Review of “American Dreamer” (Dreamers #1) by Adriana Herrera

Herrera, Adriana. American Dreamer. Toronto: Ontario: Carina Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1335006875 | 376 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I finally picked up American Dreamer recently after seeing a lot of buzz about it over the last several months since its release. And it’s one of the most refreshing books I’ve read in a while. It provides a nuanced look at the Afro-Latinx experience in the U.S. today, highlighting both the issues and showing the way that characters triumph in the face of adversity.

Nesto and Jude are such fully realized characters, and I loved them from the moment they each apeared on the page. Each of them has their hurdles to overcome, and I love that, even though they do have issues that cause problems in their relationship, they ultimately come back together and make it up to one another each time one screws up.

Nesto’s character being a chef with dreams of expanding his food truck business led to a lot of opportunities to showcase Afro-Caribbean cuisine, and this yet another of those books that should have a warning against reading on an empty stomach. And I love that his business has its roots in family and their journey as immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He also has the most adorable relationship with his mother, and she’s probably one of my favorite characters in the book, with how much she supports him.

I was excited about Jude being a librarian, because I feel like I haven’t seen enough of them in romance (I know there’s a ton out there though…it’s just getting to them). And while the importance of his career isn’t as pronounced as Nesto’s, it does play a role, with him taking on an important project at some point in the book.

But what really struck me was how Jude’s arc revolved heavily around familial rejection for being gay, to contradict Nesto’s completely accepting environment. My heart broke when I not only read about his past of being rejected, but saw it come into play in the present when a family emergency causes him to come back into contact with them.

And the supporting cast is great, and I can’t wait to read the rest, to see how the rest of their friends find love. I took a peek at the books currently released, and the one still to come, and I’m already excited.

This is a wonderfully heartfelt book, chock-full with a great sense of culture and community, with a cast of the most endearing characters I’ve read in a while. I recommend it if you’re looking for a great diverse romance.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2tvZUZH

Review of "A Delicate Deception" (Regency Impostors #3) by Cat Sebastian (+ Affiliate News)

Sebastian, Cat. A Delicate Deception. New York: Avon Impulse, 2019.

eBook | $3.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062820679 | 384 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

I included the first two Regency Impostors books on my “best of 2019,” simply under the series title, with some anticipation that I would be able to talk about A Delicate Deception as highly. However, while I enjoyed elements of this, like the unapologetic queerness of the two leads and the fact the absolutely adorable development of their relationship, other parts fell a little flat.

Cat continues to create such scrumptious male characters. I love the exploration of Sydney’s grief over the losses he’s experienced, and his presentation as grumpy withotu being annoying, a failing in the characterization of many a grumpy hero.

I also like that, in Amelia, he was paired with someone who also was a bit closed-off, and seeing them interact with that in common is interesting and outside the norm, since romance usually tries to play up opposing personalities. My favorite chapters have to be the two consisting solely of their correspondence. While it’s not really the “thing” anymore, if it had been an epistolary work, I would not have objected.

However, the plot meandered, to the point of me struggling to follow it. There are some fun elements, like a bit of family dynamics, and the discussion of Amelia’s historical novels (a bit I also enjoyed in A Duke in Disguise), but there didn’t seem to be a ton of direction for the story overall.

If anything, the characters are amusing and they saved me from being truly bored. Cat Sebastian has rapidly become an autobuy, and one or two disappointments have not put me off an author that frequently writes such entertaining stories. I recommend this if you are a more character-focused reader, and you are ready to become invested in the hijinks of these unique characters, because that alone makes it somewhat worth it.

Also, final note: I recently registered to become an Amazon Affiliate! So, if by chance you haven’t gotten this book yet, and are interested in trying it, I’d appreciate the support.

Buy the book here: https://amzn.to/30pWx2x

Review of "Lord of the Last Heartbeat" (The Sacred Dark #1) by May Peterson

Peterson, May. Lord of the Last EHeartbeat. Toronto, Ontario: Carina Press/Harlequin, 2019.

eBook | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1488025102 | 351 pages | Fantasy Romance

5 stars

I picked up Lord of the Last Heartbeat because I happen to follow May Peterson on Twitter, and she also recently withdrew this title from the RITAs in the midst of the ongoing RWA kerfuffle. And, although I didn’t plan it this way when I started it, I read it on her birthday, and was pleasantly surprised by the serendipity.

