There is romance in almost every story, and if werewolves, time travel, or genetically enhanced soldiers are involved, it may or may not be classified as paranormal romance. The key is how much romance. My personal definition is the number of pages the characters are actively romancing someone (or themselves), talking about, or thinking of their loved one. The best books are half and half. I want books to activate both my brain and my… heart.
Here’s a rundown of paranormal romances I have read recently: the good, the sexy, and the hilarious:
I reviewed Timekeeper in February and just finished the second book in the series, Chainbreaker. The setting is Victorian England Steampunk (top hats and gears) in an alternate reality where clock towers literally control time around them. Mechanics are gifted people who keep them running smoothly, like our teenage hero Danny, who meets a handsome clock spirit, Colton. Their relationship is the main romance in this series that is both sweet and fearful. Sims decided her world was one where homosexuality is somewhat tolerated, but any relationship between a clock spirit and human is strictly forbidden and for good reason. As we see, the boys struggle to keep the importance of the clock tower ahead of their passion for each other.
“He missed his touch like a sky misses a firework, a spark as brilliant as it is brief.”
The intimate scenes rarely go beyond kissing, and even when they do, most is implied. Suitable for YA. The focus is on the emotions of the characters. The words are more poetic than descriptive. It’s romance, not erotica. Forbidden love always makes it more exciting, and this is Danny’s first romance so every moment is memorable. Colton doesn’t have a lot of autonomy in this world, being a clock spirit, but his emotions are just as real and frustrating. It’s satisfying to watch the calm, serene character get jealous.
Both books do an excellent job of balancing plot with love. In the first book the plot revolves around a series of clock tower bombings that not only are dangerous in themselves because of the explosives, but the destruction of a clock tower leaves a town ‘Stopped’: time no longer runs; the residents in the surrounding town are trapped in time loops and cannot leave. One of the good things about Timekeeper is that it could be a standalone novel. Although the main plotline is resolved, there is a hint of more sinister powers at work. This was a choice for my fantasy/sci-fi book club and we all enjoyed it. Plus, my personal reading goal this year is to read more diverse books within my favorite genre. With a gay main character and Asian-American author, the Timekeeper series is an entertaining choice.
The second book takes us beyond England into India, where we get to know more characters and explore the world of clock towers and time more deeply, as well as the political issues of the time. A group of terrorists are plotting international destruction of clock towers, and the stories of the gods of time that are introduced in the first novel go beyond myths in the second. Danny’s storyline weaves between his love and fear for Colton, and trying to uncover and understand the plans of various groups, wavering between what he feels is right with what looks so wrong. Wonderfully, Sim fleshes out the characters of Colton and Daphne, Danny’s peer, with their own storylines and adventures. Daphne is 90% plot while Colton is 90% love. The ending is a cliffhanger and I can’t wait for the next book.
A few months ago, I wanted a certain kind of book that I tried to describe to my local bookseller: “I’m looking for fantasy but with humor, kinda like Harry Dresden but with a female protagonist and down-to-earth relationships too, well-written with deep world building, but doesn’t take itself too seriously, and hopefully R-rated sex scenes, but I’ll take PG13.” She told me I might have to write it. Although I left the store empty-handed, I remembered a book I read years ago that hadn’t grabbed me at the time, but I filed it in my mind for later. Luckily, I have GoodReads and perused my “read” pile to find this book and review:
“I feel bad for Carey. I came to this book right after reading Ghost Bride, and frankly, this murder mystery with werewolves, mermaids, and ghouls was… mundane. However, mid-way through, I relaxed into the PG-13 urban fantasy and enjoyed myself.”
This urban fantasy (magical modern times), Dark Currents, was EXACTLY what I was looking for. Sometimes it’s all in the timing. Luckily, it is a trilogy and I quickly went through the last two, Autumn Bones and Poison Fruit, forcing my teen son to read it too so I could have someone to chat with. We both loved the characters, who were amusing and fun to read about. We disagreed about the romance, but agreed the plot was tight, the world-building was interesting, and the ending was an incredible surprise.
Carey’s writing is deceptively light-hearted, which is why my initial reaction was so-so. What I didn’t realize that first time around was how hard it is to make such a grounded world that obviously can’t exist. Unlike most urban fantasy novels, magic is not a secret here. Pemkowet is a small resort town in Michigan that accepts eldritch creatures (fairies, sprites, vampires, etc.) as just part of the scenery, something to bring in tourists (because it’s not normal to be so outfront magically in most places in the world.) The Norse goddess of the dead, Hel, resides there, controlling the paranormal residents, and Daisy Johanssen, our protagonist, is Hel’s liaison, working with the local (mostly human) police department to keep the regular and fae residents harmonious.
Daisy is a kind young woman with a great sense of humor, trying to her best to be a good citizen, daughter, friend, and figuring out dating too. She is also a half-demon spawn raised by a hard-working single mom in a trailer park who was tricked by an incubus during a college vacation. Daisy was raised with love, but is always tempted by her absent father to invoke her birthright, which would release Armageddon; she has anger issues. She also has a team of “family” besides her mom that supports her. It’s these relationships, so normal, but so… not, that show Carey at her best. For example, during a drunken girls’ night, her best friend Jen sends a text to a sexy 600-year-old immortal Bohemian knight via Daisy’s phone that is so ludicrous it made both my son and me laugh out loud.
