Archive | November, 2013

Lauren Dane’s Federation Chronicles Aren’t Just Great Erotic Science Fiction, They Are Amazing Science Fiction. Period.

30 Nov

Undercover (Federation Chronicles #1 – Brandt, Sera, and Ash) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2008)

That isn’t to say they aren’t erotic – they are damn erotic – but so much of erotic science fiction is heavy on the unusual penises or having some earth woman show an alien what love really is (and hey, I’m not judging since I read it). What gets missed in that emphasis is kickass world-building with deep conflict and political machinations which highlight the flaws in society, while hopefully giving the reader insight into the inequities in their own world.

Lauren Dane does all this in her Federation Chronicles. And she does it so well that it leaves me reeling and wanting more.

You do have to be comfortable with the erotic part, and a reader unused to a high level of steamy might find the first book a baptism by fire since it involves not just two people, but three and is heavy on a BDSM dynamic. But in case you’re worried this is going to be “who puts what in where,” don’t be. This is Lauren Dane, the writer who gave us contemporaries like the Brown Siblings series and the Chase Brothers series, and paranormal series like Cascadia Wolves, the de La Vega Cats and the recently concluded, terrific Bound by Magick series. Triads pop up all the time in her writing, sometimes accepted by the culture, sometimes not, and she deftly highlights those tensions while infusing the relationship with such emotion that you are cheering for everything to work out (and it does, thankfully, since it’s a romance novel!). While Dane has written this series so each book can be a stand-alone, with world-building like this, I’d strongly recommend reading all of them in order to truly appreciate the story arc.

Public domain image via Pixabay

Public domain image via Pixabay

The Federation is actually a federation of universes (or ‘verses as the citizens refer to them) settled by humans descended from Earth colonists generations upon generations ago, with a network of official Portals linking vast distances to shorten travel and enhance commerce. Comprised of millions of people and controlled by Houses, a handful of powerful families wield sole control over the masses. Think of the Houses as medieval aristocracy in terms of power and financial control and you won’t be far off. Members of the Houses are “Ranked,” meaning they possess tremendous status and privilege in addition to vast quantities of wealth at their disposal. While ranked men and women can have affairs with unranked people, it’s extremely limited in nature, with the more prominent ranked having to enter political marriages arranged (or at least approved) by the head of their House. Naturally with this arrangement, the men often have unranked mistresses, basically courtesans, and Ranked women are raised to think only of enhancing their family’s status through marriage as their destiny.

The first book, Undercover, focuses on Lieutenant Sera Ayers, an outstanding operative for the Federation military, known for using her facility with languages and cultures to good effect in undercover operations. Coming from an extremely modest background, she’s worked hard to find her place, but has finally achieved a level of respect from her superior officers and her peers and assembled a crack team which she leads successfully. When she’s called into her CO’s office and told that her team has been reassigned to someone else so she can work with the two men in front of her on a secret assignment, she’s both stunned and enraged, primarily because the one man, Ash Walker, is the ranked jackass who stole her heart ten years ago and then shredded it with the offer of becoming his official mistress when his arranged marriage was announced and finalized. She ran from him then and she’s going to run from him now, but not before landing a terrific punch to the face.

Ash Walker knew Sera was likely to still be angry with him, even after a decade apart, but he didn’t expect this strong a reaction. He’s never stopped loving her and while he knows that she is perfect for this mission, he also knows that he’s hoping that he can show her that they can finally have a future together. His sham of a marriage fell apart after only a few years, and the best thing he got out of it was the man sitting next to him, his once brother-in-law, Brandt Pela, who is not only his best friend but his occasional lover as well. Ash suspects – no, he knows – that Sera might be the final piece to bring the three of them together, if she would just lower her defenses.

Image purchased under a web license from Shutterstock

Image purchased under a web license from Shutterstock

Brandt Pela might also be a wealthy ranked man but he sees what Ash stubbornly doesn’t, that Sera was so shattered by Ash’s treatment of her years ago that her lack of trust endangers their mission, especially since Ash constructed their cover so that Sera would have to pose as his mistress. Brandt knows that Sera is astonishingly beautiful and obviously a terrific soldier. Since he quickly decides he wants something more permanent with her as well, he offers to have her be his mistress on the mission, with the clear understanding that they will have to have sex and that the world they are traveling to is going to expect him to share her with Ash.

Sera hates Ash (and her reaction to him after all these years) but she doesn’t have a choice in this assignment. With the good-looking and considerate Brandt trying to make it work with switching the proposed roles, she accepts his offer, knowing that this mission is dangerous both physically and to her heart. When she discovers that her understanding of Ash’s choices ten years ago was not as clear as it should have been – and that the betrayal they are slowly uncovering on their assignment strikes at the heart of Ash and Brandt’s families – Sera decides she will do whatever it takes to fight for her world, even if it means having her heart broken all over again, this time by two ranked men.

I’ll be honest, this book is the most painful of the entire series for me to read since Sera and Ash are still both so raw from their loss of one another, even if it has been a decade. Sera was young and naive, at least to the point that she didn’t understand that Ash’s marriage involved the livelihood of tens of thousands of unranked people like her. Ash is an entitled ass who still doesn’t get it, but he is so in love with Sera and so tender with her as her relationship with Brandt develops that she is able to take the risk and be with him once more. Both Brandt and Ash are dominant, which works fine as Sera loves being a submissive to them (only in the bedroom, however), and the M/M action between Brandt and Ash *fans self* is quite steamy, even though Sera is their ultimate focus. Even though BDSM is not my thing, Dane writes it so well that it was clear the dynamic was about satisfying everyone’s desire to express their love and affection for one another, so it never made me uncomfortable.

I was so wowed by how Dane managed to figure out an HEA for these three since I spent a large part of my first reading desperately trying to brainstorm how on earth she could solve the problem of their status inequity. Yet these two ranked men use everything at their disposal to follow their hearts and find happiness, while also shedding the cover they’ve held for years of dissipated playboys, enabling them to be honest about both their undercover military service while at the same time honest about their love for Sera and each other. As tough as the first half of the book is, the last 30 pages always initiate a gigantic burst of warmth in my chest as it all comes together!

Relentless (Federation Chronicles #2 – Abby and Roman) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2009)

The second book in the series, Relentless, is actually my favorite (by a close margin, but still manages to move ahead). Centered on the Federation’s home world of Ravena, the focus of power and commerce in this polarized world. The powerful heads of houses and their heirs meet in councils to discuss issues and events, and the recent exposure of corruption in the houses of Walker and Pela (fortunately by two honored sons from those houses in the military) have stirred unrest among the unranked.

Heading it is the beautiful and dynamic Abbie Haws, a respected barrister and head of an organization which seeks greater representation for the unranked among the Houses. Abbie considers herself fortunate when she can get one of the House’s personal assistants to return her calls, but she draws attention when a nursemaid to one of the Houses is accused of stealing and fired, coincidentally right before she would qualify for her pension and retirement. The ranked members of the House involved are incensed, and Abbie is almost attacked in the courthouse. That near assault draws the attention of the most powerful man in the Federation, Roman Lyons, the head of House Lyons.

Lauren Dane mentions in her acknowledgements page that she wanted to specifically thank actor Daniel Craig since he was her inspiration for Roman Lyons, and I defy you not to think of that sexy actor as you fall for Roman. Married incredibly young at the age of 17 in a political union, Roman produced two wonderful sons quickly and then watched their mother waste away to a disease brought on by her last birth. Serious and intense, Roman has the weight of millions on his shoulders with literally the responsibility of hundreds of thousands of people directly working for the benefit of House Lyons.

Daniel Craig (the sexy beast). Whether he’s playing James Bond on screen or Roman Lyons in my head, he brings sensuality and incredible strength of purpose to the role. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

So naturally he’s astonished when he meets the troublesome Abbie Haws in his office to discover that the two of them have an immediate, combustible chemistry, one he has literally never experienced before and which ends with her having an orgasm within 10 minutes of their meeting. (That is my kind of meeting!) The two of them recognize that there is something there but the need for privacy is vital as the press getting a hold of any whiff of anything between them would be disastrous. Considering the work Abbie is doing, work that Roman grows to respect and wants to foster, her reputation would be horribly undermined with the taint of sexual connection between them. Roman also knows that as the head of House Lyons, it’s his duty to negotiate another political marriage and strengthen his House.

Knowing that there is no future is no guarantee of not falling in love. Abbie takes Roman undercover to see the lives of the unranked he controls while she gains insight into the unbelievable pressures and responsibilities he has. The Roman Abbie discovers is a man who adores his two sons and is incredibly loyal to the people who work for him. In turn, Roman discovers the truth behind Abbie’s many scars and realizes that a woman who has every reason to despise the ranked instead confronts them daily working to forward the rights of average person. The more each of them uncover, the more amazing their connection, and a hopeless love develops between them, one that they both know must end. For Roman the agony is knowing he will have to deal with everything in his life without the joy and fire that is Abbie grounding him; for Abbie it’s knowing that she will need to go on with her life seeing Roman on the vids (video) and hearing about him at every turn, particularly after he’s married to someone else.

Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock.

Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock.

Oh. My. God. There is no way you don’t come away adoring Abbie – the love she has for her family (and they for her), her handling her narcissistic and idealistic father, the older brother who almost went to jail for her before accepting a military position instead, the ex-fiancee who has remained a good friend. Particularly after hearing the crucible she went through at such a young age when she was assaulted, you will be ready to get BFF necklaces and take her out for a drink! Roman is actually her perfect match, as her playful demeanor offers him an outlet he never before possessed and his intense support with no agenda other than helping her is a welcome relief from the many people who demand a piece of her. Their heat is off the charts – muy caliente – and when that sensuality is combined with the tenderness between them, it’s enough to break your heart, particularly knowing how doomed they are.

Which brings me to the number one reason why I think this book should be made into a movie. Of all the books (and the whole series would be an incredible movie franchise if middle America wouldn’t flip out at the M/M action and the triad relationships), the ending of this book, literally had me standing up shouting “Yes, YES!!” the first time I read it (and I still do a fist pump with each subsequent re-read). Dane just surprises the hell out of me with her ability to pull an emotional yet believable HEA out of what previously appeared to be thin air. Suffice it to say that you’ll be so much more in love with Roman than you were before, if that’s possible.

Insatiable (Federation Chronicles #3, Phantom Corps #1 – Daniel and Carina) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2010)

The third book, Insatiable, stars none other than Abbie Haws brother, Daniel, who works for Roman Lyons’ chief military officer in what’s known as the Phantom Corps. In fact, Dane has created a mini-trilogy within the larger construct of the Federation Chronicles, continuing the story arc of political corruption within the Federation and demonstrating how the brave men and women of this elite undercover force ferrets out information and eliminates threats to the universes.

This book brings in a fascinating angle to the series’ story arc of the growing threat to the Federation by exposing us to the threat inherent in Imperial territory. The Imperial ‘Verses are the direct competition and insidious enemy of the Federation although no conflict is officially declared. One of the most powerful men in this ‘verse is a sick bastard by the name of Fardelle, who is about to marry off his twenty-three year old daughter Carina to further cement an alliance with one of his underlings.

Carina has perfected the facade of a shallow, stunningly beautiful woman just waiting to be married off to further her father’s agenda. Her mother, Fardelle’s first wife, has worked quietly behind the scenes to undermine her husband and support her children at every turn, for all the good it’s done her.  Her oldest son literally disappeared and his name stricken from all records and portraits, her youngest son died suddenly of a mysterious and virulent illness, and now her daughter is to be married to a violent lecher who will make the rest of her life a hell. Stealing vital data chips from her husband’s home office, Carina’s mother convinces her to accept the coded data as a subdermal chip, intrinsically linked to her body’s system so that in order to extract the data, Carina must be alive. Contacting Federation forces, Fardelle’s wife arranges for an operative to ferry Carina to Federation territory and safely out of her father’s hands.

Carina agreed to be the carrier thinking that this would undermine her father’s evil while helping her and her mother escape, and she’s dismayed at the last minute by her mother’s announcement that she plans to stay behind. Carina fleeing a horrible marriage is believable versus the more treasonous implications of the two of them disappearing. When the handsome but bossy operative Daniel Haws arrives in disguise, Carina can tell she’s in good hands even if the agent in question treats her like an utter moron.

Public domain image courtesy of Pixabay

Public domain image courtesy of Pixabay

Daniel is shocked at not only how beautiful Carina Fardelle is, but how her public face of a vapid, shallow daughter of wealth completely disappears and in its place is that of a vibrant and capable young woman eager to experience the world and feel her freedom. He must get her out of Imperial territory alive, however, and back to Ravena where the information on her chip can be decoded. Fardelle is suspected of trafficking in bioweapons with the goal to attack Federation outposts and the human costs could potentially be in the millions. Yet as he and Carina evade Imperial forces with the help of his fellow agents, Daniel finds himself sexually and emotionally pulled toward this brave young woman, all the while knowing that when they return to his home planet she will be inundated with proposals of marriage from ranked men. But Carina didn’t escape her father’s control to not take the reins of her own destiny, and she knows her future includes Daniel, if he can let go of his belief system to see it.

Dane does a terrific job showing us the phenomenal pressures of Carina’s life, pressures which force her to don an impenetrable mask in order to avoid detection. But although Carina is a virgin, she is a sensual, slightly naughty one with a propensity for voyeurism, so she has plenty of tricks up her sleeve and she plans on trying all of them with Daniel. There is no way for Daniel to resist her for long, at least not once his instincts confirm that this bold, courageous woman is the real Carina, and he knows she may just be one person he can never let go. I loved them as a couple, adored their heat, and felt that the sense of imminent threat to the Federation was so well done, I wasn’t sure what was making my pulse pound more – Carina and Daniel’s sexy times or the urgent need for them to get her information back to Ravena ASAP! Meeting the other members of the Phantom Corps helps understand the dynamics of their operation while introducing us to a few key people, namely the heroes of the next two books.

Mesmerized (Federation Chronicles #4; Phantom Corps #2 – Andrei and Piper) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2011)

The first fellow Phantom Corp agent with his own book is Andrei Solace, the enigmatic assassin who helped Carina and Daniel get to Federation territory. Now in Mesmerized, with the escalation of animosity from the Imperial forces a growing rumor – particularly with their use of mercenaries to traffic bioagents and ammunition – Andrei is sent back to his home planet to investigate. There is one mercenary in particular who he never forgot and who he is sure will help the Federation. But seeing her means confronting his past and, more importantly, having the strength to walk away…again.

Piper Roundtree thought Andrei might have died when he disappeared at age 17 and it broke her young heart. Always best friends, their affection for one another became an all-consuming young love which had them taking one another’s virginity. But Andrei and Piper both lived a hardscrabble existence on the wrong side of the law, and while Piper had her siblings, Andrei was alone after his mother died and his siblings were taken away. After his arrest, the Roundtrees never saw him again, only comforted by the occasional packets of credits marked with a single “A” that helped them survive in their isolated compound during the hard years.

But when Andrei turns out to be the mysterious sniper who just saved Piper and her family from annihilation at the hands of Imperial soldiers pressuring her to ferry illegal cargo, Piper has the realization that nothing has changed regarding her feelings for Andrei. Yes, he’s now a man when she loved the boy, but realizing the work he’s done and how he has made himself into a deadly soldier only makes her more determined to show him that he is loved exactly for who he is. Andrei knows that who and what he is will only stain this incredible thing that he has with Piper, but he can’t help needing her, even when he knows he should push her away.

Andrei was a sexy beast in Insatiable and had a demonstrated wry sense of humor, but seeing him revisit his painful past is worth it to find Piper again. She is so upbeat and stubborn (both in the best possible way) and most importantly, she knows him well-enough to understand all the shame and worries he brings to their renewed relationship, allowing her to blast past those barriers one at a time. For Andrei, being an assassin and spy is so much of who he is (and that part of him that he doesn’t want Piper to know) that for him to see her actively take part in his life – using her shady contacts, her ability to bluff and her amazing piloting skills to help him and the Federation – is this eye-opening moment where it occurs to him that his vocation doesn’t have to be separate from the love of his life. I adored them both and cheered for them to figure it all out, even when the ending of the book broke my heart with Piper’s loss during the plant raid.

Captivated (Federation Chronicles #5 ; Phantom Corps #3 – Vincenz, Julian and Hannah) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2012)

That final mission in Mesmerized had a big impact on more than just Andrei and Piper. In Captivated, we see the story begin back at the raid, as Vincenz Fardelle (Carina’s older brother who disappeared and then enlisted in the Phantom Corps) helps raid the plant in an effort to discover more about his father’s Imperial plans for bioweaponry. As he is making his way through the deserted labs, he spots a naked, filthy woman, clearly tortured, in one of the glass cells. Glancing at the lab’s information to insure that she is not infected or dangerous, he’s angered and horrified to discover that she has been subjected to an experiment for over a year at being deprived of touch or interaction of any kind other than experiments involving pain or violent treatment. He scoops her up and takes her to the transport to get her out of that hellhole prior to its detonation.

