Sunday, December 31, 2017

Romance and Sensibility By The Numbers 2017

All year long we track our reviews in a spreadsheet so at the end of the year we can crunch some numbers and take a look at our stats. We track info you can't find on Goodreads like diversity , format and retailers;  then pull the most interesting stats  in a handy infographic. This year made it with Canva !

If you'd like a copy of our infographic template feel free to e-mail us at  romanceandsensibility@gmail.com ! If you are looking to track your own stats you can download or make a copy of our basic Romance Reader Spreadsheet. Feel free to edit and or add formulas to it, we'd love to see what you can come up with.




(click to enlarge)
2015 Numbers for comparison

Jess's Thoughts
For me, nothing about the numbers is really that surprising. Although I am shocked at how much we relied on  subscription services (which in this case means Scribd, The Audible Romance Package and Kindle Unlimited). I feel like "Netflix" for books services are always struggling to hit the mark but I bet if they just narrowed in more on romance, like Audible did, they'd find a ton of consumers !

K.E.'s Thoughts
Our diversity numbers have been steadily growing and I'm glad 1 in 4 books reviewed was written by an author or color and I hope we only increase with more diverse titles coming out. That 11% of print books doesn't include any of the  (likely hundreds) of used romance novels I've purchased over the years and stuffed in my closet. I'd like to spend more time next year reading the used books I already own.

Here are some numbers that didn't make the infographic
  • 29%  of book were self published
  • 22% published by Penguin (various imprints)
  • 19%  published by Harlequin (various imprints)
  • 12.5 %  published by Sourcebooks Casablanca
  • 8%  published by Harper Collins (all Avon)
  • 4.1% published by Kensington
  • 4 .7% published by  Hachette
  • 6% of the books read were M/M romance, however they were all written by Santino Hassell



Lose Time Reading's How To Organize Your Reviews using Excel (2013)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Keepsake by Sarina Bowen (True North #3)


Rating: | 10 hours 8 minutes | Self Published (Blackstone Audio) | Contemporary | True North #3 | 01/03/2017

Keepsake is a slow burn romance between 23-year-old Zachariah Holtz, a former cult member turned farmhand and 24-year-old Lark Wainwright who has come to the Shipley family farm for a respite after escaping a kidnapping in Guatemala. Lark suffers from PTSD and Zach seems to be the only one on the farm who can soothe her night terrors. Between picking apples, traveling to farmer’s markets and pressing cider they bond over their shared past trauma and fall in love.

Sarina Bowen was one of the first romance authors I ever read but she’s fallen off my radar lately. This book caught my attention because I wanted to read a virgin hero and this book was rec’d on of SBTB virgin heroes Rec League and it did not disappoint.

You guys, I didn’t know we were allowed to have heroes this beta in romance. Not only is Zach a virgin but because he was raised in such a strict fundamentalist cult  he doesn’t fit a lot of the traditionally masculine coded spaces of romance heroes. All he knows is physical labor and following orders and doesn’t have money, education, security or connections to support the heroine and it’s such an interesting change in dynamic. A big part of his character arc involves him learning he doesn’t have to always be doing something for someone else to have value and be loved and something about that for a hero feels subversive.

I kinda hate this beautiful cinnamon roll meme but Zach is a beautiful cinnamon roll too good for what happens in this book. Like, in his introductory scene he’s voluntarily washing dishes after the Shipley family dinner and then gets excited about  getting the 6th Harry Potter book off hold from the library.

My big issue with the book is Lark. I try not to be one of those readers who is harder on female characters but Lark just didn’t sit right with me….she is just such a Becky. And the weird part is the book acknowledges her extreme privilege but it didn’t make it any better. Lark comes from a well off Bostonian family and just decides to come to the farm because she thinks it will help her feel better and it felt like that thing when rich people doing a thing poor people do because it’s relaxing. Also, she has PTSD from her kidnapping that makes her scream in the middle of the night but doesn’t warn anyone that this happens and just expects them to deal with her screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night even though other people in the house have to get up early to milk cows and stuff!

