Archive | December, 2013

December Read-a-Thon: Twelve Days of Seduction by Maire Claremont Offers a Short Novella Ideal for Jane Eyre Fans

31 Dec
Twelve Days of Seduction by Maire Claremont (Entangled Flaunts, December 30, 2013)

Twelve Days of Seduction by Maire Claremont (Entangled Flaunts, December 30, 2013)

I’m going to admit that I reread Jane Eyre about twice a year (and usually disdain any media adaptation of Charlotte Bronte‘s novel – no Mr. Rochester can equal the one in my mind), so any romance involving a potential mesalliance between a governess and a highborn man has my immediate attention.

Alexander Hunt, the eighth Duke of Beresford, is trying to remain cold and distant while he informs his beautiful governess that she is about to be fired a few days before Christmas. He’s followed her and discovered that she is a novelist whose work clearly indicates she comes from humble beginnings,. In fact, Miss Adriana Grey is actually Miss Adriana Flint, a granddaughter of an earl whose mother ran away with the man she loved only to fall into ruin in the East End of London. Alexander is no stranger to scandal – the men in his family have a reputation for doing exactly what they feel like, Victorian society be damned. Just the fact that the beautiful Adriana is the governess to his ward, Georgiana (in fact, his illegitimate daughter) right in his home says this is a man who writes his own rules.

Adriana knows that she doesn’t yet make enough money as a novelist to support herself and not turn to the petticoat trade, a direction her life almost took. That she was discovered by her handsome employer is not only disastrous but it also reveals that he has been as fascinated with her as she has been with him, and both of them have attempted to ignore it. Boldly addressing that fact, Adriana challenges Alexander to take the twelve days of Christmas to seduce her – if he can – and see if he would like to keep her as his mistress. While she admits that her background makes her the worst possible person for little Georgiana, the fact remains she loves the little girl and feels a strong attraction to the man. while she’s had only one other intimate relationship, she’s just desperate (and curious) enough to take a chance.

All I Want For Christmas Is a Duke anthology with stories by Delilah Marvelle and Maire Claremont (Entangled: Scandalous, 2012)

All I Want For Christmas Is a Duke anthology with stories by Delilah Marvelle and Maire Claremont (Entangled: Scandalous, 2012)

Claremont is brilliant for gently framing this story with the understanding that Alexander is the head of his family (and therefore answers to no one) and already has indulged in some unconventional behavior, like keeping his by-blow in his own home as his ward. While Adriana is legitimate and descended from aristocracy, her father not being of that class clearly would render her unacceptable to the vast majority of Victorian nobility. There’s definite heat between the hero and heroine but only a few spicy interactions with Alexander being, for the most part, very respectful of Adriana as he wants to get to know her better. I was so impressed at how much backstory on both of them Maire Claremont managed to pack into a mere 76 pages while moving the plot along.

While this story on its own is only $.99, I should also point out that this story is also available in the duology, All I Want for Christmas Is a Duke, also only $.99 and with that purchase you get the additional novella, Merry Christmas, Mrs. Robinson by Delilah Marvelle, an extremely well-regarded romance author. Two stories sound even better than one as long as you get Maire Claremont’s as well.

Happy reading!

You’ll Book Your Ticket to Chile After Reading Audra North’s One Night In Santiago

30 Dec

One Night in Santiago by Audra North (Entangled: Flaunt, December 30, 2013)

Now, I don’t know if you can afford the Executive Suite at the Ritz in Santiago, but I bet there will be plenty of women loitering in that hotel’s lobby looking for a hero like Bruno Komarov after reading this story. Hot. Damn.

Lily Stanton is stressed and tired. She’s ready to leave Santiago and her so-called vacation behind but the airport isn’t cooperating. Rolling in the lobby of the Santiago Ritz soaking wet in yoga pants isn’t her most elegant moment, but she’s a seasoned traveler with her consulting company so she can handle it. Waiting in line, she can’t help but notice the gorgeous guy who has come in from the storm on her heels. When they are both told by two different hotel clerks that there is only room left, there’s a scrabble for it. When Lily is declared the winner (by Mr. Hunkalicious giving it to her – his Ritz Rewards card trumped her claim), the least she can do is offer to share the suite. After all, the sofa turns into a bed and there is something inherently trustworthy about Bruno Komarov and his voiced worry that he wouldn’t want his sisters to offer to share a hotel room with a stranger.

Santiago, Chile – surrounded by the mountains Lily skiied in is a modern city filled with contrasts between its historical buildings and modern architecture (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

While Lily has nothing to fear from Bruno, she should still worry. He’s done nothing but have lascivious thoughts about her gorgeous body and megawatt smile since he spotted her in line in the lobby and the thought of sharing a room is a bit more than his nether region appears capable of handling. Even worse is watching her talk to her sister and discuss her life and work over their dinner – Bruno realizes that this kind, intelligent, capable and slightly damaged woman is exactly what he’s been waiting for while immersing himself in his family’s California and Chilean vineyards. He desperately wants to be a gentleman but when her face reflects his obvious arousal, all bets are off, and this Santiago hotel room is about to get a lot hotter. Convincing a woman he’s known for hours that they might have a future even when they live so far apart is going to be a bit harder, but Bruno is going to make it happen – if she doesn’t escape in the morning, that is.

Audra North – where has she been all my life? A newer addition to Entangled’s stable of authors, her writing proves that the editors at this publishing house have an incredible nose for talent. I was astonished looking over the specs that One Night in Santiago was only about 58 pages. You could have easily convinced me that it was twice as long (and charged me twice as much) because I felt so emotionally invested in the characters. Bruno is Latino-Russian sex on a stick and such a great person that it’s impossible not to fall for him right along with Lily. Lily is a smart, sexy heroine recovering from her ex, but so full of optimism while she rebuilds her confidence that she genuinely deserves Bruno and what he can give her. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that while North continues to write, she might consider giving us a glimpse of these two amidst their HEA while telling us the story of another wonderful couple.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: The Earl’s Christmas Colt by Rebecca Thomas Is a Delightful Holiday Historical Short

30 Dec

The Earl’s Christmas Colt by Rebecca Thomas (Entangled Flirt, December 30, 2013)

I have a thing for animals in romance, particularly in historicals and what animal is better for this genre than horses? In Rebecca Thomas‘ delightful holiday short from Entangled Flirts, The Earl’s Christmas Colt, both the hero and heroine would rather spend time with horses than find a spouse, but duty calls.