The woman, who is identified as scientist Hannah Black, is naturally terrified of doctors of any kind, reminded all too much of the experiments and pain inflicted upon her in her captivity. Vincenz, who has rejected his father’s name and taken his mother’s surname Cuomo, is in a relationship with fellow Phantom Corps member Julian Marsters. Brought together soon after Julian lost his best friend in the attack on Ravena in Insatiable, Vincenz and Julian discovered that their love for one another has pushed back the darkness they each carry. Perhaps because of this, they empathize with Hannah’s struggle to fight to gain back the pieces of her shattered memory and personality, immediately protecting her from the Federation doctors who want her in a hospital under their care.

In the weeks after her rescue, Hannah feels nothing but frustration at her fragmented intellect combined with intense affection for the two gorgeous men who protect her. Deprived of human touch for so long, golden Vincenz and the dark Julian keep her sandwiched between them at night, making sure one of them is always close by for her to hold if she needs them during the day. When it becomes clear that she was kidnapped for a reason by the Imperial scientists, Hannah agrees to undergo a painful experimental treatment which will hopefully amplify the piecing together of her memory in order to help the Phantom Corps with information. In the process, a part of herself she thought permanently lost – that of sexual desire – returns with a vengeance and is embarrassingly directed at the handsome soldiers who saved her.

While Vincenz and Julian may have begun their acceptance of Hannah into their home based on the need to protect her, the weeks of witnessing her daily bravery have deepened their feelings into much more and they both admit to each other that their feelings are quite carnal. Helping Hannah reclaim this part of herself as well is nothing but a pleasure to all three of them, but with Julian still withholding a part of himself over grief for his friend and Vincenz facing his father’s demons in an important mission, Hannah wonders if the feelings she has for these two men will have to come to an end.

Public domain image via Pixabay

Public domain image via Pixabay

Okay, this is the book practically tied with Relentless as my favorite of the series. Vincenz and Julian are both hot and sweet with one another – brainy, hunky soldiers with dark pasts who nevertheless find something precious and wonderful in one another. The development with Hannah is all the sweeter for them not realizing it was anything they needed or wanted, they just woke up one day realizing that her happiness was incredibly important to them and that she was a woman whose beauty, inside and out, made her an intrinsic part of their relationship.

Hannah is an amazing character and I think Lauren Dane is nothing short of masterful the way she conveys how Hannah’s brain has morphed into something truly different, yet how that change has simply revealed the core of her amazing personality. Seeing Piper and Andrei again was a pleasure, particularly when they both explain how Vincenz and Julian are seriously stepping in it and hurting Hannah. There’s no way you don’t have a smile on your face when Andrei lectures the two of them on how to treat a woman! Dane offers great further development of threat from the Imperial forces and a really exciting denouement when we return to the compound from which Carina escaped back in Insatiable. There is joy and heartbreak in the final showdown, but once again, an unexpected HEA that makes you cheer for this triad and the future they have together.

While Dane has made clear that while she is busy juggling other projects in 2014 (and I’m looking forward to them!), she’s is planning at least two more books in the series – Wil (the hot head of the Phantom Corps who we have already seen flustered by a woman back on Ravena) and Deimos (Roman Lyons oldest son who I carry a crush for based on how much he loves his father and how he wants to help Abby). Her website states that she’s hoping their books will come out in 2015, but luckily for us, these five books are so amazing that whenever I get itchy for fabulous science fiction, I just reread them!

There All Along by Lauren Dane and Megan Hart (Berkley, December 3, 2013)

I did want to address the cost of the books – the ebook editions are strangely expensive (like around $11) which I don’t understand at all, but there are mass market paperbacks for each of them with a normal price of $6, and honestly, whatever you pay, they are utterly worth it. I have most of mine in paper format, but considering where they rank in my list of favorite series, I’m going to slowly add the ebook versions since I like to have both formats for books I consider to be romance classics, and these fit the bill.

Many thanks to Lauren Dane for being such a kickass writer that she can do multiple genres with aplomb. She has another (what sounds like) science fiction story (unrelated to the Federation chronicles) coming out this week in a duology with Megan Hart, There All Along, and Dane’s story “Land’s End” about a lone gunman and the woman who’s town is attacked, sounds amazing – I’ve already pre-ordered it!

If you enjoy science fiction, love science fiction erotic romance, or just plain love Lauren Dane, do yourself a favor and get the Federation Chronicles on your to-read list ASAP. This a phenomenal series by a phenomenal writer – you’ll love it!

Over at Romance Novels in Color Today…

29 Nov

Hey, everyone! I’ve been fortunate enough to be offered a reviewer position at Romance Novels in Color, a website dedicated to highlighting romance novels which possess diversity in their heroes or heroines. I’ve loved getting their newsletter for a while, so it’s especially nice to add my own two cents. Sadly, I didn’t love my first book that I reviewed, but I was happy to do it! I think it will be fun to have the occasional post over there and I’ll be sure to link to it from here when I do.

Take a look at my post for the menage story of Relax, Bell by Lou Lou Winters or poke around the site to see what else is on there that might add to your Black Friday deals today. :-)

Pets Make Authors Human: A Pictorial Reflection on Animals, Romance, and Writing

28 Nov

Dean Koontz with his golden retriever – yes, I’m going to admit that I bought my first Koontz book because he always has his golden in the author photo!

It’s Thanksgiving, and if there’s one part of my life I give tremendous thanks for beyond the human members of my family, it’s the four-legged creatures who fill my life with joy and laughter. Following so many author blogs and the Facebook pages of writers I admire, I can’t help but notice just how many people post regular photos and updates of their pets…and how many comments and likes they get when they do.

My Romance Writers of America chapter (go Pocono-Lehigh Romance Writers!!!) recently had the fabulous Caridad Pinerio give an incredibly informative workshop on social media for authors. One point she mentioned was that recipes and pets (with accompanying photos) are pure gold when it comes to social media. Considering what I stop to read I completely believe her, but it made me wonder, what is it about authors and their pets that we find so appealing?

Ernest Hemingway and one of his many cats

I imagine that it’s a combination of shared experience and humanization. We have something in common with even a famous writer like Lord Byron (who wrote the most heartfelt poem to his Newfoundland Dog Boatswain who he buried with a headstone that exceeds Byron’s in size) or Mark Twain. Ernest Hemingway may have been a misogynist, but I bet he had to clean up something heinous his six-toed cats horked up around his house at some point, right? So he and I would theoretically have a conversation starter if we ever met on a distant plain (and I could steer away from the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of his writing).

It’s very easy for me to believe Janet Evanovich invented the successful Stephanie Plum series when I see this shot. Anyone with such a smiley St. Bernard has to have a terrific sense of humor!

There is also the nature of writing – it’s lonely. You usually do it all by yourself, in some cramped, cluttered corner of your house while the humans around you steer clear because you are a) overcaffeinated, b) talking to people who don’t exist (i.e., your characters) and/or c) haven’t bothered to shower because you are headed to a deadline. You know who doesn’t care? Your pet. Your cat selfishly feels you are a terrific source of heat and food as you snack at your desk and your dog simply loves you so much that he or she is willing to drape themselves on your feet and let their bladder the size of Montana fill until you realize it’s been 11 hours since you’ve taken them outside to pee. You do not get that kind of devotion from a person (okay, rarely you do), which could explain writers’ propensity for animal fandom.

Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice Toklas with their poodle. Every pet owner looking at this photo just exclaimed, "A white carpet! Seriously?!"

Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas with their poodle. Every pet owner looking at this photo just exclaimed, “A white carpet! Seriously?!”

I definitely think that authors like Dean Koontz (who actually has given his late golden Trixie her own webpage while celebrating his current golden, Anna) and Janet Evanovich are onto something when it comes time for the author photo. Having a pet in the shot not only differentiates you from the pack, but instantly sends the message, “Oh, wow, this person is an approachable, nice human being” because let’s face it, animals usually only like nice people and are able to detect when some bitchy person carries a whiff of sulphur still lingering from their portal to hell transportation. In Midge Raymond’s “Tips for the Author Photo” article, Raymond emphasizes the importance of maintaining a natural look and that includes your facial expression. It’s virtually impossible to have a pet in the shot with you and not look natural, because you are busy worrying that your dog or cat is going to pee on a light or start barking at a shadow and embarrass you, rather than about how fat your upper arms might look or if you are getting a weird shadow that’s going to make you resemble Winston Churchill when you want the cool J. R. Ward badass vibe (which you probably won’t get unless you have a cool cat in the shot, like a panther).

