Tag Archives: Bones

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of October 27, 2013

27 Oct

Upcoming Books and New Releases

There are a few long-awaited novels that have just had publication dates announced and, believe me, you’ll want to pre-order! First up is the next full-length novel in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series (*whimper) Shield of Winter, which will feature the story of Vasic, the Arrow who has been subversively supporting the overthrow of Silence while realizing at the same time that its demise could mean his death. A damaged woman fighting for her people as his love interest and a release date of June 3rd means that I’m getting a terrific present right around my birthday. Thank you, Nalini!

In related shifter news, those readers who adore Shelly Laurenston’s Pride series filled with sexy bears, cats and wolves will be thrilled to know that the 9th book, Bite Me, is slated to be released as of March 25, 2014. Since one side of the couple shifts into a honey badger, I’ll be very interested to see how this plays out!

The next Kate Daniels book by Ilona Andrews, Magic Breaks, doesn’t have a cover (or at least not a released one, author Ilona Andrews made clear on the blog that this writing couple doesn’t want to hear the cranky comments from so-called fans who gripe at every release – can they just not read them so we polite readers can enjoy?) but it does have a date – August 5, 2014. Kate’s back in Atlanta as consort to the Beast Lord and it’s clear that her evil father Roland will be arriving soon – and everyone needs to get ready. Unfortunately things are getting complicated with the vampires and Kate has to pitch in to clear up a delicate situation (and we know how she does with delicate). Color me there!

In addition to all the announcements about big 2014 releases, it’s getting to be that time of year – holiday book time!!! Considering that I spend all December reviewing holiday books (I save them up for you to enjoy with hot chocolate and a fire in your fireplace), this is pretty exciting for me. Since I do love anthologies, those are a favorite and just a couple weeks ago, Entangled released one of their presents for the season, A Very Scandalous Holiday featuring stories by Nancy Fraser, Sophia Garrett, Amber Lin and Crista McHugh. These historical romance writers capture the spirit of the season across the centuries, from the Regency and Victorian eras to 1920s Chicago and the turmoil of World War II, so transport yourself to a different time with this bargain at a mere $2.99.

Fans of Jeaniene Frost‘s Night Huntress series (and I consider this one of the BEST series out on the market) should be pleased to note that Frost is going to release the previously published Home for the Holidays novella starring Cat & Bones (and all her related characters) as a stand alone novella for only $1.99, starting on November 5, 2013 when it comes out. While this is technically a novella, as I reviewed it in my post on the series, it reads like a much longer work, due to Frost’s fantastic writing and the harrowing threat to the couple’s happiness contained within it.

Contests and Giveaways

Vikings seem to be a hot new subgenre of historical romance and Harlequin is offering great novels from authors like Michelle Styles for readers enjoying these fur-clad pillagers. Her latest novel, Paying the Viking’s Price, is due out on November 1st, but readers have a chance to win a copy on Goodreads if they enter prior to October 30th. When a warrior who is finally granted lands and home from the king, he is surprised to discover the beautiful former lady of manor refusing to leave her home or her people. He’s happy to allow her to stay, providing she becomes his concubine.

Fans of shifter romance will want to enter the Goodreads giveaway prior to October 31st for the three pack of Ambrielle Kirk‘s first three novels in her Caedmon Wolves series. This five volume series features dark and edgy writing and plenty of werewolves finding their mates, even if it’s not under the best circumstances. A winning extra feature is that Kirk’s characters are racially diverse – so you benefit from reading interracial (as well as interspecial) romance, which is all too hard to find even in this day and age.

Maya BanksColters’ Legacy series is one of the most emotionally packed menage series I’ve read, so it’s wonderful that the fifth book, Colter’s Gift, due out on November 5th is being offered as part of a Goodreads giveaway for readers who love the ratio of more than one man interested in loving a strong woman who has undergone some recent emotional upheaval after trusting the wrong man. Enter before November 1st to see if you can win.

Harlequin always manages to deliver heart-warming holiday romances and that’s what I expect, A Little Bit of Holiday Magic by Melissa McClone to be. Featuring a widow and her young son rescued by a hunky fireman who has sworn off dating for the season, we can all guess what Santa is going to leave under this tree. Considering that Goodreads is having a giveaway for people who enter the contest prior to November 1st, I’d hop over there and see if you can get an early holiday present delivered to your doorstep.

Cynthia Eden is celebrating the latest release in her wonderful Mine suspense series, Mine to Hold, which was published on October 21st, and I’m sorry, is there anything hotter than a gorgeous billionaire who decides a woman too damaged to trust must be won? No, unless it’s when the author is amazing enough to also offer a $50 book gift card to the seller of your choice (Amazon or Barnes & Noble) giveaway to celebrate it! Head over to Eden’s Facebook page to enter using the Rafflecopter interface before the end of the month.

Suspense fans will want to enter the giveaway for a copy of Lena Diaz‘s Undercover Twin, the second book in her Morgan Brothers series. Featuring a DEA agent who left the love of his life behind only to come back into her life when her twin sister is kidnapped, this suspenseful tale is due to be released on November 19th. Enter the contest prior to November 1st for your chance to win a copy.

To celebrate a bunch of juicy-sounding paranormal releases, the Entangled in Publishing blog is giving away a Kindle Fire this week for people who enter their Rafflecopter giveaway by promoting the contest via social media. Keep in mind that these books are going for a mere $1.99, so you might want to give yourself something less calorie laden then chocolate for the holiday (or, like me, give yourself BOTH!).

