In advance of RWA2016, AAR staffers have been taking a look at some of the books nominated for RITA awards. In our post yesterday, you’ll find a number of mini reviews of some of the titles featured in the various Contemporary Romance categories. Today, BJ, Caz, Maria Rose, Sara and Shannon review some of the other nominated books.
For Real by Alexis Hall
Alexis Hall’s For Real is a May to December story between Laurie (Laurence Dalziel), a thirty-seven-year-old Consultant in emergency medicine an Toby Finch, a nineteen-year-old gay Dom. Six years before the beginning of the novel, Laurie’s partner and Dom, Robert left him after a twelve-year relationship. Laurie has not reconciled himself to the break-up and his friends are running out of sympathy –
There were only so many times you could wipe up someone’s tears and tell them there were more fish in the sea. I used to think there were too, but I was tired of swimming. And either Robert was a merman, or I was just a really weird fish with a particular obscure mating ritual. Even to other weird fish.
While in a BDSM club called ‘Pervocracy’, Laurie tries to help the floundering Toby, mistakenly thinking he too is a sexual submissive:
“Not like that. I’m not interested in that. I’m a dom.”
It should have been ridiculous. It was ridiculous. A skinny nineteen-year-old with his adolescence still written on his skin. I nearly said,
You’re not a dom, you’re a child…
“It’s like,” he went on tormentedly, “you’re not allowed to be a dom until you’re forty and six feet tall and own your bespoke bondage dungeon. But I’m probably not going to be any taller, and forty is forever away, so what the hell am I supposed to do now?”
This meeting between Laurie and Toby is at the heart of what these two give each other. I need Alexis Hall’s words again to illustrate Toby’s frustrations and how Laurie is right for him:
“Anything. Any of it. Something really basic. Like -” He drew in a deep, surprisingly steady breath “ – I want to know how it feels to have some guy on his knees for me. And not a kid. I want a man, a strong, hot, powerful man, doing it because he wants to and because I want him to.”
When I’d thought he’d be stunning in a few years, I was wrong. He was stunning now.
Laurie’s reaction to this speech begins a journey and love story, so emotionally real my review cannot do it justice. There are issues and difficulties to overcome – the age gap, careers, friends, education, and expectations – all confronted, lived and suffered in beautiful prose. Wonderful secondary characters add a further dimension and Toby’s relationship with his grandfather caused this reader to sob.
At the heart of this novel – the most erotic, loving and important aspect is that Laurie chooses to whom he gives his submission and love. He chooses to give them to Toby. Laurie gives Toby what they both desire, and it is so pleasing to see Toby embrace his dominance. This is true love, with or without the BDSM element. To give your partner the things they need to soar is one of the most beautiful aspects of love and life. ~ BJ Jansen
Grade: A+ Sensuality: Hot
HISTORICAL ROMANCE – SHORT
Falling Into Bed with a Duke by Lorraine Heath
As a fan of historical romances, I was eager to read something by Lorraine Heath, someone I’ve heard great things about for years. As Falling Into Bed With a Duke is the first book in a series, it seemed like a great place to start. Minerva Dodger is my favorite kind of heroine, smart and unwilling to settle for something less than what she really wants in a man, and, in Minerva’s case, that something is love. Tired of the fortune hunters who are constantly seeking her out, Minerva decides to take things into her own hands and visit the Nightingale club, a well-hidden London club that allows masked ladies to choose their own bed partners. There, Minerva finds the Duke of Ashebury, and a wonderful game of sensuality begins. Minerva and Ash are incredibly well-suited, even if Minerva doesn’t necessarily see that. I loved Ash’s persistence when it came to convincing her. It won’t be long before I dive into the next book in the series. ~ Shannon Dyer
Grade: A- Sensuality: Warm
You can read our full review HERE.
The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn
As a devoted fan of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton novels, I was eager to dive into her Smythe-Smith quartet. The hero in this story – the fourth in the series – is difficult to like, as his way of forcing the heroine into marriage proved difficult for me to wrap my head around. Once the reasons for his rather despicable actions were explained, however, I felt a bit more sympathy for him, but I couldn’t keep from wishing he had gone about things in a different way. Iris, our heroine, has a sly sense of humor which made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion, and I loved her willingness to make things right with Richard, despite the way he treated her in the early days of their marriage. Richard himself has a strong sense of family loyalty, and I was especially pleased to see that feelings of guilt plague him after he forces Iris to marry him. So, while not quite as good as Ms. Quinn’s Bridgerton books, The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy is definitely worth a read. ~ Shannon Dyer
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Warm
You can read our full review HERE.