And speaking of PTSD we find out pretty early she was kidnapped because she's such a "wild child" and was walking around Guatemala by herself at night even though she was told not to do that by the nonprofit she was working for. Also, also, she gets a guy killed during her kidnapping. Like I hate to look too much into this book but basically her white privilege gets someone murdered and I just really wanted Zach to end up with another character. Any character.I think Bowen does an admirable trying to make Lark full circle but I was just too out on her to care

These two audiobook narrators were great and worked well off of each other, Teddy Hamilton’s Zach is so earnest and has this slight country drawl and Erin Spencer’s voice is bright and youthful. I’m definitely adding them to my go to narrators list, although they must read pretty slow because this book is only 217 pages on Kindle but the audio is 10 hours long. Also, I find it interesting that none of the books in this series have the same narrator.

The Shipley family and all the residents of this Vermont farm town sound awesome. Also, yes, yes a keepsake is a breed of apple that looks bruised and imperfect on the outside when it's actually perfectly  good on the inside.



So, apparently the cult Zack leaves is the setting of Bowen’s first romance ever that she re-titled and republished as Goodbye, Paradise and I’m so curious to read this to see how she turns a fundamentalist cult into a setting for a m/m romance.

Also these covers aren't my faves but I love that Bowen left the bulging man chest off this cover. The rest of the series has the Muscle McMuscle dudes (especially the first one, WTF is going on there ?) and this one could have easily been that too but I think making it something softer is more true to the books.


Friday, December 29, 2017

Our Favorite Romance Novels of 2017



The verdict is in we have a list of our favorite romance novels from 2017

http://amzn.to/2DytoFJ
With equal parts Halloween hijinks and swoony romance this book has one of my favorite heroines !


 http://amzn.to/2DwoEk8
Kamaya and Wesley's banter and chemistry burn up the pages in this romance between two adult entertainment entrepreneurs


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Hot army hero ? Yummy  food writing ? San Francisco regional specificity ? Check, check check ! 



With equal parts passion and banter this a heartwarming boxing romance with as many hard hits (both literally and metaphorically) as super sweet moments. 



http://amzn.to/2DzON1t
This is how you do a ballroom   !


Emotions run high in this enemies-to-lovers football romance


What are some of your best romances novels of 2017 ?

Mini Reviews: KE's Last Books Of The Year



These books have nothing in common except that they were my last reads of 2017 !




Hard Wired by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell (Cyberlove #3)

Chat moderator Jesse Garv is can't wait to be on his first panel at FallenCon and finally meet his happy-go-lucky co-moderator Cherrycakes. But first he takes a stroll down Artist Alley and hooks up with the sardonic, brooding, late stage emo fan-artist Cerise. Only it turns out Cerise is also the plucky Cherrycakes who is also Ian Larsen an introverted graphic designer from  who created the Cerise persona as a foster teen.

Ian/Cherrycakes/Cerise has had a crush on Jesse for years, and as much as he wants to be himself he’s not sure he’s ready to leave his personas behind. This book runs parallel last book and it was cool to see how some scenes played out from different perspectives. This book really could have  been a novella because after a while it started to feel  tedious as Ian tries to get Jesse to understand his personas.

Erickson and Hassell have a subplot that involves Ian applying to grad school and I noticed that of the 6 heroes in this series, Ian is the only one that went  to college. I appreciate how they write characters who have full lives and livelihoods but didn’t go to college.- ★★★ +.5






Holiday Wishes by Jill Shalvis (Heartbreaker Bay #4.5)

Sean O’Riley is taking the Heartbreaker Bay gang out of San Francisco and to Napa Valley for a joint bachelor/bachelorette party. He's planned everything for an unforgettable weekend but he didn't plan on the owner of the bed and breakfast to be Lotti Hartford--his  high school ex- girlfriend, or for them all to be trapped at by a storm. That's right, it's  "snowed in"  second chance romance time ! Sean is a great hero, he tries not only to make everything right with Lotti but also make everything right for his brother and his fiance. I’ve never read this series and this was a great taste of the world, I loved the rom-com vibe and the friendships between the other characters. Shalvis' website described this series as Friends meets Sex and The City and I am here for it.  I was kind of tickled about how scrappy the characters have to be at several points in this book. This book was over too soon and I finished it in one sitting. IDK why I haven’t read more novellas ! ★★★ +.5





 Holiday Wishes received as part of the Avon Addicts Programs

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Fast Connection by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell (Cyberlove #2)

Rating: ★★★★ | 8 hours 54 minutes | Self Published (Tantor Media) | M/M Contemporary| 9/27/2016

What was supposed to be a fast connection over Grindr has Luke Rawlings breaking all his rules.

