Over the past month I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a bunch of books that came my way, and a couple of them were just terrific, so I thought I’d share.

Adriana Anders’ Under Her Skin (February ’17) launched an intense contemporary romance series Blank Canvas which has a very interesting spin on the tattoo theme. (It got a great Kirkus review, too.)

This gentle giant's scarred hands may be the warmest touch she'll ever know.

...if only life were a fairy tale where Beauty got to keep her Beast

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Ivan thought the world was through giving him second chances.

Hell, who was he kidding―he wasn't good enough for them anyway. And he certainly wasn't good enough for her.

But the moment Uma walked into his life, Ivan knew he had to put all that crap aside and do everything he could to help. She was like nothing he'd ever known. Beautiful, lost, alone, she had the kind of sad eyes that were just begging for someone to save her...

...and despite his rough exterior, despite the nasty rumors, despite all the bad decisions following him around like the strays he couldn't help but rescue, Ivan was nothing but willing to be the kind of man she needed.

Yeah, he'd thought the world was through giving him second chances. 

Until she came into his life. Until she changed everything.

Until he realized he would do anything, fight anyone, tear the world apart if it only meant saving her. 

This beautiful romance features an abused woman in hiding from her ex, and the blacksmith artist (yes, it’s contemporary - intriguing, right?) she falls for. It’s a modern Beauty and the Beast, with a whole lot of tropes turned on their heads in fascinating ways.

When Uma comes to small-town Blackwood, Virginia, she feels lucky to find a job as a companion to an elderly recluse, then falls under the spell of her new neighbor, Ivan, a gentle giant with a violent past. The story builds up beautifully, offering nuggets of these wounded souls’ secrets and showing their struggles to change and do the right thing, for themselves and for each other.

If you haven’t read this one yet, I hope you do! Book 2, By Her Touch, released in April and #3, In His Hands, will come out in August.

6.8 romance_behindthecurtainBeth Kery, a fab erotic romance author, went in a new direction with Behind the Curtain, which released in early May. It’s a second-chance-at-love storyline, but the cultural divisions are complex and difficult to overcome, even nine years later.

There’s something about this woman…

On a break between overseas jobs, journalist Asher Gaites returns to his hometown of Chicago—and allows his friends to persuade him to check out a hot new singer. At a downtown jazz club, he’s soon transfixed by the lyrical voice and sensuous body of a woman who performs behind a thin, shimmering veil...

…That could bring a man to his knees.

The veil gives Moroccan-American Laila Barek the anonymity she needs since she has never been able to reconcile her family’s values with her passion for music. But one man is inexplicably drawn to her. And when Asher confronts her on a subway platform after a gig, he’s shocked to recognize the woman who walked away from him nine years ago...

Laila has never been able to forget the touch, the feel, the taste of Asher. And despite the doubt and fear that wind their way into their lives, they must trust the heat of their desire to burn down the walls the world has placed between them…

I really enjoyed this story, and it’s clear Kery did a lot of research into Moroccan culture and customs. I think she went a little over the top on Asher’s parents, and how rude they are to Laila, but this seems to be a popular way to show just how out-of-touch and racist rich white people are in novels, hence justifying Asher’s desire to have nothing to do with them.

Kery is among the best at using sex to heighten emotional tension, and she’s especially effective in the section of the book that deals with Asher and Laila in the past, when they first get together. Laila is truly forced to pick between her parents and her love, and at that point in her life she isn’t ready to do something so drastic.

Then, we move forward to current day, when Laila and Asher discover the same intense pull and have to re-examine their feelings, then decide if their chemistry and attachment are strong enough to warrant turning their lives upside down for each other.

I always enjoy Kery’s work. And I laud her efforts in writing a romance that goes a bit outside the box of what we’re used to, and spotlights a Muslim heroine who is strong enough to stand up to her family, but also to Asher when necessary.

I would love to read some romance novels with Muslim characters written by Muslim writers. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Romance_champion's gameFinally, I just saw this (non-romance) title on Kirkus’ front page, and I have to give it a shout out! The Champions’ Game by Saul Ramirez (as told to John Seidlitz) about a middle school chess team from my home town—El Paso, TX—who won the 2015 National Chess Tournament. (According to Saul Ramirez’s Amazon page, they also won in 2016.)

From the review:

“Ramirez’s account is a movie-ready narrative about how he—a scrappy, dauntless Henderson Middle School art teacher—took a dozen students, most from underprivileged or lower-income backgrounds, to the 2015 National Chess Tournament and won.”

Bravo! I love this story!

So what are you reading this week? xo

#LoveRomance #HappyReading (and for this week, #BravoElPaso)