Top 10 Romances by Authors of Color (A Personal List)

Another year, and once again we have more proof how little the romance industry has progressed, first with the release of The Ripped Bodice third annual State of Racial Diversity in Romance survey, and more recently with the release of the RITA finalists, which are, once again overwhelmingly white, and while there are a couple finalists of color, Black authors in particular are once again snubbed. And, as is often the case when race comes up, while some are compassionate allies, others are…not. Claiming not to be racist, they say such things like “I don’t see color,” and I don’t care if someone  is black, red, blue, purple, etc.” (I greatly appreciate Eva Leigh’s takedown of the latter defense in particular).

Therefore, wanting to write about this whole situation, but being aware that I may not have a lot of the information, due to a lot of it being insider Romance Writers of America organizational stuff that I am only getting snippets of secondhand, I made a compromise and decided to shout out my favorite books by authors of color.

So, without further ado, and not (entirely) in any particular order, here are my favorite reads by authors of color:

  1. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018): Obviously, this one would be on the list. And Helen Hoang said on Twitter that she didn’t enter, due to her awareness of the  broken RITAs judging system, and how it favored some POC over others. But regardless, it is still my (and many others’, I’m sure) personal favorite of last year. Despite having a premise that could have easily put me off, it captured the perfect balance of steamy and sweet for me, and Michael and Stella have one of the healthiest, most nurturing relationships in romance I’ve ever read.
  2. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (2019): I’ve been dying to read more f/f, and despite it being only a novella, this satisfied my craving completely. While the main Reluctant Royals books have fallen a little short of expectations for me, this one was beautiful, and hit all the right notes as a second chance love story.
  3. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (2018): I had some issues with the element of miscommunication in her prior book, but The Proposal hit it out of the park for me. I loved the emotional journey that Nik goes on toward letting herself be loved, especially after being with a partner who was emotionally abusive,  and Carlos for being such a great, supportive hero from the beginning.
  4. Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras (2018): I was psyched when Priscilla’s first book double finaled last year, and that was part of why I ended up checking out her work. But I personally feel like this one is better than the first, although I may be biased due to the librarian heroine and the adorable hero. It has a situation that I did not expect to love, but
  5. Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (2016): My first Beverly Jenkins book and my personal favorite of her Old West/“Rhine Trilogy,” I loved Forbidden for its captivating romance while dealing with difficult topics like race relations and Passing.
  6. Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann (2018): Asexual representation is lacking, particularly in traditional publishing, and I was glad to see this one get some love last year, especially since I first heard about it through author Mackenzi Lee’s Pride Month recommendations video. I love how it deals  with navigating how to have a relationship as a asexual person, as well as touching on the pressures that Black people in America face, having to work twice as hard to prove themselves academically and professionally.
  7. I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (2017): This is  an adorable book that put a fun spin on a premise that’s been done before: using tips from Korean dramas to impress the guy you like. And while the romance was cute, “flailures” and all, the best part about this (and a Maurene Goo book, in general) is seeing the parent-child relationships she crafts. The heroine and her father becoming closer through their shared love of K-Dramas is so sweet.  
  8. Pride by Ibi Zoboi (2018): While I’ve seen mixed reviews of this YA Pride and Prejudice retelling, I enjoyed this one. My criteria for an Austen retelling is a mix of capturing the spirit of the book, while adding something new, and Ibi Zoboi does so in transplanting the story to present-day Brooklyn, and discussing the issue of gentrification.
  9. The Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai (2017-18): This series was life changing in the best way. I’m not normally a fan of super-steamy books, but I loved the way the romance in these books was just as much about the characters’ emotional bond with one another as it was about their sexual desire. And the series also beautifully develops family relationships that I could get invested in just as much as the love relationships, and while I can sometimes find that some authors focus too much on one and leave something wanting with the author, I felt Alisha Rai captured the perfect balance of the two here.
  10. The Loyal League series by Alyssa Cole (2016-19): I admit, I’m cheating on this one, as I haven’t read book 3 yet, and I don’t know for sure when I’ll get to it. But the first two books are amazing, and I love the beautiful relationships that arise between the two couples from working together in high-pressure situations.

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My Top 10 Books of 2018 and Year-End Wrap-Up

In honor of the first calendar year of doing my blog, I decided to do an end-of-the-year wrap-up post. While I will likely be posting a couple more reviews, if I finish any more books, this an overview of my top ten books of the year, along with some other information about personal goals I had for myself this year.

The top ten was based on a few basic parameters. I started with five star books, but I did not limit myself to these, especially when considering series which were solidly consistent. My main criteria is that it needs to have been memorable in a major positive way, and not have just been a book where I could find little to complain about, which is often the case when I give 5-star ratings.