Lady Arabella Sutton is appalled when her otherwise loving older brother informs her that he’s signed the contracts for her to marry…at the end of the week right after Christmas! She knows that she wasn’t that interested in looking for a husband in her last season, but the fact is she’d rather spend her time with her horses, especially since her father recently passed away. But now her brother informs her she’s supposed to marry some horribly old Earl (he’s four and thirty!) who will be a duke one day, as if she cares about that. Feeling betrayed, she heads out for a long ride – sans groom, thank you.

Unfortunately her lovely mare picks up a bad stone, bruising her hoof and forcing Arabella to head through a driving rain to the nearest coaching inn to get her under a dry roof to recuperate. When a handsome stable master with a gorgeous stallion and fetching colt helps her care for her mare and says he’ll help her get a room and send her brother a message, she doesn’t have a name for the strange fluttering in her chest or the tingling skin a chance touch leaves in its wake.

Oliver Westwyck, the Earl of Marsdale, is astonished that the gorgeous, wet young woman who knows horses backwards and forwards is his intended. A stray comment that hints at her disdain for dukes has him giving his mother’s maiden name instead of his own, a decision that allows him to know her a bit better but has him cringing at his deception. He simply wanted a good marriage of convenience after a disastrous engagement years ago trying to have a marriage based on love, but the more time he spends with Arabella, the more he’s worried that this woman is going to be much, much more than he’s ever experienced before. But his lie – and the bigger one perpetuated by Arabella’s brother regarding the state of the family’s finances – could come between whatever common foundation they might have laid in this stable.

I don’t usually fall for short stories with no sexy times, but this one (probably because it was an historical) absolutely charmed me. Author Rebecca Thomas is a self-confessed horse enthusiast and her knowledge and love of this noble animal shines through in her writing. There was a terrific foundation for conflict which, when combined with the sudden attraction between Oliver and Arabella, had me rapidly turning the page. I liked that the brother is well-intentioned and actually quite loving in his decision to match his reluctant sister with a good man who also loves horses. No two-dimensional villains here!

I’m super excited to read some more Rebecca Thomas who appears to be a relatively new author. Please note that this story is also available in the Entangled Flirts bundle, Twelve Days of Christmas Past, which includes not just this story but also the wonderful time-travel romance Christmas Past by Susanna Fraser which I reviewed earlier this month, as well as an additional story by Thomas and another Entangled author. At only $2.99 for four stories, that could be a post-Christmas bargain, but you can get the single story for a mere $.99 if you’d like to start just sampling this particular short. With such a wonderful example, I’ll be eagerly looking forward to her other works, historical or otherwise (and I hope they feature horses prominently).

Happy reading!

Love Paranormal? Two Fabulous New Releases From Entangled Edge (with Contests!)

30 Dec

Edge, a digital-first single-title romance line from Entangled Publishing, takes its lead from their popular Select imprint but gives its novels an edge in the marketplace by bringing great stories to readers at reasonable prices in a quick-and-easy way. Whether sexy or sweet, traditional romance or love and lust with a women’s fiction bent, at the center of every Edge book is heart. From Urban Fantasy to Contemporary Romance to Science Fiction Romance, Edge has a book for all romance readers—and right at their fingertips! As they say, all’s fair in love and war. To find out more about their titles, chat with authors, participate in special events, and to find out what books are coming next, visit the Entangled website, follow them on Twitter, and like their Facebook page.

Today I’m happy to be featuring Edge’s December releases!!

Break Out by Nina Croft
Blood Hunter #1

Special $0.99 Promo Limited Time Only!
 

The year is 3048, Earth is no longer habitable, and man has fled to the stars where they’ve discovered the secret of immortality—Meridian. Unfortunately, the radioactive mineral is exorbitantly expensive and only available to a select few. A new class comprised of the super rich and immortal soon evolves. The Collective, as they’re called, rule the universe.

Two-thousand-year-old Ricardo Sanchez, vampire and rogue pilot of the space cruiser, El Cazador, can’t resist two things: gorgeous women and impossible jobs. When beautiful Skylar Rossaria approaches him to break a prisoner out of the Collective’s maximum security prison on Trakis One, Rico jumps at the chance. Being hunted by the Collective has never been so dangerous—or so fun.

Heart of the Incubus by Rosalie Lario

Biochemist Cresso Taylor lives the sort of lifestyle most men would envy—he has wealth, natural incubus charm, and more women than he can handle. But it’s not enough anymore. Not after meeting Genevieve Russell, the sexy scientist who works with him at Elcorp Laboratory. And she wants absolutely nothing to do with him.

After her fiancé broke her heart, Genevieve has had enough of womanizers. She’s determined to steer clear of sexy-as-sin Dr. Taylor, despite the fact that his incubus allure makes her want to rip his clothes off. But when a secret admirer’s affection turns to the macabre with threatening notes and grisly gifts, Cresso appoints himself her protector. As she and Cresso hunt her stalker, she discovers there’s a lot more to the sensual incubus than she ever imagined.

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Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 29, 2013

29 Dec

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Courtney Milan fans have probably already purchased The Countess Conspiracy, the third book of her The Brothers Sinister series, but in case you haven’t, this full-length novel is only $3.99 on Amazon since its publication on December 17th, and hopefully will stay at that great price for a little while. With a hero who is a brilliant rake promoting scandalous revolutionary scientific theories and the heroine the woman to whom those theories actually belong, this is bound to have plenty of conflict and tension (sexual and otherwise).

Fans of Karen Marie Moning‘s urban fantasy Fever series should be aware that the seventh book in the series, Burned, is available for pre-order with a July 22, 2014 publication date. Because of the enormous popularity of these books, be warned that even the ebook price is steep at almost $12 (but that’s still a bargain since the paper version will be in hardcover format).

