Tag Archives: romance

Review: The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen

The sport she loves is out of reach. The boy she loves has someone else. What now?

She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead.

Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He’s way out of Corey’s league.

Also, he’s taken.

Nevertheless, an unlikely alliance blooms between Corey and Hartley in the “gimp ghetto” of McHerrin Hall. Over tequila, perilously balanced dining hall trays, and video games, the two cope with disappointments that nobody else understands.

They’re just friends, of course, until one night when things fall apart. Or fall together. All Corey knows is that she’s falling. Hard.

But will Hartley set aside his trophy girl to love someone as broken as Corey? If he won’t, she will need to find the courage to make a life for herself at Harkness — one which does not revolve around the sport she can no longer play, or the brown-eyed boy who’s afraid to love her back.

Year we fell downLike many of the books I’ve read recently, I came to this book in a roundabout sort of way. I read a few stellar reviews of the third book in the series, and added the first book to my sample list on my Kindle. Then, I read Bowen’s post on NA Alley where she questioned whether or not an author could put an m/m title in what was otherwise an m/f series. In that post, she says that she’s gotten at least a few responses to her newest book, The Understatement of the Year, where some people decided to pass on it because it’s a m/m story.

My feelings about this are deeply conflicted. On one hand, no one is obligated to read anything, and if you don’t want to read a story about two men, then that’s fine. On another hand, the fact that most m/m romance is written by women with a target audience of women also kind of weirds me out. Most stories are awesome and amazing, but there are some that I’ve read that are pretty fetishizing and creepy. Of course, some section of EVERY romance genre is kind of fetishizing and creepy, so why pick on m/m romance? On YET ANOTHER hand, I’d like to think that the average reader might be willing to give a m/m romance a try, if they know and enjoy the author, and possibly have a new genre of romance open up to them. On another hand…

You see how it is. This is an octopus issue for me, and I don’t have an easy answer. But, I did have something I could do. I commented on Bowen’s NA post that I would be buying the book to read myself, and “so there mean reader,” or something like that. (I was very tired at the time. I might have had a beer. My husband regularly disregards my requests that he take away my internet when I’ve been drinking, because I entertain him.)

I read The Year We Fell Down hoping to enjoy myself, but I had no idea that I would be so blown away by this book. Corey Callahan is the main character. She is currently using a wheelchair for mobility, and she needs braces and forearm crutches to walk. She is mad about this, mad about what she’s lost, and she’s not apologizing for that, but she’s also not a bitch to all and sundry just because her life has changed. She is actively trying to figure out how to live when her life has taken a sharp left turn.

She is intrigued by Adam Hartley, her cross-the-way neighbor who has broken his leg very badly, and so is also sitting in the “gimp section” as they put it in their gallows humor. Hartley slowly encourages Corey to reconnect, slowly convinces her that it is possible for a man to see her, and not just the chair or the braces. Corey is rapidly falling for him. Only problem? He’s already got a girlfriend, Stacia, who by all accounts brings out the absolute worst in him.

Things I absolutely loved about this book:

  1. It is made clear that Hartley and Stacia have an “arrangement” while she’s in Europe for her semester abroad. Hartley’s flirting and … more with Corey are therefore easier to stomach without making her “the girl he cheated with,” something I hate.
  2. Corey never defines herself in terms of Hartley. She actually recognizes at one point that her reliance on him is keeping her from making other friends, and she tells him that they can’t be friends right now, because she needs to find her own feet.
  3. When Hartley makes up his mind, and realizes that he’s treating Corey like crap, he acts decisively. He doesn’t hem and haw and tell the reader all about how AWFUL this is, he just does the right thing. Bam.
  4. Did I mention that Corey is freaking amazing, and strong, and powerful? She’s neither the angelic girl in a wheelchair who’s going to make everyone appreciate their functioning legs, nor is she the angry, bitter cripple out to ruin everyone’s life. She’s a girl, a girl who has some “shit to shovel,” and she’s going to move that crap as best as she can.

Excellent book, wonderful, brilliant, I love it. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series, and it’s not even just so I can stick my tongue out at some random email person anymore.