Not  quite over the fallout of his last  relationship 39-year-old Luke has decided his sex life is going to consist solely of quick Grindr hookups while his teenaged kids are spending weekends with their mother. It’s a system that has worked well for him-- until 27-year-old Dominic Costigan shows up at his door. Newly separated from the army, Dominic is living back with his verbally abusive father and exploring his bisexuality for the first time.

After I read the first Cyberlove book I was hesitant to continue the series because something about it left me cold and I wasn’t sure I even liked Costigan’s character but Fast Connection is everything; romantic, funny, sexy, and heartfelt.

 Luke and Dominic are loners who connect using the internet but they inhabit the real world in ways the guys in the first book didn’t. Luke and Dominic have fully developed lives and have to balance their IRL expectations and complicated family obligations in order to be together. There is also this interesting dynamic that part of Luke’s backstory is he was discharged because of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and he has this “you don’t know what it was like back then” thing with Dominic because he only served after it was repealed….although if this book takes place in 2016 (the year is came out in) then chances are Dominic would have served under DADT.

This audiobook is good but it can be a little bit spotty at times--there are a few moments where you can really hear the edits. 98% of this book takes place in our heroes' neighborhood in Staten Island. Eric London , Dominic’s narrator, went all in with the accent for most of the characters and has this  easy going delivery that is fun to listen to. Guy Locke, Luke’s narrator, didn’t bother with accents but has this great deep, gravelly voice that fit the Luke character to a tee. Locke had this weird habit of pronouncing the name of Luke’s son, Micah, as Mee-ka, which drove me nuts....Now that I think about it, I do kind of wonder why M/M books even have two narrators. I feel like London could had carried this.

There is a really great subplot about Luke’s teen son and Dominic’s teen sister being really into a video game fandom and the way teens in this book talk about and relate to fandom felt so authentic and well done. I liked that they made our main characters “normies” who didn’t quite understand it but still respected it. I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the things Hassell and Santino unpack throughout this delightful story but I can see why it was on so many top lists last year. They’re writing some authentically modern millennial minded romance and I’m here for it.











My biggest nitpick of this book is that Luke and Dominic both like to keep their private lives private but Dominic lives a three minute walk from Luke’s house and Luke knows this yet they seem shocked when they realize people in their lives know each other. Like, how did they not think that would come up ? I know it’s New York but he lives three minute walk from your house ?

Make You Burn by Megan Crane (Deacons of Bourbon Street #1)




Rating: | 217 pages | Loveswept | Contemporary | Deacons of Bourbon Street # 1 | 8/4/2015

I'm going to sum up my reading of this book in GIF form.


The only reason I own this book is because I liked the final book in the series and wanted to go back to get the full story. What I didn’t take into account is that this series features books written by different authors with different styles and tastes and let's just say Megan Crane’s aesthetic is just not for me.

This series picks up a decade after Priest, the president of The Deacons of Bourbon Street Motorcycle Club, mysteriously orders all the active members of out of city. Now Priest is dead (possibly under mysterious circumstances) and Ajax,the former Vice President, is rolling back in town for the funeral and finds himself caught up with Priest's only daughter Sophie.

I like Crane’s writing style and I love a good Putting The Band Back Together but the borderline misogyny and treating women as property thing just really got to me. Ajax is such a supreme alphahole. Within the first few pages he shoves the heroine against a wall because she won’t use his road name. He’s just constantly pushing, ordering and dragging Sophie around   and even makes reference to punishing her by hitting her.  And I guess maybe the uber-alpha-masculinity is a staple in MC books and a favorite trope of the authors who write this series ? I just didn't notice it as much in Yates' book. Probably because that hero in that book was questioning some of the things about the motorcycle club life.

Sophie is billed as this tough character who can “take it” and  hold her own, but she just fell flat and she was constantly walking outside in provocative clothes for reasons that aren’t 100% clear to me.* I just really wished Sophie had been better developed or had some friends who she could talk to so she didn’t seem so one dimensional and dependent on Ajax.

With a promising plot but flat characters, alpha overload and toxic masculinity galore-- this book should have been a DNF for me but I wanted to give it a full chance and it only got worse.