Yet another summer release to plan for re: beach reading is the next Kate Daniels book by the powerhouse writing team of Ilona Andrews. Magic Breaks will be available as of July 29th, so check your vacation dates to make sure you are somewhere you can get a copy at midnight to begin reading the next installment of this amazing urban fantasy series.

Also falling under the category of “series books I will cheerfully pay full price for” is Darynda Jones‘ next book in her Charley Davidson series, Sixth Grave on the Edge, which will be released May 20th. This urban fantasy series starring the hilarious and irrepressible Charley – who happens to be an irreverent grim reaper helping departed souls get to the other side – and her love interest, Reyes (the sexiest Son of Satan you’re ever going to meet), is always alternately funny, hot, and heart-stopping. I’ll be posting an entry on the whole series in honor of Darynda doing a workshop for my local Romance Writers Association chapter (woo-hooo PLRW Chapter!) For fans who would like an autographed copy of the hardcover version, Darynda has announced on her website that she has made arrangements through Author, Author, so if you order before the end of April, you can get the autographed book right around the release date.

Cat Johnson has quite a following for her hot military romance series, Red, Hot & Blue, and it was wonderful to read recently on the Samhain publishing blog that the next book, The Commander, features the leader of all those sexy, Special Ops guys we’ve seen find their HEA. Not only is this older hero in his forties, but he finds love with a sexy, older woman who is fifty and a single mom. It’s about time! The Commander comes out on New Year’s Eve and won’t take any prior knowledge of the series to enjoy it (she always writes these so you can pick up any one of them with no difficulty).

Gena Showalter recently blogged about her uber-enthusiastic reaction to the cover reveal of her latest Angels of the Dark paranormal series and – holy crap! – we can see why she loves it. Burning Dawn is now available for pre-order with a release date of April 29, 2014 and please note that the paperback version is significantly less right now than the Kindle version if you are open to the format you receive it. This series features violent angels on the brink of darkness who each find a woman who helps them find meaning in their fight for goodness and light – so good!

Harlequin’s partnership with Cosmo has produced their high quality (and successful) Red Hot Reads line and fans are eating up these steamy contemporary romances. To add to the success of such incredible stories like Cake by Lauren Dane and Ripped by Sarah Morgan, we can now add category romance superhero writer Heidi Rice whose story, 10 Ways to Handle the Best Man debuts on January 14th so pre-order now. Since it’s Rice, you’ll get a guarantee that you’ll want to be one getting handled by her hero, I promise!

Contests & Giveaways

If you’ve been intrigued by Harlequin Presents multi-author Sicily’s Coretti Dynasty series, you’ll definitely want to enter their contest to win all the books in this extremely successful series featuring a wealthy Sicilian family with more than the usual amount of scandal and vendettas to go around. Just leave a comment on the post about what you are most looking forward to in 2014 before January 6th for a chance to win!

The always wonderful blog TheBookPushers is clearing their shelves and offering a giveaway for readers who might be interested in some of their themed bundles of books. From contemporary to historical, erotic to New Adult, there’s something here for everyone, so comment before January 1st on what bundles look interesting to you to see if you could win!

Fun Stuff

Nalini Singh Psy-Changeling fans should be sure to take a look at her website in order to enjoy her bonus stories for Heart of Obsidian, which are now up on her story page. Keep in mind that newsletter subscribers got an incredible Christmas present from Singh this year, a bonus epilogue to her amazing novella, Declaration of Courtship, starring the hunky dominant SnowDancer lieutenant Cooper and his shy mechanic Grace, now mated and going to the celebration of their alpha’s mating (so it’s post Kiss of Snow). Such a great epilogue (be warned, you’ll go out and re-read Declaration of Courtship again – I did!)

Speaking of great presents, Ilona Andrews have put out a new, fully re-edited version of their Curran stories (specific scenes from the Kate Daniels novels told from the hero, Curran’s perspective) and are offering it to fans for free on their website for a time, available in all ebook formats, for devoted fans. No new stories as of yet, but it makes for a great read.

It’s not too late to give something to the reader in your life and what do they want more than uninterrupted reading time? Trust me, nothing. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books have a fantastic downloadable free gift certificate that you can make out for the reader in your life offering them a certain number of minutes (30, 60, and 90 minutes are the options and remember you can give a ton of the certificates to add up to whatever amount you want) devoted solely to their reading, all in a very attractive certificate form bound to appeal to romance readers. Show your romance reader how much you love them by offering them this particular gift for the New Year!

Business Insider magazine has made a wonderful interactive map of the U.S. featuring the most famous book set in that particular state, and it’s gotten a few of them on my to-read list for sure! Check out your favorite states while pondering what people who’ve never visited are gleaning about your home.

Harry Potter fans have always been annoyed that you can’t easily buy ebook versions of the series via retailers due to J. K. Rowling’s restrictions on them, but now Amazon users can purchase the whole series via the author’s Pottermore business and have them delivered in the proper file format right to their Kindle! For $57.54, this is actually a great deal for all seven books (over 4000 pages of Harry). With almost every possible format (I didn’t see iBooks, but pretty much every other reading app is an option), once purchased you can send your books to any and all your reading devices. Fans of the series who find the hardcover books too heavy for their bubble baths (What? It’s just me?) may want to indulge in the super cool collector’s paperback version which forms a fantastic image designed by artist Kazu Kibuishi when placed together.

Great Deals

Virna DePaul’s excellent Bedding the Wrong Brother novel is currently available for only $.99 and fans of friends to lovers have a lot to love in this story about a young woman who has been good friends to one twin brother while crushing on the other. After an ex tells her that she’s tepid in the sack, she asks her friend to help her hone her technique but ends up with her crush instead – a man who has interpreted her easy way with his brother and stiffness with him as disinterest. He decides to seize the opportunity to “tutor” her in the ways of the bedroom while convincing her she’s everything he could ever want, but her feelings of inadequacy when combined with her long-standing feelings for him might get in the way of any happiness they could have.