Don’t let the gigantic dog in the center have you ignore the little King Charles spaniel in the right hand corner – both dogs carry the symbolism of wealth and protection in Anthony Van Dyck‘s Five Children of King Charles I (1637) in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Let’s not forget that the presence of animals in a portrait has always meant something (other than announcing you carry a powerful lint brush in your purse everywhere you go). In the 17th to 19th centuries, animals in a portrait, usually dogs, often indicated that the person or persons in the portrait were worthy of admiration and loyalty, or the breed of animal hinted at the intellectual refinement or wealth of the subject. One of my favorite portraits involving a dog is Anthony Van Dyck’s portrait, Five Children of King Charles I which you can visit in all its splendor in the National Portrait Gallery in London. The gigantic dog being used as an armrest by the future Charles II of England is probably an early variety of Mastiff and the bitty poindexter in the lower right hand corner looking at the chubby (and seriously underdressed) Princess Anne is an early King Charles Spaniel. Mastiffs were frequently owned by the aristocracy for protection, and the King Charles Spaniel was actually named for the young Charles pictured here since he loved toy spaniels, including the one that would eventually carry his name.

Love Bites anthology with stories by Lori Foster, Brenda Jackson, Virna DePaul, Catherine Mann and Jules Bennett (Harlequin, February 2013)

Luckily for us, we no longer look for the deep symbolism when someone takes either a formal portrait immortalizing their puppy or a selfie with their ginormous cat, but readers are still fascinated by the relationship of pets and authors. In the world of romance, we are fortunate to not just have authors who write in terrific animal characters into their books (Laura Kaye’s fabulous three-legged puppy in Hard As It Gets comes to mind, as well as all the animal characters of Jill Shalvis’ Animal Magnetism series), but who actually advocate for them. Lori Foster, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Brenda Jackson, Catherine Mann, Virna DePaulJill Shalvis, Kate Angell, Jacquelyn Frank, and Lisa Jackson are just a few of the authors who come to mind to heighten awareness of animal causes and who even create anthologies where the proceeds go to animal charities.

I’ll leave you with the poem Lord Byron wrote for his Newfoundland’s gravestone since it summarizes a lot of the relationship we have with our pets. Maybe you’d even consider making a donation to your local animal shelter in honor of your favorite romance author – I’m sure they’d be thrilled to hear about that kind of fan appreciation! Whatever your thoughts on how to honor the animals who inspire you – whether they live in your home or are online – let’s all consider ourselves fortunate to have these wonderful giving creatures in our lives and in our imaginations.

Epitaph to A Dog

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN, a DOG,
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18, 1808.

For more great pictures of writers and their pets I’d recommend the following articles:

“Animal Muses: The Pets Of Famous Writers And Artists” by Alice E. Vincent from The Huffington Post UK (June 25, 2012)

“Portraits of Writers With Pets: The Humanizing Animal Connection” by Emily Temple from The Atlantic (November 28, 2012)

“Literary Pets: The Cats, Dogs, and Birds Famous Authors Loved” by Maria Popova from Brain Pickings (April 29, 2013)

Disgraced Special Forces Heroes, Courageous Heroines, and Sexy Ink Combine to Make Laura Kaye’s Hard As It Gets A Must Buy

27 Nov

Hard As It Gets (Hard Ink #1 – Nick and Becca) by Laura Kaye (Avon, November 26, 2013)

I have been waiting for months for this book to come out (and was soooo thankful its debut occurred on my Thanksgiving vacation). I’ve qvelled about Laura Kaye’s writing ability, particularly her way of transforming damaged military heroes into men with a mission regarding the woman they love, and Hard As It Gets is no exception.

Becca Merritt can’t handle losing one more family member. This brave ER nurse lost her mother as a child, her older brother to a heroine overdose and her Special Forces father on a dangerous mission in Afghanistan, and now her younger brother Charlie is missing. Yes, he’s always been a paranoid computer genius, but when they argued during a secure online chat session, he claimed that he had uncovered evidence that implicated their father in something horrible. Becca had argued with Charlie that he needed to let his animosity toward their dad go, but he signed off with a cryptic message to get help.

A message which landed her about twelve minutes from her house at a Baltimore tattoo parlor emblazoned “Hard Ink.” Asking for Rixey manages to get two brothers, but it’s clearly older brother Nick who was the one who could help Becca. His whole demeanor screams Special Forces, but the chill in his eyes when he turns down any prospect of helping her makes Becca feel she is totally and utterly alone. A little more warmth in those green eyes and Nick Rixey would have been a walking sex god, but she’s gotten through worse and she’ll do it again.

Nick Rixey is a man drifting. A silent partner in his brother’s tattoo parlor, he’s been going through the steps as an apprentice to get a license he began before enlisting after 9/11. For years, the military and later Special Forces were his life, until he and his team were betrayed by their commander, Colonel Merritt. Six good men died and more were wounded, but the greatest ignominy was Nick and his surviving men having fabricated offenses planted in their files so they could be run out of the military with dishonor. Feeling responsible and recovering from having his lower back and pelvis shot up in the ambush, Nick has avoided his former team and anything having to do with the FUBAR situation that got him home. The gorgeous blond who looked at him with such hope in her eyes may be barking up the wrong tree, but even Nick knows that it’s not her fault that her father was a traitor, something she clearly doesn’t realize.

Even though he sent her away, Nick listens to the little voice telling him something isn’t right. Two nights of recon on Becca Merritt’s house indicates that she’s clearly scared of something, and the second night demonstrates her valid feelings when Nick rushes into her home in time to scare away an intruder who was waiting for her at home. The wrench in his gut at the thought of something happening to her, combined with her telling him that her brother may have found something nefarious against her father, tells Nick that not only does he have to help keep this beautiful woman safe and find her brother, but that doing so might hold the key to clearing his name and the names of his fellow survivors.

Hard As You Can (Hard Ink #2 – Shane and Crystal) by Laura Kaye (Avon, February 25, 2014)

While attempting to fight the rising heat between them, Nick calls his team members back together and a happy reunion it’s not. Worse is that now the people he’s been trying to hold at arms length, his brother Jeremy and Becca, aren’t having it, forcing Nick to face his inner demons and realize that a new day is dawning, one in which he can finally face what happened and fight to get back his sense of self with the people who care about him at his side. To open himself will mean risking everything, but only by doing this can he win more than he ever imagined.

Nick and Becca are terrific characters and considering this is a the first book in the series, Laura Kaye had a LOT of ground to cover. Not only did she lay the hot foundation between Nick and Becca who have more in common than they initially realize, but she also set each of the characters of the members of the Special Forces team, the employees of Hard Ink and Becca’s brother Charlie. Since several of these individuals will undoubtedly star in their own book down the line, it’s important to get a sense of who they are and their backstory up front, and Kaye succeeds without ever making the reader feel like they are suffering through an info-dump.

The larger story arc of their betrayal at the hands of Becca and Charlie’s father is extremely interesting to me, mostly because I can’t help but doubt tremendously that he really did it. Do I believe everything transpired the way Nick and his crew said it did? Yes, definitely, but for a Special Forces colonel with an upstanding record, no known vices, and a son who died of a heroin overdose to turn to aiding opium traffickers in the mideast? I don’t see the psychological motivation, although I see a big one to work secretly to undermine it, and that whoever in the military is dirty would want to disgrace his team and cover his tracks. Just saying.

The next book in the series, Hard As You Can, will focus on Southern charmer, Shane McCallan, and the red-haired beauty who helped the team at the strip club during Charlie’s extraction. Awesome! I’ve already pre-ordered my copy (and since it’s going at under $5 for either the Kindle or the paperback version, I’d encourage interested readers to do the same) and have got the February 25th release date on my calendar. Easy’s novella, Hard to Hold Onto, is scheduled for the late summer, and computer genius and amputee Marz (who I confess is my favorite) will have his full-length novel, Hard to Come By, come out right around this time next year, making me have another terrific Thanksgiving, I’m sure!

Laura Kaye has begun her new series in a big way, and the only thing “Hard” about them is waiting for the next one. Happy reading!

Love and Cordite Make an Unbeatable Combination in Kaylea Cross’ Titanium Security Series, Including Her Latest Novel, Extinguished

26 Nov

Ignited (Titanium Security #1 – Khalia and Hunter) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, June 2013)

I’ve definitely told you how Kaylea Cross is a terrific suspense/military romance writer, but I’ve been remiss in hogging her Titanium Security series all to myself. With the latest release, Extinguished, published just this past Friday, this seemed like a great opportunity to let you in on a terrific series (and an even better writer).

Cross’ strengths are that she possesses the ability to write empathetic, courageous characters (every hero or heroine would be sorted into Grffyindor), mix in steaming hot sex scenes, and tie everything together with a badass story arc that keeps the action moving through each book and into the next one. Her military details are meticulously researched and she doesn’t shy away from specifics or dumb anything down for the reader, placing her on par with terrific military romance writers like M. L. Buchman, Maya Banks, and Catherine Mann.

In the first book of the series, Ignited, we meet a grouchy but incredibly efficient Hunter Phillips, an ex-Navy SEAL, who has taken on the head of a security detail escorting a rich woman into the heart of Pakistan where her father was just recently brutally murdered. His daughter, the beautiful Khalia Patterson, doesn’t know if her father’s foundation (which seeks to help young women get an education) was worth dying for, but she plans to honor his sacrifice and continue his work. Completely out of her depth in terms of the danger, she finds herself relying on the taciturn and compelling Hunter, despite his standoffishness.

