Archive | October, 2013

Nalini Singh’s Archangel’s Legion Flies to New Heights in Her Guild Hunter Series

31 Oct

Archangel’s Legion (Guild Hunter #6) by Nalini Singh (Jove, October 29, 2013)

When I think of my top authors, Nalini Singh, Jeaniene Frost, Jennifer Ashley and Ilona Andrews are unquestionably the top of the pack. They not only have large bodies of work with nary a mediocre book in the bunch, but they produce novels that have tight overarching plots in rich worlds. Their unbelievable quality of writing can be seen in the characters who live and breathe (I’ve had dreams where these heroes and heroines drop in) in strong love stories filled with emotion, humor, and serious badassery.

Considering it’s also Halloween (happy birthday, Mom!), that they each are known for paranormal series is a nice tie-in, and Nalini Singh published her latest book in her Guild Hunter series, Archangel’s Legion, this week, I naturally had to do a review of this novel particularly because I think it might be my favorite so far in the whole series. I have previously reviewed this series since I believe that its male lead, Raphael, has no equal in the alpha male contest (with apologies Kate Daniel’s Beast Lord lover, Curran). There is also no way readers can’t fall for her strong heroine, the skilled vampire hunter-turned-angel, Elena Deveraux. If the number of hits on that post is any indication, readers find this combination one that cannot be beaten!

Fans of Elena and Raphael will find something to love on virtually every page of Archangel’s Legion, as this book not only continues the couple’s profound romance, but further develops the political tensions between the members of the Cadre (the archangels who control the world), who are developing new powers in a frightening point in time that the angels are calling the Cascade – a periodic onslaught of bizarre natural disasters and power flux that the immortal angels and vampires remember as causing the destruction of entire civilizations. There is so much going on in this novel that I found myself dazzled by Singh’s ability to juggle various subplots with consummate skill as well as incorporate the other couples from the various related books and novellas in the series which focus on characters other than Elena and Raphael. Since I visualize this as circles of influence around the main characters, here’s what I came up with:

Click the image to make it bigger. :-) (Copyright Tori MacAllister 2013)

Click the image to make it bigger. :-) (Copyright Tori MacAllister 2013)

So many layers! Yet through it all, Singh has threaded Raphael and Elena’s love for one another through literally every scene, demonstrating how – through all this turmoil – they are one another’s anchor, keeping Raphael from morphing into a colder archangel who would sacrifice millions and forcing Elena to confront her deepest fears regarding her past. While the sex scenes were, as always, steaming hot, I was even more floored by the numerous moments of true tenderness – the way they would “check in” with one another while doing their regular work (a mental link is better than a cell phone) to affirm the other’s safety or just feel that connection amidst the horrifying work both of them must do. It’s never sappy (with these two characters, that’s a given) and they fight with passion stemming from their refusal to allow barriers to come between them. I think this is my favorite book of the series, and that’s saying something.

And yet, Nalini Singh does such a good job with secondary characters I find myself getting horribly greedy. When will we get Illium’s HEA? Now that Aodhan is coming back into the world, what potential love could he have? When, oh when, are we going to see the novella that brings the vampire hunter Ashwini and her Cajun vampire/suitor Janvier finally together? The idyllic park scene with Elena with her honorary niece Zoe picking up angel feathers made me wonder who this little spitfire would end up with in two decades time!

Fans of the series need to run not walk to their nearest book seller or library and pick up a copy of Archangel’s Legion. Readers who love paranormal romance with a kickass world should seriously consider taking up this series, because it has so much to offer intelligent readers who appreciate fantastic writing and world-building. You’ll find yourself flying to new heights with these angels.

Happy reading!!

Romance Readers and Authors Can Increase Their Love IQ with Mating Intelligence Unleashed from Oxford University Press

30 Oct

When you read romance, you’re an armchair psychologist. “Oh, he’s got some commitment issues here” or “She’s still experiencing that inadequacy and body image baggage from before she lost the weight” are comments that run through most readers’ heads as we pick up the hints and character shadowing the writer has so carefully placed for us, like a trail of breadcrumbs leading us through the emotional forest of the story. Like all fiction readers, romance enthusiasts are damn smart – let’s face it, are you going to try to masquerade as your twin or not communicate after a misunderstanding? Nuh-uh, because you’ve seen how great that goes over in a relationship in the books you’ve read. We learn through reading.

Romance authors should have a fictional therapy license bestowed upon them, as their job involves metaphorically putting that character on a couch and listening to their deepest fears. Of course, their role is a more challenging one as the writer takes that understanding and translates it into visible action which hints at the mental makeup of our hero or heroine.

Thought I was joking, didn’t you?

But I’ve begun to worry that the creation of characters has grown to be based on secondary or tertiary sources (other romance works or stereotypes) rather than primary material (the personal experience of writers or actual psychological research). This makes a lot of romance reading derivative, like that moment when you say, “Yes, he’s a billionaire playboy doctor with mommy issues” and know every move said hero is going to make because, hey, you’ve not only seen it before, you’ve read it before, and so has the author writing the story. *bored glance to the left*

One of the areas that is super tricky for romance writers is the ephemeral moment of attraction or, even more complicated, when one of the characters decides that this person is IT with the writing solidifying the hero or heroine’s holy-cow-I-can’t-get-enough-of-this-person feeling. What really attracts two people to get them to that point? Enter a fantastic source for romance writers and readers everywhere, Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love by Glenn Geher and Scott Barry Kaufman. Both authors have Ph.D.s, Kaufman in cognitive psychology and Geher in social psychology (with a speciality in evolutionary psychology) and fortunately for us, both men are highly entertaining and thorough writers.

The book, published by Oxford University Press in January of this year, reads as a literature review of all the major research done recently on why people are attracted to one another, with the focus on what evolutionary advantage it offers us to be attracted to certain people. (Naturally this means that the research is heterosexual in nature – I really wanted to read about same sex attraction, but that wasn’t the focus of the book.) This in turn, offers an amazing insight into some key features of the process of mate-choice, insights so illuminating it made my mind reel with possibilities from a romance writing perspective. [Please note, I used both the paper version and the Kindle version of the book, so the references are sometimes the traditional page number or the Kindle location. Sorry that they vacillate!]

As Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University puts it in the forward, “We are witnessing the true fusion of biology and culture, of psychology and brain architecture, of personality, neurochemistry, genetics and evolution, of brain and mind.” (Kindle edition, Loc 45 of 5908) What better basis than to take the science of attraction and overlay with the thoughts and actions that make up a character? It would lend an authenticity often lacking when a couple goes from hot glances to tangoing between the sheets with minimum preliminaries.

couple-168191_640Geher and Kaufman have their own reasons for pursuing the topic (I’m sure they weren’t thinking about romance readers and writers), namely that human mating is undeniably important (duh) and that “mating success” is the biggest predictor for life satisfaction and happiness – more than your education, how much money you make or your occupational status. Keep in mind that they mean “mating” in the purest sense – all life has one purpose and that is to reproduce and have a genetic line (yours) continue, whether you are a bacteria, an orchid, or a stockbroker. Even in a modern age where many people choose to not have children, our partner choices still are driven by our biology, even when we don’t realize it. While I could easily do ten blog posts on all the awesome research, here are some of the highlights.

“I Just Knew It When I Saw Him/Her”

Famous celebrities often possess all the traits listed as attractive, for example Elizabeth Taylor in her stunning heyday.

Famous celebrities often possess all the traits listed as attractive, for example Elizabeth Taylor in her stunning heyday.

Physical attraction is based on a few key factors, with strong physical predictors for men and women regarding what body and facial types characterize the most desirable mates, and these traits supercede dominant cultural expectations, crossing racial lines into universal ideals of beauty. For women, full lips, large eyes, thick hair and smooth skin are all elements  men choose as being “beautiful” and highly attractive. When choosing the future mother of your offspring, these factors give you clear indication of where the woman is in her crucial reproductive years as these are the physical factors which degrade over time, giving a window into whether the woman is nearing the end or passed her prime reproductive capacity. Keep in mind that when presented with pictures of the same woman at various points in her menstrual cycle, men are able to pick out – with astonishing accuracy, I might add – when women are ovulating since that is when they seem most attractive to them. They are simply picking the image that shows that woman at her most appealing, but biology is sending men a message that this moment means “get your sperm in this woman ASAP.” How’s that for the basis of your key sex scene ending in a baby epilogue?

Brad Pitt - Cad or Dad?

Brad Pitt – Cad or Dad?

