Archive | April, 2012

A Fabulous Male/Male Regency Novella: The Sartorialist by Cecilia Ryan

30 Apr

There is no lover of Regency romance who doesn’t have a little crush and a lot of admiration for George Bryan “Beau” Brummel.  An elegant trendsetter from modest beginnings (compared with the aristocrats with whom he rubbed shoulders), Beau Brummel served as a captain in the Dragoons prior to the outbreak of the Peninsular and Napoleonic Wars, catching the eye of Prince Regent.  Included in the Prince’s inner circle for years, they eventually had a falling out, with Brummel finally fleeing Great Britain with his creditors on his heels and living out his days in poverty in France.

Brummels understated and elegant style of dress not only set a new trend known as “dandyism” but eventually became the foundation upon which the modern men’s suit is based. His fashion sense was only equalled by his wit and he made or broke many a man or woman’s reputation during this time period. Perhaps due to his rapier tongue, I’ve always wanted to include him on my short list of people from history I’d invite to dinner (and I would just make sure to dress really, really well).

When I came across the description of Cecilia Ryan‘s novella, The Sartorialist, and realized it was a male/male romance starring my favorite Regency fashion arbiter of taste, I was extremely curious.  Written in the first person, Ryan does a fabulous job at embodying the spirit of Brummel with all his wit (the whole book is from Brummel’s first person perspective), while still crafting him as a far more compassionate and empathetic creature than other renditions of this historical figure I’ve seen fictionalized.

In just the brief biographies I’ve read of him, I really haven’t heard Brummel’s sexuality discussed with abandon (I really need to read a full-length biography to tackle this topic) but since he never married despite his many debts, I could easily believe him to have had male lovers.  The Sartorialist does a wonderful job at showing how the recent war hero, Toby, catches Brummel’s and the Prince Regent’s eye with his good looks albeit unrefined taste.  Beau tells the Prince he will take him under his wing and make him more presentable, but the more he knows Toby (who is more than happy to fall into bed with the witty and elegant Brummel) the more he realizes he is falling in love with him.

The cover is beautiful, naturally, but I’m also a firm believer in the book cover hinting at the level of sensuality in the text – and this stunning look hints at no more sexual content than a Georgette Heyer novel, which may cause some readers to be misled.  The only inaccurate point I noted was the mention in a few scenes where Beau is undressing/dressing Toby were there is a reference to all the “shirt buttons”.  Regency lovers know that buttons on men’s shirts the way we envision them came much, much later in time (think of the shirt Colin Firth wears when he jumps into the pond in Pride & Prejudice and you have a good sense of how they were constructed back then). If there were buttons on a man’s shirt, it was likely to be just one to help shut the placket, although the cravat did the majority of the work in that respect.  It’s a small detail, but considering Brummel’s attachment to fashion, a point worth noting for the story.

There is a great deal of passion and tenderness in Beau’s and Toby’s love scenes, which Ryan writes with a very Regency voice (in many ways, this would be a good introduction to male/male romance for readers who worry they might be uncomfortable with the material but who still want to dip their toe into this popular sub-genre – it’s just about love and passion, people, like every other romance!). Knowing how Brummel lost favor with the Prince and was drummed out of the country, I was particularly worried about the chance for a Happily Ever After (HEA), but I thought the author did a great job melding the facts of Brummel’s actual life with a very believable happy ending.

I don’t know if Cecilia Ryan plans on writing any other Regency based romances M/M or otherwise, but I would definitely buy them considering the success of this wonderful novella.

Plenty of Suspense and a Little Romance: Guarding Jess by Shannon Curtis

29 Apr

I love romantic suspense as a sub-genre, particularly when the women are strong and the men are a little West of alpha. Guarding Jess by Shannon Curtis has a solid premise – a stalker has targeted Jessica Pennington, etiquette consultant and author, and McCormack Security, a relatively new firm made up of (surprise!) ex-special forces men (I’ll be honest, this never gets tired for me) has been contracted to protect her.

Noah Samuels, recovering from an injury and chaffing to get back in the saddle, gets the assignment and he is less than thrilled.  He thinks he knows Jessica’s type, born with a silver spoon in her mouth and concerned solely with appearances, since his estranged father was in the diplomatic corps and later a high-level businessman.  But Jessica is more than meets the eye (Noah nicknames her Miss Prissy before he begins to understand her better) and her stalker is very, very serious about taking her down.  As Noah must be by her side constantly, the two of them quickly realize the depth of one another’s personalities and how well they mesh together, despite their apparently disperate approaches to life.