If you expected Santa to bring you a Kindle and his lines got crossed, you should know that Amazon is offering some pretty good deals where you can order one, paying only 25% of the cost up front (and they send it to you!) with reasonable installments spread out over the next year. I’ve also seen some great deals on the 2nd generation iPads and iPad Minis (Apple is on the third generation as of the latest release) on QVC and HSN, with installment plans and deep discounts available as well. If you’re looking for some basic apps, video and a great ereader, one of these deals might be useful. For romance readers, so many books are only available in ebook form, or the cost is so much lower, I definitely feel that purchasing a device could potentially pay for itself over a couple years for an avid reader. Just a thought!

Royal watchers and fans of movies like The Prince and Me are loving Megan Mulry’s Unruly Royals series, especially when you can get the books at a great discount. Right now, If the Shoe Fits, the second book in the series is on discount for only $2.99 for the ebook edition. When a modern playboy Earl becomes fascinated by a no-nonsense American not interested in his fast lifestyle, our hero finds himself having to dig deep for meaning in the hope of charming a woman who just might be everything to him, if he can get her to see beyond his reputation.

Happy reading and have a book-filled New Year in 2014!

December Read-a-Thon: You’ll Be Courting Disaster If You Don’t Read The Scandal Before Christmas by Elizabeth Essex This Holiday Season

29 Dec

The Scandal Before Christmas (The Reckless Brides #3.5 – Ian and Anne) by Elizabeth Essex (St. Martin’s Press, October 8, 2013)

It’s always a joy to find a historical author whose depiction of their chosen time period is so accurate and detail-rich that you feel immersed in the setting. I felt like I had hit the jackpot when I finally succumbed to the charms of Grace Burrows with Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait. Then Nina Rowan’s ‘Twas the Night Before Mischief restored my faith in Victorian romance not written by Jennifer Ashley (who is a goddess with her Highland Pleasures series). Therefore, it was an additional and unexpected pleasure to discover Elizabeth Essex via her holiday novella, The Scandal Before Christmas.

I read some intriguing reviews online about this plain-duckling-turns-swan novella and, since it fit into my December Read-a-Thon format, I thought I’d give it a try. Oh my gosh!! This is a hot, sweet story that burrows under your skin and lives there for a while afterward, and it’s a lovely feeling.

The Scandal Before Christmas lands between the third and fourth full-length novels in Essex’s The Reckless Brides series. Fans of the naval angle of Horatio Hornblower are going to want to definitely check this author out as she has a strong historical background in naval detail and many of her characters have ties to the British navy. Set amid the Napoleonic Wars, this is a hard-core navy setting (no pirate fluff here) as well as with the books being linked loosely via certain characters.

Almost a Scandal (The Reckless Brides #1 – David and Sally) by Elizabeth Essex (St. Martin’s Press, July 31, 2012)

In fact, the hero of this novella served on the ship featured in the first book of the series, Almost a Scandal, where the heroine took her brother’s place to serve in the Navy and ends up falling for her superior officer. In The Scandal Before Christmas, Lieutenant Ian Worth is a victim of ill-fortune at the moment. His overbearing and heartless father Viscount Rainesford has always made his immediate heir tow the line, having dropped off second son Ian on the Navy’s doorstep when the boy was twelve and never looked back. Ian doesn’t exactly love the Navy, but it’s his career and he’s enjoyed the camaraderie of his shipmates while being able to indulge his licentious side when ashore. Unfortunately, he’s informed by his father that his older brother has had a horrible riding accident and appears to be paralyzed, negating any possibility of begetting heirs to inherit the title.

When his father tells him that Ian will have to honor his brother’s betrothal and marry the girl, the officer honed in over a decade of the Navy’s service balks, informing his father that he is already married. Not thrilled, his father nevertheless backs off and Ian is left with needing to get married in the next six days before shoving off for his next assignment. At least he’s got a plum channel dispatch job, which means he gets to return every couple of weeks to the home he loves, Gull Cottage, on the Isle of Wight. But where to find a wife when his experience is with opera singers and amenable barmaids?

Destiny provides an assisting hand when he’s joined in a tavern while drowning his sorrows by an old friend, Colonel Lesley. After hearing his predicament and asking Ian’s requirements – a quiet girl who won’t mind being left alone for long periods and who would shun the town amenities and social whirl – the good colonel informs him that his eldest daughter Anne would be perfect for him. Ian insists that Col. Lesley and his wife bring the girl to Gull Cottage so she can see what she would be getting and determine if she would like Ian enough to go through with the marriage. Ian just prays that he can be attracted to her enough to bed her.

A shot of the shoreline of the Isle of Wight – how lovely and remote is this? No wonder Anne thinks it’s the perfect place to escape her family. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The first glance isn’t promising. Anne Lesley is a plain, brown-haired, sober-gowned young woman who Ian mistook for her mother’s maid, but it’s possible she’s quiet because she can’t get a word in edgewise with such a garrulous mother. Her parents barely seem to notice she’s there and Ian can’t help but feel horribly disappointed at the thought of tying himself to such a plain mouse. Unfortunately, Anne overhears him saying so to his trusted manservant – and Ian realizes that he’s been overheard and feels horrible. In the process of apologizing to her, Ian makes a life-changing revelation, namely that Anne has a lot of impertinence and possibly passion bottled up inside of her, qualities which, when glimpsed in her eyes, suddenly bring her face to life. The chemistry that blazes up startles but pleases them both, but it’s uncertain if Ian can coax Anne to trust him amid all the lies to his father and his trampling over her feelings from the start. With the clock ticking, Ian must woo Anne to marry him to save his own hide while he also realizes that he must win her heart to save his own from breaking as he’s fallen for the woman who hides so much of herself from the world.