Men have even more pressure physically since their anatomy must not only transmit how virile they are, but also audition them for role of protector (and keep in mind that an astonishing number of children of long-term relationships would not pass a paternity test – women often choose different men for the impregnating versus the person who financially and physically supports your offspring). Men who rock the short-term dating scene (see your romance shelf for books starring the reformed rake or modern manwhore) are tall, extremely masculine in appearance (chiseled jaw indicating testosterone up the wahzoo), facially attractive and socially dominant. For men who would like to go beyond the one night stand, they need to demonstrate kindness, warmth and loving – what the authors call going from cad features to dad features in order to convince a woman her children will be well cared for.

Other physical elements include one that romance readers will be VERY familiar with – that moment where the smell and taste of the other person is so drugging that all good sense is lost and it’s all about getting down to business. But there is serious biology at play in this moment, as we can actually smell and taste the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) of one another. MHC is important because biology has set us up so we are not attracted to people whose genes, when combined with ours, would not produce strong offspring. You think I’m joking? A famous study took college men, analyzed their MHC and had them sleep in the same t-shirt for multiple days in a row, sealing the shirt in a plastic bag and sending it to the lab. Scientists then recruited college women after checking their MHC, and asked them to smell each t-shirt, rating the smell of the shirt to determine which ones they thought smelled the best. To the letter, each woman rated the t-shirt which had been worn by the man most genetically compatible with her as smelling the most desirable and the shirts they labeled least desirable were the ones where the genes of the man were too close to her own (offering no genetic advantage if mixed). In addition to scent, we can also taste MHC compatibility in the process of kissing or even tasting a person’s skin, so close contact is vital to determining good mate selection. See my post on the Science of Kissing for more information on this fascinating quirk.

Cave paintings...possibly the earliest form of "come up and see my etchings" in the mating world.

Cave paintings…possibly the earliest form of “come up and see my etchings” in the mating world.

Yet it’s not just looks (obviously) that determines attraction. Traits such as intelligence (people are more likely to be attracted to a mate of similar IQ) and creativity are extremely important in mate selection. Geher and Kaufman present the scientific hypothesis that many of the arts were developed by our ancestors to not just express ideas but to…wait for it…attract a mate. Missing out on that shoulder to hip ratio, Cro-Magnon man? How about delivering the old “come back to my furs and I’ll show you my cave paintings” line? It probably worked. This explanation of creativity as a mating lure could explain the magnetic pull of various rock stars and artists who are not the slightest bit physically attractive, yet inspire the lingerie sections of entire department stores to be thrown in their direction. (Mick Jagger or Keith Richards anyone? It’s a scientific fact that creative people, even the average ones, have more sex partners, although this seems to apply to mostly men.) You want to pass those creative genes onto your offspring, although probably not the lips or susceptibility to addiction.

Which also brings into play the concept of emotional or social intelligence. “Mating clearly includes socially relevant tasks such as acquiring and keeping a mate, and it inevitably involves a degree of social interactions and navigation. Not only must an individual possess the ability to read another’s thoughts and feelings, but this individual must also possess proficiency in interpreting complex social stimuli.” (Kindle edition, Loc 402 of 5908) A mate candidate who has this type of ability is one demonstrating their openness to experience, their agreeableness, social competence, the quality of their relationships as well as how well they can control their emotions to suit their mate’s needs and a social situation. The types of courtship displays which transmit this ideal are usually related to music, art, poetry, acts of extroversion or visible kindness.

Humor seems so simple - woman want a man who makes them laugh and men want a woman who thinks they are funny.

Humor seems so simple – woman want a man who makes them laugh and men want a woman who thinks they are funny.

My favorite area of research is the one relating to humor. Both men and women indicate this is important to them, but when someone lists “good sense of humor” on Match.com, they mean very different things by gender. “Women tend to prefer men who make them laugh, whereas men tend to prefer women who laugh at their jokes.” (Kindle edition, Loc 677 of 5908) But what does humor indicate in a mating context? Once again, it’s about an individual’s ability to function in society (which helps your offspring). In addition to indicating a person’s playfulness and their creativity, humor also demonstrates a person’s emotional IQ (Did you ever date someone who was a lame joke teller? They clearly couldn’t read the room which made you think about how they weren’t going to read you too well either). Humor transmits feelings of interpersonal warmth and someone laughing at your jokes is one of the early indicators of sexual interest. Interestingly enough, the research suggests that if a person happens to be of high social status (see previously mentioned billionaire playboy doctor) he or she should probably adopt self-deprecating forms of humor in the mating marketplace as this is what makes him or her approachable to potential short-term or long-term mates.

Abandonment Issues

The presence of caring parents is of vital importance when it comes to adults being able to forming long-term, loving attachments.

The presence of caring parents is of vital importance when it comes to adults being able to form long-term, loving attachments.

If I had a dollar for every time a romance hero or heroine had been abandoned by a parent, had emotionally detached family members or was a foster child, I wouldn’t have to work my day job and could just stay home and write. While so many of the characters we love and admire have made the best of crappy life situations and showed their inner steel, in actuality this is a major uphill climb. For men, a father figure bowing out of the picture early gives a tendency for increased delinquency and aggression for boys, and even accelerates the onset of puberty for both sexes. (Loc 115 of 5908) While boys are more likely to manifest increased aggression and delinquency, girls demonstrate greater levels of manipulative attitudes, more risk-taking behavior including sexual promiscuity, as well as a lower attachment to romantic partners and offspring.

Loving, Conscientiously

Attracting a person, as we can see, is all about putting your best face forward and while that clearly has a physical connotation, it also includes personality traits that prove you are a good bet in the mating game. Gehrer and Kaufman cover the research regarding combinations of traits that are particularly influential in attracting mates. Some are tagged “meta-traits” because they combine personality factors, for example, stability, which is defined as “a blend of emotional stability (low neuroticism), conscientiousness, and agreeableness…Those who score high in stability have a need to maintain a sense of order in their lives.” (Kindle edition, Loc 1177 of 5908) The second meta-trait is termed plasticity and is a blend of extraversion and openness to experience.

Not only do people want both stability and plasticity in a mate but “they also tend to seek mates who are somewhat higher than themselves in terms of their own perceived mate value in levels of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability. People apparently want to feel as though they ‘acquired’ a partner of higher quality than themselves.” (Kindle edition, Loc 1199 of 5908) I’m thinking here of all the romance novels where each partner brings out something in the other which was underdeveloped or hesitant, helping that person become a healthier, more engaged person making positive decisions. Stability and plasticity at play, people.

Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Love

Keep in mind these traits also are directly correlated to actual love. Psychologist Robert Sternberg has actually developed a triarchic theory of love (don’t confuse it with a love triangle), demonstrating how different components produce various types of love. Prepare to be blown away:

Intimacy alone is “liking,” passion alone is “infatuation,” and commitment alone is “empty” love. Intimacy and passion combine to form romantic love, intimacy and commitment combine to form compassionate love, passion and commitment combine to form fatuous love, and if you can combine all three components, you get consummate love. (Kindle edition, Loc 1291 of 5908, emphasis added)

This fascinating theory reads like a litany of past relationships for either party in a romance novel, complete with lessons learned and the mistakes they don’t want to make again. How about the reunion trope which usually involves two people who had some form of romantic love (passion and intimacy) but lacked the commitment to make it the consummate ideal. Clearly the goal of the romance reader (and the writer) is to see the hero and heroine achieve consummate love which is going to sustain them in forming a successful mating partnership.

Crafting Your Villain: Using Narcissism

The myth of Narcissus, the boy who fell in love with his own reflection, forms the origins of the disorder narcissism.

We all know narcissists, those extraverted people who seem like they love the social scene, but in actuality these people have a high level of self-focus, self-importance and a sense of entitlement, always seeking to surround themselves with people who cater to their ego and avoiding anyone who might want to tell them the truth about themselves. (pp. 158-159) Narcissists suck at long-term relationships (the only one they want is with themselves) and fail at intimacy in general as their goal is always dominance, yet they inherently lack the self-control necessary for real success. While adolescents are naturally narcissistic (that feeling you had walking through the lunchroom when you were certain everyone was looking at you), it’s a stage we all grow out of. Well, not all of us.

There are different types of narcissists – check this list for the types that you have met:

  • leadership/authority – enjoys being a leader and being seen as an authority. Woe betide someone who challenges them or criticizes their work. You see these individuals not just in business but in classroom and coaching positions, as well as in doctor’s offices (and I’m not talking about the receptionist).
  • self-absorption/self-admiration –  focus strongly on their appearance and others’ perception of said appearance. Think of the date who spent her time admiring her reflection in a spoon rather than looking into your eyes, or the guy who spent more time looking at himself in the rear view mirror than making conversation.
  • superiority/arrogance – overestimate their own abilities. In adolescents this is very common, and I see teenagers all the time who have bought into their parent’s belief in how utterly special they are – hook, line and sinker. They usually are special but not because of the reason they think. This is the person who repeatedly says, “I’m really great at ________” but all evidence points to the contrary. They also have the gall to be super puffed up and arrogant about it. Barely okay in a 10 year old, and completely unacceptable in a 30 year old.
  • exploitativeness/entititlement – enjoys manipulating and exploiting others and expects favors from other people. My guess is that there are a lot of these people in politics (Lyndon B. Johnson fulfilled several of the narcissist criteria) but you can find them everywhere, sadly. From a mean girl clique to the White House, this brand of narcissist is around every corner.

