Archive | January, 2014

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennet Channels the 20s While Delivering Outstanding Romance (With a Dash of Paranormal)

29 Jan

Bitter Spirits (Roaring Twenties #1 – Winter and Aida) by Jenn Bennett (Berkley, January 7, 2014)

Holy WOW. I felt like I had been hit by the awesome reading truck after finishing Jenn Bennett‘s new addition to historical/paranormal romance. Bitter Spirits is probably one of the best historical romances I’ve read in the last couple of years and it has taken me a while to determine if this is due to her writing chops (which are prodigious), the unbelievable detail of a period often neglected in historicals, or because of her kick butt characterization.

The answer is d) all of the above.

It’s prohibition in San Francisco and Aida Palmer has enjoyed her time at the upscale Gris-Gris speakeasy where her medium act is a huge hit. This is assuredly because it’s totally real – Aida can summon, and dispel, the dead.

Since her employer is a voodoo practioner, Aida is surprised when she is summoned to help an important person get rid of a haunting, and even more shocked to discover that the person in question is the handsome, premier bootlegger of San Francisco, Winter Magnusson. This huge man oozing masculinity has been hexed and he needs help ASAP before he succumbs to both the poison and the ghost he can’t shake. Aida helps with the ghost and her boss with the poisoning, but not before it comes clear that Winter has made an enemy of someone in Chinatown.

Winter is utterly fascinated with the diminutive, freckled medium with the gorgeous figure and rich dark hair. She’s also the real deal, and he is intrigued that she has no reaction to the scar he retains from the car accident that killed his wife and parents. She’s also refreshingly honest, so when the opportunity presents itself to hire her to help him with a haunting in his mansion as well as his ongoing mystery enemy he does it. Proximity only makes their intense attraction more formidable, but obstacles – both paranormal and all too in the flesh – exist to keep these two apart despite the fact they are falling fast and hard for each other.

It's amazing to think of a time San Francisco's iconic landmarks were new. (Public Domain image via Pixabay)

It’s amazing to think of a time San Francisco’s iconic landmarks were new. (Public Domain image via Pixabay)

Before I get into the time period, let’s take a moment to discuss how utterly blown away I was by Bennett’s writing. A lot of historical romance writers are like Laurence Olivier, the famous film and stage actor who was known for his brilliance but who always declared he wanted the audience to see the effort it took to bring his characters to life. I’ve read excellent authors who seem to want you to appreciate all the work they put into their accurate underclothes research or the mind-numbing social constructs (which may or may not be necessary to understand their plot).

With Bennett, her plot moves effortlessly along, with an emotional intensity that makes me desperate to turn the page. The tone is alternately dark and sinister but with increasing flashes of hope for our couple, even as their time together draws to a close and things get more desperate. Bennett is, hands down, one of the best writers of sexual tension – a tension born of a realistic sexual attraction between two people who are falling in lust and in love at a real pace, albeit perhaps one propelled a little faster by the urgent circumstances of attempting to discover Winter’s enemy. The scene in the taxi? Holy cow!!

Jenn Bennett brings both Prohibition San Francisco and this era to life (take a look at her great RT Times article on the history of the speakeasy during this time), so much so that it’s jarring to return to modern life. Her attention to the very last detail – the clothing, the birth control, the tenuous racial coexistence between groups – demonstrates a familiarity that never, ever ventures into the world of the info dump. Bennett effortlessly transmits the tone, feeling and data we need to understand a world that is both familiar and yet totally foreign to us, and kudos to her for managing to do what so few historical writers can manage, even when we are loving their characters.

Grim Shadows (Roaring Twenties #2 – Lowe and Hadley) by Jenn Bennett (Berkley, June 3, 2014)

And you WILL love her characters, and there are so many to love!! Not only do we have Winter who is the best hunk of tortured hero I’ve seen in a while, but Aida is a modern spitfire who has carved a place in the world for herself that almost defies explanation. The secondary characters – Winter’s biracial sidekick who clearly is a possible love interest for Winter’s younger, impetuous sister, the family servants in the mansion, Aida’s landlady in Chinatown – are so well-drawn that you find yourself spinning possible backstories about them in your head. I’m sure I’ll see their reappearance in the next book of the series, starring Winter’s world-traveling archeologist brother, Lowe, and the curator who gets herself involved with an Egyptian artifact harboring some powerful effects. Their book, Grim Shadows, is due out on June 3rd, so happy birthday to me!

I had literally reached a point where I couldn’t bear one more “meh” Regency romance, but really wanted a historical that would satisfy me. What I got in Jenn Bennett’s Bitter Spirits was a book that haunted me for weeks afterward, reaffirming my belief in this subgenre of romance and rejoicing in the fact that such a talented author exists on this planet. For anyone who loves historical romance and this time period, run out this second and go buy this book.

Happy reading!

High-Heeled Wonder by Avery Flynn Combines Fashion and Revenge in a Suspenseful Love Story

27 Jan

High-Heeled Wonder (A Killer Style novel) by Avery Flynn (Entangled Ignite, January 27, 2014)

I have got to hand it to the editors of Entangled’s Ignite line, they know how to choose romantic suspense stories that have me yelling out things unhelpful to the hero and heroine during the last few pages (things like “No, look out!” and “Oh my God, be careful!”). You should see me at a Jaws viewing.

With a clear emphasis on fashion, I worried that High-Heeled Wonder would be the typical bodyguard falls for fluffy woman with a heart of gold. It’s not that there is anything wrong with this trope per se, but I did not expect the emotional and extremely well-crafted story I actually got from Avery Flynn (thank you, Avery!). Having never had the pleasure of reading anything by her before, I have my eyes fully open now. This is an author who offers the reader deep characters carting a complete Samsonite set of baggage behind them, not all of which is dealt with in the course of the novel (which I appreciate).

Sylvie Bissette is having a phenomenally bad 24 hours. She’s supposed to be a cheerful, serene bridesmaid for her sister Anya, but in actuality she’s about to yak into a potted plant due to the whiskey bender she chose after catching her boyfriend going down on a waiter…a male waiter. With two dads, she thought her gaydar was well-developed but apparently not. Being the daughter of famous fashion designers means Sylvie is as much a target of public attention as the bride, so she’s trying to put a pleasant smile on her face and just tough it out. It’s hard to do when her anonymous fashion blog, High-Heeled Wonder, is getting increasingly more violent threats. But for Sylvie, she is going to tell it like it is and operate business as usual, putting out of her mind deceptive boyfriends and someone who hates her enough to possibly hurt her.

I was worried this novel would be an homage to fashion, but it's really pays due to women who enjoy looking good and feeling confident. Who can't get behind that? (Public domain image via Pixabay)

I was worried this novel would be an homage to fashion, but it’s really pays due to women who enjoy looking good and feeling confident. Who can’t get behind that? (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Those unpleasant emails are the reason that her fathers have asked her to take on a bodyguard, none other that the uber-hottie she almost kissed on Anya’s wedding day. Tony Falcon has been hired by her family to watch over Sylvie and hopefully discover who this mystery threat is. With a list as long as her arm of important people she’s pissed off, this is not an easy job, particularly when you could boil water with the heat between them. However, Tony not only doesn’t succumb to lust for his clients (no matter how hot they are) but he also doesn’t begin to fall for a woman when he’s secretly investigating her family for murder, right?