What I envision Gull Cottage looking like (this is an actual historic cottage you can actually rent on the Isle of Wight)…

Okay, I haven’t read the other books in this series (a condition I will soon remedy) but I can’t imagine that it’s possible to not love Ian. He is such a straight shooter, saying exactly what he’s thinking and feeling, but he’s also actually quite a gentleman who spoke in frustration at his situation when he accidentally hurt Anne’s feelings in commenting on her first impression. Ian is also a glorious, sensual beast and exactly the right person to appreciate Anne’s bottled up thoughts and emotions, making him the perfect coach to teach her all the rules of physical love. Anne’s anger understandably stems from knowing she has to leave her family before she goes officially insane (how she managed all these years with that mother is a mystery) but knowing that she would not be considered worthy of the handsome son of a Viscount. Once she understands Ian’s predicament she is all empathy, helped along by his sensual kisses and great library (which includes some racy erotic books he’s happy to share).

This novella is hot and tender with the barest hint at the holiday. I loved both the hero and heroine and thought the secondary characters were drawn with exactly the right level of depth to enhance the story but never take it over. Historical detail and language was pitch perfect with some of Ian’s less gentlemanly language and behavior easily explained by his lack of society contact and time in the Navy (and even he realizes he’s defying social mores). I liked that, while he was a bit of manwhore, he immediately recognizes that if he’s to ask a woman to be faithful to him he wants to give her the same in return (hence his desperate hope that they can be physically compatible). I was ready to move to Gull Cottage as it sounded wild, remote and beautiful, the perfect place for Anne to finally get the peace and quiet she deserved. In lieu of taking a vacation there right away (look at those pictures!), I’ll content myself with reading this wonderful novella. :-)

At a mere $1.99 for just under 150 pages, The Scandal Before Christmas is an excellent way to sample Elizabeth Essex’s writing and realize that you may have found another great historical romance author to add to your shelves.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Remind Yourself How Lucky You Are With the Military Anthology, A Soldier’s Christmas

28 Dec

A Soldier’s Christmas, featuring novellas by Leslie Kelly, Joanne Rock, and Karen Foley (Harlequin Blaze, December 1, 2013)

I’m a sucker for military romance any month out of the year, but come December, romances featuring members of our armed forces grab me by the throat as much as those damn Hallmark commercials or that Apple commercial with the kid who makes the video which induces the whole family to cry.

Fortunately the addition of hot sex and the promise of a happily ever after helps balance me out, and even luckier for me, the clever editors over at Harlequin’s Blaze line seem to know this, as based on their latest holiday anthology,  A Soldier’s Christmas.

Because it’s Blaze, readers get the perfect combination of sexy heat in these encounters balanced by the holiday “awwwww” each of them evokes. Luckily each of these three excellent writers have serious military romance chops, so you’ll be impressed by the tone and authenticity of each novella, I promise. Let’s get to the breakdown, okay?

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Leslie Kelly

Although it’s not yet listed on Leslie Kelly’s Santori series (featuring a very fun and feisty Italian American family from Chicago), this novella is actually part of that group. Ellie can’t believe that Rafe Santori has turned up at the New Year’s Eve party for a local pet rescue. This soldier broke up with her years ago after the best relationship (and sex) of her life, telling her that it was unfair to make her wait for him when he had several more years of service ahead of him in the Rangers. He seems shocked that she’s recently engaged to her good friend Dennis, but why would he be? He told her to move on and that’s exactly what this veterinary student has done. One slow dance and a New Year’s kiss that drags up old memories and he disappears. Again.

Flash forward a couple of years and Ellie is stranded in the airport in New York on Christmas Eve, desperate to get back to Chicago to be with Dennis and her family. While she didn’t marry him, he did marry her best friend – Rafe’s divebombing back in her life made Ellie realize that she didn’t have the necessary spark with Dennis (but he did with someone else). He’s a great partner with their small animal clinic and since it’s his baby’s first Christmas Ellie wants to be there. With a massive snowstorm burying the East Coast in snow, her only hope is to rent an SUV and chance the roads. Guess what soldier just got the last one?

Don’t Open Till Christmas (Santori Stories #3 – Mark and Noelle) by Leslie Kelly (Harlequin Blaze, 2005)

Yep, it’s Rafe, who seems startled to see her but hesitantly asks if Ellie wants to share his ride. She realizes that this is fate giving her the opportunity to see if the man she fell in love with seven years ago still exists under that uniform. For Rafe, he knows he’s torturing himself with a married woman but he can’t help it – the thought of Ellie is what gave him comfort during some lonely nights and if he has to live with the reminder that he was an idiot for letting her go then so be it. The news that she is not married – especially when combined with his revelation that he’s officially stateside for one more year in the Rangers and then he’s a civilian – puts a whole different tone on their trip home. A few sexy detours into questionable motels due to the weather and these two people are contemplating that a Christmas miracle may have occurred…if they can convince the other person to take a chance.

One of my favorite things about Leslie Kelly’s writing is her sense of humor and this novella is no exception, continuing the hilarious situational fun and banter that I found in another book of the series (also a Christmas themed one), Don’t Open Until Christmas, Rafe’s brother Mark and his wife Noelle’s full-length novel. The whole series is fantastic (this is one over the top Italian family I’d love to join) but both Mark Santori’s story and this novella featuring his war-weary brother, Rafe, will brighten your holiday season.

“Presents Under the Tree” by Joanne Rock

Las Vegas producer Arianna Demakis is nervous this Christmas Eve and it’s not because she’s juggling three shows tonight. No, the reason she’s on edge is because sexy Air Force Captain Dylan Rivera – a man who gave her one unforgettable night four months ago – has promised to spend the holiday with her. It’s almost midnight and Ari is worried that he’s a no show, and she’s disappointed (but not surprised) since Dylan went on a mission right after their tequila-fueled celebration. She hasn’t heard from him since and it’s not a huge shock except for the fact that they are…um…married.

Full Surrender by Joanne Rock (Harlequin Blaze, September 1, 2012)

Dylan makes it to Ari by the skin of his teeth in the parking lot outside one of her theaters and finds himself as lost in her beauty and fire as ever. He’s happy to see she’s still wearing the ring he put on her finger four months ago but he knows she’s bound to ask for a divorce. He’s loved Ari since they were friends in high school, and couldn’t believe his luck when she showed up for his thirtieth birthday celebration. They’d promised each other senior year that they’d consider getting married if they both hit the big 3-0 and weren’t hitched yet. But he knows she must be worried that their alcohol-filled night was a mistake and he’s got a limited amount of time to convince her.