I bet your blood pressure went up reading that list, because we all have known narcissists, but would it interest you realize that as a group they are more successful, at least initially in the mating game? Narcissism and attractiveness tend to go together and narcissists exhibit adaptive traits which offer success in the short-term mating game. If you want to spread your genetic material around quickly (leaving someone else holding the bag, or rather the baby), being a narcissist was probably a great evolutionary development. Narcissists are seen as being more attractive (they spend more time on their appearance), move with confidence, and are seen as being cheerful and outgoing. (p. 160)

But longer-term acquaintance has the scales falling from people’s eyes. Narcissists are sexually coercive, experiencing more fantasies about coercion and sadism and engaging in behaviors which support manipulation and power over the other person. Since their goal is to maintain power in any relationship, this can take the form of conversational narcissism (where they focus the topic always on themselves, use exaggerated hand gestures, a loud voice and express disinterest when others speak) or sexual narcissism when they are not focused on anyone’s gratification but their own (and BTW, there are more male narcissists than female ones – ladies, I know you are not surprised).

Promiscuity is the strategy that allows these people to maintain their hold on control since it enables them to feel like they have the most power by being the least committed (the other person needs to earn their loyalty). The more their partner is committed, the more likely a narcissist is to cheat since they believe they are more likely to get away with it. They get a rush out of high-risk behavior like cheating or in convincing their partners to perform behaviors out of their comfort zone. This entitlement has the flip side of narcissists becoming aggressive when sexually rejected, wanting to punish the person who denied them what they felt was their right. (p. 165)

Niccolo Machiavelli was so successful at manipulating princes and kings that he wrote a Renaissance best-seller, The Prince, which has become a foundational text for politicians.

There are some related disorders that romance villains seem prone to – Machiavellianism is the psychological trait of manipulating people (which involves a certain level of Emotional IQ) a quality that can be used for good, but often isn’t and psychopathy, which involves being callous or insensitive (wow, I think I just described several Harlequin Presents heroes!). The combination of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy is known in psychology as the Dark Triad. These traits are applied to individuals who will stop at nothing to manipulate others for their own gain and there is even a twelve-point assessment to determine where your villain/narcissist lands within them.

Arrogant Alpha or Laid-back Beta?

Both the alpha and the beta have something going for them (as paranormal romance writers and readers everywhere are well aware).

In the world of romance novels, we are far more likely to see the dominant alpha male than the supportive beta, but that beta is showing up more and more. The problem? Women seem to think of the beta as a “nice guy” and any chess player can tell you that particular label is the kiss of death. If the alpha qualities of dominance, pride, and ambition – maybe combined with a hesitancy if not an antipathy to being tied down – are crack cocaine to women, are we just attracted to the bad boy to our detriment? Or is there actual science at work here?

When surveyed, women clearly indicate that they want a “nice guy,” but as Geher and Kaufman state, “…when it comes right down to it, women choose the bad boy.” (author emphasis, p. 179) A main source of confusion seems to stem from early psychology studies which clearly interpreted non-dominant men as exhibiting truly submissive behavior, characteristics which naturally women did not find to be sexually attractive in a potential mate. More recent studies have narrowed women’s specific interest to men who fit the following description.

..it seems like the ideal man (for a date or romantic partner) is one who is assertive, confident, easygoing, and sensitive, without being aggressive, demanding, dominant, quiet, shy, or submissive…[other researchers] found across three studies that it wasn’t dominance alone, but rather the interaction of dominance and prosocial behaviors, that women reported were particularly sexually attractive. In other words, dominance only increased sexual attraction when the person was already high in agreeableness and altruism. (p. 182)

What emerges then, is that women don’t like assholes but do want men to be strong and confident, although men who practice dominance toward other men with over-the-top competition or physical force are quickly placed in the “jerk” category. Kindness and assertiveness are not exclusive traits; women feel both traits not only exist in the ideal man, but they are considered the sexiest attractant for both short-term and long-term affairs. Because these traits are heavily associated with prestigious, or high status, males, it’s not just their celebrity status that women find appealing. (p. 183)

Pretty close to the mark, actually, but not always.

If this is the reality then, that kind but assertive males have truckloads of women after them, why does the “nice guy” get such a bad rap? Geher and Kaufman conjecture that it’s because when women slap the label of celibacy on a man’s forehead “NICE GUY” in actuality “they mean overly nice guys.” (p. 184) This moniker speaks more about what the woman feels rather than says something about the guy. Women of high self-esteem and maturity are less negatively affected by incredibly generous behavior but less secure women don’t like how overly nice men make them feel – like they are a bad person but not being as altruistic or that they are unworthy of attention from such a giving man. But people in general don’t like over-the-top nice people – research supports that study participants looked with disfavor on individuals who were extremely competent, who offered too much help, or who adhered to a moral position strongly. (p. 184) Hey, goody-two-shoes, the angels want their loafers back.

But truly nice guys can finish last (and, ahem, often do, as the above generous traits of nice guys have women reporting more orgasms with them, and that they are more likely to perform oral sex on their partner – tuck that away for pondering, ladies). (p. 191) Bad boy traits may be fine for short-term relationships but women in it for the long haul are looking for good genes (men who are assertive, funny and physically attractive) and who demonstrate good parenting potential (kind and considerate). Clearly having both sets makes you a catch, but in studies, when a handsome asshole goes toe to toe with a homely nice guy, the nice guy always wins. (p. 187) Go beta!

So What Does All This Research Mean for Romance Fiction?

Naturally, this is the question I immediately asked myself on finishing the book. While entertained by the authors’ excellent writing and comprehensive approach to the evolutionary psychology of mating, I think they succeeded in blowing a few well-done (perhaps over-done) tropes out of the water.

Exactly. Love can only do so much and after that, it’s called therapy.

The first is that I’m calling for the death of the manwhore. A man who truly loves women and goes from woman to woman with intent and friendship (with hot sexy benefits) does not incur my ire, but all too often we get cold alpha heroes who use women like Kleenex and it’s explained away that “they knew the score.” I’m not sure a one-night stand where you barely can recall the person’s face and name actually says anything positive about a hero, who may very well not deserve that label until he can prove his worth. Consider that his inability or choice not to commit is often credited to a particular psychological trauma – his abandonment by a parent(s), a damaging first love, or his whole platoon blowing up in front of him and he’s working through the survivor’s guilt – and we have a recipe for our hero needing therapy, not a just a heroine who has what romance calls “the magic vagina” that cures all ills. Let’s not give the manwhore a pass without acknowledging his emotional damage and demonstrating that it takes more than the insta-lust and the love of a good woman to heal him. I’m just not a believer.

Villains might be able to have great dimension if the idea of the narcissist (or better yet, the Dark Triad) come into effect. There are numerous books on narcissism (and specifically narcissistic men) that have story after story to help flesh out what this personality disorder looks like in the context of women who have had relationships, either family or romantic ones, with a narcissist. When I read so many antagonists who are practically cardboard cutouts, I say, give the villain a backstory! Understanding his or her psychology is a big piece of writing that character well and infusing your story with conflict that will make the HEA that much more satisfying.

The Witness by Nora Roberts (Berkley, April 2012) – A great beta is just as sexy as any alpha.

Lastly, let’s bring back the beta. A great example of a book using a beta as hero is Nora Roberts’ The Witness. My mother and I not only adored this book, but had an entire conversation about how the small town police chief, Brooks Gleason, was certainly decisive and strong, but how his demeanor of a laid-back, easy going guy bent on protecting his town from any threats was very beta, and it was such a breath of fresh air. Let’s occasionally tone down the testosterone and demonstrate that some men can be the nice guy most of the time, and still show their dominance when they need it (and only then).

But more than anything else, I would ask that romance readers and writers be smart. We each have our own experiences upon which to draw in the world of sexual attraction but let’s not turn away or ignore what science can give us in insight into the dance that is the journey to a happily ever after. Glenn Geher and Scott Barry Kaufman have given us an outstanding resource in Mating Intelligence Unleashed, and we would all do well to use their efforts for good!

Happy reading!! :-)

Falling for the Marine by Samanthe Beck Surpasses Previous Books in the Series (and That’s Saying Something!)

28 Oct

Falling for the Marine (McCade Brothers #2) by Samanthe Beck (Entangled, October 28, 2013)

It’s official. With this third book in the McCade Brothers series, Samanthe Beck has catapulted to the top of my “must-buy/pre-order it, dammit!” list.