The very real issues of living in a small town and trying to be seen as an adult are played out by many characters here. Sex scenes get R-rated (and the language too makes this more upper YA and adult) but never cross a line into full-blown erotica, which is hard to do when you are describing an orgy at a gay bar brought on by a rutting satyr. Daisy’s dating is complicated, whether her lover is a ghoul, werewolf, or wizard. There were several, overall well-thought-out plots that drove the storyline, along with smaller plotlines in each individual book. I could go on, but let me say that Agent of Hel stuck with me for a reason, and I’m glad I found the right time to follow it up. Highly recommend.
The main character is named Georgie McCool; she’s a successful sitcom writer hanging out all day with her best friend and co-writer (who is a very attractive man), while her devoted husband stays at home all day with their two adorable little girls. And that’s not why this is fantasy fiction. Nope, the funky element is a time-traveling telephone. Stay with me: I recommend this one.
It’s a ludicrous plot, and yet our heroine is relatable with her selfish, self-doubting, try-not-to-rock-the-boat relationships whether with her husband, best friend, or mother. Or maybe that’s just me. This is one of the few books I’ve read that wasn’t part of a book club, so I never had a discussion. Maybe other people don’t feel like the *ssholes in their marriage, hoping their partner hasn’t noticed. I totally got Georgie.
It’s Christmas time in the book and Georgie, her husband Neal, and two daughters are planning to go to Omaha to spend the holidays with Neal’s family. But just before the trip (Neal has already packed for them all), Georgie and writing partner (sexy best friend) have their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get their personal sitcom produced. But only if Georgie stays in Los Angeles. She knows her husband will be mad (he always seems kinda mad at her) but she didn’t expect him to go forward with the trip, taking the two girls and leaving her alone.
Instead of working at her job, she can’t stop thinking about Neal, and exactly how much trouble their marriage is in. It’s hard to say because she and Neal never talk about it. They don’t even talk about why they got married in the first place; they just never truly talk. This is where the magic comes in. Depressed and not wanting to be alone in her house, Georgie spends most of her time at her mother’s, in her old bedroom (redecorated with trophies of her mother’s show dogs) and her old landline telephone since her cell battery is dead. When trying to call Neal in Omaha, she reaches him, but it’s not him now, it’s Neal in Omaha years ago, college-age Neal, the Neal before they got married.
The story moves between her trying and failing to work on her script, the backstory of her relationships of her and her best friend, and her and Neal, while interspersed with magic time-traveling telephone conversations she has with young Neal, finally having the conversations they should have been having all along.
I listened to this one on audio and really enjoyed the narrator’s voice. Landline is PG, romantic, and a stand-alone novel with a happy ending. I recommend it for saps and anyone who wishes they could fall in love all over again, but do it right this time.
While recovering from surgery, I took my first long walk all by myself to the drugstore. To reward myself for not passing out on the way there, I went for the candy aisle, then remembered sugar isn’t good for me so I went for another kind of candy… the pulp fiction aisle. Yes, I bought a paperback with a picture of a hot guy on the cover from CVS. It’s hard to describe the complete enjoyment this book provided in my hazy, pain-ridden days. I laughed so hard my surgery site hurt. But this book is not a comedy; it’s paranormal romance, X-rated, and so over-the-top… it was better than candy.
Here is my Facebook post while reading it:
I told my hubby he has to step up his “post-op” caregiving as compared to the guy in the romance novel I’m reading. That guy not only performed the surgery himself, (skilled surgeon is his side job…his main one being a genetically enhanced Navy SEAL [Of course]) but also took over all her medical healing needs while building their dream home during the day, taking breaks to rock her gently in his manly arms and sing her love songs with his gorgeous voice, and cook delicious food and hot cocoa with shaved chocolate and homemade whipped cream. Then at night he worked on a gigantic mural in their bedroom, expertly painting the couple’s love story as depicted by sea animals. Bwahahahaha!
The two main characters are Captain Ezekiel Fortunes, a supersoldier with enhanced abilities. “Ezekiel was stunning. A man’s man. He looked rough and dangerous… He didn’t just look those things, he was both… she was fairly certain Ezekiel wouldn’t follow the rules. He made the rules…”
And the other is Bellisia, a genetically engineered super spy who can hide in plain sight. She is why I read the whole book. The main guy is as much fantasy as a vegan vampire, but the heroine is no slouch. She is smart, brave, and small-chested! Yes, she has to be saved by Ezekiel at some point, but she’s not helpless.
This book is part of a larger series, the Ghostwalker novels, that pair up genetically enhanced men and women from a sadistic scientist in a cancelled government program. No, I won’t be reading any more–it’s not really my thing–but I truly enjoyed the escapist erotica. Yes, I snorted and outright cackled while reading, but I also understand this kind of novel is the ultimate romantic fantasy: finding someone who was literally made for you, meaning they only love you and will only love you forever. Sometimes reading candy is good for you.
“I gave myself to you. All of me. Maybe I wasn’t as gentle as I should have been, but that was the real me. I just put my heart in your hands, baby. Don’t crush it.”