Dylan was adorable in his geekiness and the fact that he’s been thinking about Ari for years. He finds her fierce independence not just sexy but also potentially exactly what they would need if she agrees to give this marriage a chance – his tech job is perfect for a former chess club leader but his work falls under the highly classified label and he’ll potentially be out of touch for weeks and months at a time. Rock does a great job sketching both characters and showing their shared history and common interests that make their sudden marriage actually believable. I did wish that there was a little more discussion for the final revelation of feelings – and a hint of exactly how their relationship would work. I also felt like I was missing if this excellent novella was connected to another story; Ari compares her marriage to her friend Krista, who is married to a Lt. Col. (Lars?) in the Air Force – is this another Uniformly Hot novel? I really wish that Blaze would make a point of just tucking in a reference for readers at the start or end of novellas when there is a connection to another story. I don’t want to miss out and I’m enough of a completionist to be irritated if there’s another book I should be reading, particularly by an an author whose work I enjoyed in another story.

This was my first Joanne Rock story and I’ll definitely be trying another. She seems to have written quite a few military romances and other Blaze novels, as well as has a few historicals under her belt and is clearly an author worth exploring!

“If Only In My Dreams” by Karen Foley

Hot-Blooded by Karen Foley (Harlequin Blaze, 2010)

Navy SEAL Aiden Cross cannot figure out why he feels so horrible or why he’s no longer with his team traipsing through the African jungle on their mission. The only silver lining about waking up in a hot tent in excruciating pain is seeing army medic, Sergeant Lily Munroe hovering over him. He’s been attracted to her since the first moment he saw her nine months ago at a joint operations center in Entebbe. Knowing that relationships in the field can be more like hook-ups and often disrespectful to the women involved, he ignored his attraction (and hers). Much to his chagrin, his team buddy Brad swooped in and got involved with her, so she’s doubly off limits now, even if Aiden wasn’t suffering from Dengue fever. The only silver lining in all this pain is the news that he’s being shipped stateside for recovery in time for Christmas with his family and that Lily is going with him since she’s rotating out.

Lily has been extremely worried about Aiden and is more than a little nervous about traveling with him. Christmas is a pretty unhappy time in her family since her mother died on Christmas Eve when Lily was still a child, so she’s in no rush to get home. Despite her being attracted to Aiden and letting him know it, he wasn’t interested, hence her childish flirting with his buddy which came to nothing. When Aiden mentions on the trip home that he only believes in serious relationships and Lily knows she only does casual – having seen how hurt people can be when someone they love dies – she thinks that’s the door closing officially on anything they might have. But a combination of getting snowed into a midwest town without hope of making it home for the holiday, and her dispelling Aiden’s misconceptions that she’s in a relationship, seems to make their dynamic take a drastic shift. Sharing the last room in town might help Lily get her Christmas wish of Aiden in her bed, but the question still remains if there can be any kind of future between them.

OMG – such a good novella. I enjoyed having a military story not set in the Middle East and especially liked the realistic feeling of the misunderstanding between Aiden and Lily regarding her “relationship” with Brad. The B&B scenes were heartwarming and did a great job demonstrating Aiden’s ability to truly understand Lily and her fears – this was one man who I bet was amazing on a mission considering how focused he was on his objective! I’ve enjoyed several of Foley’s other military romances but just went out and bought a few others based on how hot and sweet this one was. She bowled me over!

Because of the nature of a soldier’s life, it’s hard not to come away from A Soldier’s Christmas being both high on the bittersweet romance of each story as well as impressed by the writing. As a reader, you are naturally thankful both for the men and women of our armed forces but also for being at home with family during the holidays when so many other people aren’t. I think a lot of the emotion I experienced reading this anthology wasn’t just provoked by the outstanding stories told, but how fortunate I felt to have love and family this holiday season in my life after seeing each of these couples experience their emotional roller-coaster during a potentially difficult time.

This is a terrific addition by the Blaze line to both their quality holiday novellas as well as their military romance collection.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Put a Little Cowboy in Your Holiday with Cowboys & Angels by Vicki Lewis Thompson

27 Dec

Cowboys & Angels (Sons of Chance #13 – Trey and Elle) by Vicki Lewis Thompson (Harlequin Blaze, December 1, 2013)

There is a lot to love about Vicki Lewis Thompson – she’s an expert at writing heroes who aren’t bruising alphas (but who don’t lack sexiness or conviction); she’s phenomenally versatile with contemporary, paranormal, military and western books in her oeuvre; she’s prolific so fans never have to wait long before another great book of hers comes down the pike; and she seems like a great person, as evidenced by the love of family and animals expressed on her Facebook and Twitter accounts.

This holiday season, she’s given us yet another reason to appreciate her with the thirteenth installment of her wonderful western series, the Sons of Chance.

Based on the group of siblings who run a horse breeding operation and ranch not far from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Sons of Chance series not only focuses on the Chance siblings but also on their extended family, friends and ranch hands. Thompson writes these books so you can easily pick up one and understand everything (although be warned you’ll find the secondary characters interesting enough that you’ll go out and find their books to read after sampling them in a few pages).

In Cowboys & Angels, Trey Wheeler has never stopped looking for his angel. Last spring, distracted from a bad breakup with his girlfriend, he lost control of his car and ended up thrown into a snowbank. A woman rescued him – a blond angel with blue eyes and a musical voice – but he never discovered her name and his concussion made it hard to remember exactly what she looked like. After months of looking, he still hasn’t given up hope, but to commemorate her saving him he had a pair of angel’s wings tattooed on his arm.