While I knew I loved her writing from reading the first two books, Lover Undercover (the first book) and the interim novella in Lovers Unmasked, “Wicked Games” which I adored, there’s always that scarred part of any voracious reader which rears its inner dialogue head. “What if you don’t like the next book? What if there’s sloppy editing? Or you hate the hero? They might not be as good and then your hopes will be dashed on the rocks of anti-climactic sequels!!! Mwhahahahahaha!!”

What? Your inner voice doesn’t do evil villain laughs?

Well, my inner voice has now shut the hell up because Samanthe Beck’s third installment of the McCade Brothers series, Falling for the Marine, has not only met my high expectations but utterly surpassed them.

I think the key piece that clinched my impression of her as an outstanding writer is her originality. Two people pretending to be engaged is a very common trope in romance (and one I usually like) but Michael and Chloe’s situation didn’t carry a whiff of anything I’d read before. Add to that Beck’s ability to turn characters into people so vivid that you accidentally start talking about them, forgetting they are fictional, and you have a powerful writer ready to take her place at the head of contemporary romance fiction. Oh, did I mention she’s off the charts when it comes to the sexy times writing? Have your significant other on standby.

Lover Undercover (McCade Brothers #1) by Samanthe Beck, April 2013)

The book starts with one of the best opening scenes I’ve seen in forever. Chloe is handcuffed to her own bed, surrounded by lit candles with a trail of condoms running from her front door to her thong and bra clad self. The problem? Her casual hook-up, who was going to end the sexual drought imposed after her divorce, has just called from Tijuana to say that he’s not only not coming, but he thinks he might have gotten married. Click.

She’s not upset about him not coming, it’s more a matter of her sexual frustration going unattended that has her throwing her cell out of reach and jostling the key to the handcuffs down the grate. Did I mention she needs to pee? Yikes.

Marine Major Michael McCade is wincing his way up the stairs to his new apartment, a condition caused both by the back injury that has sidelined him from flying helicopters and by the fact that his doctor/best friend Dane is lecturing him on the importance of physical therapy. Dane just informed Michael that he scheduled him for a series of massage appointments, making Michael wonder if his “spa treatments” will fully leach away all his testosterone. When he hears a cry for “Help!” coming from the apartment of a new neighbor, he’s glad he doesn’t have to break down her door since his back couldn’t take it.

You can imagine that he forgets about his back pretty quickly as the slightly embarrassed and strangely fidgety strawberry blond with the killer body and adorable sense of humor explains the need for his help. He gets her out of the handcuffs with a slick MacGyver move with a hairpin and her hot gratitude kiss turns into the potential for something much more. But his back quickly puts the kibosh and any horizontal action, much to both their frustration. Naturally when he shows up for his massage appointment the next morning, Michael knows exactly what is under Chloe’s lab coat since it’s vividly etched in his mind for all eternity.

Lovers Unmasked (Including McCade Brothers #1.5) by Samanthe Beck (Entangled September 2013)

When sexy circumstances result in her being fired because of something they both were doing, Michael can’t handle the thought of Chloe – whose temp company handles her housing and car situation as part of her employment – being homeless and running through the last of her savings. He offers a place in his apartment, but there’s a catch. The condition involves wearing his grandmother’s engagement ring since his CO does not approve of officers using their housing allotment for unlawful cohabitation. Chloe’s got a LOT of baggage between her military father being less than awesome and her cheating ex, but there is something about Michael which has her taking a chance, even when her heart knows this is a dangerous game they are playing.

Chloe was delightful – a little flaky, but it was more from being bludgeoned by repeat abandonment from everyone who had ever loved her. She is also beautiful, caring and spontaneous, which complemented Michael perfectly. And Michael *fans self* – I bet there will be legions of women jumping in their cars to drive to San Diego in the hope of picking up a Marine that fits his description. This series is aptly named for these stand-up McCade brothers who believe in doing the right thing and who aren’t afraid to go after the woman they want, even when she’s running scared in the opposite direction. I dare you not to fall in love with this gorgeous hunk of a man and cheer for his happy ending as he races to show Chloe that he’s not going to give up on them.

Considering that the novella that was part of Lovers Unmasked involved Trevor’s cop partner and best-friend, I’m pulling for the womanizing doctor, Dane, to have his comeuppance and find a woman who can resist his charm long enough for him to see her as a potential partner. There is also still the final McCade brother working himself to death in Colorado to look forward to, so at least I feel that we’ve got more than a few more books in this outstanding series to anticipate.

The best news, though? It’s that Samanthe Beck’s writing is always going to be this good, no matter her characters, so do yourself a favor and get on her bandwagon now, so you, too, can fall for a Marine this week.

Happy Reading!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of October 27, 2013

27 Oct

Upcoming Books and New Releases

There are a few long-awaited novels that have just had publication dates announced and, believe me, you’ll want to pre-order! First up is the next full-length novel in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series (*whimper) Shield of Winter, which will feature the story of Vasic, the Arrow who has been subversively supporting the overthrow of Silence while realizing at the same time that its demise could mean his death. A damaged woman fighting for her people as his love interest and a release date of June 3rd means that I’m getting a terrific present right around my birthday. Thank you, Nalini!

In related shifter news, those readers who adore Shelly Laurenston’s Pride series filled with sexy bears, cats and wolves will be thrilled to know that the 9th book, Bite Me, is slated to be released as of March 25, 2014. Since one side of the couple shifts into a honey badger, I’ll be very interested to see how this plays out!

The next Kate Daniels book by Ilona Andrews, Magic Breaks, doesn’t have a cover (or at least not a released one, author Ilona Andrews made clear on the blog that this writing couple doesn’t want to hear the cranky comments from so-called fans who gripe at every release – can they just not read them so we polite readers can enjoy?) but it does have a date – August 5, 2014. Kate’s back in Atlanta as consort to the Beast Lord and it’s clear that her evil father Roland will be arriving soon – and everyone needs to get ready. Unfortunately things are getting complicated with the vampires and Kate has to pitch in to clear up a delicate situation (and we know how she does with delicate). Color me there!

In addition to all the announcements about big 2014 releases, it’s getting to be that time of year – holiday book time!!! Considering that I spend all December reviewing holiday books (I save them up for you to enjoy with hot chocolate and a fire in your fireplace), this is pretty exciting for me. Since I do love anthologies, those are a favorite and just a couple weeks ago, Entangled released one of their presents for the season, A Very Scandalous Holiday featuring stories by Nancy Fraser, Sophia Garrett, Amber Lin and Crista McHugh. These historical romance writers capture the spirit of the season across the centuries, from the Regency and Victorian eras to 1920s Chicago and the turmoil of World War II, so transport yourself to a different time with this bargain at a mere $2.99.

Fans of Jeaniene Frost‘s Night Huntress series (and I consider this one of the BEST series out on the market) should be pleased to note that Frost is going to release the previously published Home for the Holidays novella starring Cat & Bones (and all her related characters) as a stand alone novella for only $1.99, starting on November 5, 2013 when it comes out. While this is technically a novella, as I reviewed it in my post on the series, it reads like a much longer work, due to Frost’s fantastic writing and the harrowing threat to the couple’s happiness contained within it.

Contests and Giveaways

Vikings seem to be a hot new subgenre of historical romance and Harlequin is offering great novels from authors like Michelle Styles for readers enjoying these fur-clad pillagers. Her latest novel, Paying the Viking’s Price, is due out on November 1st, but readers have a chance to win a copy on Goodreads if they enter prior to October 30th. When a warrior who is finally granted lands and home from the king, he is surprised to discover the beautiful former lady of manor refusing to leave her home or her people. He’s happy to allow her to stay, providing she becomes his concubine.

Fans of shifter romance will want to enter the Goodreads giveaway prior to October 31st for the three pack of Ambrielle Kirk‘s first three novels in her Caedmon Wolves series. This five volume series features dark and edgy writing and plenty of werewolves finding their mates, even if it’s not under the best circumstances. A winning extra feature is that Kirk’s characters are racially diverse – so you benefit from reading interracial (as well as interspecial) romance, which is all too hard to find even in this day and age.

Maya BanksColters’ Legacy series is one of the most emotionally packed menage series I’ve read, so it’s wonderful that the fifth book, Colter’s Gift, due out on November 5th is being offered as part of a Goodreads giveaway for readers who love the ratio of more than one man interested in loving a strong woman who has undergone some recent emotional upheaval after trusting the wrong man. Enter before November 1st to see if you can win.

Harlequin always manages to deliver heart-warming holiday romances and that’s what I expect, A Little Bit of Holiday Magic by Melissa McClone to be. Featuring a widow and her young son rescued by a hunky fireman who has sworn off dating for the season, we can all guess what Santa is going to leave under this tree. Considering that Goodreads is having a giveaway for people who enter the contest prior to November 1st, I’d hop over there and see if you can get an early holiday present delivered to your doorstep.