Hunter is doing this detail as a favor to his boss since he is still reeling from losing a friend in the line of fire. Khalia’s honesty and bravery is not what he expected from the head of a charity, and he finds himself dangerously falling for this beautiful woman despite every effort to keep his distance. When things heat up and she (and his team) are in serious danger from the same people who killed her father, Hunter knows that he will do whatever it takes to both keep her safe, and make her his.

Hunter is smoking hot and Khalia’s refreshing honesty and sense of what’s right is so appealing that you fall for both of them pretty quickly. As the first book in the series, Ignited does a great job setting up the quality of Titanium Security, some of the work dynamics and lays a foundation for the other characters. Clearly the hints at the machinations behind the scene help the reader understand the psychological makeup of the villain and the pawns he uses to further his goals, as well.

Singed (Titanium Security #2 – Claire and Gage) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, July 2013)

The next book, Singed, is downright gut-wrenching as the two protagonists actually broke up not six months before (I have a problem with reunion stories, but for Cross, I’ll read them). NSA analyst Claire Tierney couldn’t handle all the obstacles in her path to happiness half a year ago, despite her knowing that she couldn’t love former Special Forces Master Sergeant Gage Wallace more. Her father is an alcoholic who needs her and her brother is walking the line with suicide, having returned from combat with severe PTSD. Just when her life couldn’t get any more complicated, she’s assigned to Titanium Security’s team to help them hunt down a Taliban assassin who plans to make a stateside strike – and discovers she’ll be working with Gage. Even better, she also finds out that she’s been named a target by the terrorist in question.

Gage knows he has strikes against him with Claire – he’s a lot older than her and he’s got a teenage daughter – but his life has been so empty since she left him that this assignment feels like the second chance he can’t screw up. When he discovers she’s in danger, it’s not even a question of insuring her safety – and what better place to be than right by her side? The spark still exists between them and as it flares to life once again, Gage only wonders if he can convince Claire to let someone else share her burden and her life in these dangerous times.

OMG – Gage is such a teddy bear deep down and his love for Claire (and hers for him) is so strong. You absolutely empathize with Claire – I was exhausted seeing her level of caretaking and co-dependency with both her father and brother, so it would be very easy in her shoes to feel like she couldn’t take on anything more with Gage, particularly with him having such a dangerous job. I loved seeing Gage with his daughter (and his daughter with Claire since she clearly was helping foster their relationship). The ending was heart-stopping and propelled me into pre-ordering the next book long before it came out. Cross can write her mysterious villains in a big way!

Burned (Titanium Security #3 – Zahra & Sean) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, August 2013)

I was chomping at the bit to read Zahra Gill’s story in Burned – after all, this mysterious woman has always been strongly protected by Alex Rycroft, head of Titanium Security, but there clearly wasn’t anything sexual about it. Since she walked with a limp and had lost her family, something heinous had clearly shaped her in her past. Seeing this beautiful woman rebuff former Force Recon Marine Sean Dunphy (a charming prankster and Zahra’s personality opposite) again and again was both amusing and intriguing since there was more than a frisson of sexual tension there if she cared to move on it. Her cryptology work has always been vital to the firm’s safety and success, but with the terrorist threat having heavily escalated and Zahra specifically in danger, Sean Dunphy decides he is not going to leave her alone, and that he’s also going to use his proximity to get behind those shields of hers.

What he discovers is an unbelievably brave person who has faced death at the hands of those people she most wanted to trust, but who still found the courage to follow her dream, even though it came at an incredibly high cost. Sean decides that Zahra is the person meant for him right around the time that the threat to Titanium Security escalates into a situation that feels like deja vu for Zahra, and it is going to take everything Sean has to keep her safe.

Sean is not just unbelievably sexy (like, melt-your-underwear-sexy) but he’s so protective and tender with Zahra, despite her initial prickliness, that you are reduced to a puddle while reading about him. When you find out just what this poor woman has been through – and how she channelled all her reaction into working for the good guys – you just want to be her best friend (and tell her to go for Sean, already!). Cross develops the threat as she always does, on two levels – the local sleeper cell manipulated by the big bad boss from afar as well as what’s happening back in Pakistan. Like any good writer, you understand how the master villain really does see himself as the hero of the series, but that only makes his evil more chilling. Cross has a deft hand in writing not only fundamentalist Muslims bent on terrorist activity as our villains, but also writing the three-dimensional, very modern Zahra who has rejected the dictates of the fundamentalist interpretation of her religion while still being a spiritual person who loves Islam.

Extinguished (Titanium Security #4 – Blake and Jordyn) by Kaylea Cross (November 20, 2013)

In the latest book, Extinguished, we get to see where Sean’s good friend, the strong and silent sniper, Blake Ellis, went when the team decided that they needed to add another member who was good with guns and machinery. Blake has had to face some demons, namely one hot former Marine, Jordyn Bridger.

Jordyn is the younger sister of Blake’s best friend who died six months ago in combat. The Bridger family has always been Blake’s extended family as well, but he’s had very non-brotherly feelings for Jordyn for a few years now. He’s done a good job hiding them from her, at least until she broke down after her brother’s funeral and a session of comforting turned into a hot kiss that rocked Blake’s world. Worried he had betrayed his friendship with her and his former friend, he fled and has been out of contact ever since.

Jordyn can’t believe when she slides out from under one of the cars in her father’s shop that Blake has the gall to be standing there, offering her a job. She’s been in love with him for years, even having to suffer through his idiotic infatuation with the trashy Melissa who he almost married until she dumped him when he was overseas. That he respects her work enough to unequivocally recommend her for this position is a balm to her shredded heart, but she’s not sure she can move past how he gutted her – first by leaving after the kiss she’d been dreaming about for most of her life, and second by apologizing to her about it. Men!

Nevertheless, she does take the job since it would feel good to dust off some of her abilities in the field. When Jordyn finally tells Blake in Pakistan that they are fine and he shouldn’t worry about their relationship, she understands if he doesn’t feel anything more than friendship for her, Blake feels like his world just tilted on its axis. Jordyn has feelings for him, and he’s been an unobservant idiot apparently for years. Despite the fact they are stuck in tight quarters and facing death every time they walk out the door, Blake is determined that nothing is going to keep him from claiming her as his – not even a very determined terrorist.

Wow and double wow. Jordyn is awesome, fitting into the team very easily since both Blake and Sean Dunphy are friends of hers from the Marines and they know her ability behind a gun or buried to the elbows in an engine. When Sean gets hurt (and I’m going to have insomnia until the next book comes out and I know if he’s going to be okay), Jordyn has to go in the field with Blake and they are terrific team. Their hot first time in the ammunition closet had me wondering at the fact that all those incendiary devices didn’t explode from the heat, however! The next book featuring head of the firm, Alex Rycroft, and the woman whose life he ruined four years ago (but never stopped loving) is going to be as amazing as the first four! When is it coming????

Because this series has been self-published (and I bet most readers don’t even realize it, considering how well-written and edited it is, as well as the outstanding cover designs which exceed the anemic offerings of so many publishing houses), we are fortunate to have a rapid timeframe for each succeeding novel, so my fingers are crossed that there will be a December or January timeframe for Alex’s book. Kaylea Cross has written another wonderful, suspenseful series which manages to prove why she is on my “must-buy” list!

Happy reading!

Tessa Bailey Gives Readers Exactly What They Asked For in Her Latest Line of Duty Novel, Asking for Trouble

25 Nov
Asking for Trouble (Line of Duty #4 - Hayden and Brent) by Tessa Bailey (Entangled Brazen, November 25, 2013)

Asking for Trouble (Line of Duty #4 – Hayden and Brent) by Tessa Bailey (Entangled Brazen, November 25, 2013)

And what do readers ask for? For Tessa Bailey to live up to the other three amazing novels (and one follow-up novella) in this incredible series, and – being Tessa Bailey – she delivers in spades!

While you certainly do not need to have read the other books in the series to enjoy this one, it does lend a certain depth of understanding since the other characters make appearances.

Former pool hustler Ruby and her detective boyfriend Troy from His Risk to Take, socialize with my favorite couple (and it’s a tough choice, let me tell you) Story and the oh-so-debauched explosives expert and reformed ladies man, Daniel (from Officer Off Limits). Readers of that book remember Story’s best friend and socialite Hayden Winstead, not just because she let Story borrow her youth size Mets jersey for a very scandalous picture, but because Hayden was so clearly unhappy with the pressures of her life. We also saw that Hayden had quite an antagonistic relationship with Daniel’s best friend and fellow explosives expert, Brent Mason, who regularly traded barbs with Hayden, needling her about her rich lifestyle.