I have to confess that I while I enjoyed this book, I’m glad I got a ereader version of it because the cover pisses me off so much that I might not have read it. The author makes careful reference several times to Jessica’s “neat blond bob” so what is up with the cover model’s coloring!?! The male cover model seems like a closer match to Noah, but the tone of the cover isn’t as suspense-y as the content of the book.

Curtis does a terrific job of building up the suspense and horror surrounding Jessica’s stalker. The constant vigilance and suspicion, the invasion of her privacy and the very real threats to her safety all had my adrenaline running. I was a little confused regarding how the person who ended up being the stalker could have had access to Jessica’s personal notes about her clients, but other than that, the plotting and continuity was extremely tight.

Author Shannon Curtis is Australian, but the book is set in San Francisco and there were a few indications that this work was originally destined for a down under or British audience.  I was jerked out of the narrative when they had their terrific kiss in the “car park” and a few other phrases hit a wrong note for an American setting (but nothing a Mills & Boon reader couldn’t handle). I enjoy and expect British or Australian slang in books where the characters or setting are clearly from those countries, but it was a little startling in this instance.

For those fans who enjoy a lot of sensuality throughout the romantic suspense, be aware that you need to be patient and wait for the H/h to come together in Guarding Jess.  There’s plenty of sexual tension (I’m thinking of that car park kissing scene again), and the culmination of that sizzling undercurrent happens at the end of the book during Jessica’s book launch after they think the stalker has been caught (and yowza, when you finally consummate your relationship against a door at a party, it’s bound to be amazing).

The good news is that with plenty of other hot security guys on the job in this book helping Noah eliminate Jessica’s stalker, I feel safe in saying Shannon Curtis has other books about them in the queue for readers eager for more of her take on romantic suspense. I know I’m looking forward to reading them!

Make the Last Spring Snow Melt with Two “Snowed In Together” Romances

28 Apr

I have to confess for a real thing for stories about two people becoming lovers in a snowstorm, probably because I fell in love with my husband during one.  Given my penchant for them, I’m sure more than one romance I’ll write will have this trope as an element.

North of Need by Laura Kaye (Entangled Publishing, October 2011)

So I was excited when a couple of snowbound books came across my radar.  The first one, North of Need by Laura Kaye, is the first of a series entitled Hearts of the Anemoi and, since one of the characters is a snow god, falls soundly in the paranormal romance category. Young widow Megan Snowe (I know, cute, right?) has decided to spend the holidays by herself at her mountain cabin since she just hasn’t been able to get into the spirit of season. Her wonderful husband died two years ago and many of Megan’s dreams were abandoned then as well. Lonely and sad, she builds a snow family and cries when she realizes that she’s unconsciously created the one thing she believes she’ll never have.

Owen Winters (love the naming, seriously) literally appears on her doorstep practically naked and shivering.  An ancient god of winter called into corporeal form by her tears, he has heard Megan’s late husband’s plea to help and protect her.  Already in love with her from afar, Owen has taken the opportunity to obtain a temporary human form and use the snow (he needs the cold to survive) to woo her.  If Megan can admit to loving him, he would be able to stay with her forever, but her scars run deep. A major snit on the part of one of his brothers, who controls the warm weather, has the snow melting at a rapid pace. With Megan reluctant to admit to fact that she’s fallen hard for this gorgeous stranger, this change of weather puts their future in jeopardy.

Laura Kaye makes this hero and heroine incredibly appealing and easy to love. Megan is a beautiful but damaged heroine who realizes that everything you love can be taken away in a moment, an awareness that has her reluctant to risk her heart again.  Owen is temptation personified, not just in his hot body (not hard to believe he’s a god from the description here) but from his loving personality.  His indulgence in the sensory ability of his new form make for some of the best and most erotic scenes in the book! No one who takes a chance on this well priced volume (I only paid $4.99 for my Kindle edition) will be sorry with this happily ever after or the hints at the future books in the series.

