Here’s another in our occasional series of mini-reviews.  AAR staffers Dabney, Emily, Mandy, and Sara share their thoughts on some of their recent reads.

(Please note that links are provided for ebook editions of these titles.  Some may be available only from Amazon; where no link is given, an ebook is not available from that retailer.)

Dabney’s Read:

Claiming Her by Kris Kennedy

Lady Katarina has been holding the Irish stronghold Rardove for Queen Elizabeth. (The Virgin Queen is a slyly drawn character in this book!) The year is 1589 and Elizabeth has decided to give the barony to an English lord. This does not go over well with Aodh Mac Con who believes he is the rightful heir. What’s a rogue Irishman to do? Why seize the castle for himself… including its very clever lady.

This Medieval romance was remarkably entertaining. We’ve given Ms. Kennedy’s books very good grades and, after reading this, I see why. The chemistry–insta-lust, really–between the leads was intense and believable. The heroine and the hero were equally strong, smart, resourceful and smitten. The story and the historical backdrop was in depth enough to be interesting but didn’t weigh down the face paced tale. I’ve been feeling blah about historicals lately and this one perked me right up!

Grade: B+           Sensuality: Hot


Emily’s Read:

Watching and Wanting by Jay Northcote

The fourth entry in Northcote’s Housemate series (and the hottest), Watching and Wanting is Shawn’s story.  Readers familiar with the series will recognize him as the straight friend who lives with Jez, Mac, and Dev.

Shawn’s life is a mess.  He’s just been dumped by his girlfriend, he’s bored with his job, and he’s surrounded by some of the happiest (gay) couples in Plymouth.  He spends his free time working out and playing video games with his roommates, but feels like life is passing him by.  It’s just any other night when he heads upstairs to drop off his roommate Jude’s jacket… and accidentally walks in on him pleasuring himself in front of a webcam.  Shawn quickly flees, but not before he gets a good look at Jude masturbating in front of the camera.  A long suppressed bicuriosity leads Shawn to Jude’s website, and it isn’t long before he’s tuned in and turned on watching Jude’s videos.

Jude, the newest roommate in the shared house, is out, proud and single.  He earns money for school filming himself getting off for paying viewers.  When Shawn accidentally walks in on him, he’s annoyed he forgot to lock the door, but he isn’t ashamed or embarrassed.  Jude is comfortable in his own skin and proud of the money he earns filming himself.  If Shawn has a problem with it, that’s too bad.

Shawn does have a problem.  But it’s not the one Jude expects when Shawn turns up in his room later that week. Though he’s long tried to repress his attraction to other men, watching Jude’s live video feed leaves Shawn fascinated and wanting more.  He asks Jude if he can join him one night and before long, he’s regularly appearing as Jude’s onscreen playmate. When they get together and get naked, it’s kinky, intense and more exciting than either man expected.  Both Shawn and Jude quickly realize their attraction to each other extends beyond the bedroom, and it isn’t long before they separately decide they want more from the relationship.  Unfortunately, Shawn isn’t ready to be out and Jude isn’t willing to go back in the closet.

Watching and Wanting is a sexy, sweet and kinky addition to the Housemates series.  It’s definitely one of Mr. Northcote’s naughtier books (there’s some mild D/s in this one) and it works in the context of this story.  I’m not quite sure I believed in Shawn’s rapid transition from repressed bicurious roommate to on-screen gay lover… but paired with Jude – such a fiercely confident and tender partner – it somehow works.  Though this book succeeds as a standalone, I recommend you read the earlier books (they’re great!) to familiarize yourself with some secondary characters and Shawn’s history in the house.

Grade: B                Sensuality: Warm


Mandy’s Reads:

The Undying King by Grace Draven

I recently read this, and as usual, Draven does not disappoint. The tale is a twist on the Beauty and the Beast trope, except in this case, both characters carry their own curses. The maiden Imogen has been cursed with the touch of death, and wants to be rid of it; the King Cededa’s enchanted immortality has become a unceasingly lonely, treacherous and regrettable prison for him. You can see why the pairing between Imogen and Cededa works, especially when told in Draven’s sensual, evocative prose.

I had previously loved Draven’s Master of Crows, Entreat Me and Radiance, so when I saw that she had released a new book, I knew I had to read it. Draven’s fantasy romance fiction has become an auto-buy for me, especially because she takes ordinary female characters and turns them into believable heroines – and gives them that happy ending, of course.

Grade: B+              Sensuality: Warm


Rock Chick Reawakening by Kristen Ashley

The recently released novella is a prologue to the Rock Chick series by Kristen Ashley, but can easily be read as a standalone. Daisy is a pretty, sassy, ever-optimistic woman à la Dolly Parton, but a recent disastrous episode has left Daisy shattered and in despair. Enter Marcus Sloane, king of shady, underground dealings, who takes one look at Daisy and knows she is the one for him. In the classic Ashley take-charge style, Marcus sets to showing Daisy how much he adores her, and Daisy’s resistance melts into a puddle of goo. No one can blame Daisy. The novella is a quick read, and while the plot machinations are fairly obvious, they are also delightful.

