Sunday, June 6, 2021

Measuring Up!

This is a thinly disguise brag post.

OK, it's not actually disguised.

Earlier this year, I saw a link to "The 27 Greatest Romance Novels to Read in Your Lifetime". OMG that's a hilarious title. The hubris! And yet, it was irresistible. I popped it into my "saved" articles on Facebook and just got around to reading it. Honestly, it's a great list! Here's the article, and here's my editorializing:

1. Pride and Prejudice,
by Jane Austen.  OK, it's like a law that you have to include this one in any romance list that claims to be canonical. I have tried more than once to get through this book and I just can. not. even. Basically I can only relate to the buffoonish father who wants nothing to do with society stuff and then I fall asleep. It's a no for me.

2. Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Bronte. I saw a snip of a PBS production when I was in middle school and fascinated by all things miserable, so I did manage to read this one. But I was like 11 and I didn't really get it. Nor was I ever tempted to read it again. So yes, but also no.

3. Shanna
by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. YAAAAAAASSSS. I actually re-read this somewhat recently and could have sworn that I reviewed it here. Ah, good intentions.  This was literally the first romance I read that wasn't a category. Be still my heart. Yes, yes, and again yes.

4. Morning Glory
by LaVyrle Spencer. Oh yes. I went through a BIG LaVyrle Spencer phase, in real time when she was publishing. I agree this is the best of a really wonderful oevre. YES she deserves a pretentious French word.

5. Lord of Scoundrels
by Loretta Chase. Yes yes. So many good titles, but hard to go wrong with one that includes the heroine shooting the hero right in the first few chapters. 

6. Indigo
, by Beverly Jenkins. Not yet. I have a couple of Jenkins titles on my TBR and this is definitely high up there.

7. The Viscount Who Loved Me
, by Julia Quinn. Yep, Uh huh. Early readers of Alpha Heroes may recall several discussions of the whole Bridgerton series (here's the best overview), BEFORE Netflix and Shonda Rhimes got on board. (I mean, Netflix was mailing DVDs out at the time, remember that?)

8. Delaney's Desert Sheikh,
by Brenda Jackson. I have not read this one. A 30 book series you say? Hmmmmmm. Dare I? Certainly worth considering.

9. Dark Lover, by JR Ward. Oh hell yes. There are no less than 35 articles on this blog tagged with JR Ward, so uh, yeah. Yeah.

10. Bet Me, 
by Jennifer Crusie. Yep. Another favorite here at Alpha Heroes, and this title is often considered her best.

11. A Hunger Like No Other 
by Kresley Cole. This is the second book in the IAD series, but the first full-length one. I do like this series though I will admit that I am not 100% caught up. Hot sex, lots of mythology-based worldbuilding, and laugh-out-loud humor, this series is a yes from me.

12. Slave to Sensation,
by Nalini Singh. At this point, I'm thinking I need to call up the author of the article because we should be best friends. I love this series so hard and I'm still loving it. Fun fact, Hostage to Pleasure, the 5th book in this series, was the first ARC I ever got, reviewed here on the blog. 

13. Devil In Winter
, by Lisa Kleypas. OK yes, but with caveats - I know I've read this one but I don't really remember it. This doesn't mean a lot because there are hundreds of romances that I've read over the years and don't much remember. This is definitely a reader favorite but it didn't stand out that much to me personally. Maybe I should try a re-read.

14. Vision in White
, by Nora Roberts. Yes, I'm a Nora Roberts junkie. This is a lovely, super-duper extra romantic quartet. So, yes.

15. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake
, by Sarah Maclean. I'm a little on the fence for this one. I really admire Sarah Maclean's voice of advocacy for the genre, but I've tried a few of her books, including this one, and they just didn't grab me that hard. Maybe? I feel like I could give this author another shot, idk.

16. The Duchess War
, by Courtney Milan. Oh hell yes. I even forced my slightly-snooty litfic-leaning bookclub to read this one. Chess champion heroine and reformist duke hero? I repeat, oh hell yes.

17. The Magpie Lord
by KJ Charles. In general, I am a little meh on m/m romance. I picked up a different title by the same author and remain a little meh. This author is much beloved, so I can't argue with the rec, but it's not for me.

18. Tangled
by Emma Chase. No idea! maybe I should try. It's a contemporary billionaire trope which I'm so/so on, but I won't rule it out.

19. Glitterland,
by Alexis Hall. Yes! This is a tear-you-up, rip-your-heart-out romance. A big part of my "meh" for m/m romance sub-genre stems from the fact that a lot of its early start was erotic m/m written by women, and seemingly for women. Much of it lacked authenticity and like a wallpaper historical, felt like a hetero romance with an extra penis and coming-out-of-the-closet angst for conflict (not to minimize those emotions- in this context I'm saying it felt rote). Not so with this book. Authentic and emotionally devastating. Big big yes from me.