Snowbound with a Stranger by Rebecca Rogers Maher (Carina Press, May 28, 2012)

Browsing my new account in NetGalley led me straight to Carina Press‘ latest offerings and I was thrilled to stumble across the contemporary romance novella Snowbound with a Stranger by Rebecca Rogers Maher. While the snow aspect drew me to the story, I am also on a novella binge since I’m finishing up a class in writing novellas (given by the ever wonderful Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Chapter of the Romance Writers of America).

Burned out nurse Dannie Marino is hiking with colleagues from her hospital and trying not to notice hunky Lee, a recent addition and expert hiker. As the temperature drops, Dannie gets separated from the group by accident but doesn’t start to panic until the snow begins to fall.  Luckily before she succumbs to hypothermia, Lee finds her and is able to get her back to the cabin owned by Dannie’s doctor friend, who has led the rest of the group back down the mountain to safety.

With no electricity or other people to distract them, Lee and Dannie are forced to face the crackling electricity (and I mean crackling, you’ll never look at a Scrabble board the same way again) between them. Lee is flooded with not only desire but emotion he hasn’t felt since 9/11 and losing his wife to cancer nine years ago, while Dannie discovers that, while it’s cold outside, her prickly layer is softening as Lee sees through the job and relationship defenses she’s held in place for years.

Rebecca Rogers Maher could teach her own novella class without a doubt. Even with only 73 pages to play, she not only crafts a compelling love story between two damaged individuals but paints vivid characters with just a few brush strokes. I appreciated that her protagonists were older (late thirties, early forties) yet still just as sexy as the taut young bodies we enjoy reading about in other romance novels. Maher also won my admiration with the way she portrayed Lee’s complex sexuality. While Dannie comments that his occupation of social worker means he’s a nice guy and probably a beta, Lee has no trouble dominating her in bed and taking initiative, while managing not be the typical non-communicative alpha teetering on the brink of the jackass moniker.

The heat of summer will be here soon enough, but for now, I’m going to enjoy my time with a good snowbound romance.  Hope you manage to keep warm!

Music Monday: Love Songs that Steal Your Breath

16 Apr

There are some artists who are blessed with a bedroom voice and our featured performers today definitely fit the bill.

Missy Higgins, the Australian musician and vocalist most often compared to Sarah MacLachlan and Alanis Morrisette for her lyrics and voice, put out her second album On a Clear Night in 2007.  While the tracks “Steer” and “Where I Stood” (famous for its inclusion on Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill) are the more famous, one of my favorite bedroom songs, “Warm Whispers” is also on this album.

Your warm whispers.
Out of the dark they carry my heart
Your warm whispers.
Into the dawn they carry me through
And I am weeping warm honey and milk
That you stay surrounding me, surrounding me.

While several of the songs on this album were inspired by a breakup or a lover who wanted to keep their relationship out of the public eye, “Warm Whispers” can be interpreted a few ways.  While there is longing that could be interpreted as the lover is no longer there, I think that the sexuality inherent in the “weeping warm honey and milk” line feels more like it expresses real passion, particularly when followed by the plea for the lover to stay “surrounding me, surrounding me.”

Corinne Bailey Rae burst onto the music scene with her eponymous debut album released in 2006.  Probably the most famous song on the album is “Put Your Records On,” a song which garnered numerous awards in the UK and here in America, including Grammys for “Song of the Year” and “Record of the Year”.  My favorite track, “Breathless,” is a little mini-romance novel kind of song, with the singer letting her best friend about the torch they have carried for him/her for years.

Seems like everyone else has a love just for them,
I don’t mind, we have such a good time,
My best friend, but sometimes, well,
I wish we could be more than friends,
Tell me do you know?
Tell me do you know?

I get so breathless, when you call my name,
I’ve often wondered, do you feel the same?
There’s a chemistry, energy, a synchronicity
When we’re all alone,
So don’t tell me
You can’t see
What I’m thinking of.

This song paints such a vivid picture that I’m using it for the basis of a little novella I’m working on for an online class!

Two terrific songs performed by women with sultry bedroom voices that make us think more about love and longing.  Enjoy your music Monday!

Why Do We Kiss?: The Science and Sociology Behind One of Our Favorite Pasttimes

12 Apr

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that kissing the person I love is one of my favorite ways to pass the time.  Even when it doesn’t lead to something even more earth-shattering, there is nothing so intimate, so soul satisfying, as kissing a person for whom you feel love and passion.