Cynthia Eden is celebrating the latest release in her wonderful Mine suspense series, Mine to Hold, which was published on October 21st, and I’m sorry, is there anything hotter than a gorgeous billionaire who decides a woman too damaged to trust must be won? No, unless it’s when the author is amazing enough to also offer a $50 book gift card to the seller of your choice (Amazon or Barnes & Noble) giveaway to celebrate it! Head over to Eden’s Facebook page to enter using the Rafflecopter interface before the end of the month.

Suspense fans will want to enter the giveaway for a copy of Lena Diaz‘s Undercover Twin, the second book in her Morgan Brothers series. Featuring a DEA agent who left the love of his life behind only to come back into her life when her twin sister is kidnapped, this suspenseful tale is due to be released on November 19th. Enter the contest prior to November 1st for your chance to win a copy.

To celebrate a bunch of juicy-sounding paranormal releases, the Entangled in Publishing blog is giving away a Kindle Fire this week for people who enter their Rafflecopter giveaway by promoting the contest via social media. Keep in mind that these books are going for a mere $1.99, so you might want to give yourself something less calorie laden then chocolate for the holiday (or, like me, give yourself BOTH!).

Someone needs to do a study on the birth control failure rate in Harlequin novels (or maybe they are all just swept away and forgot to don a condom), which results in all those surprise pregnancies! In Expecting a Bolton Baby by Sarah M. Anderson (the third book in her Bolton Brothers series) a businessman never expects to see the hottest one night stand he ever experienced since the lady in question revealed she was the daughter of an intense rival. Yet now he discovers she’s pregnant with his child and he wants more than nothing else to make things right and marry her, preferably without letting her know of his feelings. Enter the Goodreads giveaway before November 1st for a chance to win a copy.

The Vampire Book Club blog can always be counted on, both for in depth reviews and fun giveaways and you can imagine that October is an important month for them! To celebrate three terrific Urban Fantasy reads that they feel are going to end up on the ‘best of’ lists this year, they are having a Rafflecopter giveaway to win copies of Larissa Ione’s Bound by Night, Kelley Armstrong’s Thirteen and Karen Chance’s Tempt the Stars. Head over there before October ends to enter!

For Writers

The Popular Romance project, a fantastic source of all things related to the romance industry, released a terrific video clip of an interview with Jessica Andersen regarding what makes writing category romance so attractive to romance writers. Andersen herself is a well-regarded writer for Harlequin’s Intrigue line as well as the Nocturne line for her paranormal series like Royal House of Shadows. Like her (her Nightkeepers line is out under Signet), many writers who have made it big on the single title market continue to keep an oar in category romance, putting out a couple books a year (think Jill Shalvis and Catherine Mann) and even more best-seller authors got their start in category. Why? Watch the clip.

Writer Pat Haggerty is a whiz at Scrivener (and shared his wisdom via a well-regarded Savvy Authors class that my fellow RWA chapters members enthusiastically endorse) but in his post at Romance University, he kindly illuminates how writers can employ the “Save the Cat” screenwriting formula recommended by editors in the industry using that wonderful piece of software.

Tracey Devlynwhose latest book A Lady’s Secret Weapon I adoredwrote a post over at Romance University about how to handle it when your publishing house decides to let you go, right in the middle of your series. I’m not sure what her publisher’s (Sourcebooks) motivation was (I’m guessing the books weren’t selling the way they wanted?) but I’m grateful that we live in a day and age where a writer can continue a high quality series on her own to satisfy the numerous fans who do not want to see it end prematurely.

Fun Stuff

Do you remember those little Golden Books you read when you were little, the ones with colorful covers and gold foil spines? So does artist Ryan Jude Novelline who created a ballgown from the illustrations and spines of those iconic first reads. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Novelline got his degree in illustration, yet his work continually attempts to reinterpret established ideas and push boundaries. Take a look at the Pinterest board showing the many stages of the creation of this masterpiece.

When you are a reader, you love to snicker at clever t-shirts and I happen to love the ABC’s of Literature t-shirt on sale at Threadless. Whether it’s Ginsberg’s glasses or the Route 66 sign for Kerouac, this simple black shirt will have kindred spirits giving you the “nice one” head nod when you wear it (and help you steer clear of the “I don’t get it” people).

Similarly, readers and librarians alike will enjoy the pulp fiction-styled Attack of the 50 Foot Librarian t-shirt from Funny Baby. I don’t know what I like best, that the figure has auburn hair (ahem) or that she seems to be holding an ereader (replacing the car in the original image) with classic books and glasses strewn in panic on the highway beneath her. Whatever the reason, this must-wear item has gone into my Etsy cart!

Great Deals

You don’t get better than free and that’s exactly what Amy AndrewsGirl Least Likely to Marry – a Harlequin KISS book – is right now on Amazon! With a wealthy, football playing hero with a good sense of humor and a scientist who couldn’t care less (and probably falls on the autism spectrum with her ability to read people) reviewers are raving about this outstanding addition to Andrews’ The Wedding Season series.

Historical romance author Elizabeth Boyle has updated the covers of her Brazen series, re-releasing this mid-1990s series with a fresh new look. At the moment, Brazen Angel, the first book in the trilogy, is a mere $.99 for the ebook version, allowing fans of romance novels with strong spying/privateer themes to sigh in happiness.

Fans of Urban Fantasy might want to try the second book in the Crimson City series, A Taste of Crimson by Marjorie M. Liu, which highlights a romance between a strong vampire and a rebel werewolf who find themselves working with what would normally be a natural enemy in a fallen City of Angels. The Crimson City series is one of those put together by an editor employing different authors to write each installment and with authors like LIz Maverick, Jade Lee and Patti O’Shea, chances are these high ratings are well-earned.

Romantic suspense fans might want to take advantage of Pamela Clare‘s Breaking Point (from her I-Team series) being on sale for $1.99 right now on Amazon. Unlike the common security company trope, Clare has created a series based around a group of mostly women investigating (hence the “I” in I-Team) the shadowy corners of society where they stumble across “the alpha males of the their dreams.” Considering that this entire series of nine books and novellas consistently range above a four on Goodreads, I’d say this angle has proven darn successful for Clare (and I plan on trying it out at these prices!).

Close out Breast Cancer Awareness month by taking advantage of not only a great deal for the paranormal anthology Entangled (whose proceeds go to Breast Cancer research) but which also offers you 424 pages of stories from amazing authors like Cynthia Eden, Jennifer Estep, and Michelle Diener. At only $2.99, you’ll feel like you are giving yourself (and all women) a present for Halloween.

Fans of the sheik romance might remember my post on Sarah Morgan’s Lost to the Desert Warrior, but for readers who have not yet gotten to sample it, please be aware that not only is that title on sale for $1.99 right now, but it’s predecessor, Woman in a Sheik’s World is also available at the discounted price. Considering that books hero and heroine (living their HEA) make an appearance in Lost to the Desert Warrior, it would be fun to get both to enjoy Morgan’s excellent writing about these gripping characters.

Happy reading this week (and happy Halloween)!

A Riveting Affair Anthology Features Three Page-Turning Steampunk Tales

25 Oct

A Riveting Affair by Patricia Eimer, Candace Havens, and Lily Lang (Entangled Ever After, March 2013)

I love anthologies. I know I’ve said it before and yet it’s amazing how many reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon complain about them. You have to wonder if these are the same people who loooovve novellas, not realizing that the anthology they crankified about online (yes, I invented that verb) happens to contain multiple tales of the same length. Sheesh.

Feeling in a Steampunk/Gaslight mood last night, I decided to read the anthology, A Riveting Affair, largely because it contained a story by Candace Havens, whose writing I uniformly love. I would have paid $2.99 for just her story, but the bonus is that I got two other outstanding novellas for that price, plus found additional authors whose writing I know enjoy. Bargain!

“Beauty and the Clockwork Beast” by Lily Lang

Rose Verney arrives in a steampunk Manhattan on Sebastian Cavendish’s doorstep and she’s sacrificed quite a bit to get there – running away from a controlling older sister, a pestering suitor, and having her pregnant best friend hide her before she could sell her last pieces of jewelry to buy a one-way train ticket from New Haven to the city. But it will all be worth it if her late father’s star pupil can help her finish his teleportation machine.

The Imposter by Lily Lang (Samhain, 2012)

She’s escorted through a dust-filled empty mansion to his bedchamber, shocked that the formerly handsome boy has come through the war with a disfigured face and pronounced limp. More shocking than his physical change is when he begins kissing and groping her, having mistaken her for the prostitute he ordered for the evening. When she instead explains that she is to deliver the blueprints for the teleportation device per her father’s will – and stay to help him finish it – he rejects her out of hand. Rose doesn’t realize that Sebastian has sworn not to build any more machines after watching his work take so many lives during the war.

