Tag Archives: Stephanie Laurens

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff, and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of January 26, 2014

26 Jan

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Self-publishing got a huge boost when historical powerhouse Stephanie Laurens jumped on the bandwagon and her latest novella, The Peculiar Case of Lord Finsbury’s Diamonds, came out January 6th, so go pick it up when you have a chance. Fans of her exceptional Cynster series will enjoy seeing a very pregnant Penelope Adair and her wonderful, crime-solving noble of a husband Barnaby (as well as the ubiquitous Stokes of the police force) join forces to solve a baffling mystery. That a new couple in the making is also desperate to get to the bottom of the murder forms her trademark Regency romance. Keep in mind that this book is one of her ongoing The Casebook of Barnaby Adair series featuring Barnaby and Penelope as well as new couples and I for one am interested to see the reception and type of stories which will emerge in this framework.

In just a couple of days, sensual paranormal and romantic suspense writer Cynthia Eden will be kicking off her new series, Phoenix Fire, by releasing the first novel, Burn For Me, on January 28th. Seeming to focus on paranormal creatures held against their will and the potential mates they encounter, this is a premise we’ve seen before but never with this level of sexual tension or Eden’s great writing. I was fanning myself just from the excerpts from Burn For Me and the second series book due in April, Once Bitten, Twice Burned.

Also on the 28th is the massive release of Jeaniene Frost‘s seventh book in the incomparable Night Huntress seriesUp from the Grave will be her last Cat and Bones novel and she has never written anything that didn’t blow my socks off so this one has been pre-ordered since last July. Frost admits that the couple might pop up in other books in the Night Huntress world (remember we still have another book in the Night Prince series and I’ve got my fingers crossed that Ian has evolved enough to be the hero in his own novel soon). With those possible novels on the horizon (and having the utmost confidence in the creative imagination residing in Frost’s mind), I’m happy to thank her for finally offering Cat and Bones a happily ever after since they’ve been through a lot in their time together! January 28th will be a little bittersweet, but with Frost at the helm, I’m sure to enjoy every page.

Good news for military romance lovers! The next Tawny Weber Uniformly Hot! Harlequin Blaze novel featuring her sexy SEALs will be out on March 18th. Entitled A SEAL’s Kiss, this delicious story involves a SEAL on leave who agrees to be a pretend fiancee to help a woman alleviate the worry of her ailing father. You can imagine that the “no sex” rule of the arrangement becomes increasingly harder to keep as our hero and heroine become attracted to one another! Pre-order it now from Amazon so the day after St. Patrick’s Day will be a little brighter for you.

Also due out on March 18th is Jennifer Ashley‘s latest addition to her unbelievably good paranormal series, Shifters Unbound. Feral Heat is the latest novella which focuses on Jace, the son of the leader and third in command from the Las Vegas Shiftertown who visits the Austin Shiftertown (bring on the sexy Morrisseys, thank you) to discover how to remove the crippling collars which render the shifters at the mercy of humans. When a shattered, beautiful woman, Deni, volunteers to be the test subject, Jace is moved by her circumstances and drawn to mate claim her, but it’s uncertain whether her fragile state can survive the collar removal so she can be a full mate to Jace. We met Deni, the wolf shifter in the novella featuring her brother, Lone Wolf, and this woman’s road has been a heartbreaking one. I cannot wait to see her (and Jace, who is a blisteringly hot feline if ever I saw one) get a HEA.

Erotic author Paige Tyler has succeeded in practically every subgenre of romance fiction – erotic, science fiction, romantic suspense, and paranormal – so I was thrilled to see that Sourcebooks Casablanca picked it  up and will be publishing her upcoming series, entitled X-Ops. The first book entitled Her Perfect Mate not only has a killer cover but a terrific premise. A human Special Forces hero is partnered with a diminutive, seemingly gentle covert ops partner, only to discover she can switch on her feline DNA to deadly effect when necessary – and he loves it. I’ve pre-ordered this one!

Historical romance readers always seem to like the novels of Erin Knightley, so they’ll be thrilled to see that the first book in her new series, Prelude to a Kiss, is due to be published on June 3rd. The Baron Next Door has a cranky war hero recovering from his injuries using the restorative waters at Bath consistently annoyed by the music coming from next door. Discovering the beautiful young musician creating it instills a very different feeling and it’s not long before his feelings undergo a radical change.

Contests and Giveaways

Suspense fans love Cristen Harber’s Titan series, so they will definitely want to enter the Goodreads contest to win book 4 of the series, Savage Secrets, about the firm’s new second-in-command who is on an undercover mission to nab a terrorist. Sounds like an average day at the office for this crew, but unfortunately for him he’s got some strange brain hallucinations he’s neglected to discuss with anyone and is posing as the newlywed husband to a gorgeous woman bent on revenge. Things suddenly just got a lot more complicated…

For those readers who can’t get enough MMA fighters (yes, I am one with you, sisters!) should be aware that Gina Maxwell just released her third book in her Fighting for Love series, Fighting for Irish, and it looks WONDERFUL (a hard-working waitress has to come up with thousands of dollars to cover an ex’s debt and the fighter she’s always loved from a distance steps up to offer himself as collateral *sigh*). Because it was only released on January 13th, we are still enjoying the blog tour and Entangled’s giveaway. Enter before February 6th and you’ll have a chance to win a $50 gift card to B&N or Amazon (reader’s choice). Did I mention the book is also ONLY $.99 RIGHT NOW?! Run and fight for your copy before it goes back to full retail.

Those angels over at Paranormal Romance blog have put together a book giveaway of some terrific authors (Gena Showalter, Michelle Hauf, and Maggie Shayne, for example) for readers who leave a comment on the post detailing their favorite paranormal romance author. I chickened out and revealed my tie between Jeaniene Frost, Nalini Singh and Ilona Andrews (seriously, talk about a Sophie’s Choice to choose a favorite!), but get your vote in before the January 30th deadline to see if you can win.

Fun Stuff

Who knew the Consumer Electronics show could be this exciting? The personal pleasure business OhMiBod revealed that they are offering a fabulous remote controlled vibrator, The Club Vibe 2.OH (*chuckle*). This beautifully crafted electronic device is a rechargeable vibrator which comes with a remote. While obviously a person or their lover can use the remote to activate the vibrator in a more traditional way to excite the wearer, this particular vibrator has a “club mode” which has the microphone of the remote initiate vibrations to the rhythm and intensity of the ambient music (or voice, etc.). This latest edition is a nice complement to the other company products like their Freestyle W:Wireless Music Vibrator which connects to your smartphone or MP3 player and syncs the vibrations of a rabbit style vibrator to the music you are listening to. Gives a new meaning to “beats per minute,” doesn’t it?

The Australian Romance Readers Association was kind enough to put one of their banquet’s most popular speakers, the wonderful Julia Quinn, online (in three parts) giving fans about 45 minutes of pure Julia, who has a wonderful back and forth with the moderator and fans and answers questions about her various series and characters, and her outlook on romance writing. You’ll find even more to love about her!

I know I’m not alone in freezing like a popsicle these last couple of weeks (I celebrated yesterday because it was a whole 6 degrees in my car when I got in it – and I was just ecstatic it wasn’t a negative number anymore!). What do you need to keep warm and make a fashion statement? A literary themed scarf, naturally! Those wonderful people at Book Riot have assembled a terrific list of book-related scarves, several of which look both warm and trendy, so go take a look.

A terrific article in The Atlantic details some recent research showing that regular sex actually improves brain function and long-term memory (while viewing pornographic images has the opposite effect) even making a connection that older adults with early onset Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to not have had sex recently. All the more reason to make that meaningful connection and improve your brain health!!

Great Deals

Donna Kauffman is not only a terrific author who moves the heartstrings but she also makes you hungry as delicious food (usually dessert) features prominently in her writing (thank god). Lucky for all of her devoted fans, Sugar Rush, the first book in her Cupcake Club series, is on sale for the ebook edition, currently only $2.51 on Amazon. When a baker returns to her small town is astonished that her former boss, a British powerhouse she nicknamed Chef Hot Cakes decides to film his cooking show in her storefront, she’s baffled as to why. He knows why he’s there, and it’s not to steal recipes..just her heart.

The first book in Lynda Aicher‘s well-rated Wicked Play erotic series is only $.99 right now, so BDSM fans might want to head over and pick up Bonds of Trust while it’s still at a great price to see if they want to try the other novels in the series. This first one features a heroine who ended a bad marriage and is more than ready to try out all the fantasies she was denied with her ex. Heading to the nearest sex club is naturally the next step (how many of those are there around the country, anyway?). She finds a Dom intrigued by introducing her to the lifestyle but what starts as instruction quickly becomes something much more emotional, and neither party knows if they are ready for that level of commitment.

Readers who love shifters as much as I do will want to take a look at the bundle, Shifter Seduction Box Set, which has novels by Eve Langlais, Mandy Harbin, Tressie Lockwood, S. K. Yule, Crymsyn Hart, and LeTeisha Newton. This wonderful collection definitely falls on the erotic end of the spectrum with this line-up with many of the books focusing on menage relationships that truly are unleashing the animal within. Mrrrooowwww.

Readers of this blog know how much I love the military romance chops of writer Kaylea Cross, particularly her fabulous Titanium Security series. In honor of the latest book of the series, Rekindled having been released just last week, the first book in the series, Ignited, is currently on sale for only $.99. Fans of well-written, detailed and emotional military romance will not be disappointed by Cross, so I’d recommend you pick up this book ASAP!