  1. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (Multicultural Contemporary): Almost definitely my top book this year, this book was pretty much revolutionary for me. As someone who was diagnosed as neurodivergent and has difficulty socializing with others, I loved reading a book about a heroine who had similar struggles, and written by an author on the autism spectrum as well. While sex-heavy as a topic, if not in terms of the content, I love how the relationship between Stella and Michael is not just physical, and demonstrates how deeply they care for each other.
  2. The Southwark Saga by Jessica Cale (Historical — Restoration): One of two series on this list. I had never read a historical romance set in the Restoration era before, and now I definitely want to read more. I love the dark, gritty nature of the world, and how the series focuses on commoners rather than the aristocracy. And the characters are all so relatable. From the intelligent and brave Nick Virtue to the bawdy and fiery Meg Henshawe, there ultimately wasn’t a dislikable character among the lot. And the story was rife with conspiracy and murder, which kept me on my toes the entire time.
  3. Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins(Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit): Yet another life-changing book, I loved this take on the issue of body positivity, highlighting the toxic voices women have in their heads concerning their appearance. While it is important not to glorify unhealthy habits and to recognize enablers, it is also important to promote self-love…at every size.
  4. Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai (Multicultural Contemporary Romance): The second series I have on my list, and a completely unexpected one. I did not know what to expect going into the first book, Hate to Want You, and I was blown away, even though I’m usually not a huge fan of super-steamy books. The way the love stories of all three books managed to negotiate the sexual tension and their deeper emotional feelings was wonderful, along with the way each book built on the previous one in terms of development of the relationships between this colorful cast of characters and the dysfunctional relationships between them.
  5. If Ever I Should Love You by Cathy Maxwell (Historical Romance — Regency): While it isn’t hard to find a books with characters with issues, this is one that highlights an issue that not only remains relevant in many people’s lives today, but is done in such a beautiful way in context with the time period. It adds a new spin to an old trope, with new obstacles facing the couple who must learn to trust one another, despite her past scars and the fact she remains closed off from him.
  6. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (YA Contemporary Thriller): As divisive as this book and its Netflix adaptation may be, this book is well written, and the best part is in the ambiguity of Hannah’s storytelling. While it is natural to want to sympathize with her, given the fact that she committed suicide, in many ways, she is unreliable narrator and flawed protagonist, as we see through the interaction Clay has with the tapes. While many of the offenses committed against her are undeniably bad things, like the “Hot or Not” list or her sexual assault,  there are certain actions that work to diminish her credibility, like the fact that Clay is included for no reason other than plot convenience, so we would have a narrator who didn’t hurt Hannah engaging with the tapes, and the fact that she records her conversation with the guidance counselor, and, after not engaging with him properly about her issues, casting blame in his direction as a the final reason for her suicide. While there are undeniably better books out there that depict a much less complicated view of the suicidal individual, I love the thriller-esque vibe to this, where I felt almost no one was truly trustworthy.
  7. The Impossibility of Us by Katy Upperman (YA Contemporary Romance): I love love stories that also tackle tough real-world issues unflinchingly. I love how the story charts Elise’s growth of understanding and love for Mati and his culture, in spite of the obstacles put in her way by her family. The combination of prose from Elise’s perspective and verse from Mati’s, is also incredibly beautiful.
  8. Rise of the Empress duology by Julie C. Dao (YA Multicultural Fantasy): Fairytale retellings have been done to death, but Julie C. Dao provides a unique take with this duology, going into the origins of the Evil Queen in the first book and following it up with a high-action “Snow White” retelling in the second, and developing the rich East Asian inspired world of Feng Lu. Xifeng is a character that you can simultaneously root for and be horrified by, and Jade is a heroine who is very much her match.
  9. Autoboyography by Christina Lauren (YA LBTQ Romance/Coming of Age): I haven’t read much m/m, but this is probably hands-down one of the most beautiful stories within that subgenre. While religious objections are often a hurdle for LGBTQ characters, as they often can be in real life, this take was different in its focus specifically on the Mormon faith. While religion can often be seen solely as an opposition to the happiness of LGBTQ individuals, I love that Sebastian is devoted to his faith even as he’s discovering these taboo feelings, and that is a hurdle for him to negotiate throughout the story. It provides a poignant contrast to Tanner, whose family openly embraces his bisexuality. Rather than falling into the trap of promoting stereotypes, this story shows a wealth of compassion both for LGBTQ people and Mormons, showing a great deal of empathy on the authors’ part.
  10. Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge by Lisa Jensen (YA Fairy Tale Retelling/Fantasy): I very much enjoyed this fresh take on the “Beauty and the Beast” story, and how it highlights the stark contrast between Prince and Beast in poignant detail. While the the way Jean-Loup’s character was handled in relation to his actions may be seen as a dismissal of sexual assault for some, I felt this book was an acknowledgment of the fact that, in many people’s eyes, the Beast was much more worthy of love and did not have to change physically to become a handsome prince for his Beauty, or in this case, his Lucie, because his true love loves him for his good heart.

***

I had three major goals this year. The one I’ve talked about the most with other readers is my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal. The “final” goal was set to 305, although it was reset at various times throughout the year, as I came close to meeting previous goals. But I have discussed my other two reading goals a lot less: read less books about dukes, and read more books by AOC/#ownvoices.