Review: The Courtland Chronicles (EC Author, Non EC Book)

When I was twenty years old, I fell in love with a girl. I was both surprised and not at all surprised by this development. After six months of dancing around the subject, which drove our mutual friends utterly insane, we ended up together. Which was when I found out that she hadn’t come out to her parents yet, despite the fact that she’d identified as either bisexual or as a lesbian since she was in junior high, and had multiple girlfriends in high school and college before me.

Maybe this is why I sympathize with Eric more than Nick in the early novels of The Courtland Chronicles by Cat Grant. According to Cat, Eric fans have been few and far between over the years.

CourtlandIn the early days of the EC fuss that has dominated Romland for the past few weeks, Cat Grant went public, asking readers not to buy the series she’d published with EC. I got in touch with her to express my sympathies, saying that I didn’t want the free copies she was offering of the Icon Men series, but that I’d love a recommendation to another, non-EC series that I could purchase, to support her that way. We discussed some of what she had out, and she suggested this, for the sweet MMF that develops in the later books.

I enjoyed the Courtland books, without doubt. I love Eric, in all his brokenness, which tells me something about Grant’s writing ability; I have joked before that I have a fetish for broken boys, but Eric really should have made me madder. In fact, as things went on, it was Nick that I lost patience with. Always hiding from his parents, always expecting Eric to give him a little longer, and be okay with waiting. Maybe it’s because I’ve been there, or because times are just different from when this book was originally published, but I was very cranky with Nick, no matter how gorgeous his equipment might have been.

The later books see Eric and Nick establishing a relationship with their friend Ally, and creating a stable poly relationship, which is delightful and wonderful. The story of discrimination they face is mentioned, but never dwelled on, and the smutty bits are excellently smutty.

I understand Grant is now working on sequels that will focus on the Courtlands’ kids? I’m excited to read them!

On the importance of romance novels

Something I’ve heard a lot from various authors who write “genre” fiction is the idea that they aren’t doing anything important. That their books don’t change the world. I’ll tell you the truth, when my favorite authors make the switch to writing fiction that’s “important,” I tend not to follow them. I read stories. And I find stories to be incredibly important.

In our current culture, the Madonna/Whore dichotomy continues to thrive. Walking this morning, I heard a man blasting music from his truck. I heard a lyric about “She’s not Cinderella as she gets undressed / cuz she rocks it like a naughty Wicked Witch of the West,” and wondered (not for the first time) why she couldn’t be both. Every actress who has thrived on Disney, from Annette to Miley, has taken control of her world by claiming her sexuality publicly, causing criticism about “what happened to that sweet little girl,” because of course sweet little girls don’t twerk.

Or for the most nefarious example that’s hit close to home recently, my friend Stacy was walking home after a theater performance a few nights ago. It was late, it was dark, but we live in a fairly sleepy little town. She was on the phone with her boyfriend as she walked, and a car pulled up beside her. The man inside began trying to talk to her, keeping pace with her as she tried to speed up. He began to shout. She began to run. Thankfully, there was an open store on the corner, and she booked it inside. She is one of the strongest women I know, an advocate for feminism and female equality, the kind of amazing person who can make me laugh until I snort milk out my nose, but also call me on my privilege and my bullshit in a way that makes me rethink what I’m doing instead of just getting defensive. And yet, when the clerk at the store offered to call the police, she thought to herself what good will it do, he hasn’t done anything illegal. She thought, did I do something to make this happen? She thought was this my fault in some way?

The beauty of romance novels is that they are read. They are read by scores of men and women, and they, I truly believe, have the power of offering an alternative to the porn-star poses found in magazines and certain movies. Romance writers write about heroines who are not perfect, either physically or emotionally, but still deserve to be treated properly, and be loved. Romance writers write about enthusiastic consent being incredibly sexy and hot. Romance writers include safe sex in a normalizing way.

One of my favorite moments in my freelance erotica career was when I was writing a scene where the very Alpha male ended up asking for consent from the woman he was with. The client objected to his asking, and told me that the man should just, you know, take what he wanted, and the woman would just submit.

I spent about an hour boiling over with rage, and then wrote back and politely informed my client that I did not write non-consentual encounters (negotiated non-con is a different beast, but we’ll leave that for now), and perhaps i had misunderstood him? And if I had not misunderstood him, well then we could talk about whether he wanted to give me a partial payment for what I’d already done and find another freelancer, or just call it done.