In Jackson Hole for the wedding of longstanding friends (who have booked an entire ski resort for the weekend to the delight of the Chance family and their friends), he’s shocked to be in the local gift shop and hear the voice of his angel. One good look at her and he feels like he has another concussion – she’s gorgeous, modest about helping him, and a ski instructor at the resort. Elle Masterson is the total package and Trey’s already halfway to being in love with her. Too bad she’s looking at him like he’s a card short of a full deck.

Harlequin Blaze December 2013 Bundle – a terrific deal at only $9.99 for almost 700 pages of killer Blaze novels and anthologies.

Elle immediately recognizes the cowboy she helped out of a snowbank and into a hospital. His accident happened right before she left for her summer job teaching skiing in Argentina, but she’s back for her shift in Jackson Hole. He’s even better looking than she remembered (and that’s saying something) but his gratitude and the fact that he had brokenly called for a woman when he was injured tells Elle that Trey is a full-throttle kind of guy, and with her life split over two continents for her job, she can’t do anything but casual. Still, Trey doesn’t give up and a combination of the fact that he’s a great musician – who wrote her a song back when she was his anonymous angel, for goodness sake – and that he delivers knee-weakening kisses make her throw her “no relationships with guests” rule to the wind. But she’s worried that she’ll be nothing but heartache to a man who can’t give less than everything and that she’ll discover that the heart she’s guarded for so long can definitely be broken.

OMG – I love it that a common trope in Thompson’s work is the heroine who is definitely not ready for a long-term relationship, either because she’s been burned in the past or because her career is at a place where it’s hard to fit in. It’s always impressive that in the length of a category romance novel (which we all know isn’t long) she manages to give us enough backstory on Elle to understand her tough family situation and how she’s worked hard all her life to not get attached to people or places. That pathology forms an understandable barrier when it comes to resisting Trey and she’s only half-successful, because – my God – who could resist him? He’s such a romantic and the perfect gentlemen (respectful to women at all times and a tiger in the sack – yowza). Trey is tailor-made for breaking down Elle’s defenses and I liked that her epiphany was a little slow in coming, with the perfect denouement occurring at Christmas on the ranch.

Cowboys & Angels is a fantastic western holiday novel which moves quickly and to an excellent resolution. Keep in mind that Harlequin is also offering it as part of a four-novel holiday bundle for only $9.99, which includes Tawny Weber’s Naughty Christmas Nights as well as the anthology A Soldier’s Christmas featuring a wonderful reunion story by Leslie Kelly. Just the novel by itself will only set you back around $3.00, so either deal is a great holiday bargain.

Give yourself a hot, romantic cowboy for the holiday with this fantastic book from Vicki Lewis Thompson. You’ll find very quickly that you’re in the mood for country. ;-)

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: A Naughty Girl Gets a Happily Ever After in Twas the Night Before Mischief by Nina Rowan

26 Dec

‘Twas the Night Before Mischief (Daring Hearts #2.5 – Darius and Penelope) by Nina Rowan (Forever, December 10, 2013)

It’s always the mark of a good novella when the minute you finished it, you’ve hopped online and are ordering the other books in the series. That’s exactly what you get upon finishing Nina Rowan‘s third installment in her Daring Hearts series, focusing on the Hall siblings. Set during the Victorian period, this rather unusual aristocratic family has lived under the umbrella of their mother’s scandal in both St. Petersburg and in London, so naturally, as the siblings come of age, conventional relationships are not going to meet their needs.

Falling between the second and the third full-length book (which comes out in late May 2014), this novella focuses on the serious Hall twin, the spectacled Darius. His fascination with machinery has led him to have a multi-year professional relationship with Henry Darlington, an innovative confectioner, who has worked with Darius on various ways of separating out cocoa butter. This collaboration allows Darius to see the effect of Henry’s sudden remarriage on his twelve year old daughter, Penelope, and offer his own brand of rather (ineffective) cerebral comfort.

Flash forward and Darius is interested in seeing the now fully-grown Penelope again but is shocked at what he finds. Rather than the dutiful, quiet daughter he remembers, this young woman is stunning and vivacious, attracting male attention right and left. In particular, she’s garnered the focus of a Scottish fortune hunter who the Hall family recently ran off from Darius’ sister, Talia, but Darius’ warning to Penelope seems to fall on deaf ears. Yet even this changed Penelope still has the fire in her eyes that always attracted Darius and he steals a mind-blowing, stunning kiss under the mistletoe.

It doesn’t stop Penelope from running away with her Scottish suitor. She’s tired of being the dutiful daughter and getting no recognition from her father. While she likes her stepmother and siblings, she nevertheless feels like she’s on the outside looking in and the memory of her daring mother who would fill a room with the force of personality makes Penelope want more than the invisibility of a woman’s lot in life. She wants someone to truly see her, and so far no one has. When her elopement doesn’t work out and her father’s cool, intellectual colleague Darius Hall shows up in Scotland to rescue her, humiliation wars with relief…and something more. For Penelope finds that Darius is really more like his mistletoe kisses than the cool scientist he leads people to believe, and she might not be the only one with a fire inside. But will their short trip back to London be enough time to explore what’s between them before Penelope has to go back to being a good girl?

I cannot wait to read the rest of Nina Rowan’s Daring hearts series if this novella is any indication. It’s clear by both the author’s Ph.D. in Art History from McGill University, as well as her writing style, that she endows her characters with broad intellectual interests well-rooted in excellent research and solid theory – my favorite kind of historical writing! Both Penelope and Darius are extremely compelling, likable characters and it’s a joy to see them gain a greater understanding of each other. While it’s hard to imagine an aristocrat (even a much younger son) marrying a shopkeeper’s daughter, Rowan does make it clear even in this novella that the Halls are an unconventional lot who have lived through enough scandal that a little more doesn’t really faze them.

While there are a few mistletoe kisses (and a seriously naughty inn scene), there also isn’t a huge emphasis on Christmas, just the holiday season in general, so it’s a wonderful story to continue your holiday reading through the end of December. Many thanks to Ms. Rowan for writing such a terrific novella!

