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Happy Valentine's Day!

Love is always in the air the moment the clock strikes midnight on Valentine’s Day. Decorations are found in every store, gestures are made in every couple, a cupid on practically every block. But it’s for a good reason—love is, well, lovely. And with a day specifically set aside for love, it makes sense to incorporate it into your favorite hobby. So whether you’re celebrating with someone or with a enormous stack of books, it’s time to love (and read) love.

Love and Other Hot Beverages

Book Cover
Laurie Loft
Riptide Publishing
Hardcover $19.99 (400pp)
978-1-62649-597-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

This novel includes a frank and important discussion of emotional relationship abuse.

How do you fit a hunky construction worker back into the closet? Very carefully. Todd is recently brokenhearted, out of a tough relationship, and in Colorado. He misses queer culture: home meant “working construction, meant pretending to his parents that he had a girlfriend, meant shame and guilt and inward seething.” Translation: not fun.

The one thing that lightens his days is Sebastián, the office boy at his work site. Brought together by their love of good coffee—not to mention some sexual attraction—the two men begin a relationship. Are they in it for each other, or is it just an escape from their toxic exes? Love and Other Hot Beverages is an emotional M/M romance that takes on heavy themes of emotional abuse in LGBTQ relationships.

As Todd and Sebastián sift through their respective emotional baggage and their attachment issues, their sexual attraction deepens as well. In one particularly moving scene, Todd leaves an Al-Anon meeting, only to find that his ex is ready to try dating again. Parents, coworkers, and friends add a nice, nontraditional angle to this romance.

Characters do not always ring true, though the author strives for authenticity, and characterizations are sometimes heavy-handed and stereotypical. This undermines the plot’s emotional arc and can make sex scenes feel clinical and flat.

Importantly, Love and Other Hot Beverages includes a frank discussion of emotional abuse in LGBTQ relationships, and the fallout of either leaving them or staying in them. Todd and Sebastián both grapple with the push-me-pull-you dynamic, all along reaching for something better within themselves and in each other.

CLAIRE FOSTER (June 27, 2017)

Check Me Out

Book Cover
Becca Wilhite
Shadow Mountain Publishing
Softcover $15.99 (368pp)
978-1-62972-327-3
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Effortlessly consumable reading; this convivial romance is filled with humorous exchanges.

Becca Wilhite’s Check Me Out is a clean contemporary romance, a modern librarian’s update on the Cyrano de Bergerac story. It’s quirky and fun, light and comfortable.

Greta loves her job as an assistant librarian. She also loves her best friend, Will. Greta is happy with every aspect of her life, except for being single. So when she meets the charming and handsome Mac in the poetry section of the library, she swoons over the opportunity for romance. But will she choose Will, the man with a heart? Or the seemingly charming and poetic Mac?

Check Me Out is a whimsical work, with a style of dialogue that feels believable and genuine. Casual banter between characters keeps the tone delightful, with pleasing turns into comical dialogue. Passages have a unique format that includes text messages between characters, grounding the narrative’s charming ambiance.

There aren’t any honorable or heroic characters in this story, but it’s clear that this is intentional. There is an authenticity to Will, Mac, and Greta that makes them feel tangible and familiar, if not always uniquely fleshed out.

Stereotypes regarding body image hinder the romance. Clichéd formulas are used to make sense of others, rather than approaching characters in a way that honors their individuality. This is particularly true when it comes to descriptions of Will, who is seen as “huge in the way nobody really wants to be,” resulting in some irksome, awkward moments.

A casual narrative style makes for effortlessly consumable reading in this convivial romance that holds closely to its underlying thesis: it’s what is on the inside that matters the most.

HANNAH WILLIAMS (December 27, 2017)

Thaw

Book Cover
Elyse Springer
Riptide Publishing
Unknown $17.99 (226pp)
978-1-62649-514-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Thaw is passionate and raw, with a reminder that love isn’t the same for everyone.

Elyse Springer’s Thaw explores love and what it means to show it, with two people in a relationship who aren’t sure what one should look like.

Abigail lives a quiet life as a librarian with her own routine—which is just how she likes it. Relationships are difficult for her, since Abigail is asexual and doesn’t want to disappoint a potential partner who would expect to be intimate.

At a party with her friend, Abigail is asked to dance by the beautiful Gabrielle Levesque, the renowned model known as the “Ice Queen” in the industry. Abigail doesn’t expect anything from their chance encounter, but Gabrielle surprises her by pursuing her. It becomes apparent however, that there is a reason for Gabrielle’s icy exterior that could end any chance she and Abigail have. Dealing with her own concerns, her job at the library being threatened and the worry that Gabrielle won’t care for her once she finds out Abigail doesn’t want to have sex, Abigail isn’t sure the relationship will go far.

Thaw is a smoldering story with compelling characters and wonderful chemistry. Abigail is a well-rounded character with realistic concerns. Her love life is not always her number-one priority, despite the occasional grievances. With her job as a librarian being threatened, her character is revealed. She is a worrier, someone who prefers their own company, with a passion for books she feels can’t be satisfied in another job. All of this is revealed very well with the help of the events in her life.