Happy reading this week! :-)

Regency Doyenne Stephanie Laurens Moves to Medieval with Desire’s Prize

3 Jan

Desire’s Prize (Chronicles of Claerwhen #1 – Alaun and Eloise) by M. S. Laurens (Savdek Management, October 18, 2013)

Anyone who is a fan of Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster saga is familiar with her Regency heroes referring to their Norman heritage, usually in the sense of being conquerors both of land and of the ladies. Finally, this writer has gotten a chance to refresh her perspective and dive into the bold men and women of this particular time period with her offering, Desire’s Prize, released under a new pen name, M. S. Laurens.

Not only has Laurens developed the related pseudonym to distinguish this work from her popular Regency novels, but it appears that she also has self-published this particular story. I haven’t read if that decision was due to lack of publisher interest (hard to believe with a name as powerful as Laurens) or if she was interested in dabbling in being a hybrid author, but considering her pull and established audience self-pubbing this one is quite smart financially as I’m sure her usual publishing house (Avon) takes a much bigger piece of her pie when she releases a new book.

In Desire’s Prize, Alaun de Montisfryth is a powerful lord and the right hand of Edward III, a monarch who has used his knight’s prowess to subdue his enemies and secure the Welsh border. Now Alaun has been ordered by that same king to marry now that he can finally return home to his stronghold after three long years away. An undisputed warrior who avoids tournaments, when Alaun hears that Versallet Castle is hosting a grueling contest he detours his sizable retinue during their journey home to attend and to compete. The head of the de Versallet family bilked a young Alaun out of his father’s stallion nine years ago and getting a measure of revenge in his fully-grown adult form feels like an excellent coming home present. One look at the eldest de Versallet daughter and suddenly there is a larger prize beyond honor for Alaun at stake.

The details of a medieval knight of this period.

In actuality, Alaun’s fight with her father happened on the occasion of Eloise de Versallet’s marriage to Raoul de Cannar. Barely fifteen, the proud girl was shackled inadvertently to a sadist of the first order, a man who made her brief marriage a living hell until God came to her aid and killed him with a lightening strike. She fled to the Claerwhen convent which had educated her for the first four years of her widowhood until her mother’s death necessitated her moving back home to be chatelaine to her father and brother. Five years of running a castle have proven gratifying and while her beauty and substantial dowry attracts men, her frosty demeanor and widow’s status mean no one can force her to marry. She’s been under the thumb of one man and has no desire to ever place herself in such a position again.

But Eloise cannot deny that there is some kind of spark between her and Alaun, but it doesn’t mean she has no intention of fighting it. A clever wager with her father means that if Alaun wins the tournament, Eloise’s father will transfer her to Alaun’s protection. It’s not marriage, but it would necessitate her becoming this knight’s chatelaine and would be a natural precursor to an official union. For Alaun, he must use every minute with Eloise to undo the damage left in the wake of her first husband as well as bind her to him so she will consider marriage – his king’s edict hangs over him and suddenly no other woman will do. However, this fiery woman will not easily come to heel. Some type of partnership must be forged in order for the two of them to grasp a future neither one envisioned – but both want now that they’ve seen the possibility.

While the image isn’t English or Welsh, this castle fits my mental image of Alaun impressive stronghold.

My reaction to this particular book was mixed (the first two thirds of the book had me thinking four stars but the ending had me dragging that down to three), but definitely positive. The heat between Alaun and Eloise is palpable and well-expressed through all their naked sexy times, scenes which fortunately contained a minimum of Laurens’ tendency for purple prose (I think she only referenced “the furnace” once, thank heavens). She did a great job showing not only the progression of feeling between them, but the growing confidence that Eloise could be a full partner despite her rough first marriage. The language felt pitch perfect for the period and the level of historical detail was outstanding – accurate details reflected the summer course Laurens mentions she took on the medieval period yet are so skillfully delivered it never feels like an info dump. Alaun and Eloise are both strong, proud nobles of their period yet empathetic characters who you easily support.

Where Laurens falters is where her books usually fall apart – the driving external conflict. As the Cynster series progressed, the mystery or conspiracy around which the entire book’s ending revolves became incredibly simplistic and often two-dimensional. Similar to the last five or six of the Cynster books, the initial two-thirds of Desire’s Prize focusing on the two characters coming together and recognizing their feelings is outstanding, but the manufactured conflict for the final third weighs heavily on the reader. In this work, an unbalanced young woman with Eloise in her sights provides what I thought was the novel’s “black moment” only to be succeeded by an additional peril when Eloise is captured by a group of un-introduced knights who were only vaguely hinted at in two other places in the book. It’s a bit jarring and awkward and it didn’t have to be – it almost felt like something a strong editor would have caught and corrected. A great epilogue fortunately pulls up the end of the novel and re-establishes the connection between the characters that made the first part of the book so compelling.

Many medieval convents (not all) where places fostering female leadership and education, housing great wealth and often providing a formidable security to its inhabitants, as Claerwhen Convent does.

One point in the author’s note at the end which confused me was that Laurens makes a point of saying that this book comes between Captain Jack’s Woman and Devil’s Bride. She must mean this in terms of her personal writing chronology since these two books are still in the late 18th/early 19th century. I don’t know if this makes me feel better since I actually feel that the overall writing in Desire’s Prize feels more like the early Cynster works (which is a terrific thing) and I had hoped this had meant a return to that stronger writing and characterization, but it doesn’t if this book was actually written years ago during the author’s golden age.

Yet the fact that this book is listed as the first in a new series, Chronicles of Claerwhen, makes me hope that there will be other books based around women who attended this illustrious convent led by a strong mother superior (and perhaps starring heroes like Alaun’s sensual right hand knight, Roland). It’s an excellent device and one that could be quite effective for framing a series, particularly if a dip into the medieval period helps bolster Stephanie Laurens’ creative juices.

I feel tentatively hopeful at the start of this series, with my fingers crossed that Laurens continues to develop this time period into another wonderful group of books with characters I revisit again and again.

Happy reading!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 15, 2013

15 Dec

Upcoming Books and Recent Releases

It’s well known that I feel Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster series is one of the best Regency romance series out there, so I’m pleased to see that Avon Publishing is cleverly releasing the first three books of it (and they are AWESOME) as a e-bundle for people wanting to try it. Available as of December 17th, Cynsters: The Beginning includes Devil’s Bride, A Rake’s Vow and Scandal’s Bride and will cost only $13.59, a massive discount from the $7.99 for each book which is the standard retail price.

Angela Knight announced the prequel to her successful Magverse series, Wicked Games, will be released as of April 1, 2014. Containing not only the story that started this fantastic reinterpretation of Arthurian tales (think sexy vampires as knights and plenty of magic), it also bundles several previously released e-tales which have been revised and expanded for this anthology.

Vivian Arend’s next novel in her Thompson & Son series, Baby, Be Mine, will be published on February 25, 2014. This book combines a friends to lovers trope along with a surprise baby and amnesia when Gage Jenick takes advantage of long-time friend and hottie Katy Thompson kicking her boyfriend to the curb, even if his work is going to make him incommunicado for a couple of months. What he didn’t anticipate was that his girlfriend would have no memory of him or their incredible night together after she is involved in a car crash. While Katy wonders why Gage returns acting so territorial around her, she’s way more interested in how on earth she could be pregnant? In Arend’s hands, this is bound to be pure gold, so pre-order now!

Arend is going to win the busy bee award in February, considering that earlier in the month she also has the next installment of her Adrenaline Search & Rescue series, High Seduction coming out on February 4th. Armchair adrenaline junkies will definitely want to pre-order this puppy, a sexy chopper pilot looking for someone else to take control in the bedroom and the old flame paramedic who is more than happy to give her exactly what she needs.

Contests and Giveaways

Hustle over to Goodreads today for a chance to enter the historical romance anthology At the Duke’s Wedding, featuring stories by such powerhouse authors as Caroline Linden, Katharine Ashe, Miranda Neville and Maya Rodale. Enter by December 15th for a chance at these stories in print form for the first time!

Vampire Book Club, a blog whose reviews can always be counted on to inform, is offering a fabulous Urban Fantasy giveaway, with books by Adrian Phoenix, Jess Haines, Christina Henry and Eileen Rendahl to populate your bookshelves. Get over there before December 19th to enter for your chance to win!

With a mid-week deadline, another giveaway worth entering is for the first book of Emma Barron‘s Tropical Nights series, Exposed, which ends on December 18th. When a reporter is assigned the interview of a reclusive CEO, she thinks it’s a run-of-the-mill assignment not realizing her boss has led the company to believe that it’s a write up for a major economics journal and not the gossip magazine she works for. But both this sexy businessman and determined reporter have had their heart burned before, so as they realize that this interview is revealing their desire for one another as well as the facts, the question remains if they can get past their trepidation to find something real together.

Contemporary author Leah Braemel is participating in the Mistletoe Madness Blog Hop, offering a $10 Amazon or B&N card as a present to a lucky visitor who participated in her Rafflecopter giveaway by December 19th. For an even bigger prize (and a bit of guide through the Mistletoe Madness Blog Hop) head to P. J. Schnyder‘s blog and look at her giveaway which garners you entries via tweeting and commenting at the various participants blogs. In addition to Braemel and Schnyder (two excellent authors) they’re joined by such wonderful authors as Laura Kaye (of Hard As It Gets fame), Christine d’Abo, Christi Barth, Cat Johnson, and Dana Marie Bell among others. Enter before December 20th to see if Santa is going to give you something electronic under your tree via a $200 gift card to Best Buy if you manage to win this one!

