Release day review! Sweetwater by Lisa Henry

SweetwaterSweetwater by Lisa Henry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this book. I’ve read other titles by Henry, and her prose here is simply amazing. She doesn’t just tell the story, she *inhabits* it. The mood, the tone, the pacing–all of it is spot on. But this is not an easy book to read–Elijah both makes some terrible decisions and has some pretty terrible stuff done to him. It’s a five star read for me because the beautiful prose made this like watching a Deadwood episode–uncomfortable but in a really, really splendid way. However, some readers may not like the Grady/Harlan triangle competing for Elijah and easily triggered readers may have difficulty with some of things Elijah suffers. They might prefer trying one of Henry’s great, lighter titles. For the rest of us, the Deadwood and Breaking Bad and Shameless fans and lovers of dark, unpredictable heroes, this book is simply a gem.

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Review: Harlequin Boxed Set

Harlequin E Contemporary Romance Box Set Volume 3: Falling from the Sky\Maid to Love\When the Lights Go Down\Start Me UpHarlequin E Contemporary Romance Box Set Volume 3: Falling from the Sky\Maid to Love\When the Lights Go Down\Start Me Up by Sarina Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a great boxed set–four very strong romances with alpha heroes and spunky heroines, but what sets it apart are some really unique pairings. Rebecca Avery totally turns the baby-of-convenience plotline on its head in a very adorable romp. Amy Jo Cousins has a natural gift for banter and that’s very apparent here–I loved her piece and would LOVE to see it as a movie as I kept laughing out loud and wishing I had a girlfriend to elbow and say “did you see what he just did!” Not to mention how much fun it would be to cast Maxie and Nick . . .

Sarina Bowen’s Falling From the Sky absolutely blew me away. OH. My. Word. I wish I did GIF reviews because here is where I would stick one of a dude peeling his jaw off the ground. This is the sort of book I’ve been wishing someone would write for YEARS. I kept gripping my eReader too tightly, afraid the story wouldn’t live up, but it totally did. It’s a gritty, realistic look at a hero with a spinal cord injury wrapped up in a sweet and sexy package that doesn’t come too easily. There are no miracle cures here. Realistic representation of disability in romance is passion of mine and Bowen absolutely hits it out the park here. This novella is easily in my top five books of 2014. All four books in this set are easily worth the price on their own–together they are a terrific value and bargain.

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Friday Reads: Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan

Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs, #3)Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am an angst whore. Nothing gets me to click buy faster than a hero with ISSUES. And two heroes with issues? I’d have bought this even if she wasn’t an auto-buy for me.

I was one of the fans clamoring for her to turn last year’s freebie with the same title into a full-length novel. I’ll be honest and admit I liked some things about the prior opening better–I think it’s really tough when you go back and edit something that’s already been read and loved, because inevitably the changes leave out a favorite line or beat. BUT, getting a full length book out of truly unforgettable heroes? Totally worth the trade-off. If you read the sample, keep in mind that this was originally a short story–the heroes do get busy quickly, because that was the tenor of the original, bu then the story deepens and becomes more complex and richer as they work their way forward from that hot connection to something real.

This book hit ALL of my personal loves:
1) Nerdy scientist hero who doesn’t look conventionally hot
2) Jacked up, super ripped cowboy hero who doesn’t fit cowboy mold
3) Smexy times in a truck
4) Mental health handled in a realistic, careful, sensitive way. Huge kudos to Cullinan for mentioning medication & therapy and for having characters sane enough to understand their potential benefits.
5)Toppy, dirty talking smexy times
6) BDSM handled in a really sensitive way. Seriously, this book is a great example of the safe-sane-consensual parts of BDSM and the thoughtful way that the heroes approached it was really ,really nice
7) So much sweetness. And caring. These are both genuinely caring heroes and the true affection they felt seemed really real.
8) No magic cure-all. As much as I love angst, I hate the tendency of books to try to wrap everything up in a neat bow and suddenly the heroes have no more issues and everything is cured. That’s not the case here, and I think ultimately the ending is so much stronger because of it.
9) Realistic and supportive secondary characters, including women. There’s the requisite evil ex, but there’s also a lot of neutral, complex secondary characters, including the couples from the first two books of this series.
10) Angst. Angst. Angst.

Riptide prices their books high, but this particular title is well-worth the price–I think I need a new category for my keeper shelf: worth the last $8 in my spending money.