At the start of Asking for Trouble, Hayden and Brent are suffering one another’s presence at their regular bar where they hang out with Story and Daniel as well as plenty of other cops (future heroes perhaps?). Hayden is irritated that Brent loves to focus on her money, only seeing her as a vapid socialite and Brent seems content to let Hayden believe he is just a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal full of nothing but bad jokes and sexual innuendo. When he pushes her a little too far with his usual sexual humor, she decides to call him on his bluff and tantalize him. Neither of them back down and before they know it, Brent is back at Hayden’s townhouse in a rather compromising position.

And so it begins. The two of them recognize an incredible chemistry exists between them and pray that a few full body hits will get it out of their system, but the best laid plans, etc. Brent goes to a snooty dinner to help piss off Hayden’s mother and ends up charming her father and all the guests (well, all but the one who wants Hayden). In one of the most tender scenes I’ve ever read, Brent rushes to help Hayden when she tells him the bus she’s on broke down on the highway, only to discover her in shorts and a t-shirt escorting a bunch of Hayden-adoring kids on a Fresh Air Fund outing. Brent doesn’t just help fix the bus, he walks Hayden through fixing it (boosting her with his legs so he can subtly ogle her butt, naturally) and makes her look like a hero to the kids she’s helping. I’m going to admit that I choked up.

Amidst all this growing understanding – Brent beginning to realize that there is a fiery, sexually insatiable, tender-hearted woman behind that cool exterior and Hayden waking up to the idea that behind Brent’s shield of humor lies a knight who works multiple jobs to help the family he adores – there is hot, Tessa Bailey sex, i.e., the best kind. Need a sample?

“I have a few more bad words for you. Would you like to hear them?”

“Yes.” The whispered word broke free before she could suppress it. Brent rewarded her by slowly grinding his hips into her, growling against her neck as she panted.

He brushed her hair aside with one hand and scraped his teeth down the side of her neck. “You made this fucking sound, Hayden. The first time you spread your legs to take my cock. I hear it everywhere I go. This goddamn… moan? Sob? I don’t know. All I know is if I don’t fuck that sound out of you again soon, I’m going to completely lose my mind.”

Bailey, Tessa (2013-11-25). Asking for Trouble (A Line of Duty Novel) (Entangled Brazen) (Kindle Locations 1560-1565). Entangled Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.
 

Awesome, right? Thank God it’s 20 degrees outside so I can crack the window to cool off. As delightful was the realization to both Hayden and Brent that the biting sarcasm they’d traded all these months actually hid a very similar sense of humor – the playful, pun-laden kind – and they weren’t above using it when they were naked. I loved how Brent got his nickname of Florence (not telling, you’ll have to read the book) and certainly the ongoing Beaches movie references were hilarious. Case in point:

“So… Beaches, huh?” Brent cleared his throat. “What is that, some kind of chick flick?” Of course, he’d seen Beaches. Bette Midler was a national treasure. He’d keep that to himself though, in the interest of her not questioning his masculinity.

Bailey, Tessa (2013-11-25). Asking for Trouble (A Line of Duty Novel) (Entangled Brazen) (Kindle Locations 1920-1922). Entangled Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

In other words, Tessa Bailey’s Asking for Trouble has exactly what die-hard fans have come to expect. I don’t know why I’m still so overtaken by a faint sense of astonishment whenever I read her books. I know she’s going to give me hot sex, strong emotions and heroes and heroines I would spend the holidays with, yet I think deep down I worry she’s too good to be true, and I’m going to read a book that has me finally gesturing at some paragraph saying, “Ah, ha! You see, Tessa Bailey is clearly human! Look at how she mixed metaphors.” or some similar writing gaffe…but she never does. I’ll just have to live with her perfection and enjoy reading (and re-reading) her books. It’s hard to be me. ;-)

Happy reading!

Check Out the Time-travel Novella Christmas Past by Susanna Fraser This Holiday Season

25 Nov

All right. Today is clearly Entangled Publishing day, but how can I help it when there are so many great books and novellas coming out? Their Ever After line “features paranormal, sci-fi, and horror novellas, all with the romance you’ve come to love from Entangled–just in a shorter format.” So while the Flirt line is more contemporary and thrillers (with historical shorts mixed in), Ever After is more the things that go bump in the night (or which science creates).

Christmas Past by Susanna Fraser (Entangled Ever After, November 25, 2013)

This particular story I would categorize as a short since it’s around 40 pages, yet it’s so deftly written that I found it particularly gripping. I had first read Susanna Fraser when I was fascinated with a historical author comfortable with tackling an interracial romance in A Dream Defiant (published by Carina Press). I was extremely impressed with the historical verisimilitude and research she utilized for that hot and emotional historical, so much so that I was eager to try this ARC when Entangled offered the opportunity.

While her latest work, Christmas Past, is also set during the Napoleonic Wars, that event is only a minor backdrop to the bigger, more fascinating story. Sydney Dahlquist is talented enough to be trained as a time-traveling scientist and her Ph.D. thesis requires her to head to Portugal during the time of the Peninsular War to gather blood samples from soldiers. Successfully masquerading as a British widow living in Lisbon who wants to nurse her countryman under the circumstances, she’s horrified by the realization on Christmas Eve that her time machine is well and truly broken.

Her training has made chillingly clear what she must do. Destroy the machine and its contents (her technology and samples included) and then take the fast-acting poison which will insure she does not disrupt the historical timeline. As she comes to terms with committing suicide, she looks at her family pictures on her iPad one last time… and hears a gasp – coming face to face with the handsome rifleman, Captain Miles Griffin who has flirted with her while she has been tending the sick. She knew she interacted more with him than she should have, but she’s flabbergasted when he not only believes her story but is adamant about convincing her to reject her Protocol.

Miles does believe Sydney – a portrait that changes and looks like actual people as well as the changed accent and mannerisms of this stunning woman all add up to her story being true. While he escorts her to the German company’s Christmas dinner he attempts to take away a little of her sadness and remind her of what she could have, particularly when she seduces him back in her rooms afterward. But will she listen to him or will her sense of duty – which he understands all too well as an officer – override the pleasure and future he can offer?

Not only did I love the voice in this fresh short which combined science fiction and Regency (and I confess to love time-travel romance), but it had the Fraser trademark of excellent historical research. As with the previous book I read, she focuses more on the average person rather than the proliferation of nobles which seem to populate other novels set in this time period, and I for one find that simultaneously fascinating and welcome. In mere pages, the reader finds herself sympathizing with Sydney’s plight and truly liking both the hero and heroine tremendously – while being torn apart by Sydney’s dilemma. It’s impossible to not imagine what you might do in a similar situation and the solution at the end of the story is a smart twist that brought a smile to my face.

Consider trying a taste of Susanna Fraser if a time-travel romance you can read while roasting your turkey (and my goodness, don’t you deserve a break?) appeals to you. She’s even hosting a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $50 gift card to the reader’s choice of online bookseller so you could find yourself with lots more books to read while chowing down on yummy leftovers!

Many thanks to Entangled Ever After for letting me enjoy such a terrific short prior to its publication and to Susanna Fraser for writing yet another story with her outstanding historical research and wonderful characters. Happy reading!

Gina Gordon’s Recipe for Attraction Is Delicious – With Author Interview!

25 Nov

Recipe for Attraction (Madewood Brothers #2 – Carson and Neil) by Gina Gordon (Entangled Brazen, November 25, 2013)

I love Entangled Brazen’s books (as you know) and today I’m promoting two of them in particular, Gina Gordon‘s Recipe for Attraction (the second book in her Madewood Brothers series) and the next in Tessa Bailey’s amazing Line of Duty series (do you remember how much I love this one?), Asking for Trouble.

Gina Gordon was a completely new author for me, so I actually went out and bought the first book in the series, Recipe for Satisfaction and then tackled the ARC of Recipe for Attraction I received from Entangled.

The Madewood Brothers series has a fresh premise in the world of contemporary romance. Four foster brothers are bound together by the woman who adopted them out of heinous conditions – the millionaire philanthropist and widow Vivian Madewood. Having recently passed away, the four adult men are still reeling from her loss but are staying busy with the many restaurant businesses that have become their livelihood. Vivian made their heart of their home the kitchen and the boys grew into men who felt that the culinary arts offered them the challenges and opportunities they wanted, not just in business in helping other disadvantaged children find a profession through their charity which goes into schools to prepare them to work in a kitchen.

Having been adopted as older children, these men – Jack, Neil, Finn and Cole – still have quite an edge. Tattoos and motorcycles abound, but they are extremely caring, committed workholics clearly just waiting for the right woman to come along. In the first book, Recipe for Satisfaction, readers have the joy of watching the reformed playboy Jack Vaughn fall for professional organizer Sterling Andrews and it’s nothing short of delicious! Now in Recipe for Attraction, it’s pushy, driven oldest brother Neil’s turn.