This situation was like watching a freight train crash, yet Sylvie and Tony have so much to offer each other you just can’t look away. While my favorite character was undoubtedly the 150 pound Newfoundland dog with a hankering for peanut butter, Sylvie was the perfect blend of vulnerable and smart, a fact Tony caught on to pretty quickly. He was an excellent hero, blinded to doing things the right way by his sense of guilt and desire for vengeance. With revenge the point of the mystery antagonist bent on destroying Sylvie’s work and taking her life, there were actually some pretty big themes in this novel, all of which were well-executed.

Based on the fact that the book is being marketed as “a Killer Style novel,” I can only hope that this is the first of a series since Tony has a few security firm compatriots I’d like to see more of and Sylvie’s friends are pretty winning as well. Please note that Avery Flynn’s excellent website is having a TERRIFIC giveaway in honor of the book’s debut, with a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $100 DSW gift card, swag, and several ebooks that are part of Entangled Ignite’s recent releases.

Happy reading!

Why Are Romance Writing Contests Becoming Less Popular and Can We Save Them?

27 Jan
Awards and contests have historically played a part in helping authors get noticed (and get a contract). (Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock)

Awards and contests have historically played a part in helping authors get noticed (and get a contract). (Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock)

There was a fascinating discussion on RWA (Romance Writers of America) Chapter Leadership group just a few days ago about how so many established chapters are jettisoning their long-established writing contests or have already abandoned them.

This is a bigger deal than it seems since, in the past, contests were a great way for chapters to fill their coffers, supplementing dues with entry fees that enabled its members to benefit by having the funds to get terrific speakers, which in turn attracted new membership, etc. It’s unlikely we’ll see the end of the Golden Heart (the RWA’s premier award for an unpublished romance fiction manuscript) but chapter contests? According to the listserv, there were a decent number of responses indicating they had given up their contest within the last five years.

Will chapter romance writing contests go the way of the dodo bird? (Public domain image via Wikipedia)

Like so many endangered species, the contest appears to be dying, with many RWA chapter board members saying they could no longer garner the minimum number of entries required or that well-known authors cranking out multiple books a year and the overburdened editors reading them were no longer as available to wade through submissions. So why is the demise of such a time-honored writing tradition taking place now?

I’ve got a few educated guesses, but my main reasons for the end of the chapter writing contests are improved technology, the recession, and the meteoric rise of self-publishing.

Technology

Older technology made collaboration and feedback harder. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Older technology made collaboration and feedback harder. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Technology is clearly a biggie. Even ten years ago, social media was still in its infancy (we are talking the Friendster era) and videoconferencing for people who did not work at a fancy corporation with a dedicated room didn’t really happen until 2003 when Skype was born. Even then, most people had a very variable (and slow) connection which would have made the transmission rather hiccupy, so this particular technology was reserved for a few years for loved ones thousands of miles apart (and probably phone sex).

You’re wondering what this has to do with writing contests. Since a major reason for people entering contests is for the detailed critiques often given, entering a contest in the hope you’d make the top entries and warrant detailed feedback from a knowledgeable person in the industry must have been incredibly attractive. Now, we have Harlequin contests where readers can vote on manuscripts in real time and regular writing critique groups meeting on Google Hangout where they can not only chat with each other but look at one another’s screen to see specific comments made on their story by other members. Even editors have said that the electronic revolution has made it easier to find good writers with manuscript acceptances also much faster (sadly, the rejections are faster, too).

With blogs maintained by well-known editors and even publishing imprints (Harlequin is truly a coach to fledgling writers of category romance), authors are no longer writing blind, instead inundated by the crap-ton of information that exists. While this can certainly be overwhelming, none of us lack information from expert sources, which is more than could be said even a decade ago, when would-be authors clutched a copy of The Writer’s Market in one hand, and Stephen King’s On Writing (originally published in 2000) in the other. Both are still terrific, but check out all the other books that now exist – just for romance writers!! Note the majority of them are available in ebook format only. More on that later.

The Recession

With contest fees ranging from $10 (often a member price) and up, entering a manuscript (or just the first few chapters of a hopefully completed manuscript) can get pricey.

We all need a little help getting published. But with so much technology at our fingertips, are contests the answer? (Public domain image via Pixabay)

We all need a little help getting published. But with so much technology at our fingertips, are contests the answer? (Public domain image via Pixabay)

It’s like the college application process – first the standardized testing scores, then the application fees, etc., and all sent to a person (the college admissions officer) whose job it is to tell people “no” and take only the best candidates. With most publishing houses in the “most selective” category – accepting only a tiny percentage of applicants from their slush piles or even agented manuscripts – this business of entering contests to garner attention or have a honor or two for the query letter can get expensive.

There is no writer out there not feeling the recession. Belts have been tightened and while RWA members are scrimping to pay their national dues and perhaps belong to a couple pertinent chapters, I doubt many people feel there is a lot of extra cash to spend on contest entries. The would-be or even published writer’s emphasis is instead on what can be done to bring in income while waiting on their first (or next) contract or working to add to the books or novellas they’ve put out that year. Conducting online workshops, self-publishing (see below), and adding new skills like copyediting, cover design, or helping authors with their WordPress site are frequently heard additions to many a writer’s arsenal. With an unemployment rate of 6.7% as of December 2013 in the United States (and that’s not including all the people who got kicked off the rolls because their benefits ran out – they still don’t have a job, FYI), the pressure is on to bring in income and contests are an outgoing expense with little future realization of funds. In short, they can be a bad investment.

Self-Publishing

With any luck, this fairy godmother has got a publishing contract under that cloak! (Image by Kerri Polizzi via Flickr, labeled for reuse with attribution)

But even with technology offering more options to writers for feedback and the recession putting the kibosh on non-essential expenses for would-be authors, the biggest factor in the demise of the chapter writing contest is undoubtedly self-publishing. The sole reason for entering contests has always been for professional feedback so you could get published. In the past you would hear the occasional NYT best-selling author discussing how they garnered the attention of an editor because of a couple of chapters that got in front of an editor judging a contest…and the next thing they knew they had a contract. *waving fairy godmother wand*

This is a story you rarely hear any longer, first and foremost because there are fewer editors in the world with the seemingly endless consolidation of traditional publishing houses. The ones left are also working their asses off to find fresh voices from the comfort of their offices, while their assistants read slush pile submissions and mine the web for prospects and everyone pulls a ten hour day while wearing the editor uniform of New York Black. But the real reason no one mentions contests as a stepping stone for publication is because authors can do it themselves.

We’ve all heard of the self-published writer who posted something to Amazon and ended up saving their house or the success of the outstanding hybrid author Bella Andre, who was dropped by her publisher, and decided to publish her own books (woo-hoo Sullivan series!) only to make an astronomical amount (in 2011, she reported to the Washington Post that she was topping $20,000 per month and the number was climbing). In an outstanding turn of events, she then was able to turn back around and re-sell those publishing rights to her self-pubbed work back to traditional publishing house Harlequin, who re-released them in paperback form for the readers without a Kindle or Nook on their bedside table.

The dilemma for the self-published always seems to come down to how to reach the target audience. Certainly these authors earn more per book (a LOT more) in terms of profit but move fewer books on average, so self-publishing has its pros and cons. Forbes magazine actually found the authors with the greatest income to be hybrid authors, ones who capitalize on the traditional publishing promotion yet add to their (and the publishing house’s) bottom line by keeping their audience interested with frequent novellas or short stories related to their series between full-length novels.