After reading Sheril Kirshenbaum‘s book, The Science of Kissing, I now understand why I feel this way.  This well-known science writer has compiled a veritable ton of data from anthropologists, microbiologists, neuroscientists and sociologist to help the reader understand why we insist on kissing each other.

Probably the first big shock was that not everyone does kisses the way we do in the United States.  While French kissing has become more prevalent since the proliferation of Western media throughout the world, there still are cultures for whom open-mouthed kissing is an anathema.  Some cultures kiss only on closed mouths or focus attention on kissing the face and neck area as a prelude to or during sexual contact.

So when did we start kissing each other like this?  The Kama Sutra has depictions of kissing represented (so that makes 1500 B.C.E. fair game for smooching) but even Bonobo monkeys (and other primates) have been known to exchange kisses, open mouthed and otherwise, for the purposes of titillation and relationship reinforcement, so it’s everyone’s best guess that like our fellow primates, we’ve been at this kissing thing for a while.  Take a look at some of the highlights from the book, put in a snazzy format.

Since I read these types of books not just because I’m interested in science, but also because I’m thinking about romance writing, it’s hard not to absorb material with that angle.  One of the chief themes of the book is not just why we kiss (what is the biological advantage to doing it) but also seeks to discover how do men and women experience kissing differently.

The advantage part comes through loud and clear.  By being close enough to smell and taste someone, a person actually is enabling their body to literally sample the person’s Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC).  I had read about the studies that Kirshenbaum relates, where men and women are exposed to the personal scent of various individuals of the opposite sex (usually t-shirts that have been slept in and not washed).  As long as they aren’t (in the case of women) taking birth control pills that mimic pregnancy, human beings have the amazing ability to literally sniff out the individuals who are most biologically compatible with us.  Our noses (which are pressed so close to that significant other) can scent who is able to offer us a set of complementary genes which would boost our offsprings immune systems.  We feel greater desire and attraction for these people because they smell and taste better to us.  A kiss really tells you something!

But while men and women are both driven by the MHC agenda, it’s definite that they experience kissing, or maybe approach it, with very different goals in mind.  In an interview with CNN, Kirschenbaum discusses how she reviewed studies showing attitudinal approaches to kissing, with results that few men and women would argue with.  Women are more cautious approaching kissing, using the exchange as an opportunity to “take the temperature” of the relationship and determine whether or not it should move forward.

Men, on the other hand, see kissing as a means to an end. Rating face and body attractiveness higher than the person being a “good kisser,” men were more likely to continue kissing someone simply in order to have sex with them.  They liked kissing and but placed less importance on kissing overall, no matter how long they had been in a relationship.

In a far less scientific study, Harlequin does annual polls about topics related to romance.  Last year’s survey was entitled “Kiss n’ Tell” and asked people about their kissing preferences and the importance of the act.

I was worried that the data would be skewed to women considering Harlequin’s readership, but there was an almost even number of either sex who answered the poll. While still a small number, when asked if the person they kissed was a bad kisser would they end things, more female respondents answered “yes” (12% of survey takers) than male respondents (only 9%). Forty percent of both sexes said that kissing expertise wouldn’t factor into their decision, but I think that, while people might trudge along in a relationship for a while if the other person in it was a bad kisser, it’s not for the long haul.

Although, since 32% of men and 24% of women said yes to the question, “Have you ever kissed someone off-limits, such as a friend’s significant other or spouse?” maybe they weren’t in it for the long haul to begin with! Before you get too jaded, the best response was undoubtedly to “What is your best kissing memory?” since 28% of both sexes (a clear majority over the other options) answered that it was a kiss with their current partner.

D’oh.  I’m going to bet that the significant other was a good kisser though!

Spicing Up Victorian Romance: The Highland Pleasures Series by Jennifer Ashley

10 Apr

I’m pretty sure that Goodreads suggested Jennifer Ashley‘s book, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, to me after I rated Sarah Maclean‘s work so highly on its site.  I was a little skeptical that I would enjoy a Victorian romance (a lot of them are very tame or just a little boring), but the reviewers raved about her writing so I had to give it a try.

