lonely, and the campaign to get him married. Some things really never change! Those parts of the book are funny and heartfelt and add to the characterizations we get for everyone in the town. The back and forth of courtship and friendship making also means we slowly learn about the people of Cowbird Creek in a natural sort of way, so we don’t feel overwhelmed with information dumped at once.

There is a lot of research into the different ways of practicing medicine at the time, between Joshua’s wartime training and the usual means from the barber. With the stories that the characters tell each other, we also get glimpses of lives lived in other parts of the country in that time period. We see the effects of war on people, and how others not involved in the original trauma would have no idea about it. That leads to the “melancholia” and “neurasthenia” of the age and is partly what separates Joshua from his romantic interests. However, this is also what allows him to bond with Clara, once he acknowledges that he has some interest and they do have things in common. This is fairly realistic, in the sense that those suffering from PTSD feel alone and isolated, and even well-meaning family members wouldn’t understand it. The connection between Josh and Clara is a slow and steady one, building up from acquaintances to friends before becoming more than that. It’s not a searing kind of passionate love, but one built up out of respect and seeing a future together. I definitely had a lot of “aw!” moments, especially at the end, because the warmth of the community, as well as each other, truly helped each other heal.

Buy What Heals the Heart at Amazon

Grace in the Wings by Kari Bovée

Grace in the Wings
Sept. 2019; Bosque Publishing; 978-1947905023
ebook print (342 pages); historical romance
Grace Michelle had everything she wanted in 1920 New York City. She had a great home and loving family as well as a career as the costume designer for the Ziegfeld Follies. She came a long way from the homeless girl she used to be and is proud of the accomplishments. When her sister Sophia is murdered, this life is shattered. She’s asked to take her sister’s place to save the show, and it’s soon clear during the publicity tour that her life is now at risk as well.

This is a historical fiction mystery, with some characters based on actual figures from the Roaring ’20s. Sophia is lured into the wealthy and famous world of actors and actresses not just with her own position in the Ziegfeld Follies, but with her marriage to Mary Pickford’s brother Jack. It’s a world of drugs and alcohol, and one she doesn’t survive in very long. At her memorial, Grace is exposed to the rumors of infidelity as well as the hateful and backstabbing personalities that swirl around the acting life. The reader is also introduced to the players of the theater life, including the mafiosos of the time that bankrolled illicit activity as well as plays. All of this adds up to a number of potential suspects for Sophia’s presumed murder after she leaves New York City.

Grace is certainly a sweet ingenue, and Chet is introduced as the tough detective that has his own history of pain and debt. Of course, they would be attracted to each other, and the situations in the novel throw them together. Added to this tension is the intrigue between actors, the close quarters of a cross country train, and the secrets everyone is keeping. The tension is handled very well, and I grew really attached to Grace over the course of the story. She has been through a lot in her short lifetime, and those she had trusted to take care of her actually manipulate and use her to their own ends. When she starts looking into things on her own, she really comes into herself and finds some inner strength. There is more suspense as she looks into her sister’s death until we get to the conclusion of the novel.

It's fun to see famous names of the day get dropped into the story for cameos, adding to the historical aspect of the story. There is so much drama among all of the characters, which only ramps up as the novel progresses. It’s all tied up neatly at the end, with enough of a lead for future novels.

Buy Grace in the Wings at Amazon

The Unexpected Wedding by Debra Elizabeth

The Unexpected Wedding
September 2019;  978-1693555404
ebook, print (222 pages); contemporary
Lady Elizabeth Tyndale is independent and focused on the wedding business she and her sister-in-law work in, which probably scares away potential boyfriends away. She accompanies her brother and sister-in-law on a trip to San Diego, where she meets Jack Stanfield. He's a computer programmer that doesn’t date much. The two are drawn to each other and hit it off right away. A series of events seem to keep them apart, but they can't stop thinking of each other.

This is book 2 of the Loving a Billionaire series, but I don't feel as though I'm missing anything. Book one is Keira and Cade's story, and the focus here is Elizabeth and Jack. It's enough to know that Keira and Cade are happy together, and are thoroughly invested in the family business on the estate and booking weddings. Elizabeth also helps and is proud of the work that she does with them. She wants more than to be a pretty trinket on a man's arm, and the date she goes on that opens the book is one of those horrible ones you'd see live-tweeted all over the internet. It's a stark contrast to her date with Jack, who immediately gets into a conversation with her, asks her opinion and lets her order her own drinks and meal. We see plenty of instances of his good nature as the novel progresses, and he isn't presenting it as a front to impress Elizabeth.

The two of them are actually pretty cute together, and you can feel the joy that they have when they think about or speak to each other. Of course, there has to be something to wreck that happiness and give them a hurdle to their happiness. I hate the fact that months of happiness is undone by a misunderstanding that isn't cleared up until Jack goes out of his way to see what upset Elizabeth. Communication wasn't ever a weakness in their relationship before, why is it suddenly an obstacle? I find those kinds of issues irritating to start with, but it's worse when there are people that get along and discuss things. It made me want to shake Elizabeth, because why wouldn't she confront Jack even if she was upset? She had no qualms about walking out on the idiot that wouldn't let her talk in chapter one! Aside from that, this was a contemporary romance that proceeds at a fairly fast pace, and it gets wrapped up neatly at the end.

Buy The Unexpected Wedding at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband and three young children. 

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