Erotic romance vodcast reading list
Guys, I just really love Fiona Lowe. I’m putting that out there, so you can take this review with the necessary fangirl grain of salt.
So, Career Girl in the Country is not breaking any new ground. In fact, it’s going over already well-tilled ground. Poppy is the titular career girl, who has daddy issues, and control issues, and workaholic issues, all of which have affected her relationships which naturally give her relationship issues. She’s all porcupine-y, and a very bad marriage has driven her into an intense focus on her career to the exclusion of everyone else.
Matt, on the other hand, is a grieving widow who lost his perfect wife and child in a horrific way, and he’s all wounded and damaged and feels like he has nothing to give. Also, even looking at another woman drowns him in guilt because he should only ever be thinking about his dead wife.
Okay? Yeah we’ve seen this before. And naturally Poppy and Matt (they’re colleagues, by the way, when Poppy is forced into a tree change for a couple of months) ignite sparks off each other like nobody’s business, but they can’t possibly do anything about it, etc etc.
It’s all been done before. But guys, this book is just sodamnedenjoyable, that really, you should all get over it. The story isn’t going to surprise you, but it’s going to entertain you, and give you all those warm fuzzy feelings that a good author can evoke. Even the final complication, inevitably career vs relationship, which should be aggravatingly obvious, makes so much sense for the characters that, as a reader, you won’t even notice. Trust me. You’ll just be racing to the end so that you can see Poppy and Matt all gooey again. You’ll crave it like chocolate sauce on ice cream. Sure you’ve had it before - but it never ever gets old.
At least, not in the talented hands of an author like Fiona Lowe.
This is the third book of Nicole Murphy’s Gadda trilogy (but, let’s be honest about paranormal series - they have a perennial quality to them that defies labels).
The Gadda are a group of magic-doing people who live in secrecy in Ireland, but keep a protective eye on their human neighbours. Their biggest fear is exposure, but there is a small, but powerful contigent who believe that exposure is the only way to take their place as the rightful overlords of the Earth (maybe not in so many words, but that’s the general idea). This contingent’s threat has threaded through the whole of the trilogy and comes to a head (and conclusion) in this book.
The other thread is the guardians, those Gadda tasked with protecting all the others. It is within their ranks that the love stories lie, and Rogue Gadda follows Lucas, the most powerful of the Gadda to his happy ending. Lucas’s father also held his exalted post, and Lucas watched how his father’s job destroyed his relationship, and Lucas swears that he will never put a woman through that, vowing to remain single and focus only on the job. Of course, this is not going to work in the context of a romance novel, so enter Charlotte, alost Gadda, a Gadda living outside the influence of the greater community and considered a danger to the rest. Charlotte has been raised to hate and fear the Gadda establishment, and trust only in her step-father who can protect her.
Needless to say, certain preconceived notions are overthrown, the bad guys get punished, the good guys endure some hardships but are ultimately triumphant, and Charlotte and Lucas find a way to make things work. Because, otherwise, I’d be complaining about what actually makes a romance novel. Never fear, this is a romance novel.
It’s also incredibly detailed, much more so than you might find in other paranormal series. In fact, I’d go ahead and claim this as more fantasy than paranormal. The worldbuilding is intricate and involved, with a lot of introduced terms and titles that are more consistent with fantasy novels than their paranormal counterparts. Therefore, the plot feels a lot deeper and intense. While there is violence and action scenes, Murphy doesn’t rely on these to move the action forward. Indeed most of the plot is taken up with discussions and character interaction, introspection and examination. THis makes it a slower read than many will be used to, but once readers get over their impatience, it makes for a welcome change of pace to sink into the story.
Readers should probably not start with this one if they’re interested - confusion around the politics and intricacies of the Gadda hierarchy would diminish enjoyment of the novel, but I had only read book 1 when I picked this up, and I muddled through just fine.
Bottom line: a fantasy romance for the reader looking for a slow burn rather than a flash in the pan. Intricate world building and a happy ending.
Overarching thought: are category romances more issues-based than single title?
Most of my review work - scratch that, allof my review work is in single title novels, so I love things like Aussie Author Month, because it’s a great excuse to delve back into the category romance where I cut my romance reading teeth. Like with Barbara Hannay’s Rancher’s Twins: Mom Needed, a Harlequin Romance that’s nominated for a RITA award this year.
So, Gray was married to this woman, and they had twins together, but she couldn’t hack the Outback life, so she took the kids and moved back to NYC. Then she had a brain aneurysm and died - in front of her kids. Anyways, they go and live with their cousin Holly who agrees to take care of them until Gray can get from his ranch to New York. It takes a bit longer than expected as Gray attempts to ford a flooded stream and ends up breaking his ankle.
Fast forward three months, and Holly is doing pretty well. The kids’ PTSD is getting more manageable, and she loves having them around. So when Gray arrives, she’s got all these feelings and emotions and stuff all churning around, plus, you know, he’s totally hot, so that doesn’t help.