HISTORICAL ROMANCE – LONG
If The Viscount Falls by Sabrina Jeffries
When Dominic Manton’s life falls apart following the death of his father, he is suddenly without the means to support the woman he loves and had planned to make his wife. To save her from a life of penny-pinching while he builds a career, he engineers a situation which causes her to break their betrothal. This final book in the author’s The Duke’s Men series sees Dominic, now a successful and highly sought-after private investigator, reuniting with his former fiancée, Jane Vernon, when she asks him to help to locate her cousin, Nancy, who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
The situation is complicated further by the fact that Nancy is his brother’s widow, and until it’s determined whether or not she is expecting, the viscountcy Dom stands to inherit is in abeyance. Dominic suspects Nancy may be intent on defrauding him; Jane is adamant that she wouldn’t do such a thing, and the couple clashes repeatedly, Jane accusing Dom of being overly suspicious, he accusing her of being too trusting. And their troubles don’t end there; this is a couple whose emotional baggage is continually tripping them up so that it’s sometimes difficult to believe they are ever going to be able to find their way back to each other. Jane is still furious at Dom for ending their betrothal without discussing the situation with her, and has, over the years, come to believe his decision reflected a lack of confidence in her ability to cope with life in diminished and difficult circumstances. The daughter of an overbearing and dictatorial father, she is quick to bristle at the slightest hint of male authority, while Dominic, having lived a solitary life, is used to doing things his own way and keeping his cards close to his chest.
For all that, though, there’s no question that these two people never really stopped loving each other, and the sparks certainly fly whenever the pair of them are together. One of the things I enjoyed most about the story is the way in which the author shows each character’s growth by gradually bringing them to a greater understanding of each other. If the Viscount Falls is one of the stronger books in this series and brings it to an enjoyable close. ~ Caz Owens
Grade: B Sensuality: Warm
Soulbound by Kristen Callihan
Years ago a young warrior was bound by magic to forever exist between Here, the mortal world, and There, limbo for lost souls. His only chance at breaking this curse was to find his soul-mate, the one who would forever be bound to him in any plane of existence. Seven hundred years of searching leads Adam, father of all the GIM, to Eliza May an American in London to visit her extended family. Adam immediately recognizes Eliza May as his soul’s true mate but botches their meeting by holding her against her will in the hopes she will recognize his soul too. Unfortunately Eliza May doesn’t believe in a soul mate and has her own fears about creatures with otherworldly powers. She runs from Adam at the first opportunity and condemns him to the true power of his curse.
Months later Eliza May is running again, but away from the cruel plans of her guardian Mab and her own manifesting powers. Finding Adam chained up in Mab’s basement Eliza strikes a deal with him to protect her from Mab while she comes to terms with the possibility of their truly being parts of the same soul. Adam, having lost his ability to protect the GIM because of the curse, has to fight against time to convince Eliza May that they are one or else all the GIM of London will die and their souls will be lost forever in the purgatory of Nowhere.
The world author Kristen Callihan creates in her Darkest London series is full of all manner of myths and magic. Adam and Eliza May are drawn from Irish legends but have histories and personalities unique to their pasts. Adam is weary of being alone while surrounded by all the GIM children he’s created; worshipped for his position but never known as an individual. Eliza May hides the circumstances of her birth by presenting the façade of a strong and independent woman while always fearing discovery. Their love develops not because of a curse or predestined match but because they see how much they need one another to truly live rather than exist in the half-lives created for them. Newer readers may be confused by ideas of the GIM (Ghosts in the Machine) or how sinister ancient magic can be in a modern time; however the romance between Eliza May and Adam trumps it all. ~ Sara Elliott
Grade: A- Sensuality: Warm
The Shattered Court by M.J. Scott
The beginning of The Shattered Court, book one in Ms. Scott’s Four Arts series, was a little slow and plodding, causing me to wonder if I would be able to finish it. Fortunately, I soon found myself fully engrossed. The world building is complex, but very well-explained, and I was immediately drawn to Sophie, a royal witch with powers far beyond her wildest imaginings. Cameron, our hero, is the perfect blend of protective man and tender lover. Together, he and Sophie are drawn into a web of court intrigue that could cost Sophie her life. The book ends on a cliffhanger, and I’m very eager for book two in this unique paranormal romance series. ~ Shannon Dyer
Grade: B Sensuality: Warm
Facing Fire by HelenKay Dimon
The Bad Boys Undercover series by HelenKay Dimon is an action packed series that deals with the Alliance, an undercover group made up of former MI6 and CIA operatives. In Facing Fire, the third story in the series, an enemy thought dead turns out to be very much alive, and he’s on a personal vendetta to destroy each of the operatives one by one. But Benton’s evil is far reaching, and a young woman is also looking for this man after the death of her mother under suspicious circumstances. Sutton’s investigation into Benton brings the attention of the Alliance, and in a game of cat and mouse, Sutton and Alliance operative Josiah find themselves unable to resist the chemistry between them, even if it might get them killed.