* Okay, so I guess the reason this book opens with Sophie walking the street dressed as a topless showgirl is because Crane saw a woman actually doing this and it inspired her to put together this series.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Kiss of Steel by Bec McMaster

Rating: ★★★★ | 423 pages | Casablanca | Historical/Paranormal/Steampunk | 9/4/2012 

It's that time of year where I get around to reading a fantasy romance.

I'm sort of enamored by historical fantasy because I like the comedy of manners and world building associated with historicals, but I prefer romances that are ploty and action packed--paranormal historical/steampunks seem to hit that sweet spot.

In this bleak re-imaging of Victorian London the aristocracy aka Blue Bloods are infected with a  that offers them superhuman abilities and a taste for blood, they are a part of the Echelon andvirus rule over humans in the poor rookeries.

Honoria Todd and her siblings have escaped the shining gates of Echelon for the rookery of White Chapel. However the rookery isn't without it's own dangers. Blade an outcast Blue Blood and his gang rules this rookery and the Todds don't go unnoticed.. Blade knows the Todd family has secrets that could change the fate of the Echelon forever and Honoria might be able to help him settle a decades long score.

Overall this was a solid start to a fascinating series, McMaster manages to keep it simple without throwing a ton of "terms" around. Blade, who was born on the streets and raised by the Echelon for a short time,  is not clean cut and initially Honoria offers him grammar lessons to help "code switch" nothing really come of this but a majority of Blade's dialogue is written with a thick working class accent that didn't at all trip me up at all.

 McMaster sets a perfect pace and there is a ton to explore in her world, its' an admirable kick off to a new series. Come for the world building, stay for the edge of your seat sword fighting.




This cover . . . is terrible. Like it's an okay cover but it has nothing to do with the book, the book is only vaugely steampunk related  and  NOTHING ABOUT THIS COVER SAYS PARANORMAL HISTORICAL VAMPIRES. The audiobook cover is more apropos because there is a lot of focus on how stylish Honoria's clothe are.

Friday, December 22, 2017

New Cover Who Dis : Sheikh It Off



While I was browsing the Harlequin website I kept seeing these new Susan Mallery covers. I wasn't familiar with the titles  and at first glance I thought they were a part of a new series.



After all, the carefree couple, bright backdrop and an outdoor setting under san serif font is emblematic of Susan Mallery's modern romances, just look at one of  her most recent releases.




But I couldn't remember hearing anything about her having a new series. I went to read the synopsis and found out that these books are a re-releases of Susan Mallery's Desert Rogues series from the 2000s, and wow did the covers get a complete modern day makeover. Let's compare.




I think the first thing that stands out to me is that they've removed the possessive  'sheik' (note, they didn't use the 'h' like you see now) from the titles. You know . .  to make the women seem less like objects. Recently, the sheikh trope has been called out for often being racially insensitive and problematic. Like where did this  odd fetishization of Middle Eastern men even come from  ? Romance writer Suleikha Snyder breaks down exactly what's wrong with sheikhs here .

I wonder if all the organization and chatter around cultural representation is what lead them to remove sheik from the title ? Of course that doesn't completely track since Harlequin is still publishing other sheikh romances in their Presents lines.
.
Now not all of the re-releases have modern titles. And honestly it's kind of funny seeing these dated, slightly cringey titles on modern covers. Like I'm not sure this would be the first choice for a title nowadays.


 Have you seen the other re-release covers ? What are your faves ?



Fun fact a 2010 blog post on sheiks first introduced me to Sara Wendell's site and to romance as a whole, even though it'd be a good five years before I began reading the genre


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cowboy, It's Cold Outside by Lori Wilde (Twilight, Texas #8)




Rating: ★★★ | 400 pages | Avon | Contemporary | Twilight, Texas #8 | 10/31/2017

It’s Christmas time in the quirky little town of Twilight, Texas and that means it’s time for two unsuspecting strangers to fall in love.

Following the break up of his band and a sojourn through South America, country music star Cash Colton is about to go solo. He was only supposed to make a quick stop in Twilight  for a benefit concert but finds himself a muse in  the form of  theater usher Paige MacGregor. Paige doesn’t recognize the famous country star, and despite her  initial attraction Paige doesn’t have time to be anyone’s muse--she’s busy cobbling her life back together after her ex stole her identity and ruined her finances. But staying away from the sexy cowboy blowing through town is quite the challenge when he’s also her houseboat neighbor.