Recipe for Satisfaction (Madewood Brothers #1 – Jack and Sterling) by Gina Gordon (Entangled Brazen, December 31, 2012)

Neil Harrison been incredibly busy over the last year working to get the family’s biggest project off the ground – a deluxe restaurant and farm which will showcase the Madewood farm to table philosophy. That he’s had to deal with the infuriating, but talented architect Carson Kelly has been an extra thorn in his side, but he can’t argue with her results – their vision has come to life.

Despite immersing himself in work, Neil has been battling his demons since his mother’s death, with the only thing that seems to erase the anger he feels over his loss being the rush of illegal street racing on his motorcycle. He’s shocked when a mysterious new rider shows up to his latest race and by her world-class ass he knows that it’s none other than Carson. His secret is out, but Carson has her own boatload of baggage, including way too much insider knowledge about street racing. When she offers to help him battle his desire for speed with working out his frustration between the sheets with her, it seems like a perfect solution, except both of them discover way more than they bargain for, in one another.

While all the brothers have the emotional baggage of their past, Neil is carrying one of the heavier loads as he was the oldest when he came to Vivian, old enough to remember his abusive father and slow to trust the woman who became his mother. Like in the first book of the series, the heroine is dealing with her own family situation as Carson has a demanding father as head of the family architecture firm who not only is never satisfied, but who actively distrusts her judgement and defers regularly to the other major architect, a total asshole who wants to marry Carson. I appreciated (even if no one else did in the novel) that the project was literally in the last couple days of tying everything up, so Carson and Neil’s affair didn’t feel like it crossed any professional line for me. The villain is sooo awful that you are thrilled to see him get his comeuppance (although I felt like police prosecution would have been a good idea). The heat between Carson and Neil is outstanding and most important was watching the evolution of Neil’s character as he realizes what a total jackass he’s been to the people he loves most in his life as he changes for the better.

I did have a couple questions for Gina Gordon, which she was kind enough to answer. Take a look!

It’s terrific to see the romance fiction trope of a band of foster brothers who do NOT automatically open a security firm! What gave you the idea to have them be talented chefs? Did you use any actual celebrity chefs as inspiration?

LOL! The idea for the Madewood Brothers came from a real life hot chef sighting. A friend of mine was at a food event and one of the catering companies was owned by two hot, tatted-up chefs. When she told me about them my imagination immediately ran wild. Although the Madewood brothers weren’t inspired by any celebrity chefs, I’d have to say my favorite male celebrity chef is Chuck Hughes. If you like tats, you MUST google him.

There are some pretty awesome sexy times in this series (motorcycles as foreplay will appeal to plenty of readers, I’m sure). What do you think is the most important element when writing a good sex scene?

I think the most important element when writing a sex scene is the emotion. It’s great to have the dirty talk and the rubbing body parts but if there isn’t any substance behind it, I don’t think the scene has the same effect.

In your author bio, you tout yourself as a “cupcake connoisseuse” (which is awesome, and not just because you use the proper French). What would be your perfect cupcake?

My perfect cupcake is Red Velvet. Well, to be honest, anything with cream cheese icing on it would be my number one pick.

Thanks for having me, Tori!

And thank you readers for visiting!! Make sure you enter my blog tour grand prize — a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $50 Amazon gift card. 

I for one am pleased there are two more brothers to see get their HEA (and what is going on with Cole and the Madewood’s employee Penn?). This is a hot, emotional series with a unique twist which has carved a special niche for itself in the world of contemporary romance. Don’t forget to follow Recipe for Attraction‘s terrific blog tour for more great information and giveaways!

rfa-blogtour

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of November 24, 2013

24 Nov

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Lots of good books both coming out this week as well as long awaited books with release dates announced.

I think Tessa Bailey is one of contemporary romance’s hottest new writers, so I’m excited to stay up until midnight tonight to watch the next book in her awesome Line of Duty series delivered to my Kindle (and write a review for you to be posted on Monday). We’ve already met the hero and heroine in the third book in the series, Officer Off Limits. Since Brent and Hayden’s two best friends are head over heels in love they can’t help seeing a lot of each other, even though each rubs the other the wrong way. Hayden’s got a host of trouble coming from her Park Avenue family who are looking to have her get married to a rich and influential man and the rough and tumble cop who pushes her buttons is also um…pushing her buttons. After a taste of each other, Brent is determined to not let go, but Hayden wonders how on earth this hot affair could have a happy ending?

Don’t you remember my telling you what a phenomenal author Laura Kaye is? Her latest, Hard As It Gets (OMG, the cover!), begins her Hard Ink series as of Tuesday, November 26th, so I’ll be staying up late for this delivery as well. This story, featuring a former military man turned tattoo parlor owner and the daughter of his military commander who has always been off limits, is bound to have her usual blend of heat, great characters, and an emotional story that wins your heart.

Fans of historical romance know that Sarah Maclean is one of the most talented writers of her genre, and they can finally sit back and enjoy her latest book, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, which will also be published on Tuesday, November 26th. Don’t forget to read (or re-read) the first two books in the Rules of Scoundrels series as this story, featuring the enigmatic club owner Temple, accused of murdering his young beautiful stepmother on the eve of her wedding to his father. The supposedly dead Mara has returned and what sets out to be Temple’s redemption and revenge becomes much more as he realizes that this woman and her situation is far from what he has imagined.

Bella Andre announced the latest in her Sullivan series, It Must Be Your Love, Mia Sullivan’s story. The Sullivan series is (I think) one of the best family contemporary romance series on the market, and the Northwest cousins are proving just as compelling as the original California Sullivans we all initially fell for. Successful realtor Mia Sullivan has been a huge support in her cousin and siblings’ romances, but it’s time for her to face the music – namely the man who she spent a few short days and nights with in his bed, and who she’s never been able to forget. Bumping into rock star Ford Vincent isn’t a shock at her cousin’s wedding, but there is an element of surprise when he seems interested in renewing their sexual relationship. Ford has never been able to forget Mia and despite the fact that he imagines she’s the one thing his fame can’t give him, he feels like he has to try.

It’s the holiday book season and that means there are some great deals on anthologies by terrific authors. A Christmas to Remember, due out on December 3rd, features stories by such contemporary best-sellers as Jill Shalvis, Kristen Ashley, Hope Ramsay, Molly Cannon, and Marilyn Pappano. If that’s not tempting enough, Forever Yours publishing has priced this puppy at only $1.99, so pick it up while you can at this price!

For fans of the Stephanie Plum series by Janet EvanovichTakedown Twenty, was published just a few days ago on November 19th, so get a hilarious dose of Lula and Bob (the golden retriever) right now. Get ready to imagine the next demise of a vehicle driven by Stephanie as she attempts to track down Morelli’s mobster godfather so he doesn’t have to, while also helping the oh-so-sexy Ranger determine who killed an important client’s mother. If you need to do some catching up (or want to fill in your collection of ebooks), you may want to note that several of the earlier books in the series are available for only $2.99 for the ebook editions.

Sophie Barnes‘ next book The Scandal in Kissing an Heir, her second installment in At the Kingsborough Ball series is coming out on December 31st. The next Marquess of Wolvington, Daniel Neville needs to find not only a bride but a woman who will accept his past and Lady Rebecca is tired of the men her greedy aunt and uncle send her way, men who only are interested in her beauty. Scandal threatens to tear these two apart, just when it seems they have the potential for something more.

Contests and Giveaways

Sara Humphreys‘ Amoveo Legends series is made up of a string of best-sellers, so I imagine fans are waiting with bated breath for the fifth book in the series, Unclaimed, to come out on December 3rd. When a spirited veternarian from the Timber Wolf clan reluctantly agrees to help doctor the Amoveo prince’s horses, she doesn’t expect the overwhelming attraction to a warrior from the Tiger Clan, but soon finds herself thrown together with him as they have to face danger together. Enter before November 30th to see if you can win a copy.

Talented debut author Kat Latham, of Knowing the Score fame, is having a Rafflecopter giveaway for not just her new Christmas story, contained in the All I’m Asking For Christmas anthology (pre-ordered!!), but also the other Carina Press contemporary holiday anthology, For My Own. Since I’ve yet to read a Carina anthology I haven’t enjoyed, these are both on my December reading (and reviewing) list, but winning them would make great gifts to the romance fiction lovers in my life. Enter before December 1st to see if you can’t win a copy and enjoy great writing with your holiday cheer.