With authors becoming more comfortable either DIYing their own book covers or having some good friends in their chapter who are excellent copyeditors or website designers (see above recession skills section), authors are feeling like self-publishing is definitely within their grasp. I think most authors I speak to are leaving traditional publishing on the table and participating in online pitches (Twitter is a common space for this) or saving their pennies to attend RWA National or great state conferences (New Jersey’s Romance Writers conference, Put Your Heart in a Book, is popular among mid-Atlantic writers for the number of New York editors who hear pitches at it). Somehow having control over publishing a book or two, while perhaps also looking at going the traditional route, is seen as more attractive then submitting manuscripts to chapter contests, and I can understand why.

How Chapter Contests Could Evolve

Awesome chapters like mine (I had to show our killer logo designed by the ever-so-talented Vikki Jankowski, our president) are eager to combine our efforts with other chapters. Who is with us? What would that look like?

Looking at the above pressures and taking a new approach to chapter contests is the answer to save the genre. The goal is to help writers get published, right? The foremost piece to consider is that there are chapter costs to pay judges (good ones) for their time. Why are we all so separate as chapters even though each of us belongs to RWA? If several chapters in my home state of Pennsylvania could band together with some New Jersey chapters and the awesome Maryland Romance Writers, think of how much money we could offer as a prize or to pay the fee of a big name judge!

This type of contest could also garner more media coverage, giving the contest more cachet in terms of the author actually being able to use the award in a query letter or to help sell a pitch. With videoconferencing available, there are no longer the same set of excuses to not do this kind of collaboration. Let’s wake up, people, and smell the 21st century coffee! My awesome chapter, Pocono-Lehigh Romance Writers, is already reaching out to local chapters to see what cooperation potential exists – let me know if you’re interested in getting on our outreach list.

So what are our possible options for the reinvented contest?

  • Since increasing use of technology is vital for successful writers, what about a “best romance author website contest” with maybe unpublished, debut author and published author categories? The chapter can collate a rubric based on the many best practices articles out there by publishing house editors etc. and publish their criteria. Not only does this make what is being evaluated clear, but it can be used as a template for new authors when designing their site. The top 5 finalists could receive a critique and suggestions from the judge(s) with a cash prize or in kind design services (can you give a gift card for WordPress plug-ins?).
  • American Idol and Dancing with the Stars know what they are doing in terms of crowdsourcing with polls. What about a contest for “best use of social media by a romance author”? This doesn’t even have to include a fee but could simply be utilized as a method for getting some media attention to romance fiction and/or the chapter.
  • Best book cover design. There are some truly awful book covers and some that you would never know were not done by a Big Five publishing house. You could have individuals, small presses, ebooks only, and traditional publishing each have their own category in this kind of contest.
  • With academic analysis of romance fiction a growing field, a contest could be built around “best literary, historical or popular culture nonfiction work (article or book) about romance fiction”. Promoting the contest to the universities with romance writing and popular culture programs would garner a slew of entries from students perhaps looking for extra credit and you might be able to convince author/academics like Jennifer Crusie or Eloisa James to be a judge. I bet websites like Popular Romance Project and Romance University would be great partners for a contest like this.
  • Pitches are still something most writers need to do…and they are scary. What about a contest that is a “best pitch” contest with video, Twitter, and email categories? Getting name editors would be key here for cachet and for relevant feedback, but technology would make this straightforward to do.

Contests can be made relevant for the modern age, we may just have to rethink what the current demands are on writers and adjust accordingly.

Have your own thoughts on the romance writing contest? Please feel free to add to the conversation by leaving a comment. Let’s all figure out how best to help writers!

You’ll Sweat in the Desert Heat Reading Molly Gets Her Man by Julie Rowe

27 Jan

Molly Gets Her Man by Julie Rowe (Entangled Ignite: January 27, 2014)

Entangled’s Ignite line for romantic suspense (or mysteries or thrillers) appears well named. Despite absolutely frigid temperatures outside, I found myself reaching for a cold beverage while vicariously sweating in the Las Vegas heat with the new novel from Julie Rowe, Molly Gets Her Man.

This came as a surprise to me since I had only heard Rowe’s name in association with a trilogy of interesting historical romances set in Europe during World War I (they are on my to-read shelf). A Canadian with a medical background, I gather that Rowe has had success with some medical romance stories and even her historicals utilize her knowledge base as the characters are often doctors and nurses, albeit with a different level of medicine available to them in their era.

After reading Molly Gets Her Man, I was impressed that someone without a suspense background could write such an excellent debut in this subgenre. Rowe managed to have a relentless plot pace which had me turning the pages to figure out how our hero and heroine were not only going to work through their emotional baggage to find love, but how they were just going to survive all the twists and turns of their predicament.

Molly McLaren cannot seem to catch a break. With some demons in her past in the form of an abusive father and an ex-boyfriend who wanted to follow in his footsteps, she’s shy of large men, especially angry ones. Her anxiety actually led to the loss of her last job as an interpreter for the court system when she was deliberately intimidated by a convict, an incident that frightened her so badly that she quit her job. Now she’s dressed in uber-tight capri pants, a glittering top and enough make-up to work a department store counter in order to be a hair dresser, albeit one that speaks seven languages fluently.

The seamy backdrop of Las Vegas is perfect for this tale of drugs and organized crime. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

The seamy backdrop of Las Vegas is perfect for this tale of drugs and organized crime. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

That unusual ability has just bitten her in the ass as she overheard a client arrange the assassination of a congressman three days from now. Although she reported it to the police, she’s got a bad feeling, enough that she called her former military brother in California to ask for help. He’s relayed that help will be appearing on her doorstep in the form of a truck driven by his friend and it’s none too soon as two Russian enforcers are searching for her in a deserted parking garage. She manages to get away, not before they get off a few shots at her, only to find herself trapped in the cab of a semi, with the biggest, angriest guy she’s ever seen. Cue anxiety.

Grey Wilson is trying to redeem his career from the major cock-up that was his last mission, one that involved discovering his former girlfriend was a drug addicted woman using him for information and resulted in his almost losing his leg after getting shot. He’s currently on the path of a Russian group smuggling drugs in and out of Vegas, using the cover of a truck driver to gather information. Helping a former military buddy’s bimbo sister is not what he signed up for, but it quickly becomes apparent that the nervous Molly is no intellectual lightweight and that she is in really deep trouble, trouble that intersects with his mission. As the two of them succumb to the attraction between them, can they each work through their past betrayals to find something real before they have to part from one another?

This was a great story about two people forced by circumstances to look beneath their surface and discover the error of their first impressions. Molly is obviously a brilliant linguist and Grey a gentle soul around Molly who would shoot his good leg before her hurt her (he’s a badass around a perp, however). The suspense plot was well done with a few really good red herrings and twists I enjoyed, and I’m hoping that Molly’s brother crops up in a future book. If I have any criticism, it’s that Rowe’s sex scenes are rather brief and seem to be more about releasing sexual tension rather than about revealing more character development or inspiring a closer connection between the hero and heroine.

I would definitely encourage Julie Rowe to continue to develop her astonishing versatility between subgenres and continue to write romantic suspense since her first offering was such a good one. I’m glad Molly got her man and hope that Julie Rowe continues to get her contracts so I can enjoy more books by her.

Happy reading!