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Sleigh Bells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan Will Insure You Have a Very Merry Christmas

25 Dec

Sleigh Bells in the Snow (The O’Neill Brothers #1 – Jackson and Kayla) by Sarah Morgan (HQN, November 1, 2013)

If I’m going to bother to write a review for Christmas morning, you can be darn sure it’s going to be a really good book that I’m recommending. Knowing that I wanted a story with serious oomph, I deliberately held off on even reading Sarah Morgan’s Sleigh Bells in the Snow – I wanted it to be like a present to myself. So one night with the snow drifting outside, the ski slope lit up in the distance (you can see one from my living room windows) and a fire crackling, I sat down and read it in one sitting.

It is always so exciting to watch a terrific category romance author take the plunge into longer length, single title books. Granted, it’s nerve-wracking – can they make it? Are they able to fill all those extra pages with solid character development and tension or will the book feel like a category romance with way too many scenes?

No one who loves Sarah Morgan has anything to worry about with the recent release of her outstanding Christmas novel, Sleigh Bells in the Snow. Not only has she graduated to writing emotional longer books with compelling characters and sniffle-inducing families, but (thank god) this book starts up a series, the O’Neill Brothers, that feels a lot like Jill Shalvis’ Animal Magnetism series or Bella Andre’s Sullivan series, so if you enjoy those two contemporary authors and their family dynamic, you probably want to take a look at the sexy, skiing O’Neills.

Jackson O’Neill has made more than a name for himself in the global skiing industry with his running some of the most successful European skiing locales. But after his father’s tragic death, he dropped it all to come home to Vermont and take over Snow Crystal Resort, the ski resort founded by his great-grandfather and handed down to each eldest son. Unfortunately for the entire O’Neil family, Jackson’s father loved the skiing but not the business side of things, meaning Jackson has inherited not only a property inches away from bankruptcy, but also a large family grieving his father’s passing while also having a noisy stake in the business. Arguing with his irascible grandfather, his concerned grandmother and mother, as well as his two brothers is the norm but it doesn’t make it any less exhausting. He knows they need serious help and Jackson has a line on a fabulous PR firm in Manhattan which supposedly has some kind of wunderkind in the ranks who can turn around businesses like his. Wasting no time, he goes to New York to take a look.

How I picture some of the O'Neill's resort. And how do I get some of that Belgian hot chocolate??

How I picture some of the O’Neill’s resort. And how do I get some of that Belgian hot chocolate??

Kayla Green was happy to leave London for New York for the plum position at Innovation PR and she’s well on her way to being the youngest vice-president in the company’s history. Right now her major problem is that she hates Christmas and yet is living in a city known for attracting tourists just to enjoy the holiday atmosphere…and it’s killing her. When she hears her workaholic boss is interested in her taking over the O’Neill account – and that doing the preliminary pitch and research would involve her being at a secluded mountain cabin with no holiday decorations – she’s all over it. That Jackson O’Neill is one of the handsomest men she’s seen in forever is just an added complication, but it’s something she’s sure she can ignore.

That is, until she gets to Vermont, and then nothing can be ignored – not the weather which she’s woefully unprepared for, or the fact that she didn’t even know what a moose looked like, or that she’s never skied. What really can’t be ignored is the tumultuous, lovable, frustrating O’Neill family who seem to live and breathe not just every aspect of the holiday but also highlight to Kayla everything that is missing in her life, bringing up the most painful memories and forcing her to face her demons. But facing all those dark fears while trying to be a professional and help Snow Crystal find its deserved place on the map is next to impossible, particularly while fighting her growing attraction to Jackson – it’s like Kayla is in the middle of an emotional blender.

The O'Neill family has a history of horse-drawn sleigh proposals. Seriously!

The O’Neill family has a history of horse-drawn sleigh proposals. Seriously!

When Jackson realizes that this vulnerable side to Kayla is even more attractive than the sexy, blonde killer with that knee-weakening British accent he saw in the Manhattan boardroom, nothing is going to stop him from getting under her skin and into her bed. O’Neills are renowned for knowing what they want and going after it with serious determination, and Jackson knows that Kayla is not only what the resort needs, she’s also precisely what’s been missing in his life as well. But getting past her icy walls is going to take some serious maneuvering and possibly the help of his whole family to win her.

Oh, wow. I defy you to not fall for each one of these frustrating, flawed, sexy, wonderful O’Neills! At just shy of 400 pages, Sleigh Bells in the Snow has ample time for character development beyond just the hero and heroine and Morgan takes advantage of the extra length, sussing out family history and conflicts and giving us a little backstory on each of the family members and secondary characters. It’s easy to see the other brothers’ future matches (and how hard it’s going to be to make those work) while being reminded that it’s often very easy to see other people’s problems while being blind to your own. Kayla’s backstory is so painful that I want her parents invited to the resort simply so the O’Neills can detonate an avalanche above them – it’s not hard to appreciate how much she has to overcome in the space of a short week to face what she could have with Jackson and his family.

Suddenly Last Summer (The O’Neill Brothers #2 – Sean and Elise) by Sarah Morgan (HQN, June 24, 2014)

Perhaps because of all this great character development, there is terrific potential for the future books in the series, and not just with the wonderful brothers. Peppy cousin Dana and the outlier sheriff Josh are ripe for their own novella(s) and I can picture a prequel or two for both the O’Neill brothers’ parents and the grandparents considering the hints dropped regarding their proposal stories which also happened at the resort. This is one romantic mountain!

The only disappointment to be had with Sleigh Bells in the Snow is that 1) these gorgeous men are sadly fictitious and 2) this mountain resort with its private cabins and hot tubs doesn’t actually exist. So, you are left with doing the next best thing and booking your time with the first of Sarah Morgan’s fabulous series. Stay tuned for the second book in the series, which focuses on the hilarious, very French chef of the resort, Elise, and Jackson’s twin brother, Boston’s top orthopedic surgeon, Sean, who are both confronted with the memory of a spectacular summer night together when he comes back for a visit. Their story, Suddenly Last Summer, will be out by the end of June 2014 and this reader has already pre-ordered it!

Many thanks to Sarah Morgan for giving me such a great book (and such a terrific family) to love this holiday season. Merry Christmas!

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