Speaking of the Cynster saga (see the Upcoming Books and New Releases entry above), Goodreads is having a giveaway of one of the spin-off books from that Regency saga, Where the Heart Leads, the first in The Casebook of Barnaby Adair series. Currently the only entry in that series, Laurens recently announced she’ll be adding several books to it and I’m elated, as Barnaby, the aristocrat with a penchant for investigation via London’s burgeoning police force is a favorite of mine! This book is the one where he falls for the cerebral yet beautiful Lady Penelope Ashford, and it’s a doozy with some of my favorite characters making appearances. Enter before December 20th for your chance to win!

New York Times Best-Selling author Donna Grant is having a Twelve Days of Christmas giveaway on her Facebook page where she is posting lovely daily prizes for commenters (like $50 bookseller gift cards!), so head over there and start contributing! I imagine they’ll just keep getting better and better the closer to Christmas we get. :-)

It’s tough not to giggle at some of Harlequin’s titles and the Intrigue novels are usually the most chuckle-worthy. That does not stop this imprint from periodically hitting a home run, and I have to confess to putting Secret Agent Secretary , the second book in Melissa Cutler‘s ICE: Black Ops Defenders series, on my to-read list. When a desk jockey is catapulted into the arms of a handsome agent, they need to work together to foil a nefarious plan. Luckily for all of us, it’s also being offered in a Goodreads giveaway for people who enter prior to the end of December.

The erotic romance author group collectively known as the Smutketeers (R. G. Alexander, Eden Bradley, Rachel Grace, Eve Berlin and Robin L. Rotham) on their blog of the same name have begun their Twelve Days of Christmas giveaway with not only daily prizes and fabulous highlights of recent books you’ll want under your tree, but a cumulative prize of a $300 gift card for a dedicated reader who posts a comment on each day of the celebration. That’s a lot of books….

Fun Stuff

‘Tis the season for finding gifts for all the readers in your family, and game enthusiasts might want to take a gander at all the book-related board games out there geared toward readers. Flavorwire has a terrific list of 10 board games for book nerds (why are we always nerds?) including ones based on Pride & Prejudice and Beowulf, or you can get a classic like Bookopoly, geared toward middle school kids but great for readers of all ages.

I usually don’t post stuff about YA romance (probably because I think about it all the time in my day job as a young adult librarian) but I had to share the wonderful post by author Diana Peterfreund on the RITA awards and their perhaps misguided treatment of YA romance. Peterfreund has numerous successful books under the belt, many of which should be award-winners in multiple categories, but this thoughtful analysis of the Romance Writers’ Association and YA is worth a read and re-read.

Great Deals

The full-length erotic novel (gracious, that sounds dirty!) Sexual Persuasion by Maryn Sinclair is currently free on Amazon. When a woman is rescued from an uncomfortable encounter with an ex, she can’t deny the heat between her handsome rescuer and herself. But when that gorgeous man is revealed to be an attorney with one client (the local mob head), and she hears the rumors that this same man who is clearly interested in getting her in bed also was the lover of his male mob boss, she’s confused. Will his past come between them or can she be persuaded?

Erotic historical author Kate Pearce currently has the prequel to her Sinners Club series also available for free, The First Sinners. The series features men who belong to a private gentlemen’s club filled with men who have either sketchy pasts or specific predilictions – and the need to keep both quiet. In this novella, an Earl investigating possible treason deploys all his wiles at a house party in the hope of uncovering valuable evidence. What he is surprised to uncover is one innocent young miss determined to find a man who can teach her carnal pleasure (and his lordship knows exactly who can fulfill that role).

Following in today’s erotic historical romance bargains trend is Samantha Kane‘s Regency menage novel, The Courage to Love, the first of her Brothers in Arms series which is also available for free on Amazon as of right now. A dress shop owner is still recovering from a vicious rape but feels safe when surrounded by two men who served with her late husband on the Peninsula – two men she’s been in love with for quite some time. Shocked they feel the same toward her (and have a relationship with one another), her past nevertheless intrudes on them moving forward.

The holidays always come with bargains if you know where to look, and the A Naughty Little Christmas (Cowboys, Cops and Kilts) Bundle, featuring a smorgasbord of authors across genres (cowboy, romantic suspense, small town contemporary, paranormal, Highlander, etc.) is the ultimate bargain at $.99 for eight novellas. With authors like Paige Tyler, Ann Bruce and Dawn Halliday in this grouping, I’ve already got it sitting in my Kindle app to warm my holiday nights!

If you haven’t had a chance to run and buy The Theory of Attraction by erotic romance author Delphine Dryden, go run to Amazon and grab it while it’s free. With a slightly autistic scientist who happens to be a serious Dom (and definitely high on the hottie) scale and the next door neighbor who decides to help him get a promotion by being his girlfriend who can read departmental situations, this sexy nerd romance is simultaneously erotic and sweet. It would be worth paying full price for, but free? You don’t need a genius IQ to figure out that’s a bargain.

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of October 6, 2013

6 Oct

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Historical Romance writer, Katherine Ashe, is giving readers a fantastic Christmas present with the release of her holiday novella, Kisses, She Wrote: A Christmas Romance. When a rakish earl stumbles across the diary of a wallflower princess whose fantasies are anything but demure, sparks are going to burst into flames that will light the Yule fire, for sure. One of the best pieces of this novella? It’s currently only $.99 on Amazon. If you’re too eager to wait until December 3rd, then check out Ashe’s website for a tantalizing snippet. Ashe fans might also want to note that her full-length Regency ghost story (with a romance at its center), Captive Bride, is also reduced down to $.99 as well.

Samanthe Beck’s McCade Brothers series has just become one of my favorites since I read the associated novella in Lovers Unmasked and bought and read the first book in the series, Lover Undercover (awesome!!!), so I was thrilled to see that the next installment of the series, Falling for the Marine, will be out at the end of October. A marine helicopter pilot with a back injury is anxious to get back into the pilot’s seat but when he’s hot neighbor is the masseuse assigned to him she’s not the only one with straying hands. Entangled publishing is great with pricing, so this hot novel by a great author is only $2.99. Mine is already pre-ordered!

Dianne Duvall just released the fourth book in her Immortal Guardians series, Darkness Rises, featuring a beautiful swordswoman who gets the drop on vampire and the two-hundred year old guardian who realizes the vamps she’s killing have influential friends, a fact that puts her and his fellow guardians, in danger. Released on October 1st, this 400+ page paranormal romance is under $6 for its ebook version which suddenly places the series on my “to-read” list!

Fantastic new author Kat Latham (who blew me away with the first book in her rugby-based London Legends series, Knowing the Score) will be offering a connected Christmas novella to her series, Mine Under the Mistletoe, due out on December 5th. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy! No cover art as of yet, but I’ll let you know when it comes out.

I was impressed with the intensity of Shannon McKenna’s One Wrong Move, which made me thrilled to see its sequel, Fatal Strike, was just published in trade paperback and ebook form at the end of September. Containing more of a pronounced paranormal element than its predecessor (which still had one, it was just subtle) this book features a captured woman tortured like a lab rat with injections that bring out psychic powers. She finds herself escaping to a safe place where a handsome, protective man exists who always makes her feel better but she thinks he’s a product of her imagination until he bursts through the door. Bring. It. On.

Giveaways and Contests

While Lauren Dane fans are reveling in the publication of her latest book in the Brown Siblings saga, Drawn Together, this week, they need to not forgot that this prolific author does not rest on her laurels, but always has yet another amazing book coming out. Her Bound By Magick series is about to have the fourth book published in early November, Wild Darkness, but readers should note that Goodreads is actually having a giveaway (ending October 11th) if you wanted to see if you could win a copy.

Author Cassandra Carr has always given us great sports romances, so it’s not a surprise that her recent contest is running under a “Hockey Hotties” moniker! Enter to win a selection from her backlist of great hockey romances by leaving a comment on the webpage.

Sports romance fans need to run not walk over to Give Me Books in order to enter that blog’s Extreme Jock Giveaway. I’m still reeling from the prizes – 44 author signed paperbacks, 97 ebooks, 19 ebook sets, various swag and even a few book retailer gift cards!! Be warned that the Rafflecopter giveaway is naturally extensive with so many authors participating (you’re going to spend a decent amount of time tweeting and clicking those Facebook like buttons for entries) but it’s so worth it.

Entangled Teen has collaborated with Hesperia Loves Books to produced an unbelievable giveaway to support Breast Cancer Awareness and research. Running for the month of October, this giveaway gives participants the chance to win over twenty books, many of them signed, by authors such as Jeaniene Frost and Lori Foster. Tweeting and posting on Facebook about the giveaway gives extra points, but consider the multi-point bonus that comes with donating to the National Breast Cancer research program (the link is right in the rafflecopter giveaway). I did in honor of my Aunt Martha who is currently fighting breast cancer (and who loves romance) and I’m sure you can think of someone who has suffered through this disease. SUCH a great cause!

Paranormal romance readers who like their books a little to the left of steamy hot are already familiar with Joey W. Hill’s Vampire Queen series, but right now on Goodreads, she’s also giving away the first book in her Arcane Shot series, Something About Witches. Featuring a witch who prefers the reliability of a handgun to a spell and the sorcerer she pushed away years before who needs her help, this book (and series) is worth a look. This was the intention of Berkeley Sensation publishing who are gearing up for Hill’s new release on December 3rd, Unrestrained, by giving away books from all her various series. Thanks, Berkeley! Enter by October 11th for a chance to win.

Historical mystery readers who love their puzzles with a touch of romance will want to enter the Goodreads giveaway for Banquet of Lies by Michelle Diener. In Regency London a young woman must pose as the French chef of a nobleman in order to be positioned to ferret out her father’s killer and protect the document he entrusted to her prior to his death. Her employer’s curiosity and obvious romantic interest runs the risk of exposing not only her identity but also attracting exactly the one person she needs to avoid if she is to survive. Enter by October 11th for a chance to win.