This is an excellent debut fantasy romance, with an incredibly sensual writing and a beautiful romance in the midst of darkness. The fantasy elements in particular are super interesting, with inclusion mythical creatures like sirens and witches. I really enjoyed the twist on Mio’s character being the siren son of a witch who wishes to stop being used to further her ends.

He finds a great romantic partner in Rhodry, a cursed moon-soul, and their developing relationship was at turns sweet, sometimes sensual, and occasionally quite dark. But the relationship at its core is one of acceptance, especially of Mio’s gender identity, and that facet in particular is wonderful to read, especially since it’s likely very personal to Peterson’s own journey.

This is a wonderful fantasy romance that hits all the right notes, and Peterson is a great rising talent who I can’t wait to read more from. I recommend this to to fantasy romance lovers, especially those looking for a new and more inclusive take on the genre.

Review of "Echo After Echo" by Amy Rose Capetta

Capetta, Amy Rose. Echo After Echo. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0763691666 | 421 pages | YA Contemporary Romance/Mystery

4 stars

While I’ve only read Amy Rose Capetta’s SFF works so far, I was intrigued by the concept of this f/f murder mystery. And for the most part Capetta is able to move between genres pretty well, with a mystery that comes together at the end (in spite of feeling a bit oddly paced at first) and a romance that’s an absolute delight to read.

Zara and Eli are such great characters, and I rooted for their romance, even though things seemed precarious at times, in a way that has nothing to do with being gay/bi, but rather the commitments of the theater. It’s refreshing to read about an LGBTQ+ relationship that isn’t so bogged down with the questions of sexuality or familial acceptance, and the hurdle is something else completely unrelated. Capetta, as a queer author, is likely aware of this, and I appreciated their commitment to diversify the types of relationships in LGBTQ+ lit.

And it’s rare these days for me to comment on the prose, unless it’s outright insufferable to get through (which is rare), but I love the stylistic choices made with POV and tense here. I was speaking with someone else about how third person, present tense reminded them of a play, and I realized that, intentional or not, this stylistic choice suited the strong presence of the play in the plot, as well as adding to the urgency of the situation.

While the mystery is a bit more understated than I believed going in, being something of an undercurrent in the larger story of Zara being involved in a play, I did enjoy seeing the payoff at the end, when all was revealed.

I really enjoyed this book, especially having a background in theater in school. I think this would be a great book for others who have some experience in the theater, as well as those looking for an engaging f/f story, with a mystery subplot.

Review of "The Brilliant Death" by Amy Rose Capetta

Capetta, Amy Rose. The Brilliant Death. 2018. New York: Penguin Books, 2019.

Papeback | $10.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451478467 | 351 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stars

I picked up The Brilliant Death out of interest in reading more of her work after loving Once and Future, which Capetta wrote with their partner, Cori McCarthy. And while all of their books appealed to me in some way, there was something about a gender-fluid, Italian-inspired fantasy that spoke to me.

And it lived up to my expectations. The world, as some critics have pointed out, feels very much like The Godfather, with the protagonist, Teodora, being from a mafia king’s family. And in some ways, it feels reminiscent of historical fiction, with Teo’s chafing against the patriarchal form of inheritance, with the magic correlating to gender fluidity adding further layers to this.

And Teo herself is a truly great protagonist. The environment she was raised in has made her into a cutthroat, but it never feels like it’s just for the sake of her being a “strong female character,” and I like that she has a highly original arc that makes her compelling lead to follow, as she learns to define who she is, including defining herself outside gender binaries.

And Cielo is a great love interest, doubling as a sort of mentor figure as Teo starts discovering her magic. I enjoyed their somewhat roguish nature, and their romance, in the midst of everything else going on, was so sweet!