When Rose not only refuses to leave the following morning, but begins to clean his mansion, revitalize his clockwork servants and rebuild his laboratory in his old nursery, Sebastian finds himself unable to cling to the bitterness and anger he’s nurtured since his time in a Confederate prison. His nightmares come less often when he wakes up to Rose holding his hand, he feels the thrill of inventing again with the best partner he’s ever had working next to him, and the light and comfort in his home reflects what he feels in his heart. But as these two people fall quietly in love with one another, Sebastian’s beliefs about what he truly deserves threaten to come between them and the happiness that lies within their grasp.

This story strongly resembles a gothic tale with a scarred and bitter hero, a dark, scary mansion, and a beautiful, innocent heroine who brings the hero back from the brink. I loved Lang’s character development, the steampunk angle of the recently concluded American Civil War, and the fact that she introduces the moral question of how responsible an inventor is when his creations are used to kill. The only piece I did not enjoy was that Lang is rather “closed door” in her sex scenes, making this story a little sweet for my tasteLily Lang has a small oeuvre (unsurprising as she lists her main occupation as a graduate student) but she’ll be an author I keep a close eye on. I may try one of her intriguingly blurbed historical romances just to see if she carries these strengths in her other works.

“The Clockwork Bride” by Patricia Eimer

Aida Mulvaney feels that her attendance at a Christmas ball is a waste of time when she could be at home with her family working in the lab, but her best friend Esther uses blackmail to get her there. Blackmail is exactly what it takes, considering that this Irish engineer is heading straight to a masquerade given by Lord Capshaw, the Empire’s leading anti-Irish, misogynistic leader of the Luddite party.

Luck of the Devil (Speak of the Devil #1) by Patricia Eimer (Entangled, 2011)

It’s also been three weeks since Aida’s friend Leopold walked out on their engagement, one undertaken to spare him from an arranged match. That he’s a prince and son of Queen Victoria (who is nothing short of enraged at Leopold’s temporary defiance and Aida’s Irish cheek) doesn’t put Aida in a great position, either from a business standpoint or as the butt of gossip throughout London. Still, she’s in disguise this night, so how bad can it be?

Being at the home of her greatest enemy is taking her mind off losing her friend, particularly when a mystery man helps her escape the arrival of Leopold and his insipid German fiancee. Her savior seems happy to take his payment by kissing the stuffing out of her in a dark alcove, but it’s a welcome development to the night. Welcome, that is, until he takes off his mask and she discovers the gorgeous son of her enemy, Julian Capshaw.

Aida also discovers that Julian is actually a talented scientist, a profession unheard of among the nobility, and he demonstrates the extent of his rebellion by whisking Aida away to a party on a dirigible. When he boldly suggests that she solve her current scandal by helping him free himself from his father via marriage, she’s startled but intrigued. She knows that as a scientist who respects her chosen profession, Julian will understand the time she needs for her engineering work so she capitulates to the idea. That there is plenty of steam being generated between them physically doesn’t exactly hurt either. But as this unlikely partnership grows into something more tender, Julian’s powerful father and a resentful Queen attempt to insure these two will never have a chance to explore the future they could have together.

My single criticism of the story was that it was told in the first person from Aida’s perspective; Julian was SUCH a gorgeous hunk of a hero I wanted to experience his point of view throughout the story, too. I loved the steampunk world Eimer created, particularly appreciating how Aida’s loving Irish family created an environment where she could thrive as a brilliant inventor despite political and social obstacles. Julian is the most unlikely match to an Irish commoner, yet from a personality standpoint he is her ideal partner and that comes through with both their heat and their banter. Even though Patricia Eimer seems to have her other books published under the umbrella of contemporary paranormal, I’d strongly encourage her to keep up the Steampunk since she does it damn well!

“Demon Express” by Candace Havens

Lions, Tigers, and Sexy Bears, Oh My! by Candace Havens (Entangled, July 2013)

Professor Maisey Clark has left her research to work as an assassin with a single target – her former fiancee, Julian Darvil. Following him from London to deep in the heart of Texas, she’s glad to capture three grave robbers for her client as his recent trouble – isolated attacks against cattle in the Forth Worth area, coincidentally happening around the same time as grave robbing – indicates Julian’s evil involvement. When the three men turn out to be investigators also hired by her client, she’s annoyed that they have gotten in her way, particularly the leader, Marshall Jake Calloway, fresh from helping the Texas Rangers. His long hair and facial scar do not detract from his overall appeal, but right now she sees this tall hunk of man as an obstacle rather than an ally.

Working and living in her private steam engine, the Iron Witch, Maisey spends her time analyzing blood samples in order to determine if the presence of Julian’s supernatural creatures is causing the phenomena in the area. Created by her father with enhanced abilities and raised from childhood as an assassin of supernatural creatures, Maisey wanted to pursue her intellectual interests but ended up using her natural born skills once Julian attempted to seduce her into creating Wollstonecraftian creatures mutated by viruses in order become the ideal warrior. Needless to say, Maisey hasn’t had an easy road with men, but luckily for her she is surrounded by people who love her, whether it’s her English mastiff Henry, her enhanced acerbic butler Barnes, or the ghost of her dead nanny who sticks around to clean and cook for her, while leveling judgement on Maisey’s choice of clothing.

This outstanding story will leave you wanting more, both from the fascinating world (more gaslight than steampunk since it includes the supernatural as well as clockwork elements) to the wonderful characters which inhabit it. While I was a little miffed at Patricia Eimer telling her story from the first person, Havens does the same and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest because the tone of the story lands closer to Urban Fantasy. I’m really hoping that this story is a prequel to a full-length novel since Jake and Maisey do not get together (although there’s plenty of sexual attraction) and there is an abundance of conflict and plot developments to support a longer storyline. While Havens is a varied, talented writer able to pen seemingly any genre (her contemporary romance, nonfiction about popular culture, and her paranormal writing are all equally wonderful), I don’t think she’s done a tone of steampunk/gaslight, a fact I hope she rectifies considering how much I adore her writing.

A Riveting Affair is a fantastic steampunk anthology for lovers of the genre who enjoy strong female protagonists filled with intelligence and gumption. I strongly recommend this terrific bargain of a book for anyone wanting to be riveted for a few hours. Happy reading! :-)

Gone With the Wolf Delivers Strong Paranormal Romance with a Dash of Millionaire Sexy Times

24 Oct

Gone with the Wolf (Seattle Wolf Pack #1) by Kristin Miller (Entangled Publishing, April 23, 2013)

Here’s a conundrum. I love paranormal romance, but I also have a not-so-hidden fascination for those decidedly decadent millionaire-laden category romances filled with mansions and galas.

Luckily for me, Kristin Miller wrote Gone with the Wolf, the first book in her Seattle Wolf Pack series, which just happens to feature as hero one cold, logical, extremely handsome CEO of a multi-million dollar real estate holdings company, Drake Wilder. Plenty of mansions and galas here to drool over as he falls for the bartender-turned-temp.

Oh, I’m sorry…did I not mention he’s a 300 year old werewolf and she’s his destined mate?

That’s right. Miller has managed to combine two tropes I love – paranormal romances with a destined mate element and those delicious fantasy-imbued millionaire romances – into one novel. The end result is something closer to the category style of romance in tone, but with plenty of paranormal deliciousness for readers who like that but don’t want to be inundated with a ton of world-building (I for one don’t mind excessive world-building, but not everyone feels that way).

Emelia Hudson is not only a bartender but a bar-owner, that is, until she’s notified that Drake Wilder’s company has purchased her building, which means either her deed is worthless or Wilder is a ruthless shark bent on ruining the little guy. She needs money and access to figure out what’s going on, so working as a temp for his company seems like a good way to weasel her way under his defenses and challenge him with the truth.

Four Weddings and a Werewolf (Seattle Wolf Pack #2) by Kristin Miller (Entangled Publishing, October 28, 2013)

Emelia gets under Drake’s defenses all right. A couple of stolen moments at his company’s Halloween party (where she is dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, naturally, since he’s really the Big Bad Wolf) and Drake is faced with the startling conclusion that this human is his Luminary – his destined mate for whom he’s searched for centuries and given up as a myth.

There are some startling ripples in the pond from this development. Drake’s father willed the alpha slot of his pack to whichever of his sons found their destined mate first, and the stalemate has kept things calm between Drake and his unstable twin, Silas, a calm that has clearly preceded the storm that finding Emelia is about to unleash.

But she knows nothing about Drake being a werewolf, and in fact can barely stand him as a person since she’s so threatened by his company’s actions. Yet as Emelia tries to reconcile the facts with what her instincts are proclaiming – that despite her experience of one untrustworthy man after another, Drake might just be the real thing – her feelings help her fight through obstacle after obstacle to try and make their connection work for both of them.