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! 🙂

Romance Readers Who Want a Great Movie Recommendation…Apply To These Two Books

22 Jan
Sitting down to a movie, either in your home or in a theater, should be filled with anticipation. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Sitting down to a movie, either in your home or in a theater, should be filled with anticipation. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

I guess like my reading, I am VERY picky about the movies I watch. For most films, I’m happy to read spoilers because I don’t like horrible surprises (says the woman who buys her own Christmas presents and tells her husband, “Honey, I absolutely LOVE what you got me!”). With a strong aversion to violence against women, I also use websites like Kids in Mind to give me a heads up when something horrible is embedded in a film so I can take a potty break or go make popcorn. (And screw you, Downton Abbey, for NOT giving me any inkling about what was going to happen to Anna. You’re dead to me.)

Wanting a feel good movie that reaffirms your faith in humanity or is inspired by the books you love is probably a fairly popular trait, but sometimes finding a recommendation you can trust is difficult. I went to a college known for its film program and while many of my friends studying that discipline didn’t necessarily wear all black and chain smoke, they were universally fascinated by the most obscure and depressing films, bandying about terms like “schadenfreude” and “jingoism”. Even now, when I listen to NPR film critics talk about the latest deep movie that thinking people should go out and see, half the time they are fascinated by the “dark underbelly of humanity” and discuss the lingering despair that follows you out from the theater while you are desperately drying the tears from your face.

Oh my. That’s not what I want.

Enter the queen of category romance, Heidi Rice, who somehow, while pumping out dozens of great romances for Harlequin, has also managed to have a full-time career as a film critic and a mother (how many arms does she have?). Perhaps sharing my sense of despair, she has admirably assembled a host of movies which appeal to the romantic in her recent book, Movie Bliss: A Hopeless Romantic Seeks Movies to Love. While every movie she reviews doesn’t necessarily have a love story as the central theme, each one nevertheless strikes a strong cord in the area of relationships, and that’s really what we armchair psychologists dissecting our heroes and heroines like, don’t we?

Rice, utilizing the snappy British slang that makes her American fans smile while we enjoy her heroine’s witty comebacks, divvies up movies into the following categories (please note that all movie links will take you to the film’s page on the Internet Movie Database for more information):

  1. Oldies That Are Awesome (i.e., fabulous TNT classics like It Happened One Night, It’s a Wonderful Life, On the Waterfront, The Apartment, etc.)
  2. Cartoon Capers, But Not Just for Kids (i.e., movies that have you borrowing someone’s pre-teen to take to see Beauty and the Beast, The Princess and the Frog, Up, Toy Story 3)
  3. Rom-Coms R Us (i.e., gems like When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, It’s Complicated, The Proposal, Silver Linings Playbook)
  4. Joys For the Boys (and the Girls, Too) (i.e. enough action for him, enough romance for her in films like Public Enemies, Cowboys & Aliens, Skyfall, Rush)
  5. Offbeat But Right Up My Street (i.e., doesn’t look anything like a romance but you love it anyway such as Julie & Julia, The King’s Speech, The Artist)
  6. Big Is Beautiful, Bold Is Even Better (i.e. those epic films where you can’t keep popcorn in your mouth because your jaw keeps dropping open, like Gone with the Wind, The Last of the Mohicans, Brokeback Mountain, Australia)

Like everything Heidi Rice writes, I loved this book (it’s nice to know my affinity for her is not limited to fiction). Witty, informative, candid and occasionally self-deprecating, Rice’s prose makes you feel like your knowledgeable best girlfriend is giving you a run down on all the movies you should see to wear your “romance lover” badge proud and loud. I adored her glossary (I had never heard the term “dick-flick” but I guarantee I’m going to use it at least three times this weekend). Explaining the difference between Harlequin KISS heroes and Harlequin Presents heroes, and then applying those terms to various movies, was sheer genius to help me understand the tone of the film. I especially liked that her subject matter ran right up to the end of 2013, so a few of the films are recent releases, giving the book a real currency I appreciated.

Writing a film review actually has some of the elements of the book talks we librarians utilize when doing reader’s advisory. Give the hook, but don’t give away the ending; compare it to a similar more well-known work so people have an idea what it’s about; and convey your enthusiasm for the story since that’s often contagious. Heidi Rice never gives away the farm in terms of the plot, but she tantalizes you with enough detail that you are reading in one hand and queuing your watchlist with the remote in your other hand! I actually found quite a few movies I hadn’t seen that I assure you I will be watching in the upcoming long winter nights.

Did I mention the best part? No? Well, this informative, fun book is only $.99 – no joke! So run out and get personalized recommendations to satisfy the romantic in you.

One area that Rice stays clear of is the sinkhole of book to film adaptation, a particular pet peeve of mine. I firmly believe the motion picture industry exists solely to ruin books for me, so when it comes to my favorite classics, you have one testy woman on your hands if you open with this conversational gambit! Also by Harlequin is the hilarious, yet oh-so-informative, Pride, Prejudice and Popcorn: TV and Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre by Carrie Sessarego.

It was startling to find out that the author and I clearly had been separated at birth. I, too, continue to reread Jane Eyre each year and have since I was a pre-teen, getting something different out of it as I’ve grown and matured. I also didn’t understand what the fuss was about with Pride & Prejudice until I realized that it was all in code (and I had read about the constraints of the Regency period) and what people were saying versus what they were feeling were two different things. Finally, I also possess a virulent hate for all things Wuthering Heights and do NOT understand what all the blather is about since Heathcliff is a first-class dick and I want to shove Cathy down a flight of stairs.

My usual mantra, but now I’ll have to reconsider watching some of these adaptations after reading Sessarego’s hilarious (and informative) work.

Yet, using prose so funny I found myself laughing out loud late into the night, Sessarego accomplishes the impossible – she actually has me thinking about watching some of the adaptations I’ve avoided like the plague due to their lack of faithfulness. Probably this is due to her masterful approach to the material. With each work, she begins by delivering the improv version of Cliff Notes, boiling down the material to it’s essence and helping the reader understand all the plot nuances you’ve might have forgotten if it’s been a while since you read the book. Then she covers the TV and movie adaptations, indicating the year, actors, director, etc. and rating them on a star system with oodles of details about how they stayed true to the book or veered away (and if it worked or not). Extremely helpful was when she made clear that the writing had ruined the script but a particular actor totally embodied the character the way a reader would enjoy. Her “Final Scorecard” at the end of each section highlights a summary of the “best of” the adaptions (i.e. “Best Mr. Darcy” “Best Rochester” etc.) and she even has a terrific “Special Features” section with tantalizing little bios of the original book authors – and trivia and a music playlist!

Since this excellent (and much needed) book is a mere $.99 as well, I’m thinking that fans of these books are fools if they don’t run out and buy this puppy for immediate consumption. Honestly, this book would make a terrific basis for a themed party (or series of them) with English grad students, best girlfriends or even a fun English class (don’t think I won’t be pitching it to my English teachers on Monday) since it still manages to delve into the core of each book in order to determine if the adaptation met the objectives of the original work. Sessarego blew me away with her wit and insight, so much so I’m hoping she has another media criticism book in the pile so I can look forward to visiting with her on a different topic.

Enjoy your romance – the mystery of love and relationships that reminds us why it is good (and sometimes painful) to be human – in book and on film. With guides like Heidi Rice and Carrie Sessarego steering us to good films, we can’t go wrong.

Happy reading!