If Banquet of Lies has you thinking about French food and Paris, you might want to check out the Travel Channel’s contest to win the “Parisian Trip of a Lifetime!” Six days and five nights for two at a cushy hotel in the City of Lights, including a half-day private tour (I think I’d go just for this), a two-hour Parisian bakery workshop (okay, nix the previous statement, I’d go for this), and $1500 spending money. *sigh*

Karen Hawkins’ second book in her The Duchess Diaries series is also being offered as a Goodreads giveaway and historical romance readers will definitely want to give How to Pursue a Princess a good look, whether they win or not. A young woman is pressured to make a good match and hopes she’s going to fall for the wealthy Earl her godmother thinks is perfect, until the hot and penniless Russian prince walks into the room. Whoops. Enter before October 12th to take this one home.

Signet Publishing deserves some major kudos for the outstanding covers of Marie Claremont’s historical series Mad Passions. This Victorian romance series has just had the second book in the series, Lady in Red, come out on October 1st, but if you haven’t yet picked it up, you may want to try to win a copy by entering the Goodreads giveaway before October 15th. This dark series’ installment features a young noblewoman who manages to escape the asylum in which her father has placed her, to run right into the arms of a duke who might very well be her salvation. That he finds her torment to mirror his own only binds them together as they fight for her future.

Fun Stuff

My deep-seated admiration for Laura Kaye’s writing is hardly a secret, and I’ve put on the Sunday posts how much I’m looking forward to her upcoming book, Hard As It Gets, which is the first in her new Hard Ink series. Thankfully for her fans (and quite frankly, any woman who enjoys eye-candy!), Avon Publishing has produced a fantastic video with her being interviewed about her inspiration for the characters. She’s delightful, the Baltimore backdrop lovely, and the tattooed figures…um…quite inspiring. Take a look!

Macy’s is selling a dress by Tommy Hillfiger featuring a great print that is row upon row of books. In the shirtwaist style, this looks awesome with boots and is a reasonable $79.95. I’m so on this.

For every girl who used her mother’s bangles to mimic Wonder Woman’s cuffs or pretended to be Barbara Gordon turning into Batgirl, there is a great nonfiction book, The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines by Mike Madrid. Right now this informative text is an amazing $1.99 at Amazon, so feed your inner Superwoman and download it in a flash.

Great Deals

I was thrilled to find on M. L. Buchman’s blog a note that some of his fantastic novellas which accompany his The Night Stalkers military romance series were being offered in a “romance bundle” from StoryBundle. Not having heard of that particular store, I went to take a look and was wowed by the mission of the website. Designed to promote indie authors by offering their books together with other books as a “bundle” around a given theme, the site’s founders hope to encourage you to find new authors you might enjoy. Unlike the great $.99 bundles on Amazon I often promote, StoryBundle also 1) lets you set your own price for the bundle (although it suggests an incredibly affordable one) and 2) encourages you to add an extra percentage which they donate toward charities encouraging writing and literacy among children. How awesome is that? Books are downloaded in either .mobi or .epub form so Kindle users or other ebook readers can all handle the files. Take a look at the romance bundle to realize that this is no pure donation – not only Buchman’s books but also independent books from Stephanie Laurens, Jo Beverly, Mary Jo Putney and Kristine Grayson. WOW!

Historical romance writer Courtney Milan’s Turner series novella, Unlocked, is on sale for $.99 right now on Amazon. A little over 100 pages, this story features a wallflower determined to stand up to her former tormentor upon hearing he’s returned to England. That he’s here to apologize for his past behavior doesn’t seem to quench her ire and the nobleman in question finds he wants much more than her forgiveness.

I’ve never read a suspense story that happened to be a Western, but I’m about to change that with the news that B. J. Daniels’ Harlequin Intrigue novel, The New Deputy in Town, is free for download on Amazon right now. When a new lawmen has to solve a bridal shower murder and everyone in the heroine’s family had a motive, things are bound to become complicated quickly.

Lyndsay Sands’ Argeneau Vampires series is understandably famous, so it’s always a good deal when they are discounted. Right now, The Accidental Vampire, the seventh book in the series, is marked down to only $1.99, a terrific deal. Starring a new vampire trying to adjust to coffin life on her own who gets set up by well-meaning friends on a blind date, the heroine is thrilled to discover the experienced vampire Victor Argeneau on the other side of the table. He’s good-looking enough to have his pick of woman with a heartbeat or without, but he definitely wants to help her, particularly after the realization that someone wants to put an end to his sweet fledgling’s new existence.

Having just reviewed Jennifer Ashley’s latest in the Highland Pleasures series, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, I’m thrilled to note that the accompanying Christmas novella, A Mackenzie Family Christmas is actually FREE right now on Amazon for its ebook form, so run over and grab it while the price lasts.

I love Cat Johnson’s Westerns but her Red, Hot and Blue series has always demonstrated she knows her way around a man in uniform (and out of it as well, mrrrrooow!). The third book in the series (each named after the hero), Jimmy, is now available for free download at Amazon, so check it out. An undercover Special Forces hero, the red-haired daughter of a senator, and one unbelievably hot one night stand (did I mention terrorists?) all make for an unbeatable combination.

That’s the scoop for this week. Happy Reading! :-)

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week Ending September 29th

29 Sep

Upcoming and Recently Published Books

Just in time for ramping up the creepy factor for Halloween is the latest in Heather Graham’s long-running Krewe of Hunters paranormal series, The Night Is Forever. Featuring an FBI paranormal investigator team (with unusual backgrounds and abilities), this installment features a woman who fears that a Civil War ghost is somehow responsible for the recent death of founder of the animal therapy facility where she works. Calling on her cousin’s team not only brings help but the possibility of something much more with one of the men trying to help her, if they can both survive the threat in the dark.

Fans of Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series (a group of novels which will appeal to fantasy, steampunk/gaslight, and historical fiction readers alike) will be elated to know that she’s publishing a short story in early November, Entwined, starring a noble roped into standing in for his good-looking brother when it comes to writing to his reluctant noble fiancee. Naturally the lovely but stubborn lady in question begins to fall for the letter-writer, but can a happily ever after magically find it’s way to them? At only $.99, this could very easily be in the “great deals” section, so pre-order your copy prior to the debut on November 5th.

Fans of Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series who were reluctant to buy the Burning Up anthology which included her fantastic novella, Here There Be Monsters, will be happy to note that it’s now available as a standalone as of October 1st, and for the bargain price of $2.99! This is one of the sweetest stories in the series, starring a red-haired blacksmith on the run from a mad pirate who would do anything to possess her, including play a very patient game until she comes to him. Hot, sexy, and oh-so-emotional, this is exactly what fans of Brooks expect (and love) about her writing!

Stephanie Laurens, the doyenne of Regency romance, has finally brought her website into the 21st century, with not only a modern look, but also an interactive Cynster family tree (hover over the marriage line of a couple and ALL the children pop up!). This is all just in time for her debut medieval novel, Desire’s Prize, coming out on October 21st, under the penname, M.S. Laurens. Despite the looming release date, the book is only as of today available for pre-order on iBooks (which seems baffling) and the book isn’t even listed on her Goodreads account yet. While we all shake our head over Laurens’ continuing struggle with social media (it’s a good thing her reputation allows for her fans seeking her out), it was wonderful to hear that she will be putting out an unrelated Regency novella in a duo anthology with Alison DeLaine, The Trouble With Virtue (December 1, 2013) as well as gearing up for the 2014 release of the next Barnaby Adair novel, The Masterful Mr. Montague. Yes, THAT Montague, the ever-elusive but capable Cynster man of business. I cannot wait to read his story (particularly if a few of my favorite Cynsters can drop in).

Contests and Giveaways

Historical Romance author Christina Brooke gives us a jaded, dissipated rake back from the dead and a schoolteacher who wants to prove to society that she can have a respectable season despite her family in the fourth book in the Ministry of Marriage series, London’s Last True Scoundrel. This book was released at the end of June, but if you’re curious enter the Goodreads giveaway by October 1st to see if you can get a copy.

In one of the most fun giveaways I’ve seen in awhile, talented romance author Tawna Fenske is promoting her upcoming novella, The Great Panty Caper, by asking people to take a picture of the panty thief in their life (my cats have so got this covered) and post it to various social media with the hashtag #pantycaper. The winner will get a $50 gift card to Victoria’s Secret (you have to replace those panties, after all!), awarded October 7th, with the novella released the following day. While you’re waiting, do yourself a favor and read Fenske’s Eat Play Lust in the meantime.

The Book Pushers blog is cleaning their shelves again and have grouped fabulous books by category. Stop over and leave a comment about which set would be your preference if your comment gets picked as a winner!

Foreplay, the first book in the Ivy Chronicles by Sophie Jordan, has the great erotic trope of an inexperienced woman who wants someone close to hear but goes out to find a sexy guy to teach her the ropes in bed – a guy she ends up falling for. If I don’t win this Goodreads giveaway ending October 1st, this one is on my “to buy” pile, for sure.

Fun Stuff

It’s not a secret how much I adore Lori Foster’s writing, but do you know about all the great free stuff she has available on her website? You can download, rippled abs wallpaper *fans self*, puzzles and crosswords based on her books (now that’s a book quiz I can recommend), send her a SASE for free bookmarks and magnets, or even arrange to have her autograph your ebook!