That’s right I said houseboats. It’s not super relevant to the story but the fact that they live on house boats is just kind of a fun detail.

This book has all of my favorite tropes; celebrity hero, Christmas, small towns with a personality, and then like that thing where it’s implied a small amount of magic exists. It’s heavily implied that this romance happens  because Twilight’s First Love Cookie Club gave both Paige and Cash a batch of their matchmaker cookies. It’s kind of corny, but what’s a Christmas romance without a dash of whimsy ?

It’s a little slow start but once the romance got going between Paige and Cash I was all in. Paige is such a hardworking and caring heroine. She's realistic and described as being not  traditionally pretty or thin. I had trouble with Cash in the beginning of their courtship, because he kept putting Paige on the spot to do things that he knew made her uncomfortable; like pulling her on stage during a concert. He feels bad while he’s doing it and knows it’s wrong but yet continues to do it. If it weren’t for the grovel at the end I would have been a lot more annoyed with this.

This is my first Wilde and she writes in this lively, folksy, fun voice. Her characters have these random Gosh Dang It to Heck expletives that are kind of silly but also endearing. Like Cash will occasionally quote his mentor and say McDang, son and Paige says stuff like holy jungle jaguar!

Also, while this is a holiday romance, Christmas is really more in the background. It’s not like there is a big lead up to Christmas Day or anything so this holiday romance can cheer you up all year long.






Book received as part of Avon Addict program

Sunday, December 17, 2017

8 Romance Novels We Can't Wait To Read in 2018



JANUARY


The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
A pair of high powered young professionals turn a fake relationship into the real thing, with all the bumps along the way.


FEBRUARY



Harlequin Dare
It's getting hot in hur ! Harlequin is touting this new category as their sexiest line ever. Lookout for a review of this series on the blog.



A Princess In Theory By Alyssa Cole
An African prince goes undercover in America to find his betrothed. #Americanprincess




MARCH


Something About You by Bridget Anderson
Things start simmering between a Kentucky farm girl and the local baseball legend turned food entrepreneur.



Savannah's Secrets by Reese Ryan
A woman infiltrates the bourbon empire that was stolen from her family...now she needs to not fall in love with the current CEO...also is that Trai Byers from Empire on the cover or nah ?



MAY

I Flipping Love You by Helena Hunting
This is an enemies to lovers, house-flipping romance. The official blurb for this book has all of the house renovation puns. 



JUNE


It Takes Two by Jenny Holiday
A romance sparks during a joint bachelor and bachelor party in VEGAS, BABY !



Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean (Bareknuckle Bastard #1)
In a new series from Regency super star Sarah Maclean, the bastard son of a duke and a spinster team up to exact revenge 


Friday, December 1, 2017

AudioFile’s 2017 Best Romance Audiobooks


There is nothing we love more than a good audiobook and AudioFile Magazine is where you can finds hundreds of audiobook reviews, audioclips and narrator interviews. This year we are so excited to be working with AudioFile to share their picks for  2017's Best Romance Audiobooks. Did your faves make the list ?


BEAUTY LIKE THE NIGHT  by Joanna Bourne, read by Kirsten Potter


BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DUKE  by Kelly Bowen, read by Ashford McNab

CHASING DOWN A DREAM by Beverly Jenkins, read by Lynette Freeman

THE CHOSEN by J.R. Ward, read by Jim Frangione

CLAIM & PROTECT by Rhenna Morgan, read by John Lane

ENIGMA by Catherine Coulter, read by Renee Raudman, MacLeod Andrews


FAIR, BRIGHT, AND TERRIBLE by Elizabeth Kingston, read by Nicholas Boulton

IF NOT FOR YOU by Debbie Macomber, read by Khristine Hvam

JANE OF AUSTIN by Hillary Manton Lodge, read by Kate Handford

OFF BASE by Annabeth Albert, read by Tyler Stevens


REAL DIRTY by Meghan March, read by Elena Wolfe, Sebastian York


THE STRAWBERRY HEARTS DINER by Carolyn Brown, read by Brittany Pressley

WHITE HOT by Ilona Andrews, read by Renee Raudman