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Enjoy a Great Addition to Sheikh Romance with Alexandra Sellers’s Latest, Her Royal Protector

30 May

Her Royal Protector (a Johari Crown Novel – Arif and Aly) by Alexandra Sellers (Entangled: Indulgence, May 27, 2014)

If you want a good sheikh romance, I recommend putting yourself into the hands of an expert. Since there are few romance writers with more sheikh romances under her belt than Alexandra Sellers, you instantly know that you are in for a treat with her latest romance, Her Royal Protector.

Aly Percy feels like a duck out of water at a Johari royal event, stuck in one of her sister’s cast off formal gowns. With the team leader of her environmental expedition is suddenly hospitalized, it’s up to her to represent their interests at the black tie fundraiser for the endangered Johari sea turtle, a creature so enmeshed with this history of this gulf nation that the country’s legend indicates that as long as the turtle exists, so will the crown. Aly knows her strength is doing research for her Ph.D. dissertation in cut-off shorts and sunscreen, so she is utterly out of her element in this crowd, particularly with one of the Sultan of Bagestan’s stunningly handsome advisors looking right through her in his dress uniform.

Arif al Najimi is irritated that he can’t help but be fascinated by the scientist working so hard to be invisible. She’s in an ill-fitting gown that does nothing for her, trips on her way to the podium and then fluffs her speech and yet he finds himself irritated when his assistant calls her plain. She might have no confidence to speak of, unless she’s talking about turtles, but he sees the underlying sensuality she works so hard to dismiss. When circumstances allow him to take his state-mandated undercover time with her to protect her while she researches her turtles, he finds himself drawn to Aly more and more, yet worried on behalf of his country about her intentions when he finds her acting suspiciously.

Baby sea turtles heading for the ocean - while Sellers's Johari turtles making a noctural journey, the little cuties would undoubtedly look a lot like these babies. (Public doman image via Pixabay)

Baby sea turtles heading for the ocean – while Sellers’s Johari turtles making a noctural journey, the little cuties would undoubtedly look a lot like these babies. (Public doman image via Pixabay)

For her part, Aly is totally conflicted. Being close to the compelling Arif and learning the extent of his patriotism and honor has her feeling an unfamiliar level of desire. Yet her shattered self-esteem, eroded over years at the hands of her family and led by her deceptive father (a Bernie Madoff-like businessman who bankrupted his family while losing the life savings of thousands of people), can’t bring her to believe that the heat she sees in Arif’s eyes is real. When she trusts him with her suspicions regarding the deliberate sabotage on the turtles she’s trying to protect, the heat between them reaches inferno levels, cracking open her heart. Aly knows that Arif is a player who has made clear that he plans to marry a Bagestani woman after a long life enjoying the stunning women who throw themselves at his feet. But his tender, protective behavior and the way he awakens all her desires is at odds with his declaration, yet she knows she needs to be ready to walk away to minimize the hurt. When the forces who threaten her life’s work also endanger her, Aly and Arif both have to confront their feelings for one another and see if they can work past their individual baggage to claim the happiness that is right in front of them.

Sellers does an outstanding job of building a country rich in history with a stunning coastal geography. Aly is an intelligent, sensitive heroine who has used her scientific interest as a necessary outlet for everything she couldn’t be with her emotionally abusive family. Arif is torn between two cultures, with a Bagestani father and an Irish mother. He’s passionately chosen to embrace his Middle Eastern heritage and work for the good of his country, but his heart is clearly guiding him toward Aly despite all his best-laid plans. While the sexual tension climbs throughout the novel, the nature of Entangled’s Indulgence line has everything built up only to slam the bedroom door in your face and open it the following morning (my only complaint). Even with that frustration, I was so utterly wowed by this book that I eagerly await the additional books in the series. Rich secondary characters and ongoing cultural and political tensions make this fictional country a terrific locale for future plotlines.

I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to ask Alexandra Sellers a few questions about her latest novel.

1) You’re an established romance author with a long history of specializing in the “sheikh romance.” What do you think is the perennial appeal for readers in that sub genre? 

Sheikhs can be more mysterious, more masculine, more powerful than many heroes, I think. They maybe hark back to the early days of category romance, when the hero embodied the powerful, unknown patriarchy—and the heroine brought it to heel.  I think the hidden masculine is still a draw, even though nowadays we get right inside the hero’s head.  Sheikhs seem to represent the masculine as Other. They embody the mystery of romance: that hidden other self that we all need to find before we can become whole. And of course there has never been a period in art and architecture to rival the Golden Age of Islam. From jewels to miniature paintings to palaces, there is no beauty to match it. For fantasy locations sheikhs can’t be beat.

2) Did you have fun putting a sexy scientist and a dashing royal together? What did you enjoy the most?

HER ROYAL PROTECTOR is more an ‘ugly duckling and a protective alpha male’ trope.  I always enjoy writing the fun and humorous bits, of course, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading them, too. But this book has a serious side—Aly Percy, my heroine, is trying to save an endangered species from extinction. I worked as a volunteer with sea turtles in Crete while researching this story, and I enjoyed that immensely. Sea turtles are simply beautiful in every way.

3) I noticed on Amazon that there’s a series title next to Her Royal Protector – “a Johari Crown novel.” Do you have other books planned for us? When can readers expect to see them?

Yes, I do have at least two more books planned in the series. The second should be out in November, and the third early next year.