Grade: A-                Sensuality: Warm


Wait for It by Mariana Zapata

Wait for It was a bit of a surprise; I had expected a light, breezy read but it turned out to be so much better. Diana “Buttercup” Casillas doesn’t need a boyfriend or a husband. She has two adorable nephews, a giant dog to care of, a new house and a decent job. Or so she thinks, till she meets her brooding, hot neighbor, Dallas Walker. In Zapata’s classic slow-burn romance style, the two neighbors launch first into cautious friendship with an undercurrent of mutual attraction, and then into downright love. But neither of them can acknowledge their feelings easily, leading to much awesome angst. When the two finally get together, you think, good things indeed come to those who wait.

Fans of Zapata’s popular The Wall of Winnipeg and Me might find this book a trifle more realistic or less intense, but Wait for It is a charming feel-good read all on its own.

Grade: A-              Sensuality: Warm


Sara’s Reads:

The Spinster’s Secret by Emily Larkin

One of the joys at discovering a new author is reading through her back catalog of titles.  Emily Larkin has started revising and re-releasing a few of her older books and The Spinster’s Secret was the first to catch my eye.

The premise of the story is a little bit hard to swallow at first.  Matilda Chapple is a twenty-seven year old woman living on the charity of her Uncle while dreaming of the day she can escape his miserly household to run a boarding house.  To earn money she writes erotic stories under the pen name “Cherie” that have become the talk of London.  Her source of inspiration is the old diary of a Countess who used to live in the same house and her late cousin’s copy of John Cleland’s Fanny Hill.  The correspondences to her publisher are neatly disguised as letters sent to a good friend; however when the post is swept away in a rainstorm, a draft of her latest story finds its way into her Uncle’s hands.

The storm also sweeps Edward Kane into Matilda’s life when he’s stranded at her Uncle’s house while trying to return his friend’s personal items to the family.  When his host becomes determined to learn the notorious “Cherie” is someone in their small community Edward is driven out of guilt to help his friend’s father discover the identity of the author.  Thus becomes a sort of cat-and-mouse game between Matilda and Edward as she tries to keep him from discovering her secret while he’s fighting against his attraction towards a woman he knows he’ll leave behind once his task is complete.

Ms. Larkin’s gift for creating characters against romantic types can be seen here with a plain, overly-tall and older heroine stealing the heart of an equally tall and sturdy hero.  Their relationship runs very low-key throughout the story which I’ll admit wasn’t the most entertaining, but there were so many feelings expressed in their physical moments together that I understood all the passion these quiet characters shared.  Edward’s passiveness also got under my skin, especially when he sees how Matilda is treated by her family and doesn’t make any attempt to help her or defend her.  It’s Matilda who carries the story back into recommended territory by continuing to seek her own happiness and independence while not relying on a white knight to save her.

Grade:  B               Sensuality:  Warm


Her Hopes and Dreams by Terri Osburn

Terri Osburn’s Ardent Springs series has covered some difficult subjects in a light contemporary format; however she goes just a little bit darker in the latest release, Her Hopes and Dreams.  Spousal abuse, PTSD and even the challenges of single-parenting push the storyline into some less romantic places; but even so this love story of second chances is full of charm.

The book begins with an awkward reunion between new neighbors Carrie Farmer and Noah Winchester.  Noah remembers Carrie as a scheming flirt who cheated on her first husband and manipulated his good friend Patch Farmer into an unwanted second marriage.  Carrie knows she’s not without sin but she’s more than paid for her mistakes, having had to live with Patch’s abuse right up until his death.  It’s Noah’s curiosity about Carrie’s daughter that bridges the divide between them and the pair soon begin bonding over how they’ve both survived traumas to come out on the other side.

There is an overall feeling of realism to the novel, even though it follows a very fast pace towards both characters healing and falling in love.  Noah and Carrie are allowed to be flawed, to be angry and to make understandable mistakes over the course of their relationship.  People who have lived through traumatic events will sometimes try to justify why they were ever a part of that suffering and both characters perhaps hang onto those feelings a bit too long; however it doesn’t prevent them from trying to hold onto the happiness they find in each other’s arms.

I don’t usually pick up small town romances but I’ve enjoyed each of the Ardent Springs books enough to keep coming back to this plucky little town for all the community and love the characters share.

Grade:  B               Sensuality:  Warm


Have you read any of these? And if you have, what did you think?  What books have you enjoyed – or not – lately? Stop by and let us know in the comments.

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Queer romance, romantic suspense and historicals - romance, mysteries, fiction -  are my genres of choice these days, and when I haven't got my nose in a book, I’ve got my ears in one.  I’m a huge fan of audiobooks and am rarely to be found without my earbuds in.