The Top Four Reading Challenges for Romance Readers 2014: Do You Need a Nudge?

20 Jan
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Okay, I read a LOT of books in 2014. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

In previous years, my reading challenge (I do the Goodreads one that appears on your main page when you log in) is always to see if I can read more titles than I did last year.

For 2013, I set the goal of 450 books, which sounds ridiculous, but since I work in a high school, I have time off in big chunks and can really go to town reading multiple books a day at various points in the year. I actually read 455 books in 2013, and this was just on my Tori MacAllister account (meaning it was romance fiction and books related to romance topics), not on my other Goodreads account (with my actual name, not my pseudonym) which brought me closer to 500 books. If I counted re-reads (I wish that Goodreads had a better way of tracking re-reads in specific year), I would easily have been around 650.

That’s not as impressive as it sounds since a lot of romance fiction is comprised of short stories and novellas which do count as separate titles. For my romance reading, those 455 titles comprised 94,198 new pages. So if I’m managing to get through so many books, why would I consider joining a reading challenge?

Because I’m not the most balanced romance reader. It’s fine to have a speciality, but because I genuinely study the romance industry, I need to have a more balanced approach and get pushed out of my comfort zone periodically.

For me, books I classified as “erotica” comprised more than 220 of my 455 books. Since writing steamy was one of my craft goals in 2013, this was reasonable, but I need to make sure I have a good sense of other subgenres which I also am interested in writing – contemporary, romantic suspense, historical romance, etc. Contemporary was my next biggest category with 75 books (and remember that I often assign multiple shelves for each book – a slightly kinky modern romance starring a former SEAL would probably end up on my “erotica,” “contemporary,” and “military” shelves). Romantic suspense, urban fantasy, paranormal and military made a decent showing, with my Western number embarrassingly low (3! and I do like Westerns, so what’s up with that?).

The difficulty with most reading challenges is that, among the seven thousand that crop up after the New Year, very few deal with romance. Here are what I consider to be the top four sites which will appeal to romance readers bent on spurring their reading or broadening their horizons.

2014 Contemporary Romance Reading Challenge

I love the Book Vixen blog and with her 2014 Contemporary Romance Reading Challenge you can see why. It’s specific enough to kick you in the butt to get moving, but broad enough to appeal to a variety of tastes. The challenge applies to any contemporary romance you read in the 2014 calendar year (you can sign up anytime prior to September to join) and novellas over 100 pages are included. Note the broad range of what’s covered (and what’s not):

The goal is to read 10 contemporary romance novels. Books that qualify for this challenge can be young adult, new adult, or adult. Books can be M/F, M/M, or F/F. Books must be a work of fiction (sorry, nonfiction does not qualify for this challenge). Romances with the following elements do not qualify for this reading challenge: paranormal, historical, time-travel, fantasy, science fiction, or mystery/suspense/thriller. (The Book Vixen, “Contemporary Romance 2014 Reading Challenge Sign-Up”)

You can even link your website to the Book Vixen page for further impetus to stay on track and read contemporary romance. It’s like Weight Watchers for reading!

Goodreads Romance Reading Challenge

If you don’t necessarily want the commitment of a year-long challenge (although you can find those here as well), consider joining the Goodreads “Romance Readers Reading Challenge” group. This forum not only has year-long challenges (and you can start your own – Medieval Highland Romances, anyone? All Heroes Are Blond?), but you can also join monthly challenges or themed challenges like “In Uniform” for military romance, the Authors After Dark Challenge (for paranormal writers who participate in the Authors After Dark conference). There’s even “pick-it-for-me” challenges where the indecisive go to have other people help them choose their books. It’s wonderful to see people post their reactions and highlight the best of the challenge, plus you get the power of Goodreads helping you find books that fit your criteria (and at this point, I find Goodreads more accurate than Amazon in terms of recommending books for me, which I realize is ironic since they are owned by Amazon).

Erotic Romance Reading Challenge

Clearly finding time to read erotic romance is not my problem, but for those of you who would like a nudge into exploring this rapidly expanding subgenre of romance, the Herding Cats & Burning Soup blog (how awesome is that name!?) has a terrific 2014  Erotic Romance challenge. I love it that they have different levels with the lowest level simply being 12 erotic romances in 2014 (one per month, you can TOTALLY do that) and then the Level 6 for people like me who read more than 100+ novels in the category.

Herding Cats & Burning Soup’s challenge is very liberal in terms of allowing crossover books from different genres and the books merely have to be longer than 100 pages to qualify for length. I love it that they also mention audio books as qualifying as long as the print version of the book makes the length requirement, although you may want to check with your carpool before putting in the latest BDSM book!

Be sure to check out the challenge’s Facebook group if you prefer your news exchange through that social media outlet.

Push Your Boundaries

In what has to be the most thoughtful romance reading challenge, best-selling romance author Roni Loren (of the incredibly popular Loving on the Edge series) has developed the Push Your Boundaries Reading Challenge 2014.

Understanding that her reading shapes her as a writer, Loren has developed a fantastic chart (which you can download as a template from her website) of various levels of comfort and then inserted sub-genres into each category in order to understand her attitude toward each one. From there, she encourages herself and any participants to deliberately choose books from every level of comfort and subgenre in order to insure that our reading is diverse and hopefully expand our horizons a bit. Listen to her thoughtful prose:

I’m challenging myself to read outside of my boundaries in addition to my favorites. So I made a chart and listed levels of “comfort zones” then I selected genres to put in the boxes. By the end of 2014, I want to X out each of these boxes with at least one book from that particular genre.

As you can see in the chart, I have six rows of “zones”: In My Zone, Read on Occasion, A Bit of a Stretch, Pushing It, Out of Comfort Zone, and Just For Fun.

I have 36 genres listed, but feel free to make yours as big as small as you want. Maybe you just want to list one genre in each of the six categories. Or maybe you’re a power reader and want to add more than me. Also, know that everyone’s chart will look different because what’s comfort zone to me is going to be different for you. (Roni Loren, “The Push Your Boundaries Reading Challenge 2014”)

There is even a Pinterest board you can follow to watch her tackle books in each category. Who doesn’t like following a Pinterest board? Roni Loren definitely has the market cornered on helping make us all into healthy romance readers while modeling balanced reading in her own life. Wow!

So there you have it – the best romance reading challenges of 2014. Yes, I found a few others, but these are, in my opinion, the best of the best, so challenge yourself this year and spread your wings a bit in your romance reading. You definitely won’t be alone.

And as for my goals? Well, I’m actually ratcheting myself down to 350 books as my goal (spread out among the various above challenges for fun). I realize that I’ve been spending more time reading books than writing them, which was the original reason I was reading so many (to inform myself of the industry and find good quality writing from which I could learn my craft). Hopefully this will result in some actual works of fiction I can share with you, while still keeping me up to snuff when it comes to what is getting published in the market.

Happy reading!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, January 19th, 2014

19 Jan

Upcoming Books and New Releases

It’s getting to be that time of year, when publishers tantalize us with novels that will be released in the late spring and summer. This always seems cruel, making me think of “beach reads” and hammocks and fruity drinks while in reality I need to put on seventeen layers before shoveling out my car. Yet, it                                                                                                                                                                                                              doesn’t stop my pre-ordering, which is I’m sure the desired result.