Fans of Bella Andre (and Lord knows I am a fan of her Sullivan series in a big way) need to check out the recent article from Publisher’s Weekly in which Andre lists her picks for the top 10 best romance books – of all time! It was no surprise to me to see my taste gelling with her, particularly with such wonderful classics as Nora Roberts’ Ardmore series, and more recent offerings like Sarah Maclean’s Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. The only thing I disagreed with was that none of her books were on this list!! Andre fans need to also make sure they’ve ordered her Sullivan Christmas novel, Kissing Under the Mistletoe, which just came out September 24th.

Pregnant women are sexy, seriously! One of my favorite new sites, Lovehoney (a British company), has a wonderful article detailing how pregnant women can enjoy flaunting their stuff with practical but pretty lingerie that flatters their expanding waistline. Forward it to the wonderful pregnant women in your life to let them know that the fun of lingerie does not have to be put aside for the next few months. (And remember that the second semester often has sex drives peaking for pregnant women!)

Great Deals

Tawny Weber’s fantastic Harlequin Blaze novel, A SEAL’s Seduction, is currently free on Amazon for the ebook version. Lovers of books with a military hero (particularly when the heroine is a brainy, red-haired scientist) will not be disappointed by this wonderful book!

Regency romance fans will want to take note that Julia Quinn’s Just Like Heaven (the first book in the Smythe-Smith Quartet) is on sale in ebook form for only $1.99. Leave it to this author to make a bad violinist with her eye set on an unattainable bachelor not realize that love comes in the form of her good-looking, twisted-ankle-prone guardian.

If you feel like some light comedy with a paranormal twist, Jana DeLeon’s Trouble in Mudbug – a tale of a Southern woman who thinks her life has just gotten better with her difficult mother-in-law’s death only to find she’s now haunting her – might be just what you need. Yes, there’s a romance element (as well as mystery) and lots of twists and turns, with plenty of laughs to boot. And it’s free in ebook form on Amazon!

Romantic Suspense readers are more then familiar with the name Maggie Shayne and her reputation for excellent, emotional books that have your heart pounding. Her 2001 release, Gingerbread Man, is now available for free on Amazon, and it’s worth a look if you haven’t get sampled Shayne’s writing. The story of a world-weary detective just off a brutal child murder and a woman who still battles her memories of her baby sister’s kidnapping will have you getting in quite the creepy October mood.

That’s the round up for this week, everyone. Happy Reading!! :-)

Stephanie Laurens Gets Closer to the Cynster Ideal and Foreshadows the Family’s Future in The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh

5 Jul

The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh (Cynster Sisters Duo #2; Cynster series #20) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, June 25, 2013)

It’s no secret that I believe Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster series to be one of, if not the best, Regency series on the market, but I’ve also been vocal in my criticism that this talented author does not play to her strengths in recent years. Her latest novel, The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh, falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, demonstrating old school strengths of Laurens’ writing, while also still (unfortunately) highlighting some of the weaknesses we’ve seen in the last five novels of the series.

Whereas the first seven or eight books in the Cynster saga possessed strong male leads (rakes, every last one of them) meeting women who they MUST possess and marry, later books in the series, including the Cynster Sisters Trilogy and Cynster Sisters Duo, rely heavily on conflict provided by “mysteries” so obvious my cat could pick out the villain in the first 30 pages. Combined with Laurens’ purple prose tendencies in the bedroom (a propensity you would expect to fade with time as the romance readership has become much more comfortable with specific language and fewer euphemisms), you would expect even devoted readers to throw up their hands and just walk away from her.

But we don’t and it’s largely due – at least on my part – to the fact that her period construction is so tight and realistic that I will never worry about incorrect language spoken by characters living in this time period, or that social constructs will be flaunted without reference to the mores that are there to guide the characters, even if they choose to reject them. I am SO tired with historical romances with dialogue (“We need to talk this over” from a medieval warrior) or actions (Regency heroines having sex with no thought or worry about getting pregnant or the loss of their reputation) but Laurens never fails to make her characters attractive to modern readers yet always living fully within her world.

Devil’s Bride (Cynster series #1 – Devil and Honoria’s story) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, 1998)

This particular book forms a full circle for the Cynster series, as virtually every character mentioned in the first book of the series has found their match. The heroine of this novel is none other than Mary Cynster, the baby sister who toddled through the wet grass saying a secret goodbye to her dead brother Tolly in Devil’s Bride, the first book that launched the series back in 1998. Now she’s a bossy young woman with a heart of gold who finally has possession of the necklace given to her cousins and sisters by Catriona (Scandal’s witchy Scottish wife) in honor of her “Lady”, a pagan goddess figure. The necklace is supposed to tell Mary who is her “hero” by heating up in his presence. But decisive Mary knows exactly who she should marry and she’d be moving things right along that is, if his pesky older brother, Ryder Cavanaugh, Marquess of Raventhorne, would stop interfering.

But Ryder has no intention of doing so. His half-brother is only in his mid-twenties and much too soft a man for the force of nature that is Mary Cynster. That she’s a stunning beauty and the last of the marriageable Cynsters of her generation makes her an incredible prize for any man wishing to ally himself with her powerful family. But Ryder wants her for another reason – he senses her fire and passion would bring much to a marriage but her sense of family, an inheritance any Cynster brings to a union, is exactly what he wishes to create in his damaged group of siblings. The Marquess of Raventhorne wants any children of his to grow up surrounded by unquestionable love and loyalty – in short, he wants what the Cynsters have.

Mary is no fool. Ryder is sensual, handsome and powerful so she appreciates what Ryder is offering even if she does acknowledge he will not be a man she can control. That he is willing to entertain a partnership has her agreeing to consider him as a suitor, but almost before she can put her mind to that puzzle, an incredible attack and her reputation being comprised forces them into marriage. As strong emotions take root between them, threats to both Ryder and Mary mean they might never have the chance to establish the family they both crave.

It’s not going to be as easy for Laurens to get her heroines undressed when she hits the Victorian period. Yikes!

I really thought that this would be the one to break the recent trend of Laurens’ books which have had great characters but highly manufactured and shallow “danger” propelling the plot forward. The first third of the book had me gripping my iPad in happiness – FINALLY here was a hero to fulfill the Cynster tradition of a rake who sets his eyes on a heroine and will not be swayed from winning her. But before he can hie her off to a conservatory for proper ravishment, some jackass “mystery” plot has to butt its fat head in and derail all that energy and sexual tension. Yes, their relationship is fantastic and continues to progress, but not with the same level of energy.

There is still a great deal to love in this book. Mary’s scene right before her wedding of bursting into Ryder’s bedroom (she has no plans on being the only Cynster female to go to her marriage bed a virgin!) is priceless and filled with the sexy humor Laurens does so well. Any fan of the series will love not only the look at all the past couples but the close up view of the all the children of those matches we’ve loved, with definite hints as to their characters. Seeing Devil and Honoria’s two teenage sons and their high-spirited daughter Louisa, as well as their cousins who followed right behind them in age, means that the next books need only be 10 to 15 years in the future to have these young men and women finding love.

I do worry about all those children and the future of the series. Will Laurens, who has said she intends to write their stories, master the Victorian age with the skill she has the Regency period? How can the Cynster passion hold against the much stricter and rigid Victorian mores (we might have to have virgins in their marriage bed)? With the invincibility of the first generation of Cynster men, the horror that was the Crimean War looms large and could create any amount of damage of this generation. Laurens has also been very, very careful to have each match be highly appropriate in terms of class – Lucifer and Phyllida’s match probably pushes the envelope the most since she’s minor landed gentry and he’s first cousin to a Duke. The Victorian age in England had so many aristrocrats marrying daughters with large fortunes and previously unacceptable backgrounds. Will this be impetus for Americans to break into the Cynster family? I think they’d be right at home.

Where the Heart Leads (The Casebook of Barnaby Adair #1 – Barnaby and Penelope’s story) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, 2008)

Laurens has made clear that she plans on the next books not immediately jumping into the Cynsters of the future, but rather revisiting her character of Barnaby Adair by adding books to The Casebook of Barnaby Adair series. Right now the only book is the one which fully fleshed out his character (although he appears in other Cynster books as someone who helps solve the mystery), Where the Heart Leads. Here amid a backdrop of stolen orphans and Mayfair burglaries, Barnaby finds his perfect match in the unconventional Penelope Ashford, a Cynster connection several times over as her brother and her sister have both married into the family. The two of them with their inquisitive minds, stellar intelligence and aristocratic (as well as common man) connections team to unravel a mystery and save the day and they are a terrific couple.

Whether the new Adair books will bring in new characters or simply be mysteries featuring Barnaby and Penelope, I don’t know. The only thin hope I’m clinging to has to do with the fact that Laurens’ mysteries were in fact much better during these writing years for her, so my fingers are crossed that she recaptures that ability while showing us glimpses of the Cynsters at play. Stephanie Laurens has always shown her comfort level with jumping back and forth in years, so it’s highly possible these books could predate Mary and Ryder’s love story. Either way, even with her shortcomings, I’ve got enough Cynster fangirl in me to see this family through whatever Laurens throws their way. Bring it on, Stephanie!

Writing Good Sex: Thinking About Steamy Sex Scenes from the Standpoint of a Reader and a Writer

1 Jun

Be a Sex-Writing Strumpet by Stacia Kane (CreateSpace, January 13, 2011)

A writer who can pen hot, steamy, and emotional sex scenes – interactions that are a lot more than tab A going into slot B – always win my loyalty.