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Friday Reads: Color of Grace by AM Arthur

Color of Grace (Cost of Repairs, #2)

If you want a nice, full-length m/m with angst heroes and emotional sexy times, this is the book for you:

Color of Grace by A.M. Arthur

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my new auto-buy author. I loved Cost of Repairs so much I pre-ordered this as soon as it came up. I really didn’t think she could top the angst-and-heat combo of Cost of Repairs, but she proved me beautifully wrong here. So. Much. Angst. And much of it is revealed slowly, and I don’t want to spoil that for you. I also appreciated how unique the heat was to these two heroes–so often love scenes fall into a certain pattern of acts that must be covered w/in a story and that’s not the case here at all–creative, inventive, and totally integral to the plot and character development. If you’re not reading AM Arthur, you need to. Fans of LA Witt, KA Mitchell, Marie Sexton, Ally Blue and others who deliver the angst-and-hot-smex combo will love her.

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Must-Read Holiday Recommendation: Breath on Embers

Breath on EmbersBreath on Embers by Anne Calhoun

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

True Confession: I have boxes of books in the attic that only come out at Christmas. I broke my foot one fall and my mother sent me a large box of nothing but holiday romances b/c she knew I’d happily gorge on them. I LOVE holiday novellas–they’re usually short, sweet, and perfect for reading during hectic days.

Breath on Embers is nothing like the typical holiday novella and that’s its breathtaking beauty. It’s short at 40k words, but it’s not the typical sweet, conflict-lite, sex-lite, supporting cast heavy holiday romp. It’s sexy, edgy, and has so much angst.

I love second-chance-at-love stories almost as much as I love holiday stories. Thea is a young widow who deeply and completely loved her late husband–and I love that Calhoun didn’t have her change that. I hate second-chance stories where the hero(ine) is forced to realize that their love for their late spouse wasn’t nearly as perfect as what they find with their new love. But Calhoun doesn’t go there–Thea and Jesse absolutely had an enviable marriage and would have been happy together. A true HEA.

But now Jesse’s not here and Ronan is. And Ronan loves Thea too. There’s a moment in the book where he says he’s doing battle with her grief. And he is. And it’s gorgeous. He’s pretty much the perfect hero. With a glorious, imperfect heroine who’s not always worthy of him. Until the moment when she is.

This is a gem of a story. If you buy one holiday book this year, make it this one. I know that I often review author friends’ books and books I beta read–I don’t know this author. She was a new find for me. I bought the book in the Red Hot Holiday anthology b/c KA Mitchell is autobuy for me and the last several Carina Press anthologies have been worth it in terms of a good mix of holiday stories. This book absolutely blew me away. It’s lingered in a way few books of 2012 did for me. This is everything about why I write romance and why I often feel unequal to the task.

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Friday Reads: My Fair Dork by Daisy Harris

It’s here! I stayed awake last night to be able to purchase Daisy Harris’s newest MY FAIR DORK:

Most of my twitter followers know that I love Daisy like sushi loves rice and that I beta read for her. I’ve been beta reading her since Holsum #1, College Boys. I got to watch the series wind its way through the lives of SIXTEEN of the hottest, sweetest college boys ever. And I got to watch as Daisy’s writing evolved.

I knew as soon as I read the opening paragraphs of My Fair Dork that she was onto something very special. The entire series is made of awesome, but this book–Owen and Harold and their journey is like the best gay college movie ever, made even better by an x-rating.

It’s a classic makeover theme–Harold is a giant nerd with bad haircut and worse clothes and painful secrets. Owen is Mr. Popularity and takes it upon himself to rescue Harold. Harold is all hung up on  . . . size issues. And this leads to pretty much the hottest scenes of the whole darn series. I kept forgetting I was supposed to be reading to leave some sort of feedback other than “God. Damn. My eyebrows burnt clean off. Good Lord.”  And it’s definitely the funniest book of the series as the size issue leads to some great one-liners.

I’m the sort of reader who HAS to read books in order. That’s the just how I roll. But Dork does stand pretty well on its own. The couple from Genius and Jock  do show up as do some other series’ regulars, but you could easily read this without reading the rest of the series, or just start with Jock. You won’t regret reading the whole series though! And if you do, Dork is pretty much the perfect capstone.

I realized last night that I was a bit weepy–kind of like a ridiculously proud parent on graduation day. Happy Release Day, my friend!

P.S. The book is out now on Siren. Want a reminder to buy it when it goes on sale at other vendors? Add it to your goodreads!

In which Annabeth muses on blogging

First up, I’m over at Marie Sexton’s and Heidi Cullinan’s blog Coffee & Porn in the Mornings. I’m talking about the allure of sexy swimmers in speedos and sharing some totally-safe-for-work hot men. And doing my first giveaway for Going for Gold! Stop by!

Second, I’ve been thinking more about how I blog now that I’ve got actual real, live books coming out. I’ve been doing book reviews now since 2008 over at GoodReads and I’d amassed almost 600 reviews in that time. What changes should I make as I transition to being published?

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