She blew me out of the water!  Jennifer paints not only a vivid historical scene, but crafts characters who live and breathe (and in the case of the Mackenzie men,  you are packing a bag ready to run away with them before you catch yourself with the reminder that they are CHARACTERS, ahem).

Approaching the first book in the Highland Pleasures series (what a well-named series as it gives so much pleasure to readers) I was very skeptical about a writer pulling off an autistic hero, for that is Lord Ian’s madness – he lives with autism and in his day and age is considered quite mad as a result. The brutal honesty and laser-like intelligence his condition inspires causes discomfort among society members and he has suffered greatly at the hands of the late Duke his father, who was (let’s get it out of the way) a huge bastard who tortured his children physically and emotionally.

All the boys are damaged from their childhoods, but they care about each other deeply.  Beth Ackerley is a young widow who, through circumstances and sheer pluck, has risen from impoverished beginnings to have a tidy fortune.  She is kind, beautiful and a little lonely, and has recently become engaged.  Ian takes one look at her at the opera and decides to clue her in on the true nature of her fiancee, giving her a few breathless kisses for good measure.  Beth breaks off her engagement after convincing herself that Ian was just playing with her and decides to celebrate her new freedom by living it up a little in Paris, where Ian just happens to be visiting his brother, Mac.  Naturally, Ian takes up his pursuit of Beth, particularly after she moves in with Mac’s estranged wife Isabella, who also happens to be in Paris.

Ian realizes that Beth both stirs and soothes him and together they have a variety of sexual adventures while acknowledging a strong emotional connection.  (The carriage scene where Beth lavishes a particular type of attention on Ian is knee-weakeningly hot!) But Ian has a secret in his past, one that deals with courtesans and murder and when Beth realizes that there is no way the Ian she loves is guilty of this crime, she will stop at nothing to find proof of his innocence.

Beth is as honest as Ian and just as out of sync with society, although she’s learned to fake her way through it.  The chemistry between her and Ian is en fuego and the reader is successfully introduced to our cast of characters – the cold older brother, Hart (the current Duke), Lord Cameron Mackenzie (a horse trainer and father to teenager Daniel Mackenzie), and talented painter Lord Mac Mackenzie and his estranged but beautiful wife, the Lady Isabella.

In Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage, Jennifer Ashley cleverly gives us the back story of Mac and Isabella at the beginning of chapters using the newspaper articles which chronicled their courtship and marriage as well as through the characters’ memories.

Isabella met and eloped with Mac on the night of her debut, but while there was plenty of passion and love between them, Mac’s abuse of alcohol eventually led to their estrangement.  With his brother Ian giving him a swift dose of reality, Mac realizes that his art is suffering not because he gave up drinking, but because he is still desperately in love with his wife (to whom he has been relentlessly faithful, thank heavens).  When she approaches him with the information that there are paintings being passed off as his around town, he uses the ensuing investigation to insinuate himself back into her life and make amends.

Isabella has been incredibly hurt by Mac and doesn’t know if she can trust him even though she’s never stopped loving him.  With Ian and Beth as a warm family influence, she begins to take steps to confront their shared past and come to terms with loving the new Mac who no longer looks to a bottle for escape.

This book was particularly gut wrenching.  Anyone who has had a loved one wrestle with addiction knows the psychological damage the people around them suffer and the reader can’t help but empathize with both Mac and Isabella.  Seeing a happy Ian and Beth add to the depth of the knowledge and progresses the family’s story a little more.

In the hotness stakes, following Ian in close second is horse trainer Cameron Mackenzie, the second oldest son.  In The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, we discover that Cam dealt with his childhood by marrying a beautiful, well-born woman who makes the girl in Swimfan look like the poster child for a healthy relationship. We would diagnose her today as a nymphomaniac with probably a host of other disorders, but in Cam’s day, all he knew is that he had a crazy wife who threw her affairs in his face.

He would have been happy to divorce her except she got pregnant and at a time when he knew it was his baby. After his son Daniel was born, Cam tried to keep Daniel safe from his mother who turned her twisted anger toward the little boy.  Taking on himself the horrible (and I mean, horrible) physical abuse she meted out time and again as a devil’s bargain for her to avoid hurting their child, the situation reached a crescendo when she committed suicide in front of Cam and Daniel.  Cam was initially blamed for her death and that scandal has haunted him for years.