I know there are people who love sweet romance and don’t need to to see what happens in the bedroom, but for me, those bedroom scenes often say more about a relationship than the dialogue or character descriptions. Sex also strips people down (no pun intended) to their essential self with the result being that it’s often obvious that a couple is in love with one another before they get around to actually revealing that fact in words. As Stacia Kane puts it “… the fact is, the deepest truths of our characters can be found when they are naked, when they are at their most vulnerable both physically and emotionally, when they let their guards down and just interact.” (Kane, p. 125)

A sex scene – a good one – is the epitome of showing and not telling. “I’m so hot for you” is not as strong as “His hand trembled as he touched his thumb to the thudding pulse in her neck, a beat he had to taste under his tongue while he reminded himself, go slow, don’t rush this…” Just like any other writing skill, some writers are better at this than others and no matter how much of a natural you are, understanding the elements of a good sex scene that take it from “okay, they are having sex” to “my book just burst into flames and not from an ereader malfunction” is vital to success.

Why We Need Great Sex Scenes

Stacia Kane’s fantastic primer for writers is infinitely valuable to readers as well. We know that we love a certain author or a certain scene but can’t always put our finger on why. In her book, Be a Sex Writing Strumpet, Kane took a series of blog posts and organized them into densely packed book focused on understanding why sex scenes can be so vital to plot and character development, how to write them well, and exercises to help each writer understand his or her sex writing voice and comfort level. It’s pure gold for $2.99.

But your crotchety uncle and that nun who taught you in the second grade definitely don’t feel sex should be in books, which begs the question, do we really need sex scenes? Hell, yes! I think I’m going to let Stacia Kane answer:

If you can find another way to illuminate the most private acts of your characters, to demonstrate their connection, their trust, the depth of their feelings…, their desire for each other, the moment their relationship deepens and changes beyond anything they’ve been through before, while also strengthening the story, increasing tension, and adding complications, and also—let’s be honest here—giving the reader what they’ve been waiting for, and you can do all of that in one scene, then no, you don’t need the sex scene. (Kane, p. 6)

firework-79374_640That’s a lot of points in favor of the sex scene. Note she didn’t say titillation? One of the major criticisms of romance novels (and clearly plenty of books outside the genre have sex scenes but they are expected in romance) has always been the “pornographic” nature of the sex. This criticism has always seemed like total bull to me; I’ve never seen a crime or horror writer criticized for too gory a murder. Instead the critic just grimly mentions the level of violence to the reader, as if it’s a point in their favor about their writing style and that they don’t shy away from reality. But romance writers – and let’s face it, it’s because they are usually women writing for mainly other women – get the “mommy porn” thing because god forbid we should show anyone what two people engaged in a mutually satisfying, sexually healthy relationship looks like. Those soccer moms might get ideas or *gasp* expectations.

Some key points Kane touches upon for writers (and which are visible to readers) are vital for emotionally tying us to the characters. Her warning to make everyone wait (for example, the suggestion to write an amazing kissing scene that’s clearly headed you-know-where and interrupt it) builds anticipation. For writers blocked about writing sex scenes, she has the brilliant idea of writing a dialogue between your characters where they talk about their feelings – and then you turn it into a sex scene where they are showing all those emotions through their actions.

Because that’s the point, isn’t it? That our characters show their true selves via their actions (and okay, sometimes their words, when they are actually coherent having sex) and that everything – from first glance to foreplay to actual sex to the aftermath – is built around revealing their soul and their emotion for one another. Let’s take a look at my top love scenes that fit this bill.

Memorable Sex Scenes: The Mrrrrooowwww Worth Reading and Re-reading

If you’re a romance reader, there are memorable sex scenes that are so hot you can’t help but think of them as I’m writing about this topic. Naturally, the writers showcased are women who also happen to be incredibly talented at strong characterization and airtight plotting, but since I’ve seen those qualities in other writers who are terrible at writing sex scenes, I consider these ladies to be the total package. Here are my favorites and why, in no particular order.

Author: Jeaniene Frost
Book: This Side of the Grave (Night Huntress series #5)
Genre: Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
Couple: Cat & Bones
Why: I adore this series (Jeaniene Frost seems incapable of writing anything that’s not absolutely stellar) and I’m sure people familiar with it are surprised that I didn’t list the famous/infamous chapter from the second book in the series, One Foot in the Grave. I absolutely agree that half-vampire Cat Crawfield and her vampire lover/husband/former professional whore Bones is an unbearably hot combination, but that truly astonishing sex scene is brought about the presence of Bones’ former lover Annette and his need to prove to her that she’s truly the love of his heart after she lays down a challenge to him to make her blush the next morning (and she does).

But the sex scene in This Side of the Grave is one between two people who have weathered ups and downs in their relationship and are secure as a result, and it gets listed here because of one very specific reason. It’s not just the unbelieveably inventive combination of candle wax and fangs, but the fact that Cat consciously lets down her final barrier in her relationship with Bones – the fear of how devastated he would be if she lost him. That realization makes this sex scene one in which she demonstrates how she’s decided to hold nothing back by consciously constructing a night of total pleasure for him. It’s so hot and moving that I find myself alternately fanning my face and choking up whenever I reread it.

Author: Stephanie Laurens
Book: A Rogue’s Proposal (Cynster series #4)
Genre: Historical Romance
Couple: Demon & Flick
Why: I am the first to admit that Stephanie Laurens drives me insane with her tendency for purple prose. But the earlier Cynster books, while peppered with the occasional “flotsam” reference (ocean debris = not sexy, Stephanie!), possess fewer of these references with the sex scenes  stronger as a result, none more so than Flick’s deflowering scene. It happens on a dresser in an inn. Harry, aka Demon, is the most sensual beast of all the Cynsters and – as frustrating as his inability to express his love for her is – the one place he can show her how he feels is when they are intimate with each other. It’s not surprising she feels smug looking at his ass in the mirror as he makes love to her. Who wouldn’t?

Author: Lisa Kleypas
Book: Devil in Winter (Wallflowers series #3)
Genre: Historical Romance
Couple: Sebastian & Evie
Why: Another deflowering scene that’s a favorite and honestly one that probably didn’t stop the clock in terms of how long it took. Sexy Viscount Sebastian needs a fortune and heiress Evie is happy to give him hers in trade for letting her escape her abusive relatives but they both agree the marriage has to be legal. Not a problem for Sebastian who’s seemingly bedded all of London’s females over age 17. Exhausted from their trek to Gretna Green and quickie marriage, Evie awakes from a very sexy dream to Sebastian kissing his way all over her naked body. What makes this so unbelievably sexy? The fact that he talks to her – playful, sexy, Sebastian talk that is the essence of his charming, roguish self – until you’re a puddle listening to him bring her to ecstasy  That he has an orgasm so mind-blowing and long that he feels that he might have been the virgin? Icing on the cake.

Author: Jennifer Ashley
Book: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #1)
Genre: Historical Romance
Couple: Ian & Beth
Why: If you have to ask, you haven’t read this book yet! Lord Ian Mackenzie is one of the more memorable and unique heroes I’ve ever read. Landing on the autism spectrum in the 19th century meant you were thought mad no matter how brilliant you are, and it’s not like the era was renowned for the tender care of people with psychological differences. When Lord Ian meets the young and beautiful widow Beth, brought up in poverty and the recent heir to a fortune, he immediately wants her while his honest candor and devastating sexuality proves more than she can resist. While I like all their sex scenes, the one that stands out is the one where Beth visits him at his brother’s art studio in Paris to apologize for being nosy (she really didn’t need to). Ian worried he would never see her again and talks her into baring herself to him. Feeling her freedom, she takes off her clothes and dances a little around the studio in happiness with a sheer scarf, which Ian uses to reel her in and proceeds to bring her to orgasm, while never removing a stitch of his clothing. That in itself is damn erotic, but it’s his utter focus on her pleasure, the sensual enjoyment he takes of every little detail of helping her reach ecstasy, that makes this scene one of my favorites.

Author: Laura Kaye
Book: Hearts in Darkness
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Couple: Makenna & Caden
Why: Laura Kaye can throw down the hot emotional sex scenes with veterans in the business and always land at the top of the pack. In this book, our two protagonists are trapped in an elevator together, in the dark, and they didn’t get a good look at each other when they got in. Getting to know one another when it’s hot and stuffy in an enclosed space doesn’t sound awesome, but it is when the two people in question have a lot to reveal and the dark makes for perfect cover. That they get hot and heavy in the elevator (and then take it to her apartment) has been done before, but not like this. The unbridled sensuality and emotion inherent in Makenna, in the pitch black, feeling the piercings and scars on Caden face and connecting them with what he’s revealed to her makes your heart beat faster.

Author: Shelly Laurenston
Book: The Mane Event (Pride #1)
Genre: Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Couple: Dez & Mace
Why: I adore Laurenston’s ability to bring her brand of earthy humor to this incredibly sexy paranormal series. Mace Llewellyn has left his elite military unit (one made up of shifters like himself) and has gone into the security business with his best friend. They’ve based themselves in New York, not just because Mace’s pride is located there, but because this lion has been head over heels in love with the husky-voiced, half-Irish, half-Puerto Rican (extremely busty) Desiree MacDermott since they began high school. He knows that she’s the one for him, and class issues and the pesky fact that he’s a shifter (and she has no idea about their existence) isn’t going to get in the way. This book makes the short list based on one particularly AMAZING scene – and let me tell you, there are plenty of sexy love scenes in this series! – where Dez handcuffs Mace to her bed and has her wicked way with him. The neighbors calling the police is a given since lions are extremely noisy while being tortured with sexual ecstasy. It’s off the hotness meter not just because of what Dez feels comfortable doing with herself in front of Mace but because he wants to prove himself to her so much that he lets her take control.