Of course, when making these goals, I did not have a specific number in mind; I just wanted to diversify my reading tastes. As for the former, I didn’t read a single book with a duke hero in January, which became complicated when the publishers for some reason did not want to advertise the hero’s title in the blurb. Over the course of the year, I would also try to limit the number of books about dukes I read. Ultimately, I read a total of seventeen duke books this year,  5.5% of my total books read. I ended up reading forty-six books by AOC/#ownvoices, making up around 15% of books read. By comparison, last year, I read around thirty-four of 206 (16.5%) books about dukes, and eight books by AOC/#ownvoices (around 3.8%).

***

With those stats in mind, I don’t really have a specific reading goal in mind, as I expect it to change again, especially as I’m going through life changes, having graduated from grad school and am in the process of looking for a job. But whatever that goal ends up being, I would like to continue to read more AOC/#ownvoices, and aim for a larger percentage overall, to be determined once I have a more finite reading goal in mind.

Review of “Hurts to Love You” by Alisha Rai

Rai, Alisha. Hurts to Love You. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062566768 | 369 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

Hurts to Love You is a fabulous conclusion to a fabulous series. Once again, Alisha Rai manages to capture the perfect balance of well-paced romantic tension, hot sex scenes, and emotionally rich family drama that colors the characters’ histories.

Gabe and Eve are both sympathetic characters in the struggles they’ve dealt with. Despite being raised with privilege, Eve has never received her father’s love. Gabe, on the other hand, hides secrets about his own parentage, leading him to close himself off from deeper intimacy. Despite these obstacles, I loved seeing these two come together in such a believable way.

And while the romance in this book stands alone, I love how it ties up a lot of the over-arching plotlines of the series concerning the feud between the Chandlers and the Oka-Kanes. Not to mention how moved I was with the big reveal as to how Gabe fit into all of it. And I developed much more love for Livvy and Jackson’s mother, Tani, who had been more of a supporting player in the previous books really shines through in this one as an amazing mother, especially in the last pages of the book.

I would recommend this book to fans of emotionally rich, raw, and real romance. They are hard to come by, and this one is one of the best.

Review of “Wrong to Need You” (Forbidden Hearts #2) by Alisha Rai

Rai, Alisha. Wrong to Need You. New York: Avon Books, 2017. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062566751 | 358 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

Wrong to Need You is a yet another wonderful book by Alisha Rai, perhaps even better than the first book in the series. I love how she continues to explore the rich, colorful histories and relationships between her characters and presents the extensive supporting cast as characters to become invested in, while also balancing that with just the right amount of heat and emotion between Jackson and Sadia.

I love the way she wrote Jackson and Sadia’s respective private issues in a way that makes them relatable. A hero with a ton of baggage and a chip on his shoulder can often be unattractive, due to the way they brood constantly, but with Jackson in particular, Rai makes him sympathetic by showing how he managed to build a new life for himself with his talent as a chef, while also showing how reluctant he is to deal with issues from the past. With Sadia, I liked how, in spite of the fact that her character was built around being the black sheep of the family, she also has some of her family’s traits of being uptight, as shown through a panic attack she has and a later discussion with her sisters.

Having now met Sadia’s family, I do hope we haven’t seen the last of them, and that there might be a story in the future for Jia, especially since her choice of an alternate career path is a subplot of this book. Given the nature of her chosen new career and its relevance right now, I would love to see that represented in fiction.

I would recommend this to fans of mulilayered multicultural romance. This book presents a great balance of family/culture and steamy romance, so if anyone is looking for something that expertly combines both with ease, pick this one up.

 

 

Review of “Hate to Want You” by Alisha Rai

Rai, Alisha. Hate to Want You. New York: Avon Books, 2017. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062566737 | 371 pages | Contemporary Romance

4.5 stars

Alisha Rai is an author I had heard a lot about, but was hesitant to try, due to her books being classified as erotic romance, and while I understand there’s a distinction between that and erotica, I still worried about the amount of sex and the ratio of sex/plot. But the emphasis on the plot and characters in many reviews I read inspired me to take a chance.

And I am incredibly glad I did. I loved the development of the relationship between Nicholas and Livvy, and how they went from childhood friends to illicit lovers. While books with casual sex are still a hit-or-miss with me, I found I loved the depth of their relationship, and how it was about much more than just the sex between them, but about the fact that they really did want to be together, but the enmity between their families (a la Romeo and Juliet) made that pretty much impossible.

The familial relationships between the characters are also a highlight. While there are so many characters I sometimes wished there was a family tree or character guide, I did still find most of the major characters who I knew would get their own books memorable. I loved the evolution of Eve’s character, due to her being so close with her Nicholas, and how she goes from telling Livvy to stay away from him because she thinks it’s in his best interest and that’s what their father demands to siding with him and wanting to atone for her behavior toward Livvy at the end. Sadia also intrigued me, because of the cultural difference between her background and that of Livvy’s family, and, having read the blurb to her book, I can’t wait to see what happens next for her.

I would recommend this to fans of romance that’s on the very-steamy-to-erotic end of the spectrum, especially if they are interested in stories about people of color. Rai creates these diverse characters with such heart and authenticity, and I can’t wait to read more from her.