Not that he cares too much.  Daniel is a roguish and handsome teenager following in his father’s footsteps when Cam is captivated by the appearance at Hart’s house party of one of Isabella’s schoolchums, Ainsley McBride Douglas, a young and beautiful widow.  He had encountered Ainsley years before when she almost succumbed to his carnal charm but pulled herself away in time to remain faithful to her much-older husband. Cam has never forgotten her and now that she is fair game, she’s officially in his sights.

Ainsley is incredibly tempted by the affair Cam is offering, but in her impoverished state she is a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria who does not tolerate a breath of impropriety about her attendants.  After a barely averted scandal in her youth, she also doesn’t want to disgrace her caring brothers who have always tried to do the best by her.

Even Daniel realizes what a catch she would make for his father, and after a really, really amazing carriage ride back from a party (I’m surprised the cushions didn’t burst into flame), Ainsley agrees to think about going away to Paris with Cam to have an affair.  When she shows up, almost missing the train, Cam realizes that he can’t ruin the woman with whom he is half in love already, so he bullies her into marrying him in London before they head off to the continent, Daniel in tow.

They have a terrific time living in the fast lane but Ainsley realizes that Cam isn’t happy – he wants to be back with his beloved horses – and she isn’t happy with how she can’t sleep in the same bed at night with her husband because of the baggage he’s still toting around courtesy of his bitch late wife.  Ainsley sets her sights on helping Cam with his problems while also working on a few plans for his happiness and, like all women who love Mackenzies, she’s a determined lassie indeed.

But what about Hart?  In The Duke’s Perfect Wife, the oldest (and coldest) brother has become a manipulative and effective politician who is resigned to the feisty women his brothers have married.  In reality, Hart has secretly worked hard to keep his brothers away from scandal and in reality saved their lives time and again from his late father.

Hart, however, suffers from a blistering arrogance which cost him his first and only love, Eleanor Ramsay, who gave him back his ring after his former mistress came to her hinting of Hart’s “dark desires” and a stable of women who serviced him.  Rather than opening up to Eleanor and dealing with her anger, the young Hart attempted to bully and manipulate Eleanor into marrying him, which just proves how he didn’t really know her well at all.

They’ve both lived ten years apart, Hart having remarried and lost his bland young wife and infant son in childbirth and Eleanor making a quiet life with her impoverished father and his scientific writings.  This current Duke of Kilmorgan doesn’t even bother asking himself if he can feel anything anymore, he’s just numb most of the time.  That is, until Eleanor Ramsay in her threadbare, outdated clothing shows up on his doorstep, having been sent a nude photo of Hart (which she doesn’t mind looking at quite often).  She’s worried he’s being blackmailed (not an unusual occurance for Mackenzies) and he decides to use her concern to employ her as a secretary while she “investigates” where the picture came from, keeping her close at hand – his hand (ahem).

I never doubted Jennifer Ashley as a writer, but this book is so important to the series.  It’s easy in previous books to get frustrated with how high-handed Hart is, even while you know he loves his brothers.  Through Eleanor – the one person who remembers the much more carefree, younger Hart – the reader sees the loving man who has pushed aside his own personality so he can channel his energy into political ambition and show his dead father that no amount of abuse could keep him from being a success.

But he’s not exactly happy, either.  Spending time around Eleanor, the one person who is never intimidated or even cares when Hart gets angry, fires Hart’s blood and his emotions until he does what every Mackenzie male does, he railroads her marrying him after a compromising (but well worth it) time on a gypsy barge. Eleanor expends a lot of effort peeling back Hart’s layers and getting him to reveal his whole self (even those “dark desires”), all the while reassuring that she knows and loves exactly who he is.

This is a colossal series that I cannot rate high enough.  It’s steamy with true love and romance in addition to being well-researched with characters that make you want to be a Mackenzie, for all their craziness.  Jennifer Ashley writes under a few different names and has some other series (I enjoy her shifter series, too) but this is her best work.  I’m eagerly awaiting the next two books in the series, The Seduction of Elliot McBride (Ainsley’s brother who was tortured in India and is trying to make a life back in England) and The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (cannot wait to hear Daniel’s story!!).  Sadly, these two books aren’t due out until 2013, but Jennifer Ashley has plenty of other great books to read in the meantime.  Check her out!