Ms.Dimon is masterful at creating fictitious worlds that rock both the suspense and the sexy edge looked for by readers in the romantic suspense genre. Her characters are strong, dependable, loyal, yet conflicted, with all too human flaws. As the leader of the Alliance, Josiah is ruthless and not afraid to do what it takes to get the job done. He goes after Sutton with a singular focus in mind – to find out everything she knows about Benton. In the beginning neither trusts the other, though it doesn’t stop them from sleeping together in some super sexy scenes. I love Sutton’s strength, her unrelenting willingness to pursue her mother’s killer on her own, and her ability to face her fears if it gets her closer to the truth. In the aftermath of their sexual encounters, Sutton and Josiah start to build the trust needed between them to further their relationship. But while they find comfort in each other, Benton’s thirst for revenge is ongoing. The story is told from three points of view – Sutton, Josiah and Benton, which gives the story a great well rounded view and adds to the suspense level in knowing Benton’s thoughts and plans. There are lots of twists and turns to keep the story flowing at a fast pace, and combined with the sexy romance, it’s a highly entertaining read. ~ Maria Rose
Grade: A- Sensuality: Warm
There are some great books on those lists of nominations and hopefully our reviews have whetted your appetite to try some of them (if you haven’t already).
Good luck to all the finalists!
I loved She Can Kill by Melinda Leigh.
I loved Glitterland and always will as it was my first – Alexis Hall novel – For Real is a beautiful love story that proves you should never judge a book by its cover. It is my RITA winner.
I think I’ve read almost all the titles in this second group – but I’ve been reluctant to buy For Real because for real? I didn’t love/adore Glitterland. I liked it. But I love m/m – and I think I could be convinced to give this one a try.
I agree with our reviewer scores for the Heath, Quinn and Callihan (everything she writes is terrific) books – but if I had to pick a favorite, I think I’m going with Falling Into Bed With a Duke. Lucky Minerva.
Get the audio of Glitterland – it’s absolutely fantastic and might convince you!
I’d also go with the Heath in the historical category. I think I read all but about three of the nominated books, and IMO that’s the strongest.
I have it in my Audible queue – em
I really had the opposite opinion on Kristen Callihan’s Soulbound. I thought it was, to use a colloquial term, a hot mess. The author took every possible paranormal creature and trope and stirred it all in. The “hero” was a huge jerk who used the heroine and lied to her over and over again. Most of the book was about characters from previous books who show up for a few paragraphs to show how happy they are or a setting up a character for the next book. When the main couple were featured they showed no real liking for each other and were pretty boring. The absolute worst part was the “surprise” reveal and how it was handled.
The heroine is chained up and held captive by the hero at the very beginning of the book for a matter of years? Months? At almost the end of the book, another character notices the heroine is, as he describes it, a “quarteron” and she tells him yes, one of her grandfathers was a slave in the U.S. South before the Civil War. It’s never mentioned before that and is only used for a couple of sentences to make the hero (a former Templar knight from the 12th century) feel bad. Eliza never mentions it, thinks about it and it’s never noticed or discussed by anyone else. It’s no part of her story or identity. She’s made a woman of color for a few sentences only to affect the main, white, male character. (Why the 12th century knight who kills people without qualm and lived at a time when slavery was common and human life meant little has the cultural sensitivity to understand why slavery in the U.S. South was so heinous is never explained.) Instead of taking the opportunity to make a heroine in her series a minority and explore what that means in 19th century English society it’s just a couple of sentences thrown in to make Adam “sorry”- because enslaving people isn’t enough to be sorry about. It took a silly book for me and turned it into a complete wall-banger. I just don’t understand how an author can be so very tone deaf in their handling of this subject.
It’s so nice to see For Real getting some much deserved love!
I just bought it off of Sarah MacLean’s WashPo column, so I was glad to read this more detailed review. Super excited to read it now!