With any other writer, I’d be scoffing at so many elements thrown together, and when I say this reminds me of a yummy category romance, I mean it. Both characters have the occasional TSTL moment, there is layer upon layer of misunderstanding, they take two steps forward and then one step back, etc., yet Miller somehow builds enough emotion and character depth that you are ready to accept it as part of the story, letting you sit back and enjoy the ride.

Since this is the start of Miller’s Seattle Wolf Pack series, I’ll be interested to read the next book in the series, Four Weddings and a Werewolf, due to come out next week. Featuring one of Emelia’s bodyguards – the cold and remote Logan – partnered with a wedding planner who hates werewolves, it’s bound to be interesting. :-) At a mere $2.99 a pop, these books are also priced just right for regular consumption.

Happy reading!

Oyster Brings a Netflix-like Model to Romance Reading

23 Oct

I was thrilled to find out that a new platform has come on the market for readers, Oyster. Looking to Netflix as a subscription model, readers pay $9.95 per month and have access to all of Oyster’s library (about 100,000 in copyright books), with the ability to “play” any book they want – books don’t download onto your device (which I imagine means you need to have a connection at all times).

For heavy readers this becomes an affordable alternative, particularly as more and more publishers release titles onto Oyster’s platform. Having read about Oyster and watched videos about how it works, I nevertheless wanted to have a better sense of what it could offer romance readers, but I wasn’t willing to pay for a month in order to test the water. Lucky for me, Oyster recently announced a free month to trial the platform for people wanting to test it out (in honor of their iPad app release).

A major caveat before downloading the app – originally designed for the iPhone, the iPad version of the program is meant to be enlarged using the 2x button. This means that users not running the latest iOS are going to notice highly pixelated text which makes it hard on the eyes. People running iOS 7 on their phones and iPads will have no problem.

The iPad is a natural first device upon which to launch considering its level of infiltration in the market.

But what does Oyster have to offer romance readers? I found the offerings to be diverse and hitting several big name authors – Amanda Scott, Debbie Macomber, Lisa Kleypas, Sarah Maclean, Julia Quinn, Katherine Ashe, and Tessa Dare were some of the historical romance authors (they even have most of Kathleen Woodiwiss‘ backlist) and paranormal authors like Christine Feehan, Jeaniene Frost and Lyndsay Sands were represented as well. A few erotica books were in there, as well as category romance from Crimson Romance’s imprint, and romantic suspense authors like Carla Swafford and Elizabeth Lowell.

I didn’t like that so many non-romance books were mixed in (because it makes it look like Oyster doesn’t know what the definition of the genre), but it is true that romance readers often cross-genres, particularly with mystery, historical fiction and women’s fiction – nevertheless, I don’t want to see them when I’m looking for romance. There’s plenty of contemporary romance, romantic comedy and inspirational romance and they even divide up historical romance, highlighting Regency and medieval titles. It’s pretty snazzy.

Could there be more titles? Sure. But the above authors are damn good ones and there was a nice mix of books I’ve read and books I want to read – considering I read around 350 romance novels a year, I find this pretty snazzy and I’m sure it will only get better as Oyster will have to acquire more titles in order to stay competitive, particularly with other subscription read services about to launch.

So take a look at Oyster (for free) to see if you’ve got the hardware to see if it has something to offer you as a romance reader. I think that you’ll find it may offer readers a wonderful romance library to draw upon (for only $9.95 a month.

Dancer of the Nile Brings Romantic Suspense (Ancient Egyptian Style) to Veronica Scott’s Gods of Egypt Series

22 Oct

Dancer of the Nile (Gods of Egypt #3) by Veronica Scott (Jean D. Walker, October 5, 2013)

I was so taken with the world of ancient Egypt in Veronica Scott’s Warrior of the Nile, that I immediately went out and bought it’s predecessor Priestess of the Nile, which I also enjoyed. Naturally, being a completionist and feeling confidence in Veronica Scott‘s writing, I pre-ordered Dancer of the Nile (which came out on October 5th) and am now able to tell you that it definitely lives up to the overall excellent quality of the series.

Kamin is an Egyptian general, cousin to Pharaoh, undercover in Hyksos territory and captured as a spy (which he is). Amid the cruel Hyksos army, he notices a bedraggled but brave woman riding in the leader’s chariot, a woman quickly identified as a captured dancer. She’s clearly Egyptian but what can one woman do to help his situation? He wishes he could help her, but starved and bound while being walked through the desert doesn’t put him in a powerful position.

Nima actually does have some tricks up her sleeve. She’s a dancer who, up to yesterday, had dreams of leaving her sketchy dance troupe and forging a real life for herself, until the inn fire drove her into the arms of her Hyksos captors. Purportedly she’s being kept because the Hyksos general wants her to “dance” for him personally, but that’s not stopping the leader of the soldiers from periodically terrorizing her and making her wait on the soldiers. She’s angered at how the brave captured Egyptian is being treated and determines to use everything in her power to release him so they can both get away.

Priestess of the Nile (Gods of Egypt #1) by Veronica Scott (Carina Press, 2012)

And so begins Kamin and Nima’s adventure. I felt that while there has been excellent political or paranormal conflict propelling all the books in the series, Dancer of the Nile felt most like a romantic suspense novel as Kamin and Nima have obstacle after obstacle thrown at them as they race to inform Egypt of the Hyksos’ stronghold location. Along the way, these two characters – one noble born, one a peasant but both blessed with a pure and brave heart – are drawn together and fall in love. There is no way to not adore the hero and heroine, and Kamin particularly stole my heart with his indomitable will to let nothing stand in the way of his winning Nima, even under the worst possible circumstances.

As with the other books in the series, although to a slightly lesser degree, gods and goddesses are involved with saving Egypt and rescuing the protagonists from the worst situations. After the third book, I’m definitely feeling like I could begin picking Egyptian deities from a line up!

Can we talk for a minute about what an unbelievable value these books are? Both Priestess of the Nile and Warrior of the Nile were put out by Carina Press (the digital division of Harlequin) and are currently priced at only $1.99 each. Dancer of the Nile, which is not by Carina (kudos for continuing the flavor and quality of the cover art, Veronica), nevertheless is only $2.99, completely reasonable for a book just out (or any other time).

Historical romance writers (who don’t mind the occasional god or goddess interfering) looking to break away from yet another Regency and taste something different would do well to try the Gods of Egypt series. This series does not disappoint!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of October 20, 2013

20 Oct

Upcoming Books and New Releases

It’s no secret that I adore Lauren Dane’s writing, so I was thrilled to see that she’s partnering with author Megan Hart to publish a duology (is that what you call an anthology with two stories?) on December 3rd entitled There All Along. The stories sound amazing, but even more intriguing that (despite the cover – not that I’m complaining) these stories are set in futuristic worlds. Considering Dane nailed science fiction romance in her jaw-droppingly awesome Federation Chronicles series, I feel like I’m in good hands. As usual.

Rock star romance seemed wicked hot right now, and the feedback for Crash Into Me by Tracy Wolff tells me this particular author is one to watch. Based around the band Shaken Dirty (mrrroooww), this series will work through the sexy romances of its members, with the first book focusing on the lead singer of the sister of another one of the band’s members. Bring on the music, people.

If you’re beginning to think about holiday romance, you might want to take a closer look at the Fiction River anthology Christmas Ghosts, featuring stories from romance authors like M. L. Buchman, Mary Jo Putney, Kristine Grayson and Kathryn Rusch. Combining holiday romance with a dash of the paranormal sounds like a great idea to me (that is what Dickens capitalized on after all), so I want this under the Christmas tree (or at least the virtual one on my Kindle).

While this could totally go in my “Great Deals” section, it is so awesome (and won’t be published until November 10th) that I wanted to feature it here. For only a week (and I think that’s ending soon!), the 10 book bundle of Dangerous Attraction, featuring award-winning authors like Kaylea Cross, Jill Sanders, and Rebecca York is only $.99 on Amazon. Pre-order it at this great price and lock in an amazing value while perhaps finding a new favorite author (Kaylea Cross won’t steer you wrong, I promise!).

Filing also under the “holy crap what a great deal!” and the recent releases category is the Dark and Dangerous: Six-in-One Hot Paranormal Romances collection – also for only $.99 right now. This would be an amazing price for just Jennifer Ashley’s Hard Mated, one of her fantastic Shifters Unbound novels but that it also has books from Bonnie Vanak and Laurie London (and other authors I’m dying to explore) pushes this into the instant “click to buy” territory.