[Please note that I reviewed The Untamed Mackenzie – the novella featuring the illegitmate Mackenzie half-brother Lloyd Fellows and the mysterious death that brings Lady Louisa Scranton to his doorstep (and he’s happy to have her there) – on September 13, 2013.]

Music Monday: Can’t Take My Eyes Off You Is a Heart-Stopping Classic Love Song

9 Apr

This classic love song actually goes under two different names, the “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” that I’m using, and also the preposition version “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You“.  First recorded in 1967 by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the song is actually written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, both of whom had careers as songwriters which spanned decades and had performers like Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Frank Sinatra singing their work.  Here’s the Frankie Valli version of this classic:

This song has some unforgettable lines, all of which center on that moment of utter love and fascination.  The lyrics capture the ultimate yearning we have for someone we love.

You’re just too good to be true
I can’t take my eyes off you
You feel like heaven to touch
I wanna hold you so much
At long last love has arrived
And I thank God I’m alive
You’re just too good to be true
I can’t take my eyes off you

“You feel like heaven to touch / I wanna hold you so much / At long last love has arrived / And I thank God I’m alive” – how many writers have put these thoughts in a hero or heroine’s head?  The jaded person who didn’t believe that love was for them, who is consumed with the desire to simply revel in the person with whom they have fallen – fallen hard and fast – in love?  Let’s also not forget the following knee-weakening lines:

Pardon the way that I stare
There’s nothing else to compare
The sight of you leaves me weak
There are no words left to speak

It’s not just me, musicians everywhere love this song!  It’s been featured in numerous movies and musicals, like Bridget Jones’ Diary and Jersey Boys, but the song itself has been covered over 200 times since its debut and by fairly disperate artists.  I can understand the easy listening crowd covering this (really, Barry Manilow, you didn’t have to) but Muse?

It’s actually a pretty awesome edition, particularly with the rockin’ chorus being a little more dissonant.  But in my hands down favorite version category, Lauryn Hill takes the ultimate prize.

Enjoy your music Monday!

Music Monday: Love Songs That Don’t Want to Change You

2 Apr

I was first wowed with this concept when I heard Martina McBride‘s hit, “My Baby Loves Me (Just the Way That I Am)” which was released in July 1993 as part of her album The Way That I Am.  This song was written by American singer/songwriter Gretchen Peters, who also won awards for McBride’s rendition of Peters’ song “Independence Day” but listeners would easily recognize some of her other popular songs like “Heaven” for Bryan Adams (an artist with whom she has co-written over 30 songs).  For anyone interested in the process of songwriting, there is a moving and informative interview with Peters, speaking about her writing process and some of her work.  “My Baby Loves Me” was actually recorded and released the year before Martina’s rendition, by Canadian country music star Patricia Conroy, who made it to #8 on the Canadian charts with it, but Martina surpassed her success by hitting #1 the following year in Canada and making it to #2 on the Billboard charts.

I think my favorite part of the song can be found in these lines:

When there’s dark clouds in my eyes
He just sits back and lets ’em roll on by
Come in like a lion and go out like a lamb
My baby loves me just the way that I am

Plenty of men who don’t care about dating someone who looks like a beauty queen, but a man who can love you when your in a foul mood and take with equanimity is a total keeper.  This could be the reason that this song is the ringtone for my husband on my cell!

Probably the most popular recent hit falling into this category of love with total acceptance has to be from Bruno Mars, who won the heart of every woman when he came out with “Just the Way You Are (Amazing).”  The song has even more impact when you realize that it was Mars’ debut single in the music world, taken from his debut album Doo-Wops & Hooligans (2010).  This single has managed to sell over 12.5 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time.  And why?  Not only is it the creative lyrics or Mars’ distinctive, soleful voice, but also due to the beautiful sentiment of a person fully in love with a woman, exactly as she is.

Written by Mars as part of The Smeezingtons, or the group consisting of Mars along with writers Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine, Mars said in an interview that he was largely inspired by Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton who write love songs that are simple and get right to the point of how they feel about the woman in question. I refuse to quote from the song because most readers already know every single word and sing it in the shower, but suffice it to say, it’s what every woman (and I imagine a LOT of men) want to hear. Total acceptance from the person you love.  Enjoy!

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