He backtracked quickly. I did rewrite the scene to make the Alpha more Alpha-y, but he asked for and got his yes before he laid a finger on the woman in question. Thank you *very* much.

Another of my friends likes to say that I’m saving the world through porn by writing what I do. I write about broken people who manage to tape themselves back together again, and get their happily ever after, even if it doesn’t look like they thought it would. I write about poly families establishing long-term couples that are happily ever after for everyone. I write about women who are strong, and make their own choices. And, maybe even more importantly, I write about partners who love how independent their women are, who don’t view it as a challenge to be conquered, but as an asset in their joint battle against the forces of the world.

My friend Stacy did end up letting the clerk call the police. The police were very respectful. They never once asked what she was doing out so late, on her own, or asked if she thought she should be out by herself. They didn’t blame her, or accuse her, though she still found herself explaining why she was out alone. The guy who shouted at her was, of course, long gone by then, but she got home safe. She gave me permission to tell the story here and use her name, because, as she said to me this morning, “What good is freedom and autonomy if using it puts you in mortal danger?”

To every romance writer out there: don’t believe for a second that what you write isn’t important. What you write is read, and it matters. It helps women see that there is hope, that we can demand more from the people around us. That’s crucial, if we’re ever going to change this world, and make it better for our daughters and our sons.

Keep going.

Review: Damaged Heart by S. C. Wynne (EC Author’s NON EC book)

scwynne_damagedheart_1Just twenty years-old, Cory Johnson fled Bayville after his father’s suicide to escape his abusive mother. He made a life for himself in Los Angeles, as different from Bayville as a place could possibly be. While his successful legal career is rewarding, Cory can’t connect with the people in his life. He’s terribly alone. When his mother dies, he must–reluctantly–return home to handle her estate, which he knows will only make those feelings worse.

Rhys Tucker owns the construction company that will renovate Cory’s childhood home. He’s harbored a crush on Cory since high school, so he seizes the unexpected opportunity to get close to Cory. Or at least try to. Their physical chemistry is immediate and undeniable, but Cory’s so closed-off, Rhys worries he’ll never penetrate that guarded, damaged heart.

Cory wants Rhys. He does. But can someone as scarred and broken as he is ever really come home?

Let me be clear: Damaged Heart by S. C. Wynne won me over as soon as Cory described himself as “twitterpatted” in Rhys’ presence. After that, it really couldn’t go wrong for me.

This gorgeous, lovely, steamy book really lays itself out there in the premise. Cory is broken. He grew up in an incredibly abusive home to parents who seemed to notice him only to verbally and emotionally abuse him. He is drawn to Rhys in ways that shock and frighten him, and he is paralyzed.

Too many books in this genre try to completely “heal” the hero in their few short pages. It doesn’t work that way. People don’t “get over” years of abuse and emotional horror. But they can, slowly but surely, and with the proper encouragement, begin to make a change.

This book is a short, sexy read, and it keeps its focus narrow and tight. I could wish that Wynne had shown more of Cory and Rhys’ interactions; given that I was inside his head, I knew that he was worth waiting for, but I wondered why Rhys was willing to put up with it all. Still, these were some of the more smoldering m/m scenes I’ve read recently, and I will be eagerly seeking out more of Wynne’s work.

Review: Opening Act by Suleikha Snyder

OpeningAct-500pxHow I found my way to Opening Act by Suleikha Snyder is a little convoluted, so bear with me.

During the Twitterverse conversations over the weekend regarding That Publisher, Jaid Black got drawn into the conversation more than once. At one point, the topic of cultural appropriation came up, and someone linked to Snyder’s wonderful post about the Bollywood party that was given at RomantiCon 2013, and discussed the concept of cultural appropriation as it surrounds South Asian women. It put into words a lot of the things that make me uncomfortable with henna tattoos and saris that are sometimes popular in my area of the country, and gave me a lot to think about.

I also bought several of Snyder’s books, because they looked fascinating.

Reporter Saroj Shah has been in love with bass player and bartender Adam Harper since her first day of college—seven years ago. Forever thinking of her as part-friend and part-little sister, he’s just been too blind, and too clueless, to see it. Until one pivotal moment pulls her into the spotlight.