The first in Lara Adrian‘s Midnight Breeds series, A Touch of Midnight, is currently a giveaway on Goodreads, so enter before November 30th for a chance to win. This 184 page novella jumpstarts the other thirteen books to date in the series by focusing on Savannah, a young college woman who can see the past of objects when she touches them. For a three-hundred year old vampire who must revisit painful memories of the past, Gideon finds himself needing Savannah to help him rid the world of a threat he didn’t even realize existed, even if it means shattering the world she knows. If you were smart enough to purchase The Midnight Breeds Series Companion this summer, then this novella is included within it, but otherwise, try to win or buy it on Amazon for only $2.99.

The Smutketeers & Friends (Jayne Rylon, Mari Carr, Carrie Ann Ryan, R. G. Alexander, Eden Bradley, Sidney Bristol, P. G. Forte, and Robin Rotham) have FINALLY released their long-awaited Midnight Ink box set, filled with erotic tales all centered around a New Orleans tattoo shop, and they are having a great $100 Amazon gift card giveaway to celebrate. Enter in the next week to see if you can win this wonderful prize and don’t forget to run to your nearest bookseller to buy the boxed set, which is currently only $.99 at Amazon for over 550 pages of hot romance.

Historical fiction fans light candles to Diana Gabaldon‘s image, as this author of the Outlander series has had thousands of readers fall for Claire and Jamie Fraser. In honor of the upcoming STARZ network release of Outlander as a series, two promotional copies are destined for a lucky winner of the Goodreads giveaway, so considering entering prior to November 30th if you are awaiting heartache, time-travel and kilts with baited breath.

I don’t know what it is about publishing during the holidays, but there always seems to be a few books which focus on the season and feature some adorable dogs and cats on the covers of these anthologies and stand-alones. Since my fur-covered family members are some of things in my life I’m most grateful for, these novels always hit home with me. Two such authors are Sharon Kleve and Jennifer Conner, who are currently hosting a blog tour contest where readers can enter to win copies of their books – Halo’s Wish, Brenda’s Christmas Desire, Central Bark at Christmas, and Christmas Gift that Keeps Wagging – as well as a $25 gift card, so take a look and see if someone small and furry is underneath your tree this Christmas. Head to any and all of the blogs on the tour before 11/30 for your chance to enter!

Elizabeth Hoyt’s tale of a fevered heir to an Earldom, returned from the dead, is the fourth in her Legend of the Four Soldiers series. To Desire a Devil pitches the savage man, demented from his captivity and the well-bred niece of the present (and highly suspicious Earl) as an unlikely couple, but historical romance readers can attempt to win a copy of this highly rated final book via the Goodreads giveaway closing on December 1st.

It’s always great to see historical romance that tackles a less-frequented period of time, so Bitter Spirits by paranormal/urban fantasy writer Jenn Bennett is worth a look for those readers who love the 1920s. Featuring a hexed bootlegger and a beautiful medium, this first installment in Bennett’s Roaring Twenties series is currently being offered in a Goodreads giveaway for people who enter before Saturday, November 30th. Considering this novel is not due to be published until early January 2014, this could be a great opportunity to get a preview, and the second novel, focusing on an archaeologist and museum curator looks to equally bring the period to life. Since the series is published by the Berkley Sensation line, I predict strong writing and hot love scenes to be contained within these covers. Bring it on!

Fun Stuff

I know you can tell I’ve got holiday books on the brain (I’m gearing up for my stretch where I try to review a holiday themed book for every day of December!) but I for one appreciated Harlequin’s adorable little video featuring some of their featured Christmas books for this year. You’ll definitely be seeing a few of these on this blog over the next few weeks (and who knew Gingerbread men as the various hero’s occupations would be so adorable?).

If you have a spare $1000 or so and love to show your book love via your shoes, I suggest you head straight to the Charlotte Olympia website and check out the Matilda shoes, part of the Fall 2013 collection. With stunning leather tooling covering the leather upper and a six inch heel (and one inch platform), the heels are designed to look like book spines, complete with the words “Once Upon a Time” and “Happily Ever After”. I think there are plenty of romance authors who would look great wearing these on the dais while answering panel questions!

Now that the weather is getting colder, women are interpreting “no shave November” with the advent of opaque tights, but you don’t have to settle for solid colors. Romantics and fashionistas (or fictionistas) alike can indulge their love of the written word by wearing Love Text Print Tights from TrendyLegs. For under $40, you can sport the wikipedia text for the definitions of “Love” and “Passion” around your thighs and calves (and think about who you might like to get closer and read it out loud to you)!

Great Deals

Historical fans might want to download Harlequin Historical’s An Inconvenient Duchess by Christine Merrill as it’s available for free right now. Featuring a young woman compromised and married to an enigmatic duke who then promptly abandons her, this heroine determines that she is going to make this marriage work, no matter what. The first in Merrill’s The Radwell’s series, this is a good way to sample this series.

His Wicked Games by Ember Casey (the first book in His Wicked Games series) is also available for free right now, and readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings will want to tackle this Beauty and the Beast inspired story. When a woman determined to save her arts center breaks into a cold billionaire’s estate, she gets way more than she bargained for, particularly regarding his wager on how she can save what she wants more than anything. The only problem? When what she wants begins to change…

Also currently free is Mari Carr and Lexxie Couper‘s Misplaced Princess, the first in their Foreign Affairs series about men or women who leave their country and find the love of their life. Annie Prince impetuously flew halfway around the world to Australia to meet in person a sexy cowboy she met online…only to find out he did the same thing and is now in NYC. Fortunately for her, his twin brother Hunter stayed behind, and while he thought his brother was crazy, one look at Annie and he’s finding it hard to keep his hands (and other body parts) off her.

That’s it for this week. Have a terrific Thanksgiving and happy reading!!

You’ll Want to Flirt with Wendy Sparrow’s Latest Novella, On His List

23 Nov

On His List by Wendy Sparrow (Entangled Flirt, November 11, 2013)

When Entangled Publishing – who, next to Avon, is the romance publisher I feel I can trust to have a terrific level of quality and editing – announced they were launching their new Entangled Flirts line, I was intrigued. Anyone reading about the proliferation of ebooks has seen the articles indicating that shorter novellas and episodic books are the hot new item since people want a satisfying story they can read in one sitting amidst all the other activities happening in their lives. Entangled Flirts are designed to be 10K to 40K (think 40 to 80 pages) and cover the areas of contemporary romance, thrillers, and even historical romance fiction.

Huh. This is a fascinating trend, and I definitely wanted to sample the wares to see if the same level of quality that I enjoy in the Brazen (and Covet and Scandalous) line could be present in a shorter package. So I bought a few of them (at $.99, not hard on the wallet) and sat back to test the waters.

My first one was Wendy Sparrow’s On His List and I was WOWED by how such a short novella can back an emotional punch. It’s always a credit to the author’s writing when you finish the last page feeling the emotional satisfaction associated with a longer work, and the story of Remy and Owen definitely fit the bill.

Remy Maison lives in a dive apartment in San Francisco with her brother Denny and while the two of them work their butts off (she as a massage therapist and Denny as a driver) they can’t easily come back from someone stealing their rent money from their coffee can stash. Luckily Denny has an all day driving job with a regular who is a heavy tipper, but when Denny wakes up with one of his migraines, Remy has to sacrifice her day off to meet the guy at the airport and drive him around. Denny has cautioned her ad nauseum how this client is REALLY particular – he loves order, doesn’t want his things touched, and needs silence. This is going to be a challenge for chatty, button pusher Remy, but if the choice is tow the line or get kicked out of their apartment, she’ll somehow manage.

San Francisco (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Until she gets one look at Owen walking off the concourse, that is. Denny neglected to mention that the “client” was a gorgeous, younger guy here to look after his many businesses. While he’s definitely super particular, it’s also obvious that there is some serious heat between them. But Remy knows she needs to keep it professional, yet the urge is there to help Owen push his boundaries, just a little. With Owen living in Miami and Remy not a one-night stand kind of woman, this particular substitution might end up causing more heartache than if they got evicted.

In 60+ pages, Sparrow made the smart choice to keep this story entirely from Remy’s perspective and yet she steered clear of the first person (THANK YOU, WENDY) which keeps the tone of the novella similar to other well-written contemporary romances. The setting of San Francisco is outstandingly written and Remy’s dilemma of wanting to be professional yet at the same time unable to deny her playful personality is well depicted. While there is no consummation of their relationship (the novella is basically the first two days they know each other), there is still so much heat and yearning that I felt very satisfied in the sexy times department. An afterword in the book from the author explains her gratitude to the doctor who has helped treat her OCD, so Owen’s wrestling with Remy throwing him off schedule and marking up his itinerary feels very authentic as a result of Sparrow’s personal experiences.

If this novella is typical of what Entangled new Flirts line is going to offer, I plan on reading many more of these excellent stories. Many thanks to Wendy Sparrow for On His List – Owen would definitely get put in the “to-do” column of my planner!

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