Author: Kele Moon
Book: Defying the Odds (Battered Hearts #1)
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Couple: Melody & Clay
Why: If you haven’t jumped on the Kele Moon bandwagon, I honestly don’t know what you are waiting for. This astonishingly good writer won my heart with her unlikely tale of a working class victim of domestic abuse slaving long hours as a diner waitress who finds love with a UFC fighter. I knew absolutely nothing about this kind of fighting but Kele Moon’s plotting and characterization moved her into my “must-buy the pre-order” category and she’s never let me down. Clay Powers is a disciplined athlete with a tough beginning but good friends and the way he sees through Melody Dylan’s stress and exhaustion to the beautiful woman underneath will have you sniffling. That Melody discovers she is a highly sensual being at Clay’s hands is wonderful, and the make-up sex which occurs when she travels to Las Vegas to cheer on Clay in his big bout will have you never looking at a picture window over Sin City the same way again. Yowza.

The Future of Sex Scenes in Romance

While many people are crediting the Fifty Shades phenomena or the decline of civilization, the fact remains that romance novels, unless of a specific genre (like inspirational or Amish) are becoming more explicit in their sensuality levels. What RT Book Reviews lists as a “Scorcher” now would very likely have been erotica over a decade ago and there are classic romances that were considered hair curling in their time that I flip the page back with a “that’s it?” comment, thinking I’ve missed something.

My hope is twofold. One, that the trend toward explicit sex between characters means that readers and writers are more comfortable with sex as a natural expression between people. Clearly we see more sex on television and in movies, but a lot of it is objectification, not a loving expression between individuals, so romance fits a vital need to remind us of what sex can be. Second, I believe that there are a lot of truly great authors (see my shortlist above) and publishers who want women to demand their due both as consumers of the romance genre (hell, we deserve hot sex scenes between those fictional people we’ve fallen for!) and as healthy sexual beings in the bedroom. In the end, writers who write hot, emotional sex scenes have not only demonstrated their facility as people who have mastered a craft, but as pioneers showing us all what really love can look like in its most elemental form. And I would like to say to all of them – Thank You.

What favorite sex scenes of yours fits the criteria here? I’d love to hear about them. Happy Reading! :-)

References

Kane, Stacia (2010-07-19). Be A Sex-Writing Strumpet. Kindle Edition.

Cynster Sisters Duo Proves an Upswing in Recent Cynster Books with And Then She Fell by Stephanie Laurens

21 Apr

And Then She Fell (Cynster Sisters Duo #1, Cynster Series #19 – Henrietta Cynster and James Glossup) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, March 26, 2012)

If anyone remembers the first time they read Devil’s Bride, the book one in the now legendary Cynster series by Stephanie Laurens, I’m sure they can picture the sweet scene where the children of the family go to say goodbye at the graveside of their brother and cousin Tolly, the littlest ones struggling with the walk in the night as Devil and Honoria look on, restraining themselves from helping lest it ruin the ceremony. I don’t know how old this makes you feel (Devil’s Bride was originally published in 1998), but I end up with the impression that the Cynsters are somehow an extension of my own family, particularly with the realization that these youngest members are all grown up and ready for their own romance novels.

And Then She Fell is the first in the spin-off series the Cynster Sisters Duo (two books still attached to the Cynster series – this is the nineteenth book) focusing on the two youngest daughters of Arthur and Louise – Henrietta and Mary – sisters to twins Amanda and Amelia (On a Wild Night and On a Wicked Dawn) and Simon (The Perfect Lover). Of all these books, Simon’s story in The Perfect Lover is probably the most crucial to read prior to this one, as the hero to Henrietta Cynster is none other than James Glossup, the younger son of the house and murder suspect in the country house party mystery that provides the setting for Simon and Portia to fall in love with one another. (Anyone needing a series overview should take a look at my post on the entire Cynster series for a refresher.)

Henrietta is in her late twenties having never quite found her hero and to be honest, she’s not looking that hard, a fact immensely frustrating to her younger sister Mary. Mary’s rising blood pressure relates to the belief that she thinks she has possibly found her hero but can’t verify the fact until the amethyst necklace blessed by the Lady and given to the girls by Catriona Cynster (wife to Scandal Cynster and a Scottish pagan whose story is told in Scandal’s Bride). This necklace has been used to good effect by their cousins in the Cynster Sister’s Trilogy and Mary knows that Henrietta must use it first since she’s older. The necklace heats up in the presence of the man destined to be the fated mate of the Cynster woman, thus directing her efforts. At Mary’s insistence, Henrietta dons the necklace and the games begin.

Fashion plate of riding attire from 1837 (the year And Then She Fell is set) from La Mode

Known as the “Matchbreaker”, Henrietta has garnered quite a reputation for using her vast network of contacts within the ton to research a young man upon request of a young lady considering his suit, often discovering sordid habits, shifting finances or simply conformation of it not being a love match. That final point seems to be a common request as it has become more fashionable for well-born young women to want to marry for love. When a good friend of hers asks Henrietta to check on James Glossup, a suitor who has been making his preference for her known, Henrietta is forced to come back with the information that James has some kind of financial imperative to marry and doesn’t seem to be factoring love into the equation. A bit wistful, the friend and her parents are nevertheless grateful for averting a mismatch and James is nicely sent packing.

Naturally, he’s livid at getting his conge and angrily approaches Henrietta in a crowded ballroom. What Henrietta didn’t know was that James has unexpectedly received an inheritance from a great-aunt who wanted to ensure that the bachelor would knuckle down and get married, so he must marry within the month in order to release the funds which would allow him to support the estate and everyone on it. His noblesse oblige has him frantic to follow the stipulations of the will so as not to put hundreds of people out of work and Henrietta’s interference has botched everything. He doesn’t seem to hear too well Henrietta’s empathetic explanation that, since her friend wanted to marry for love and James clearly didn’t love her, it wouldn’t have worked anyway, but in the end, the soft-hearted Henrietta makes James a compelling offer. She will use her contacts to help him find a bride within the allotted time period.

Spending time with Henrietta pointing out the eligible young woman who fit his criteria and who she knows of are good character and temperament allows James to decide fairly quickly that his perfect match is actually standing right next to him. The emotion for this decision is ratcheted up by a series of what seem like accidents befalling Henrietta, accidents which are quickly revealed to be a pattern of attacks by an unknown foe. Every Cynster relation and Cynster friend come out of the woodwork to help (so reread the series and the Bastion Club books if you want to not be scratching your head remembering who’s who) constituting a type of Old Home Week for fans of Stephanie Laurens. Naturally the bad guy doesn’t have a chance, and James and Henrietta get their happily ever after, with Mary the happy recipient of the necklace and the next book in the series.

The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh (Cynster Sisters Duo #2, Cynster Series #20) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, June 25, 2013)

And let me make clear how much I am looking forward to the next book, The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh. And Then She Fell is solid Stephanie Laurens fare, but like many of her recent publications, she veers away from her strength, namely the utterly wicked rake ensnared completely and utterly by the spunky heroine. Laurens’ ability to write honorable rakes nevertheless well-schooled in the arts of debauchery seemed to lessen after The Perfect Lover, highlighting her weaknesses (plodding mystery plots and ridiculous prose for the sex scenes that could easily win a purple prose award).

In the Cynster Sisters Trilogy, I was so excited as Viscount Breckenridge, no slouch in the rake department (as realized in the book about his young widowed stepmother, The Ideal Bride) fit this hero mold, but the setting of the book being on the road as he runs down Heather Cynster’s kidnappers, failed to highlight his rakish tendencies in Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue. Instead it took the utterly alpha male villain-turned-hero on his home turf in Scotland to give us a little taste of the old Stephanie Laurens in The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae.

Based on the teaser chapter, Ryder Cavanaugh fits the mold of our original Bar Cynster (the virile and deliciously naughty males comprising the first six books of the series). He’s fascinated by the headstrong Mary Cynster who seems to think that Ryder’s half-brother is her intended hero. Ryder is taken not just by Mary’s beauty but her spunk, a quality not well-appreciated by the ton and an attribute that actually renders her a complete mismatch for Ryder’s younger brother, who would let a strong woman ride roughshod over him. That he clearly sees her as a prize – she is the last unwed Cynster female of her generation and therefore the last opportunity for any family to make a connection to this powerful family – is apparent, but we know Laurens’ tried and true method of falling “in lust” first and love second will prevail. Since this rake’s “prowling grace” and naughty past was alluded to in the teaser, and since it hints at the majority of the book happening on his home turf in the ballrooms of the ton, I’m hoping that Laurens will play to her strengths and give us an alpha hero of yore.

Let me be clear – I think Stephanie Laurens is an immensely talented writer who has given the romance world one of the best Regency series ever, but I worry that over the course of now twenty years of her career, she has lacked editors or agents encouraging her to evolve as a writer. I recently listened to a few RWA conference sessions and was struck by the number of highly successful New York Times best-selling authors who mention that they continue to take classes and read professional books to evolve as writers, forcing themselves to read all the recent award winners in order to understand what the market wants.

When I read Laurens’ books, I am often struck by how outdated they can seem, particularly in the area of sex scenes which I felt were such a strength in her early works. I would encourage her to consider playing on her prodigious abilities (well-drawn characters, strong historical settings, and an unbelievable sense of family) while shoring up her weaknesses in order to make sure that she doesn’t get left behind with all the great historical romance writers emerging on the market. Don’t get left behind, Stephanie. We love you and these characters way too much to watch that happen.

Anna Campbell Delivers an Angsty, Erudite Read in Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed

24 Nov

Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed (Sons of Sin #1) by Anna Campbell (Forever, September 24, 2012)

Historical romance was the subgenre that originally brought me into the world of romance (thanks to my mother’s addiction to them), so I have a distinct fondness for a good historical, so much so, that I’m super picky about who I read. For me, it needs to be the family and world building of Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster series, the passionate Victorian excess of Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzies, or the spunky, untraditional heroines of Sarah Maclean.