20. Ante Up 
by Christina C. Jones. Not so far. Based on the track record of this list though, I might have to check it out.

21. An Extraordinary Union,
by Alyssa Cole. Very much yes. Not going to lie, this is a tough read. Back in the 80s when I was really diving into romance, the (American) Civil War setting were really appealing to me. Mostly Gone With the Wind inspired, they were all about genteel white southern women surviving the war. This one is... definitely not that. It pulls no punches about what slavery was like. An engrossing, important read that is also an amazing romance with an unforgettable heroine. Definitely yes.

22. Acting on Impulse
, by Mia Sosa. I haven't read this one. I did read "The Worst Best Man," which got rave reviews, but I thought it was just OK. I couldn't put my finger on what didn't work for me though. I guess I'll say I'm on the fence for this title, but it's not high on my list.

23. Hate to Want You
by Alisha Rai. Yes yes! The article incorrectly refers to this book as Rai's debut, which it is not. Rai has a number of erotic titles that precede this trilogy.  The Hate To books are Rai's debut with Avon though, and they are STEAMY. Come for the diversity and that GORGEOUS cover, but stay for the off-the-charts chemistry. Oh yeah.

24. Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan
. Meh. I'm not big on New Adult or sports romance, so I'm not feeling super inspired by this one. Call it a "probably not."

25. The Kiss Quotient
by Helen Hoang. Definitely yes! often called the "reverse Pretty Woman" story, with a hired-escort hero and a wealthy, non-neurotypical heroine. A truly lovely and tender romance. (I reviewed this for RT in 2018 and rated it a Top Pick). Yes from me!

26. Red, White & Royal Blue
, by Casey McQuiston. Surprise, yes! despite my usual meh on m/m, this was a delightful fantasy about two princes - one literal, one American - navigating an enemies-to-lovers relationship in the public spotlight. Imagined in a near-future where gay relationships are a little more common but still politically delicate, the characters make this one sing.  So -- yes.

27. A Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics
, by Olivia Waite. Uh. I read this for a bookclub but I honestly don't remember a thing about it. I didn't hate it. Most of the bookclub enjoyed it. I hate to end the list on a whimper but here we are.

So if you're following along, that's 19 read, 3 probably not, 4 maybes, and 1 definite need to read.

What do you think of this list?


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Coastal Magic 2022, Yes Please!

Hey everybody! Have you missed book cons? I have. SO MUCH!! Between COVID, and some personal stuff, and the demise of RT, it's been A REALLY LONG TIME since I've been to a book con. I had two of them scheduled for 2020, and of all the things that I didn't get to do last year, those really hurt. Even so, this year still feels a bit too soon for crowded cons. But next year? Yeah.... next year...

So I'm crossing my fingers, and making a plan to head to THE BEACH next February for COASTAL MAGIC'S TENTH ANNIVERSARY CONFERENCE. Did I mention BEACH? in FEBRUARY? And BOOKS? Yeah. Sign me up.

Literally, you can now sign up! Check out the many-splendored Featured Author listing to see the fantastic lineup. These authors span a variety of genres, and whether they’re auto-buy faves already, or “new to you” authors just waiting to become your next binge read, there’s something for just about everyone.

I haven't been to CMC before, but I'm jumping in this year -- the 10th anniversary, how cool is that? ANNND I am ridiculously pleased to have been asked to be a Featured Blogger (I hope they'll be gentle with me). So, I’ll be doing monthly author spotlights with a few of these amazing writers (my fellow Featured Bloggers will be doing some, as well, so be sure you’re following each of us, and you won’t miss any!) This is going to be a fantastic way to get to know the authors a bit BEFORE our weekend together. I just miiiiiiiiiiiiiiight be reprising my #5Words game with some fresh blood... uh, I mean, new players. Yeah, new players. We'll see if they are up for the challenge!

You can check out the website at if you want to learn a little more about the event. Things will update as new information is released between now and next February. You can also join the Facebook Authors & Attendees group if you’d like to interact with some of the authors and other readers you might see there.  

If reading challenges (either on your own or with a group) are your thing, there’s a group for that!! With a suggested schedule of reading, planned author interactions, points to earn and prizes to win, our Reading Challenge group is definitely the place to be. You can read all about how the challenge works on the website, HERE! Also hit up the website for all the usual social media suspects!

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Promised Queen, by Jeffe Kennedy - Review

Title: The Promised Queen
Series: The Forgotten Empires (book 3)
Author: Jeffe Kennedy
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: May 25, 2021
Reviewing: e-ARC via NetGalley
Reason for reading: Love this author

The Short Answer:
The Promised Queen caps off a trilogy of fresh, engrossing worldbuilding. Eschewing the sea of vampires and shifters, Kennedy reaches into the mythology of earth magic and shapes it into something vital, feminine, and powerful. The romance is positively gravitational between the protagonists -- slow, inexorable, profound, unbreakable. Highly recommend - but start at the beginning of the trilogy.