4) Now for the most important question. For your ideal cupcake, what is your preferred cake/icing combination?

My ideal cupcake is one that can be bought at Tim Horton’s with a cup of coffee.

Thanks, Alexandra! A Tim Horton cupcake and Her Royal Protector on an e-reader sounds like an ideal combination, particularly since the book is only $.99 right now with Entangled’s (God bless them) intro pricing.

Happy reading!

The Desert’s Heat Melts Icy Hearts in Sarah Morgan’s Lost to the Desert Warrior

20 Aug

Lost to the Desert Warrior by Sarah Morgan (Harlequin Presents, August 20, 2013)

If category romance was the horse world, Sarah Morgan would be a top flight thoroughbred, or – in the case of her latest book, Lost to the Desert Warrior – a gorgeous and swift Arabian.

I plan on outlining the cultural (and complex) phenomenon that is the Sheikh romance, but being a critical reader doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these story lines, it just means you need to be careful to place your trust in authors whose intelligence and respect ensure they are not going to succumb to ethnic stereotypes or scathing cultural judgement.

Morgan has always been a four star author for me and I never mind plunking down my cash to get her next Harlequin romance. Lost to the Desert Warrior did not disappoint.

Layla and her sister are both princesses of Tazkhan, virtual prisoners of an uncaring father and his brutal regime. Hiding to witness their father’s death, the two young women hear his final demand that Layla marry a prominent and corrupt politician (he’s lived in the palace forever terrorizing the sisters and servants) who will only continue her father’s oppressive policies. Her sister is supposed to be shipped off the United States and never heard from again.

It’s a given that these two young women are brave enough to buck their cruel father’s last wish. They steal a fast stallion and head to the desert in the dead of night, dressed as boys, in order to find the Bedouin warrior and next-in-line ruler, Sheikh Raz Al Zahki. This is a very calculated risk as Al Zahki has every reason to despise them. Their father was responsible for the death of Raz’s father and the beautiful wife he loved. Layla, unused to riding and scared of horses, falls off and her sister, unable to control the stallion they chose for its speed careens off into the desert night, leaving Layla to face Raz and his men alone. He sees through her disguise and listens to her logical proposal, specifically that the two of them make a political marriage which would stabilize the country.

A Night of No Return by Sarah Morgan (Harlequin Presents, October 2012)

It’s easy to empathize with Raz. He naturally thinks that Layla is what my husband terms “a frontrunner” – someone who switches allegiance when the going gets tough – and while he clearly knows the marriage is the right thing to do for his people, he also feels that he’s betraying the memory of his beloved wife. They immediately marry and since neither wants to leave any loophole in the marriage, consummate it right away.

Layla is a very sheltered woman in her early twenties and a prolific reader since books have been her only way of really experiencing life outside the palace walls. While she brought a copy of the Kama Sutra with her on her escape (along with her worn copy of One Thousand and One Nights), she hasn’t had a chance to study it to know what Raz might expect from her. Cold and distant, he’s shocked to discover the amazing sexual chemistry between the two of them. After a night of incredible sexual passion (one that actually has Raz leaving the tent afterward), they set off for a safe nearby oasis and the intrigue and complications begin.

It’s impossible not to fall for the characters in this novel. Layla, while naive and inexperienced is still very intelligent, and like many abuse victims, can read people extremely well. She quiet and thoughtful but gives off a complex mixture of innocence and practicality. Her caring nature is readily apparent and being the sole caregiver for her only slightly younger sister means that she’s used to putting aside any personal needs and taking care of those around her.

Raz is not the total a-hole that you often find in sheikh romances. You get the immediate sense of a strong leader with an even stronger sense of duty to his country and people, but he’s not too high and mighty to slowly see Layla for what she is. They do some actual communicating and, even if he could be more forthcoming and says some hurtful things to her, he doesn’t wait until the last five pages until he admits he’s wrong. They are a great couple and while you can’t have very many secondary characters in a category romance novel due to the length, certain relatives and animals are nicely fleshed out and lend themselves to the character development of the hero and heroine.

Woman in a Sheikh’s World by Sarah Morgan (Harlequin Presents, December 2012)

A major frustration with Harlequin romances (and I think Harlequin Presents commits this sin far more than the Blaze line) is that they often have intertwined romances – sometimes across authors – and make zero effort to clue in the reader to what other books to read by doing something obvious, like having a series name or deliberately linking the books on Goodreads or Amazon. WTF, Harlequin?

For example, Avery and Malik, the neighboring rulers of another country on the border of Tazkhan which Layla and Raz visit,  are secondary characters in Lost to the Desert Warrior, but their rather heartbreaking story is brought to light as a small subplot in A Night of No Return and then concluded in full (with a well-deserved HEA) in Woman in a Sheik’s World. Both books are part of the Private Lives of Public Playboys series, of which Lost to the Desert Warrior is not a part. Confused yet? Me, too. You don’t need to read either of these books, but considering they are both excellent, it wouldn’t hurt you to do it!

Whether you read the associated books or not, Lost to the Desert Warrior is a fun, well-written novel of the sheikh sub-genre and I wholeheartedly endorse it. My final wish is that Sarah Morgan will next publish the book about Layla’s sister, the one who disappeared into the desert on the feisty Arabian she and Layla stole to get to Raz. Raz sends his best tracker – his taciturn brother and former special forces operator to find her – and there are several references to his search in this book. Sounds like there’s going to be a chance for more heat in the desert soon!

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