Gabrielle is a more mysterious figure, but her motives has reason and ultimately make her a sympathetic character. The characters are what truly drive the story, each woman a mystery to the other. With their touch-and-go relationship they struggle to get to know each other but are so intrigued by what they find fascinating in the other that they continue to work. The relationship is sometimes loving, sometimes apprehensive, and always worth rooting for.

Thaw is passionate and raw, with a reminder that love isn’t the same for everyone.

HANNAH HOHMAN (April 27, 2017)

Lies Jane Austen Told Me

Book Cover
Julie Wright
Shadow Mountain
Softcover $15.99 (320pp)
978-1-62972-342-6
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Who knows romance better than Jane Austen? Emma Pierce is pretty sure her favorite author is the expert on love, relationships, and finding a worthy partner. But in Lies Jane Austen Told Me, she is shown to find that there’s more to matchmaking than just clicking on Mr. Darcy’s dating profile.

Modern, clever, and funny, Wright’s novel is a smart remix of tropes from Austen’s work. Austen fans will find frequent references to Pride And Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility, and each chapter begins with a quote from an Austen novel. The characters feel familiar, too: Emma Pierce is the perfect Austen heroine. She’s twenty-six, on a fast-track career in marketing, and sassy but still waiting for Mr. Right. When she looks up from her iPad, she discovers that the relationship she’s committed to is built on sand.

“I deserved to be with someone who loved me, not with someone who ditched me to grill fish for someone else,” Emma decides after catching her boyfriend, Blake, making dinner for another woman. It’s hard, because she wants to get engaged, but her best friend, Silvia, takes her phone away. Adrift in hookup culture, Emma is searching for the real thing. She looks to Austen’s novels for advice but slowly learns that real life is not exactly a romance novel. With the right guy, it can be even better.

Lies Jane Austen Told Me is a satisfying and sweet contemporary romance that knits together romantic classics with modern manners.

CLAIRE FOSTER (August 27, 2017)

Two Man Station

Book Cover
Lisa Henry
Riptide Publishing
Softcover $17.99 (273pp)
978-1-62649-711-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Two Man Station is a captivating second-chance love story for two men who are out in the outback.

Forbidden love, action, and distinct characterizations make Lisa Henry’s standout LGBTQ novel Two Man Station addictive and entertaining.

The novel is set in Australia. Gio Valeri is a big-city police officer who is forced to transfer to a small outback town in order to escape a hostile department back on the Gold Coast. He hopes to stay under the radar for the next two years, but he finds it difficult to hide when his only coworker is his sergeant, Jason Quinn.

As the only authority for hours around, they must learn to trust one another despite their different backgrounds. Jason is a single dad and a widower who is struggling to raise his ten-year-old son, Taylor, despite his unpredictable work schedule. The last thing he needs is to watch over a city cop with a bad reputation. Despite their differences, Gio and Jason start to build a bond through their dangerous encounters on the job. Their relationship takes an unexpected turn when they act on their physical attraction.

The novel brilliantly illustrates a diverse cast of characters. Point of view switches each chapter between the two protagonists, giving insightful looks into their perspectives. Gio’s attitude softens more and more as he spends time with Jason and Taylor.

Jason is frustrating at times; he makes decisions that he knows will sabotage his relationship. Supporting characters like Taylor help provide much-needed comic relief and balance to the story.

The town’s quick acceptance of the men’s relationship is difficult to believe, especially in a country that was slow to approve marriage equality. Taylor is incredibly understanding about his father’s bisexuality for someone so young. Such support is idealistic, but also a refreshing element; the couple is able to publicly celebrate their love.

Two Man Station is a captivating second-chance love story.

EMILY KUBAL (December 27, 2017)

Chasing Red

Book Cover
Isabelle Ronin
Sourcebooks
Softcover $15.99 (400pp)
978-1-4926-5845-0
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Is there anything better than an odd couple? Chasing Red, a hot new romance by Canadian author Isabelle Ronin, throws together two unlikely people and lets their passion develop at a tantalizing pace. This vivacious novel is a fun, addictive read.

Caleb Lockhart is, in a word, spoiled. He’s a college basketball star, king of campus, and surrounded by adoring coeds. His wealthy family provides everything he needs, from a sleek condo to a new car.

When he meets feisty, earthy Veronica at a club, he’s totally unprepared to romance her. She’s his opposite in every way: hardworking, self-sufficient, sharp, and from the working class. Temporarily homeless, she needs a place to stay, which gives Caleb his chance.

He’s pretty awkward, and he knows it, but Veronica—or “Red,” as he calls her—is endlessly patient. She has to be: Caleb’s generosity keeps her off the street. While Veronica tries to figure out her next step, the two evolve past Caleb’s juvenile pickup lines to form a meaningful connection.

Although there are more serious implications of their relationship, Caleb and Veronica are sweet, young, and light with each other. Their banter sounds true to life. “Live-in service” feels a bit contrived, especially without the added dimension of a 50 Shades-esque bondage relationship, but the romance’s gears turn quickly enough to move past its ungainly plot points. Chasing Red’s characters are its selling point, and Ronin has a marvelous hand with dialogue and characterization.

Chasing Red is a perfectly sweet romance, with just the right amount of spice.

CLAIRE FOSTER (August 27, 2017)

Hannah Hohman

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