One surefire way to capture my interest is to have excellent writing. Often I’ll yammer on in a review about the great characterization or the way the author brings a period alive and you can infer that this takes a certain amount of writing talent, but then there are authors who have such an excellent turn of phrase that I almost physically feel their words in my mouth as I read, savoring not just the plot but my word journey in getting there.

Anna Campbell has the deft turn of phrase and ability to tug (hard) on the emotional heartstrings that few writers possess, with a raw intelligence behind her pages which sets her apart from the many run-of-the-mill historicals currently on the market. That said, she is also one of those writers who feel the need to have truly tortured characters, to the point where you feel emotionally wrung out when you finish one of her books.

It’s easy to see the levels of pain in this book just in glancing at the description. Scarred Jonas Merrick was declared an official bastard by the courts in his childhood, a declaration that broke his Viscount father’s heart. After being tortured and facially scarred when he was young, he and his father moved abroad. He returned to England unbelievably wealthy and spit in the face of his cruel cousin who had usurped his title by building a luxurious mansion right on the boundary of the title’s historic manse. Jonas has also set a plan of revenge, collecting all the chits of the Viscount’s wife, Roberta, who has quite a gambling problem. His blackmail involves her coming to his remote Devon castle and spending a week as his mistress.

But it’s not Roberta who shows up on his doorstep, but rather her unmarried sister, Sidonie Forsythe. Clearly a virgin sacrifice, rather than be irritated by his plan going awry, Jonas is strangely fascinated by the lush, stubborn beauty so determined to take her sister’s place. Sidonie expected to be repulsed by this man who had manipulated her sister so cruelly, but she is seeing flashes of the man beneath the scars and finds herself intrigued. She must convince him to give her Roberta’s IOUs so her abusive husband William doesn’t have yet another excuse to beat his wife, but the stakes quickly spiral out of control with Jonas’ gentle seduction. Sidonie realizes her heart is on the table and that she also holds a secret which could turn what feeling Jonas has for her against them both.

The first two-thirds of this novel was an utter delight. Falling high on the sensuality rating scale, the sex between Jonas and Sidonie was tender and extremely hot, with the setting a gothic delight. Watching them break down barriers and really intimately know one another’s souls as well as their bodies was an unadulterated pleasure, so much so that you were cheering for them both to find their happy ending. But Anna Campbell seems to be one of those crafty authors who insist on torturing her characters. I’m more in favor of external forces keeping characters apart than setting them against each other, so this was hard for me to take, even while I continued to admire her writing. A big piece of my irritation was I actually felt that Sidonie’s reasoning was rock solid. She trusted herself in Jonas’ hands but he hadn’t shown any empathy toward her sister, so I understand why she wanted to take care of her first before helping him.

It was also uncomfortable to me the degree to which Sidonie had to run after Jonas and convince him that they should be together, and that wrap up and subsequent epilogue felt a little quick to me. Can’t I have a little more time to enjoy the two characters together actually happy and free of secrets? I’m guessing Campbell means to give us more of them in the next book, as Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed is the first in the Sons of Sin series. Since she introduces in this book the two men, both now peers, who had saved Jonas from unspeakable cruelty at Eton, the future heroes are already established. All three men suffered at the hands of gossip since it was well-founded that each of them was actually a bastard. Jonas was the only one disinherited, but it appears that the next book, A Rake’s Midnight Kiss (coming out in late August 2013) will feature Sir Richard Harmsworth bent on an interesting quest which could vindicate for once and for all his claim to his title. Suffice it to say, there is an intriguing young woman to help him along his journey.

Naturally I’m hoping I won’t be quite as wrung out reading Richard’s story as this time around, but with Anna Campbell’s outstanding writing luring me forward (and the desire to see more of Jonas and Sidonie happy), I’ll gird myself for an emotional roller-coaster ride and get ready to enjoy her wonderful writing.

Julie Garwood’s Latest Romantic Suspense Novel, Sweet Talk, Misses the Mark

25 Jul

Sweet Talk by Julie Garwood (Dutton, August 7, 2012)

I need to say right off the bat that I love and respect Julie Garwood. She was one of the historical romance authors I cut my teeth on when being introduced to the genre and Honor’s Splendor reigned for over decade as one of the best historical romances I ever read (until I met Stephanie Laurens’ books, that is). I still recommend her to library patrons looking for quality historical romance.

But I hadn’t really read any of her romantic suspense fiction, not even her acclaimed Buchanan series (and I plan to tackle them this summer). I wouldn’t want to judge her ability to write in this genre based on her latest book, Sweet Talk which I was able to get in Advanced Reader Copy form via NetGalley.

This book begins with a very long, but interesting prologue about four young girls living on a special hospital ward because they all suffer from the same rare disease, which I suppose we are meant to think is cancer because chemotherapy is one of the treatments. Their young personalities are well-drawn and there is a poignant scene of them pranking the staff by hiding in a storage closet and mentioning their dreams, which they naturally doubt they’ll be able to fulfill. A decent amount of copy is spent on Olivia since the girls observe that hers is the only family who doesn’t come to visit her. With the exception of her Aunt Emma, Olivia’s wealthy family acts like she doesn’t exist.

Flash forward to the present and beautiful Olivia is an IRS agent worried about her job since she knows layoffs are coming down the pike. She happens to also be a lawyer who does child advocacy work in her spare time on the weekends, but right now she is busy interviewing for other jobs related to finance in case she finds herself unemployed.

She has an unexpected interview with a powerful man at a five-star D.C. restaurant, but in the middle of the realization that this pompous sleazeball is someone for whom she would never work, the guy freaks out, rips her dress down the front and accuses her of wearing a wire, all while threatening to kill her. His bodyguard goes crazy, hitting Olivia and pulling a gun on her, but before she can get away, an agent tackles him, saving her.

Meet Grayson Kincaid, an FBI agent who seems to be able to take on whatever case he wants, and who coincidentally comes from just as privileged a background as Olivia in terms of wealth and influence. He ends up paying for lunch since she clearly missed it. (Did she have safety pins in her purse? Was her dress not ripped down the front while they are eating?) He calls her up to ask more questions, meets her at her nice apartment and escorts her to a swanky event under the pretense of speaking with her about the case, acknowledges the attraction between them by giving her an amazing goodnight kiss and then…doesn’t talk to her for two months.

What? Okay, we find out that Grayson has a busy life since he now has full custody of his young nephew, Henry, and that he clearly has never heard of texting. When Olivia gets shot three times in front of her Georgetown apartment, he goes FBI crazy, guards her OR door, takes over the case (how does it fall in his jurisdiction? I’m confused), and tries to find out what’s going on.

Olivia is baffled but glad he’s back in her life and he finds out in his investigation what a great person she is (naturally), about her medical history, her great work for kids, etc. He also finds out from Olivia that her goal in life is to bring down her father and place him in jail because he’s running a Ponzi scheme that will ruin thousands of people’s lives and she’s not willing to let him get away with it.

In addition to this point driving the plot, there is also the suspicion of who else might be trying to kill Olivia. Dissatisfied relatives of the children she protects or the gun-dealing bodyguard who tried to hurt her in the restaurant? A subplot of one of her childhood hospital friends and her supposedly recovered addict brother has a conclusion any reader can spot literally in the first paragraph it’s introduced.

I guess my major issue was related to writing. I know what an excellent writer Julie Garwood is and this book felt…rushed, I guess, as if it were the third draft of a book she’d fleshed out for plot and structure but needed to go back and hone the writing and characters. Olivia and Grayson are very two-dimensional, particularly Grayson, who frustrated the hell out of me. After sleeping with her, he disappears again for two weeks in an effort to keep his distance and not compromise the investigation, all without telling her anything. Dude, you have a smart phone. Call or text her with your reservations. Olivia just takes him back with her “live in the now because chances are my illness will come back tomorrow” philosophy. *wrapping fingers around her neck here*

The prose focuses on telling us what characters are thinking rather than showing us, which made much of the reading rather dull. “She noticed he was muscular” should totally have been a description of how his suit jacket rippled over his shoulders and her body’s response to it. It’s writing 101, so what’s going on? Julie is better than this! I feel almost like the intern was in charge of this book.

But I kept turning the pages waiting for one major point to happen, namely for Olivia to actually contribute to helping convict her father…but it doesn’t happen. Yes, she goes and talks to people, but is she not a competent IRS officer? She can’t discover anything? Grayson almost single-handedly takes care of everything. No wonder he can’t find time to text.

The other ambiguity which affected my reading was the question, still up in the air for me, about this book – is it part of a series, or not? We have all four girls/women introduced with their background and interesting careers with attraction even indicated between Olivia’s friend Collins and Grayson’s FBI partner. But there is no indication on Garwood’s website or Goodreads that Sweet Talk is meant to be the first book in a series. So I have to read all that prologue and all I get is Olivia’s story?

Oh, and Garwood’s publisher is clearly smoking crack if they think that readers are going to be happy to pay $12.99 for the Kindle edition of this book. Seriously? I don’t care that it’s 368 pages (and by the way, that could have been a lot less if one of the tiresome subplots were cut), in a world of $7.99 ebooks as the norm, this price is highway robbery.

I think what galls me the most is this book held the potential, particularly in the hands of such an excellent writer, to be an engaging romantic suspense novel, but it misses the mark. I’m going to reread some of my favorite Julie Garwood novels of the past and try and expunge this one from my memory.

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