June was a busy month for me. Although teaching wrapped up in April, my administrative work ramps up at the end of the academic year as people scramble to get course and program revisions approved for fall. My kids finished school on the 29th, and there were a lot of end-of-year events to attend (and bake for). So I didn’t read as much as usual. My big hits of the month were a Harlequin Presents and an erotic short story, both outside of my usual reading comfort zone. Here’s a round-up of what I did read and listen to this month.
Marion Lennox, Abby and the Bachelor Cop (Harlequin Romance) I like Lennox’s blend of funny, sweet and serious in a short category romance. Abby, her perfectly perfect fiance, and Finn the sexy cop are linked by an accident in their teens which killed Abby’s brother and left Finn’s sister with a brain injury. Abby, like everyone else, has blamed Finn for the accident, but she’s still attracted to him and unsure about her impending marriage. Can you see where this is going? I could, too. I liked the small-town Australian setting, many of the characters, and the disreputable dog, but the villain was more evil than necessary. And though I believe that childhood sweethearts can fall back in love as adults, I don’t believe it happens in a couple of days when they’ve barely talked in a decade and have such serious issues in their pasts. This book wrapped up too quickly to feel truly satisfying.
Lynne Graham, The Spanish Groom (Harlequin Presents) review here.
Michael Robertson, The Baker Street Letters (Macmillan) review here.
Josh Lanyon, Snowball in Hell (Carina, re-release). This is a mystery/ m/m romance (that’s a lot of slashes) set in World War II Los Angeles. It has the noir feel I missed in Robertson’s book. The mystery is good, and so is the romance between cop Matthew Spain and reporter Nathan Doyle. I thought Lanyon depicted their feelings for each other, and about being attracted to men, quite believably. Neither thinks he will have a chance at real love with a man, though Matt has had a version of it with his wife. Lanyon’s characters don’t talk much about how they feel, but he conveys their attraction and growing love through their actions. He’s a writer who mines certain tropes over and over (there are echoes of Jake and Adrien from the Adrien English series here, for instance); I don’t mean that he’s repeating himself, but that there’s some attraction to playing variations on a theme. I find it interesting to discover those patterns in a writer’s body of work. This is a pleasure I get from Heyer, as well.
Kate Hewitt, The Man Who Could Never Love (Harlequin Presents) review here.
Cara McKenna, “Dirty Thirty” (Ellora’s Cave) After I read this erotic short story, I had an interesting Twitter conversation about how to review erotica/erotic romance without making it all about your own sexual fantasies. Here’s my quickie attempt. “Dirty Thirty” is the story of a married couple, Margie and Evan, who invite an acquaintance for a threesome to celebrate Evan’s thirtieth birthday. Evan has a submissive streak and has always been curious about sex with a man (specifically, about receiving anal sex). I think this is erotica done right: 1. It doesn’t try to be a romance (it’s too short for a believable three-way HEA) but it is romantic. Evan and Margie love each other, and their love and trust in each other is expressed in the way they go about fulfilling Evan’s fantasy. 2. These are people who would believably try a threesome. They’re punky, artsy, GGG Portland-dwellers. Dan Savage would be proud of the way they negotiate an encounter they’re all comfortable with. 3. The sex scenes aren’t just Tab A into Slot B (or Tab A into Slot B while Tab B is in Slot C). It doesn’t feel like McKenna is writing with an “erotic trends checklist” taped to her computer. She shows us how the characters are thinking and feeling about what they do. We see all three of their points of view, but mainly Evan’s, and his anxiety and excitement about living out this fantasy are palpable. The sex is hot because it’s hot for them. The story packs an emotional punch, and for me that’s the point of reading erotica.
Susan Fox, Love, Unexpectedly (Kensington) discussed here.
I also got to beta read a manuscript for someone, which was a new and really interesting experience.
Kevin Hearne, Hounded (Brilliance Audio, read by Luke Daniels) This urban fantasy worked really well on audio; I especially liked Daniels’ voice for Oberon the Irish Wolfhound. It’s a dark and funny book revolving around Atticus O’Sullivan, an ancient druid living in modern-day Tempe and running an occult bookstore. Atticus has to outwit the various Celtic deities who are trying to get back the magical sword he stole. The fantasy world here is awfully busy–pretty much every paranormal and supernatural being ever imagined exists in it–and snarky Atticus is more convincing as the 21-year-old he appears to be than the 2100-year-old he’s supposed to be, but I enjoyed it. If my library doesn’t have #2, it’s worth an Audible credit.
Nora Roberts, Vision in White (Brilliance Audio, read by Emily Durante) I’ve read this before and it was my favorite of the Bride Quartet. I still really liked both Mac and Carter but the expensive-wedding-porn passages annoyed me more this time around, probably because I couldn’t skim on audio–and because they got even more obtrusive as the series went on.
Julia Quinn, Just Like Heaven (Harper Audio, read by Roslyn Landor) You can read reviews of this book all over the place. I found it kind of boring. It was good for bedtime listening, because if I dozed off it didn’t feel like I missed anything crucial. The romance was rather sweet, but didn’t get enough attention, and the bickering between Honoria and her cousins annoyed me. Also, I got that the book was a celebration of family, but I don’t think family traditions that humiliate some of the participants deserve to be continued. If this had been a paper book, it would have hit the wall during the epilogue.