The moment Saroj steps on stage, Adam sees his friend in a new light. He can’t take his mind off of her and realizes they could make beautiful music together. But seven years is a long time and Saroj is ready to move on. Adam will have to hit the right note if he wants to prove to Saroj he was worth the wait.

If there’s any trope I love, it’s best-friends-to-lovers, because I (like half of my female friends) was completely obsessed with my male best friend all through high school. I dreamed about him, fantasized about him, and wished he’d give me the time of day. So reading stories that I can fall into like this? Yummy to the extreme.

Opening Act is a quick read, and the love scenes are hot without being explicit. There was a fair amount of JUST SIT DOWN AND TALK ALREADY, GOD, but it was the kind of stuff that couples really do need to sit down and talk about, and have a hard time sitting down and talking about, so that didn’t bother me.

I especially appreciated the multicultural nature of Opening Act. Sometimes, when you’re a white girl living in New England, you can feel incredibly lost when it comes to topics of race. While I thoroughly respect the idea that it’s not the job of people of color to teach white people about racism, at the same time, it can be hard to figure out where the problems are, and how to be an ally, without someone who is willing to provide that education.

Great books like Opening Act help to start those conversations.

Race is not a focus in Opening Act, it’s a fact. Saroj is brown, she is desi, and as a teenager, she sometimes pretended she couldn’t remember her native language so that her mother would leave her alone. She’s a wonderful character, someone I wanted to be friends with from the moment I met her, and when she got her Happily Ever After, I was beyond delighted.

Next up on my kindle, Snyder’s set of Bollywood romances. I was going to buy just the first to try them out, but on her blog she stated that she was donating royalties received from when she posted in mid-August through October from the third book, Bollywood and the Beast to The Trevor Project. So I have some books to read.

Yummy.

Review: Hold On Tight by Serena Bell

Hold on Tight Serena BellFighting for his country gave Jake Taylor’s life shape and meaning. Now as an injured war hero he struggles to find purpose, until he runs into the gorgeous woman he dated briefly—and disastrously—before being deployed eight years ago. Turns out Jake doesn’t just need to figure out how to be a civilian . . . he also needs to learn how to be a dad.

Eighteen, pregnant, and totally lost, Mira Shipley couldn’t track down the soldier who fathered her child, so she put college on hold and focused on making a good life for her son. Now she’s determined to be something more than Sam’s mom, her parents’ daughter, or Jake’s girl—as hot as she finds her old flame’s take-charge attitude in and out of bed. Soon Mira and Jake realize that their passion didn’t disappear when Sam was conceived—and that instead of running away, sometimes it’s better to hold on tight.


I’ve never been a huge fan of the secret baby/adopted baby tropes, because it’s so rarely done well. As a grown-up adopted kid, I have EPIC FEELS about how parents and kids react to this sort of scenario. Previously, I would have said the only person I’d ever seen do it credit was Tammara Weber in her Between the Lines series, especially the last book. Serena Bell’s Hold On Tight gets my nod for handling this issue perfectly.

Overall, Mira and Jake are on similar journeys. They both need to understand how to be independent people, how to be strong in the face of harsh circumstances. They’re both learning. The problems they face are real and realistic, and they aren’t silly nonsense that could have been solved with one real conversation. Jake has real issues coming back from the war, and those are not brushed aside easily. Mira has struggled as a single mother, and struggled to find her own identity, and understanding if and how Jake can fit into that is an involved process. Sam feels like a real kid, not a plot device.

And, almost a character all its own, there’s Jake’s missing leg. I don’t have personal experience of amputees, but I felt that Bell did a great job showing the reader the challenges that Jake faces as he tries to adjust to his prosthesis in intimate situations. And the intimate situations are holy toledo steamy. I had to excuse myself from the living room twice reading this book, if you know what I mean. There were also two eyes-full-of-tears moments, and one official tear-overflow.

I have no complaints about this book at all. Loved every word, and I’m adding more of Bell’s titles to my reading list.

10/13 Edit: I somehow typed the title TWICE as Hang not Hold. My apologies to Ms. Bell and readers!