One book I’m looking forward to reading is Tawna Fenske‘s upcoming novel, Frisky Business, (publication date May 6th) starring a t-shirt wearing, wealthy chairman of the board and the development consultant who has sworn off wealthy men after a lifetime of pushy fiancees and fathers who do nothing but disappoint her. While working together to acquire funding for a wildlife sanctuary, our hero has to wonder what the gorgeous woman with whom he regularly butts head is hiding under her chic suit while our heroine keeps remembering her mantra that it’s working class guys only from now on. With what seems like more than a few colorful animal sidekicks, I think this is going to be a heart-warming, lusty novel. Haven’t sampled Fenske’s writing? Do yourself a favor and pick up her wonderful novella Eat, Play, Lust to get convinced she needs to be on your to-read pile!

Speaking of favorite author discoveries in 2013, Kat Latham, author of the wonderful Knowing the Score, has the next book up in her London Legends series starring uber-hot rugby players, Playing It Close, already available for pre-ordering. Coming out on April 14th, this book promises to focus on the sexy captain of the team, Liam Callaghan, who was an awesome secondary character in the first book, so I’m dying to know more about him ASAP. No cover art as of yet, but I couldn’t resist plugging this one since her first book knocked my socks off!

We all know that Jaci Burton has the oiled six-pack book cover market completely cornered, so it’s nice to see that her eighth Play-by-Play novel, Straddling the Line, which has a hero so awesome he’s both a baseball and a football star with enough heart to try and help his mentor’s daughter when her sportscasting career hits the skids after the death of her father. Naturally our hero has a few secrets he wants to keep to himself to supply the conflict, but I’m sure it will have the usually Burton brand of steamy hot love to keep us turning the pages for that bonus as well. With a July 1st publication date, this book is bound to be as hot as the temperature that time of year.

Maya Banks announced that her next KGI novel, When Day Breaks, the ninth in this incredibly successful suspense series about an independent group of former military personnel who take on the impossible jobs and bring people home safely, will be out on June 24th. This particular novel stars Swanson, who has come back from his last mission in Afghanistan wounded and scarred and the overwhelming attraction he has for a supermodel client desperately running from the evil stalking her.

UnexpectedLori Foster has a new book on the horizon with a May 6th publication date, Unexpected, which turns the typical bodyguard story around. With a hero who hires a deadly female bodyguard and gets a sexy woman when he expected a hulking guy with tattoos. She’s more confident handling a gun than handling the scorching feelings being around her client inspires, but when they give into their urges and finally connect, some startling repercussions result. But the danger hasn’t gone away…A reissue of her 2004 novel of the same name, reviewers rave about the characterization, so Foster fans who haven’t read it should definitely check out this re-release (kudos on the cover, Zebra publishing!).

Contests and Giveaways

RT Book Reviews is sponsoring several giveaways right now, including Candi Wall‘s Primitive Nightsa modern-day Tarzan story featuring a young activist whose helicopter crashes in the South American jungle while she is wearing the jumpsuit of the oil company she planned to infiltrate, only to be dragged in front of the light-eyed, lighter skinned tribal leader who speaks perfect English. Naturally, he doesn’t necessarily believe her innocence but he can’t bring himself to kill her even though he knows the safety of his people depends on eradicating the oil company’s influence on their land. The magazine is giving away five e-copies of the book to lucky winners who use the Rafflecopter interface and enter prior to January 25th.

The wonderful people over at the Vampire Book Club blog are sponsoring a lovely giveaway of When Blood Calls by J. K. Beck, Wicked As She Wants by Delilah S. Dawson, and Hearts of Darkness by Kira Brady, for people who enter their Rafflecopter interface prior to January 25th.

In honor of the Katee Robert‘s latest book, In Bed with Mr. Wrong, the first book in her new Out of Uniform series, Fiction Vixen is sponsoring a giveaway of a $50 e-bookstore card for people who enter their Rafflecopter giveaway by the end of January. Featuring a sexy Air Force Pararescuer who gets sets up on a blind date with a demure librarian who fascinates him with her buttoned up looks and sassy mouth, this couple feels they have nothing in common except their off-the-charts chemistry until they get trapped in a cabin together and are forced to decide if this can work or not. Based on the numerous terrific reviews (and this book isn’t even a week old yet), it sounds like this series is going to be as successful as her Come Undone books!

The wonderful Australian Give Me Books blog is hosting a massive giveaway in conjunction with publisher Samhain books, which they are calling the Samhain Publishing International Paperback Giveaway. Including a $50 gift card to the Samhain store, a bag of swag, and over 32 of their paperbacks, this is quite the haul, so enter the Rafflecopter giveaway by January 28th to earn chances to win. With authors like N. J. Walters, Jayne Rylon, and Mari Carr in the mix, this is a quality giveaway bound to make someone very, very happy.

There is no one who writes SEALs the way Tawny Weber does, and her latest book, A SEAL’s Salvation (due out on February 1st), is currently part of a Goodread’s giveaway which is gifting 50 paper copies of the book to random lucky winners who enter the contest by February 15th. Please note that an earlier book, A SEAL’s Seduction, is currently free in ebook form on Amazon, so you can get a taste for these hard-bodied, determined heroes right now.

Fun Stuff

Are you grumpy before that first cup of coffee in the morning? If your neurons aren’t firing on all cylinders at the people busy interrupting you at the crack of dawn, consider investing in The Library Shop’s the Shakespeare insult mug, so you have some ready made (and highly colorful) epithets to throw the way of anyone coming between a coffee drinker and their morning caffeine hit.

I’m a real sucker for a funny t-shirt and Human’s latest take on reading and exercise is definitely chortle-worthy in my opinion. In addition to my claim to cardio, they have other geek-worthy lines for romance readers, like “I Don’t Want a Relationship, I Want a Starship” (complete with Enterprise) and a buff Belle powerlifting while stating, “I Only Date Beasts“.

Okay. Woman to woman, let’s talk honestly here. There is a LOT of super hot shower sex going on in romance novels today and it’s awesome, right? To read, that is. The reality is something different. If you’re not being slowly waterboarded while maintaining a certain position, you’re in danger of a date with a traction apparatus (and not the sexy BDSM kind) because you’ve lost your footing. Never fear! Sex in the Shower is an actual catalog with various implements which will make your shower sex hot and safe. While some of the items look like they could be used for handholds for granny while she bathes (and let’s not go there), other accessories are extremely racy, so please make sure you are not at work while you take a look! 🙂

Great Deals

Much of the time, the books in this section are meant to give us a sampling of the author’s writing so we’ll go back and buy more of their work, so what’s better for paranormal romance readers than a collection from Entangled’s Covet line featuring excerpts from every single one of their books since they started this imprint? Covet: Sampler 2013 is 232 pages offered at no cost, so if you do like things a little spookey-poo or with the occasional shifter or vampire, take two seconds and get this one on your ereader before the moon is full.

Many paranormal readers (not just me) have devoured Terry Spear‘s wolf shifter series, but did you know she has a young adult romance series based on the intrigue surrounding the Fae and the human world? I’m a sucker for sexy fairies (Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series is my favorite) so I’m tempted to try this one. Luckily for me, Spear owns the rights to the World of Fae, and has just released them as a The World of Fae Bundle for only $6.99, not bad price for almost 800 pages. This is probably in honor of the sixth book of the series, The Hawk Fae, which just came out this past week.