This is such a fun book, and I CANNOT wait for the sequel. I recommend this book if you love historical fantasy, or are looking for books with awesome queer representation.

Review of “Tell Me How You Really Feel” by Aminah Mae Safi

Safi, Aminah Mae. Tell Me How You Really Feel. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250299482 | 312 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

4 stars

Tell Me How You Really Feel is pure fun, queer rom-com goodness. The two protagonists are charming, and I couldn’t help but root for them as they went from not really getting each other to falling in love.

Sana’s a great character, and while I’m sure there are others that I haven’t read about yet, it’s nice to see a cheerleader in fiction who also have a strong academic focus, breaking the stereotype of so many high school movies. I could empathize with her struggle to decide what her future plans were, and how it was so entrenched in the sacrifices both her parents and grandparents made for her.

Rachel’s character growth is great as well, and I really liked seeing her opinions about her film being challenged by Sana’s perspective, even though her film teacher is encouraging her to stay on the same path she originally intended.

I did feel like I wanted a bit more exploration of the “why” they supposedly didn’t like each other. It’s mentioned once or twice in-text, but I feel like the backstory with Sana originally asking Rachel out got more attention in the blurb, and is all but ignored in the book itself, in favor of the other things they don’t have in common. While I don’t agree with some that this isn’t a strong enough case of enemies-to-lovers (especially since some people’s idea of the trope crosses into the point of no redemption for me), I just feel like that one facet should have been more fleshed out.

This is a great read with a great f/f romance. I recommend it to other lovers of sweet YA romances.

Review of “Swipe Right for Murder” by Derek Milman

Millman, Derek. Swipe Right for Murder. New York: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown and Company, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316451062 | 356 pages | YA Mystery/Thriller

4.5 stars

I never would have found Swipe Right for Murder were it not for cross-promotion of the various “James Patterson Presents” titles on inside pages of one od the other books I was already interested in reading, not to mention further exploration of that page on Patterson’s website, where the blurb for this one caught my attention. But I’m thankful that I did, as I was so taken with the premise of a modernized North by Northwest, following a gay protagonist.

And this is an incredibly fun, fast-paced book, that also somehow manages to get to the heart of the struggle of what it means to be LGBTQ+ in a world that is still not always accepting, with the discourse being present in the news even more so given the positions held by many of the politicians elected into office, a subject this book touches on.

I also really love Aiden as a character. Along with showing admirable emotional maturity in the face of a situation he was essentially thrust in, as well as the baggage of his past, I love that there’s always a sense of hope running through him that he will find happiness and love, after seeing such darkness, even though I’m not sure the romance subplot was necessarily my favorite part of the book.

This is a fun thriller that explores deeper themes of sexuality and homophobia, so while I think it’s a great book for teens, I also think it is relevant and has appeal factors that will appeal to adult readers as well. In any case, anyone who likes a thriller that isn’t afraid to also tackle tough topics is strongly encouraged to give this one a try.

Review of “The Doctor’s Secret” (Copper Point Medical #1) by Heidi Cullinan

Cullinan, Heidi. The Doctor’s Secret. Tallahassee, FL: Dreamspinner Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1641081009 | 337 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

Heidi Cullinan was recommended to me back when I read another m/m contemporary and was looking for similar books, and while I didn’t have high hopes of finding anything, it so happened the library was purchasing a copy of The Doctor’s Secret, and I was immediately drawn to the hospital setting and the Asian hero.

And while I can’t say for certain if the depiction of the medical profession was done well (although a quick perusal of other reviews indicates that, it was, as well as the acknowledgment that she clearly relied on her husband for a lot of medical information), I really enjoyed the usage of culture, both in defining Hong-wei as a character and forming a bonding point for him with Simon. While I did feel like their relationship moved bizarrely fast from attraction to “I love you, I want to spend my life with you,” I found their bond quite sweet, especially once I reached the end.

I also liked that, while the issue of being LGBTQ+ in itself isn’t a problem in this fictional town, with the series clearly set up to have several LGBTQ+ characters, it subtly highlights the issue of them having to keep their relationship a secret in a different way, due to the fact that they work together, and the hospital has a policy against co-workers dating. It’s a very interesting concept to work with, especially in the era of #MeToo, with new awareness around the treatment of workplace relationships in romance, especially between people in unequal positions as Hong-wei and Simon are, and I feel like it was well-executed.