I love Tawny Weber and her Blaze books with Harlequin are always a must-buy for me, including her upcoming holiday novel, Naughty Christmas Nights. Two competitors in the sexy lingerie business go head-to-head to win an important department store account but find themselves just as intrigued to try out the merchandise…with each other.

Contests and Giveaways

Romance readers don’t often get a lot of dystopian offerings, so interested parties might want to check out Ellen Connor’s paranormal dystopian Dark Age Dawning trilogy, particularly since the first book, Nightfall, is part of a Goodreads giveaway if you enter prior to October 21st.  When the daughter of a prophet is kidnapped and taken to a remote cabin in the Pacific Northwest, she does not expect that the ex-Marine who cares for her can be a believer in her father’s ravings when she is not. But as the world changes exactly as her dad anticipated, these two people must ride out the Change together, and see if they can forge a new future in a world gone wild. Interesting to note that Ellen Connor is the pen name for two wonderful, established authors, Ann Aguirre and Carrie Lofty, so you should definitely take a chance on this one!

Are you in the Atlanta area at the end of March? If so, you might want to enter the contest for The Novel Experience Event Giveaway where you could win a multi-day VIP pass to the author events and signings to be held at the Hyatt Regency March 28-30th. Sponsored by Romance Ink, the same literary nonprofit that brings you the popular Authors After Dark conference. With authors like Carrie Ann Ryan, Melissa Schroeder and Joey W. Hill, this conference has me wishing Georgia was a little closer!

Nora Roberts fans are busy awaiting the first book in her paranormal romance The Cousins O’Dwyer trilogy, Dark Witch, which has an appropriate debut date of October 29th, but did you know you might be able to win a copy? Enter the Goodreads giveaway before October 21st to see if you can get a free copy of this anticipated novel. With Roberts’ trademark wonderful characters, an Irish setting complete with castle, and a dark evil that wants to deny love when it takes root, this is bound to be a worthy read for the dark nights surrounding Halloween.

With only three days left, historical fiction fans will want to enter the FictionVixen rafflecopter giveaway for several upcoming releases, including Elizabeth Hoyt’s Duke of Midnight, Eileen Dreyer’s Once a Rake, Jennifer Delamere’s A Lady Most Lovely, Anne Barton’s Once She Was Tempted, and Lily Dalton’s Never Desire a Duke. Entering couldn’t be easier and the payoff is tremendous.

Fans of the TV show Once Upon a Time or readers who love reinterpreted fairy tales should take a look at Jessica Aspen’s novel The Dark Huntsman. A witch trying to save her family from a murderous queen is pursued by the queen’s enslaved huntsman, who soon decides that he can break free of the queen by using this young woman’s power. But his commitment to freedom is soon surpassed by his feelings for the brave woman attempting to do the right thing and he must decide between his life and hers. Enter before October 22nd for a chance to win.

Harlequin’s Paranormal Romance blog is having a giveaway of five of their recent books, including The Night is Forever by Heather Graham, Sleep with the Lights On by Maggie Shayne, Claimed by the Demon by Doranna Durgin, Out of the Night by Trish Milburn, Spy Glass by Maria V. Snyder. Just leave a comment letting them know what magical power you’d love to have and why by October 28th at midnight and you’ll have entered!

Fun Stuff

Maybe because I have Jill Shalvis on the brain (see Great Deals) but like books, movies that feature animals in any capacity always draw me. But what happens when said animal meets an unfortunate end? (I hysterically sobbed for about an hour after I Am Legend because I did not see that coming!). Luckily for me, the website Does the Dog Die? The Most Important Movie Question exists. With icons hinting at the content (happy dog face for every animal is okay, crying face for you know what, and troubled face for the in-between), the reviews solely let you know what happens to the animal(s) in the movie. And the animal does not have to be the focus of the film. The synopsis for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) is “Ron Burgundy’s dog, Baxter, is punted off of a bridge. He eventually shows up again, having miraculously survived.” Why do you need to know more?

Great Deals

In anticipation of the upcoming new release in her Animal Magnetism series, Rumor Has It (November 5th) fans of Jill Shalvis will be pleased to note that the third book, Rescue My Heart, is on sale on Amazon for only $1.99. Since this is the book that precedes the one about to come out (and the heroine of Rumor Has It is introduced in this book), this bargain is both fabulous and practical to get you all caught up.

OMG. Cynthia Eden‘s fantastic paranormal series, Bound, has been bundled as Forever Bound so you can get the first four books for a mere $.99. What a deal!! I love all these books but Bound in Sin (#3) about the werewolf who thinks his teenage love has been killed only to see her return years later – as a vampire, his mortal enemy – is heart-wrenchingly awesome. Be sure to take advantage of this wonderful bargain. This deal is supposedly for only one week (and I’m not sure of the start date) so act quickly.

Delilah Marvelle’s Mistress of Pleasure historical romance is currently discounted to $2.42 (which seems like a weird price, but who am I to judge?). Featuring the granddaughter of a courtesan and the duke to whom she succumbs, this novel seems to have some intriguing twists and turns worth exploring, particularly at that price!

The ever-funny Molly Harper’s The Care and Feeding of Vampires is discounted right now to a mere $1.99. Considering this is the first in her Half Moon Hollow series, it might be a nice way to introduce yourself to this outstanding paranormal author known for her mix of sensuality and humor. Consider it a Halloween present to yourself.

Carla Cassidy’s Western (with a dash of suspense) Cowboy with a Cause is free for download on Amazon right now and it’s worth checking out. A former dancer with health issues and a sexy tenant is a hot combination, but the suspense element and the fact that the heroine is in a wheelchair take this story into interesting territory.

Fever by Joan Swan got rave reviews when it came out last year, but if you missed this thrill-a-minute tale of a wronged convict and the woman he kidnaps, you can grab it at Amazon for the discounted price of $1.99 right now.

That’s it for this week. Happy Reading, everyone! :-)

Operation Blind Date Brings Tenacious Romance and One Canny Dog to Romantic Suspense

18 Oct

Operation Blind Date (Cutter’s Code #3 – Teague and Laney) by Justine Davis (Harlequin, July 1, 2013)

I’m going to admit it, if you build a romantic suspense series around a dog with a sixth sense, it’s going to get read.

By me, that is!

That is the premise of prolific author Justine Davis’ Cutter’s Code series (which is sadly not properly linked on Goodreads, so I can’t connect to a nice string of all three books for you). Since the woman has published over 80 books since the 1980s, mostly in category romance, the fact that this book is a nice, tight, highly suspenseful read really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

In Operation Blind Date, private operative Teague Johnson is happy to go pick up his boss’ dog Cutter from the groomers. When he arrives, he’s surprised to discover that the lovely groomer, Laney Adams, has clearly been crying. While a woman’s tears make him distinctly uncomfortable, Teague realizes from Cutter’s behavior that the dog expects him to find out more, and while that seems crazy to anyone else, for the men who work for the Foxworths it means a new case is at hand.

Laney is incredibly worried about her best friend, Amber. Having inadvertently introduced her to a man that Laney repeatedly turned down for a date but who seemed innocuous enough, Laney has been getting strange texts and zero phone calls from her best friend since grade school – a woman who has never been out of regular contact for even a day. She’s gone to the police but they’ve told her that Amber is obviously blowing her off for the new guy in her life, but she knows something is very, very wrong. Her gut is telling her that Amber is in danger and that she’s responsible for it.

The gorgeous Belgian Malinois dogs are known for being outstanding police and military dogs due to their agile frame, high energy levels, and keen intelligence.

Fortunately for Laney, the Foxworths run an agency that gives help to people who can’t otherwise afford it. Even though Laney is astonished that the beautiful Belgian Malinois and his owner, the lovely fiancee of the head of the agency, take her concerns seriously, she’s not sorry to spend more time with Teague while investigating what happened to her friend. But Laney and Teague are blindsided by their attraction during what seems like the worst possible time, since Laney has to find her friend before it’s too late.

Because of the limited page length of a category romantic suspense novel, I usually go into them with low expectations. Davis startled me with her strong writing and good characterization in this novel, however, with a plot that kept twisting in expected (and very pleasurable) ways regarding what happened to Amber. There is definite heat between Teague and Laney, an attraction they try to fight, yet both are similar in that they aren’t used to that feeling, which is far outside the caution they normally exercise around the opposite sex.

My only complaint was with the ending, which I felt could have been more emotional than the calm, rather anti-climactic revelation it was. Nevertheless, I thought this book a delight for anyone who enjoys a quick dose of romantic suspense and I plan on reading the other books in the series. With great additional characters including the enigmatic sniper Rafe and the boss’ powerful and feared brother, Charlie, the author gives us a clear indication that other great love stories are coming down the pike (a fact Davis confirms on her website). Yay!

Cutter more than deserves a series built around his nose for someone who needs help. Let him lead you to the next book destined for your romantic suspense pile!

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