I know on my blog, any of the posts related to Bella Andre‘s The Sullivans series is an automatic hit, so please note that her book, The Way You Look Tonight, is currently free in ebook form, so this is a good time to snap it up. Starring Rafe Sullivan, one of the Northwest cousins to the California Sullivans, this private investigator doesn’t believe in true love, having caught one too many cheating spouses. He decides to take some much-needed time off by heading to the lake house that gave him many a great summer memory, only to encounter a sexy local truffle maker who decides to walk on the wild side with her favorite Sullivan. What seems like the best temporary fling becomes much more quickly, but the question remains if someone who doesn’t believe in love can recognize something worth fighting for when he sees it.

Shelly Laurenston’s Pride series is one of my absolute favorite shifter series (if you love to laugh, this is your series!), and if you haven’t had a chance to sample her sexy beasts and gritty humor, you now have a chance with the first book in the series, The Mane Event, being on sale for only $1.99 right now. A wealthy lion fresh out of the military returns to Manhattan to find the one woman who has fascinated him since he was a freshmen in high school. The half-Irish, half-Puerto Rican, double D-cup smartmouth human is all grown up with a voice that makes him instantly think of sex, and there is no way he’s letting her out of his bed or his life. But first there is the pesky detail of explaining that there is a whole world right under her nose of which she has no clue…

Acclaimed contemporary romance writer Kristen Proby is debuting a new series, Love Under the Big Sky, on January 21st and right now you can pre-order the first book, Loving Cara, for a mere $1.99 for the ebook version. When a sexy rancher and a troubled nephew who needs a tutor meets the shy girl from his past who is all grown up and sassy-mouthed, these two men discover exactly what they both need to seize their future. With two other books in the series scheduled for release this year, fans won’t have to wait very long to enjoy the setting and characters again!

Lora Leigh is best known for her Breeds series, but her Wild Ops line of books has got more than its fair share of fans. If you’d like to sample this series, start with the first book, Wild Card, featuring a Navy SEAL who was declared dead by the government three long years ago when an operation went very, very wrong, and who desperately wants his beautiful wife back. But he can’t give away who he is (or was) but can he manage to win her heart while keeping secrets? Currently on deep discount at only $2.99, this novel is rated an emotional page-turner by fans, so take a look.

Well, I’m going to go don my Cumberbitch t-shirt in honor of the American debut of Sherlock, Season 3 (thank GOD), but I hope everyone has a super week of reading!

You Won’t Be Able to Resist Falling for the Two Latest Entangled Bliss Novels by Cindi Madsen and Ophelia London

15 Jan

Falling For Her Soldier (Perfect Kisses #3) by Ophelia London (Entangled: Bliss, January 13, 2014)

I’m an unashamed fan of Entangled Publishing since I think their editors have a nose for sniffing out some of the best romance authors on the market and the latest two offerings from their Bliss line has only confirmed my opinion.

First up is Falling For Her Soldier by Ophelia London which, quite honestly, blew my socks off.

Ellie Bell has a history of falling for the bad boy who ends up cheating on her. She made the decision to go an entire year without a man in her life and she still has twenty-four days to go. The only room she’s making in her life for a man is the love she has for her brother, Sam. He was badly injured overseas and is now fighting his way to a new normal with the help of the local military center and the therapy sessions it offers. Ellie will always be grateful for Sam’s friend and fellow soldier, Charlie Johansson who emailed her during those months after Sam was injured. But the mysterious Charlie stopped writing, so Ellie is focusing on running her deceased mother’s dance studio and pondering the direction of her new life teaching plies to four-year-olds and not dancing for thousands like she did before she wrecked her knee.

Charlie “Hunter” Johansson has always been a serious player but he’s worried that his life is not the one he actually wants after the real exchange he had via email with his friend Sam’s sister, Ellie. But his work as a soldier and more importantly his romantic past filled with almost anonymous encounters makes him feel that he’s unworthy of her. One heated look at the stunning redhead in the parking lot of the recreational military center Sam frequents and he’s casting his new resolution aside…until he discovers that it’s none other than the woman he’s semi-fallen for. But Sam introduces him by his nickname “Hunter”, a moniker he acquired for his prowess with women, and it’s clear that he’s told Ellie all about what a manwhore “Hunter” is.

How I envision Ellie's adorable little students (Public domain image via Pixabay)

How I envision Ellie’s adorable little students (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Flustered, Charlie doesn’t tell her that he’s the person who loved her stories of learning to surf as a teen or about summers with her family, and when Sam warns him off her, he entertains the thought of just being a friend, but the more time he spends with her, the more he knows that this woman already means the world to him. When a chance comes for him to work with her to save the center that provides a sanctuary for so many military personnel and their families, the two of them fall hard. But Ellie doesn’t know that Hunter is Charlie and she feels like she’s betraying a man she never met, while even Charlie knows that a real foundation can be built on a lie.

OMG, I defy you to not fall for these two! Charlie is a man desperate to turn over a new leaf and Ellie is a loving, giving person so burnt by the bad choices of her past that she’s terrified of making another big one with a man she finds irresistible but who her brother reminds her is not a one-woman man. Even after she makes clear that she wants Hunter, he still respects her countdown to her “one-year with no sex” rule. I was actually worried that the Bliss penchant for the closed bedroom door would annoy me since I like my romance novels at Brazen levels of heat, but London manages to imbue so much sexual tension and delicious heat (and shows the sexy couple post consummation in the epilogue) that I barely missed the naughty bits.

Fans of her Perfect Kisses series will enjoy the appearance of couples from the previous two books, all friends and relatives of Charlie’s from his childhood, but you in no way need to read them in order to fully enjoy this novel. Anyone who is a fan of Dancing with the Stars (and I’m sorry, is there a romance reader who doesn’t love that show?) will adore the many scenes of Ellie teaching Charlie how to tango in preparation for their big number for the benefit to save the center. This full-length novel is a total win and a bargain at $2.99, so I can’t recommend it enough. For your tango enjoyment, I’ve embedded a terrific, sexy tango (far better than Charlie can manage but the heat level is how I envision him and Ellie dancing) – check out from about :30 seconds to about 3:30 seconds for the beefy part.

Resisting the Hero (Accidentally in Love #3) by Cindi Madsen (Entangled Bliss: January 13, 2014)

After reading London’s novel, I was almost afraid to approach Cindi Madsen’s Resisting the Hero – how could she possibly match such an incredible novel? While blessed with a totally different voice, it was still startling to see her craft also a terrific romance filled with conflict and tension and two very sexy protagonists. She easily equalled the terrific quality found in Falling for Her Solider.

Faith Fitzpatrick is not feeling overly clever or successful right now. She’s managed to land a plum psychology internship with a premier university program that’s bound to help this doctoral student’s career, but she’d be feeling a lot better if she hadn’t been betrayed by her fiancee and her best friend who she caught getting busy in Faith’s new bed. When it became clear that her fiancee had probably never been faithful, she realized that some reevaluation was in order. Her brother, his pregnant wife and adorable little girl are more than happy to have her live with them until she gets a place, but Faith is horrified to discover right before she arrives that her policeman brother has joined the local SWAT team upon the encouragement of his good friend Connor Maguire.

There have been plenty of ladies more than happy to let Connor handcuff them whenever he wants, but can Faith believe that he’s changed for good with everything in her past?