The Blurb:
Claim the hand that wears the ring, and the empire falls.

Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, claimed the hand that wears the Abiding Ring, but the prophecy remains unfulfilled. Queen Euthalia of Calanthe returned to her island kingdom, but broken in mind and body. With the blood of war unleashing ancient terrors, Calanthe isn’t the haven it once was. Lia must use her magical bond with Calanthe to save their people while Con fights to hold off the vengeful Emperor Anure and his wizards. Con and Lia will have to trust in each other—and in love—to fend off ultimate disaster.

In The Promised Queen, the thrilling finale to the Forgotten Empires trilogy, the fate of the world hangs in the balance as Con, Lia, and their allies sacrifice everything in a final bid to destroy the corrupt empire.

More Details:

I am longtime fan of Jeffe Kennedy's, across the several genres in which she writes. When I first started blogging, I received an ARC for a fantasy romance, and that's when I realized the it's a) an under-represented subgenre and b) I love it a lot.  Since then of course, more authors have come along but I think there's a reluctance among SFF authors to take on the Romance mantle as well, for reasons that should be obvious. Not Kennedy. Ever since publishing The Mark of the Tala in 2014, she's been penning traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy WITH all the things romance readers demand -- deep emotional engagement, fiery characters, and a happily-ever-after. The Promised Queen follows a newer format with a traditional SFF trilogy carrying the plot-driven conflict, and a romance the spans the three books. I want to be clear: I AM HERE FOR THAT. This book realizes the HEA, but it takes all three books, so know that going in.

Now. I love the Twelve Kingdoms series and its several spinoffs.  A lot. But this new trilogy -- it's crisper, it's fresher, and it absolutely sings. Kennedy takes on something like the Land King myth, where the prosperity of the land is tied to the health of its ruler, and breathes new, feminine life and imagination into it. When The Orchid Crown opens, the world is under the thumb of a ruthless and evil conqueror Anure. He has stripped the lands of their rightful rulers, taking their places in attempt to harvest the power they are entitled to, with the help of some wizards in the tradition of Arthur's Merlin.

Euthalia still rules her own land, but the sword of her betrothal to Anure hangs over her head and that of her domain. There's an expiration date on her freedom, but she's become an expert at extending it. Here's where the worldbuilding is so cool: her magic, her very physiology, is entwined not only metaphorically with the land, but also literally. She is a bit alien, a bit weird, and Kennedy doesn't shy away from exploring some aspects that defy conventional definitions of beauty. (There is also some cool stuff to explore here around how image and façade might enhance your power, but comes at a cost).

Traditional SFF are often coming-of-age stories, with young protagonists who grow into their powers and agency, whether they are political, realistic, or magical, over the course of the story. In fact, I think a large percentage of fantasy published before  2010 or so would be considered YA if they were published today.  What I absolutely LOVE about many fantasy romances is that the protagonists discover magical, political, and sexual potency in a big beautiful tangle of emotion and drama, all the while taking down the bad guys. This trilogy delivers on all of that and I can't get enough.

As the final book in a trilogy, The Promised Queen needs to deliver on three books' worth of tension building. There are three books' worth of skirmishes, torture and atrocities to resolve. And when I was thinking about how to discuss that resolution, it occurred to me that the showdown scenes happened kind of fast. In term of page time, it was about three chapters in the third book, so arguably only three out something like 75 chapters.  That's not much.  Is it enough?

One of the answers that came to me is that it's often the case in real life when there is something terrifying, monstrous, mountainous, that seems impossible to overcome. We might spend 60 chapters or so trying to figure out how to delay the inevitable, to hold on to the tenuous peace we have rather than risk the treacherous journey to the other side. But then, when we get that push, when the fuse is lit, it turns out that maybe that mountain, while not exactly a molehill, is not actually a match for our own efforts, once we put our mind to it. 

Another answer is this:  maybe it doesn't have to be so goddamn bloody and gory. Maybe we don't need a Red Wedding. Maybe we don't need an army of orcs. Maybe a gentler, cleverer, more magical way can be just as effective. And where the romance part of the fantasy romance comes in, crushing the bad guys into oblivion is not the only barrier to Euthalia and Conri's happiness: there is also emotional work to be done.  And the resolution of these obstacles is just as satisfying and probably even more wrenching.

As a longtime reader, I can say Kennedy's worldbuilding chops keep getting better and better, more original and yet true to the best traditions of both the fantasy and the romance genres, and all executed flawlessly.  When she's describing costumes, jewelry, architecture, landscape, or people, imagery leaps vividly to mind. The pacing is on point. Secondary characters fairly pull at the leash to get their own arc, but never distract. And the emotional pull always delivers. If you've read the first two books, you don't need my endorsement to go get this one, it's probably already preordered. But if you were waiting to get an idea of how good the whole trilogy is... well, now you know. Go get it.


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