Long story short: she ends up going back to Australia with everyone on a very short-term basis to help the kids settle. Also Gray has a big secret he’s not sharing and Holly is determined to niggle it out of him.
Then: it’s time for her to leave, but he doesn’t want her to, but he can’t possibly ask her to stay ‘cause it’s really selfish, and she doesn’t want to go, but she wont’ stay unless he offers her more than just a nanny position with his kids, and…
Well, I won’t spoil the ending, but you can probably guess where it goes.
The bottom line is this is a very sweet little story, and to be honest, it’s utterly innocuous as well. I can’t imagine anyone not liking it, because there is absolutely nothing not to like.
However, what was more interesting to me is Gray’s great problem. Readers get an insight pretty early on that Gray is functionally illiterate, and has managed for a long time to not only successfully manage his business, but fool everyone around him. Holly eventually finds out, and one of their greatest bonds is created as she helps him to learn.
When I was telling my husband about this story, he asked, ‘why would she fall in love with an illiterate hero?’, which is a non-romance reading point of view, but it did highlight that category romances often feature ‘issues’ as part of their overarching story in a way that single titles often don’t. In fact, in my experience, many category romances have external barriers to the HEA, as opposed to internal, which is more common with single titles.
But I’m not nearly as well-versed in category romance as I am in single title, and this is an impression rather than a solid conclusion. So tell me, those of you who are more involved with category romances: do I have the right end of the stick here?
Walker is the last of his tribe and he carries the twin burdens of guilt and history on his shoulders. He runs a … well, I suppose the closest example is a dojo - a training school for warriors with a fair dose of meditation and mysticism thrown in. Mehcredi has never known kindness from anyone, and bears deep psychological scars from her difficult and damaging childhood. A rash decision lands her as Walker’s captive as she atones for a terrible crime.
Interestingly, this book recently won Favourite Erotic Romance at the Australian Romance Readers Awards but I’d argue it’s one of Rossetti’s least erotic books - and with good reason. Walker and Mehcredi are two of the most closed off characters you’ll ever read.
Wonderfully closed off.
Deliciously closed off.
Perfectly closed off - which makes their burgeoning connection beautiful to read. Sex - connection of any kind would have been unbelievable in this context so instead Rossetti builds in her signature eroticism through long glances, Mehcredi’s growing awareness of lust, and Walker’s determined dismissal of his body’s demands. When they do give in to their attraction, it is like a birth for both of them, and it is far more stirring than any quick hop in the sack could be.
There’s also a rollicking adventure story, a road trip, a stomach-turning villain, and characters from Rossetti’s previous books in her Four-Sided Pentacle series. But what is most striking about this novel is the subtly pervasive character development that takes two hollow people from impenetrable internal barriers to a completely believable, honest relationship.
Also, be warned: Mehcredi will probably make you cry. Possibly more than once. Possibly on a fairly frequent basis. In a good way.
You see, this is a fantastic romance novel. It’s emotional, it’s nuanced, it’s rich and textured, it’s lush, it’s happy…
…it’s familiar. In many ways, it’s even stereotypical. There’s a lot here that readers will recognise, and a lot of traditions that have been built upon. The heroine is gorgeous - inside and out. She’s also feisty. The hero is big, burly, and scarred - inside and out. He’s also gruff. The heroine has another suitor; the hero is jealous and suspicious. There’s a big misunderstanding. And eventually the healing power of love means a happy-ever-after ending.
I loved it. Every minute of it. It’s the kind of novel that reminds me why I cut my teeth on historical romance, and why it’s the subgenre I return to most often, and love most ardently.
But interestingly, I didn’t know how to write a good review of it. Because - and here’s the part where I kind of got a bit of a harsh home truth about myself - I realised that the books I really rave about are those that go beyond the traditions. The innovative books that go somewhere new and different. The ones that can, to use that horrible snobbish language that I tend to rail about,transcend their genre.Those are the books I thrust on other people; they make up most of my conversion pack.
But they aren’t the books that fill my stomach. They’re the delicate treats that you always remember, but not the bread that nourishes my day-to-day life.
And thus, was I outed as a snob. Within my own genre. And lo, I am ashamed.
So take this as step one of my penance. Mad About The Earl, by Christina Brooke is exactly the kind of romance novel I adore. It has everything I wanted - the things I didn’t recognise Ineeded - with a growing secondary romance to boot.
Mad About the Earl is a solid romance that stands on the shoulders of giants while reminding us where we came from. It celebrates the traditions, but is not way stale. The characters are familiar, but in that exciting way that you know you’re going to be friends with someone from the first time you meet - a recognition of a kindred spirit. But mostly, it’s that mix of refreshing and comfortable that is a hallmark of the romance genre, and the reason readers keep coming back.
And it was the kick in the pants I needed to start celebrating all the things about romance - not just the stuff I felt I could ‘sell’.
Christina Brooke was the first author in the southern hemisphere to win the coveted Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award, writing as Christine Wells. She has released novels under both Christine Wells and Christina Brooke. Her website is here: http://www.christina-brooke.com/ and you can buy Mad About The Earl here.