Since Faith’s cop father was killed trying to breakup a convenience store holdup, her brother being placed in more danger, particularly now that he has a wife and family, is nothing short of a horror story. Going to their dad’s old police bar hangout, she finds the newly minted SWAT guys celebrating their graduation, and Faith doesn’t hesitate to give her brother and his “friend” – a sexy, good-looking playboy if ever she saw one – a piece of her mind. When Connor keeps trying one line after another on her, she has only cool disgust for him, but as they spend time together, the more she’s willing to believe that there’s depth to Connor that other people doesn’t see.

Connor can’t believe that this gorgeous woman wants nothing to do with him but as the two of them spend more time together and learn each other’s vulnerabilities, they can’t stop themselves from developing feelings for one another. He’s never just enjoyed a slow buildup in his “relationships” but the more time he spends with Faith, the more he realizes the delight of it, even if he’s in agony. But Connor is a SWAT officer, too, and Faith doesn’t think she can suffer a loss that not only would dredge up everything horrifying in her past, but destroy her future.

It’s rare that a romance novel can show a more realistic progression of a romance while also still keeping the reader on the edge of their seat but Madsen manages to do just that. Connor has women he’s slept with turning up right and left, hardly a vote of future fidelity when he’s trying to romance Faith and convince her that he can be a one-woman man. That Faith is a academic in the psychology field who fully understands her mental block when it comes to cops and infidelity, yet she still struggles to overcome it, is a nice irony. I adored the fantastic nighttime scene on the golf course (I’m never looking at a sand trap the same way again)! Fans of Madsen’s Accidentally in Love series will enjoy seeing Connor and Faith’s friends who are the protagonists of the other books, currently living their happily ever afters in their small town. This full-length novel is also a mere $2.99 and it would be worth twice the price, so enjoy the bargain and Madsen’s writing.

Happy reading!!!

Two Long Awaited Titles Finally Arrive from Katee Robert and Gina Maxwell

13 Jan

IBwMW300New York Times bestselling author Katee Robert kicks off her new Out of Uniform series with IN BED WITH MR. WRONG, a hilarious enemies-to-lovers story you don’t want to miss. Air Force Pararescuer Ryan Flannery avoids his hometown at all costs, so he’s not thrilled when he’s set up on a blind date—until he meets mousy librarian Brianne Nave. Her sweet curves and kissable lips are a siren’s call, but her smart mouth? Not so much. How can two people have so little chemistry outside the bedroom when they fit together so perfectly in it? When Ryan and Bri are stranded in a cabin by their friends, they’ll be forced to find out…if they don’t kill each other first.

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Gina L. Maxwell comes out swinging with the latest installment of her New York Times bestselling Fighting for Love series, FIGHTING FOR IRISH. When he learns a friend’s sister has forty-eight hours to make good on an ex’s debt to a crime boss, former MMA fighter Aiden “Irish” O’Brien heads to Louisiana to offer himself up as collateral. But to satisfy the debt, he has to do the one thing he swore he’d never do again: fight. With more than just money on the line, can Irish reclaim the man he once was for the woman he can’t live without?

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The dynamic duo took the NYT and USA TODAY lists by storm the last time they released together, so we can’t wait to see what shenanigans they have in store for 2014!

Excerpt: In Bed with Mr. Wrong by Katee Robert

Don’t think for a second you’re getting a good-night kiss.”

A kiss from you?” He stepped forward into her finger, forcing her to open her hand against his chest or take a step back. She refused to budge. He leaned down, crowding her. “I’d rather kiss a snake.”

Then it’s too bad it’s winter, because they’re in short supply.” She pushed at his chest again, nearly snarling when he didn’t move. “You should just burn something else down. That might draw a few to the heat.”

Or maybe I’ll just set fire to your goddamn granny panties. That’s sure to create a big enough blaze.”

Her jaw dropped open and she swallowed hard. “As if you could.”

Watch me.”

He grabbed her hips and yanked her against him. Bri gasped. There was so much heat in his blue eyes, it was a wonder every single article of clothing she wore didn’t go up in smoke. “You—”

But then she saw it. The challenge hidden behind the heat. He didn’t think she could handle this. Handle him.

His mouth curled into a smirk, and his hands tightened on her hips. The feel of his fingers digging into her flesh through the thin fabric of her skirt made her want to throw all caution to the wind. He thought he’d won, did he?

Screw it.” She grabbed the lapels of his shirt and went up on her tiptoes to smash her lips against his. He froze, then stumbled backward and slammed into the wall of her screened porch, taking her with him. A wave of victory went through her. For all his talk, he hadn’t expected her to make a move. She moved one hand to the back of his neck and tipped his head down so she could set her teeth into his bottom lip.

Just like that, he came alive in her arms and pulled her tighter against him. His tongue delved into her mouth, stroking hers with no hesitation, igniting her passion until she couldn’t fight back a moan. How could one giant brute taste so decadent? She slid her tongue along his, not sure if she was searching for an answer or simply enjoying the way her very nerves seemed to spark and dance at every place they touched.

Would her whole body do that if they were naked?

Whoa. Where had that thought come from? She was proving him wrong, not jumping into bed with the man. She tried to pull away. “I think—”

Stop talking.”

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Excerpt: Fighting For Irish by Gina Maxwell

Aiden dropped his hands to her hips and stepped closer. “Will you stay tonight?” he asked softly.

I’ll stay.”

One night. He could do that, couldn’t he? Then he could get this need for her out of his system and focus on winning the tournament to free her from any danger. His job would be done, his debt paid to Jax, and he could move back home to continue his daily penance and meaningless existence.

But right now he wanted to feel alive again, if only for a night in the arms of the woman who’d had his balls on lockdown for months. She was the reason no one else even appealed to him anymore. He needed her, just this once. But he wouldn’t do it without an understanding between them.

Kat, can I be honest with you?” Aiden was aware of the fine line he was walking. Now he just had to do it without sounding crude or disrespectful, which would be a challenge. He was no smooth-talking Romeo.

Meeting her expectant gaze, he took a deep breath and prepared himself for the possibility of getting slapped. “I wanna be with you tonight.”

As in, with me with me?”

Yeah,” he said, amusement lifting a corner of his mouth. “With you with you. It’s been a really long time since I wanted someone as much I want you.”

Really?” she asked breathlessly.

You sound surprised.”

She offered a weak shrug and suddenly found interest in the floorboards. “You seem like you’d be more into exciting, exotic looking women. Like one of those sexy, new-age pin-up girls with the flawless skin and beautiful tattoos.”

He almost laughed until he realized she was serious. She had no idea what she did to him. Grabbing one of her hands still resting on his shoulder, he slowly dragged it over his chest and down his stomach until they finally reached his stiff erection straining against the restrictive boxer briefs under his shorts.

Aiden groaned as he molded her hand over his cock. The feel of her gripping him nearly redefined the word “premature.” She drew in a quick breath and raised her eyes to his. Her cheeks filling with a pretty shade of pink did crazy things to his insides. The more her innocence showed through the more he wanted her.

He couldn’t make sense of it. She was right. Typically he went for the larger-than-life women who treated every day like it was their own personal thrill ride. Kat was something else entirely. Worldly beyond her years, yet somehow more innocent than she should be.

This is how into you I am, sweetheart. Believe me when I tell you I couldn’t fake this kind of interest,” he assured her. “I want you, Kat. Wicked bad. But I don’t have anything more to offer you than one night. That’s me being honest. So if you wanna give me the red light now I’ll understand, but you gotta let me know while I still have use of some of my brain.”

Green.”

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