I really enjoyed this one, and will hopefully read the others in the series. I recommend this to anyone looking for a fun, yet heartwarming LGBTQ+ read.

Review of “The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics” (Feminine Pursuits #1) by Olivia Waite

Waite, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics. New York: Avon Impulse, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062931795 | 322 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I was super excited when The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was announced, due to my excitement about Avon releasing an f/f historical. And it definitely sounded appealing, what with Lucy being an astronomer, setting it apart from a lot of historicals I’ve read.

And I really enjoyed it for the characters and the development of the relationship between the two heroines. The tension between them was so well-crafted, with me anticipating each step they took toward intimacy with one another. And even when there were questions about whether the relationship would work, due to issues fostered by their pasts and the larger societal issues, I still rooted for them to find some way to make it work.

However, Lucy’s passion for astronomy, which brings her into contact with Catherine, led to some mixed feelings for me in terms of enjoyment when the science and math were involved. While I enjoyed seeing the work as a part of the story on principle, as we need more historicals about working women confronting the patriarchy, I personally didn’t engage with the portions of the book that dealt heavily with it quite as much as I did the portions that developed the romance.

That being said, I do still enjoy this book for the fact that it’s helping to bring LGBTQ+ historical romance (and particularly f/f) into the mainstream. And given its heavy focus on science, I would recommend this to readers who are more educated in astronomy. But it is still a great read that I think is worth taking a chance on if you’re the average historical romance reader as well, to see if things resonate better with you than it did with me.

Review of “A Duke in Disguise” (Regency Impostors #2) by Cat Sebastian

Sebastian, Cat. A Duke in Disguise. New York: Avon Impulse, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062821614 | 291 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Cat Sebastian strikes again, returning to form with another solid read with A Duke in Disguise, after the near-miss of her last release, A Gentleman Never Keeps Score. And admittedly, a lot of it has to do with the heroine, Verity, one of the most personally compelling Sebastian characters I’ve read about to date. She was a nice surprise, and hearing about her being bisexual in some of the promotional material led me to go from “maybe I’ll check it out if I like Unmasked by the Marquess” to “OMG, I’m so excited to finally see more bi rep, especially in the context of the fact that ending up with someone of the opposite sex not erasing the fact that this person is bi.”

And it completely blew away my expectations in my regard. I feel like there’s such different expectations for queer women than there are for queer men in socially conscious historicals, because of the fact that men were more frequently criminalized in those days. Still, it’s so fascinating to see someone who isn’t confused about who she is or who she’s attracted to, even to the point of assuming everyone else feels the same way, but just goes with the opposite sex due to societal pressure. And it’s great that Verity is a woman with a sexual past, making her stand out from the flock of virginal heroines, and her past lover is someone that readers of UbtM will recognize (although there are no connections to that book other than that, so this is for all intents and purposes a standalone).

Another factor in my adoring the book is the friends-to-lovers dynamic, and how it’s shaken up by Ash’s discoveries about his origins. Ash is one of those heroes I love, who is incredibly sweet, and I loved the genuine bond that he and Verity share, and I genuinely felt for them when it seemed impossible for them to be together without there being some consequences.

The book also feels like one of the most “historical” of Sebastian’s books, if that makes any sense, dealing with topics of the day that would be relevant to the characters like the gothic novel craze and issues surrounding equal rights. It’s so refreshing to read a historical romance that is well-grounded in its era and aims to provide the reader with some enlightenment, as well as provide an escape, as the former is becoming all to rare these days.

I do have some minor quibbles with the climax and the way the villain was built up to not be much of a threat in the end. It all wrapped up a little too quickly, and I felt he had been built up too much to just go out without really having some kind of final showdown with Ash.

Otherwise, this was a great book, and a great blend of discussing more complex issues in the context of a sweet and gripping romance. I would recommend this to fans of a more unique take on historical romance.