Someone needs to do a study on the birth control failure rate in Harlequin novels (or maybe they are all just swept away and forgot to don a condom), which results in all those surprise pregnancies! In Expecting a Bolton Baby by Sarah M. Anderson (the third book in her Bolton Brothers series) a businessman never expects to see the hottest one night stand he ever experienced since the lady in question revealed she was the daughter of an intense rival. Yet now he discovers she’s pregnant with his child and he wants more than nothing else to make things right and marry her, preferably without letting her know of his feelings. Enter the Goodreads giveaway before November 1st for a chance to win a copy.

The Vampire Book Club blog can always be counted on, both for in depth reviews and fun giveaways and you can imagine that October is an important month for them! To celebrate three terrific Urban Fantasy reads that they feel are going to end up on the ‘best of’ lists this year, they are having a Rafflecopter giveaway to win copies of Larissa Ione’s Bound by Night, Kelley Armstrong’s Thirteen and Karen Chance’s Tempt the Stars. Head over there before October ends to enter!

For Writers

The Popular Romance project, a fantastic source of all things related to the romance industry, released a terrific video clip of an interview with Jessica Andersen regarding what makes writing category romance so attractive to romance writers. Andersen herself is a well-regarded writer for Harlequin’s Intrigue line as well as the Nocturne line for her paranormal series like Royal House of Shadows. Like her (her Nightkeepers line is out under Signet), many writers who have made it big on the single title market continue to keep an oar in category romance, putting out a couple books a year (think Jill Shalvis and Catherine Mann) and even more best-seller authors got their start in category. Why? Watch the clip.

Writer Pat Haggerty is a whiz at Scrivener (and shared his wisdom via a well-regarded Savvy Authors class that my fellow RWA chapters members enthusiastically endorse) but in his post at Romance University, he kindly illuminates how writers can employ the “Save the Cat” screenwriting formula recommended by editors in the industry using that wonderful piece of software.

Tracey Devlynwhose latest book A Lady’s Secret Weapon I adoredwrote a post over at Romance University about how to handle it when your publishing house decides to let you go, right in the middle of your series. I’m not sure what her publisher’s (Sourcebooks) motivation was (I’m guessing the books weren’t selling the way they wanted?) but I’m grateful that we live in a day and age where a writer can continue a high quality series on her own to satisfy the numerous fans who do not want to see it end prematurely.

Fun Stuff

Do you remember those little Golden Books you read when you were little, the ones with colorful covers and gold foil spines? So does artist Ryan Jude Novelline who created a ballgown from the illustrations and spines of those iconic first reads. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Novelline got his degree in illustration, yet his work continually attempts to reinterpret established ideas and push boundaries. Take a look at the Pinterest board showing the many stages of the creation of this masterpiece.

When you are a reader, you love to snicker at clever t-shirts and I happen to love the ABC’s of Literature t-shirt on sale at Threadless. Whether it’s Ginsberg’s glasses or the Route 66 sign for Kerouac, this simple black shirt will have kindred spirits giving you the “nice one” head nod when you wear it (and help you steer clear of the “I don’t get it” people).

Similarly, readers and librarians alike will enjoy the pulp fiction-styled Attack of the 50 Foot Librarian t-shirt from Funny Baby. I don’t know what I like best, that the figure has auburn hair (ahem) or that she seems to be holding an ereader (replacing the car in the original image) with classic books and glasses strewn in panic on the highway beneath her. Whatever the reason, this must-wear item has gone into my Etsy cart!

Great Deals

You don’t get better than free and that’s exactly what Amy AndrewsGirl Least Likely to Marry – a Harlequin KISS book – is right now on Amazon! With a wealthy, football playing hero with a good sense of humor and a scientist who couldn’t care less (and probably falls on the autism spectrum with her ability to read people) reviewers are raving about this outstanding addition to Andrews’ The Wedding Season series.

Historical romance author Elizabeth Boyle has updated the covers of her Brazen series, re-releasing this mid-1990s series with a fresh new look. At the moment, Brazen Angel, the first book in the trilogy, is a mere $.99 for the ebook version, allowing fans of romance novels with strong spying/privateer themes to sigh in happiness.

Fans of Urban Fantasy might want to try the second book in the Crimson City series, A Taste of Crimson by Marjorie M. Liu, which highlights a romance between a strong vampire and a rebel werewolf who find themselves working with what would normally be a natural enemy in a fallen City of Angels. The Crimson City series is one of those put together by an editor employing different authors to write each installment and with authors like LIz Maverick, Jade Lee and Patti O’Shea, chances are these high ratings are well-earned.

Romantic suspense fans might want to take advantage of Pamela Clare‘s Breaking Point (from her I-Team series) being on sale for $1.99 right now on Amazon. Unlike the common security company trope, Clare has created a series based around a group of mostly women investigating (hence the “I” in I-Team) the shadowy corners of society where they stumble across “the alpha males of the their dreams.” Considering that this entire series of nine books and novellas consistently range above a four on Goodreads, I’d say this angle has proven darn successful for Clare (and I plan on trying it out at these prices!).

Close out Breast Cancer Awareness month by taking advantage of not only a great deal for the paranormal anthology Entangled (whose proceeds go to Breast Cancer research) but which also offers you 424 pages of stories from amazing authors like Cynthia Eden, Jennifer Estep, and Michelle Diener. At only $2.99, you’ll feel like you are giving yourself (and all women) a present for Halloween.

Fans of the sheik romance might remember my post on Sarah Morgan’s Lost to the Desert Warrior, but for readers who have not yet gotten to sample it, please be aware that not only is that title on sale for $1.99 right now, but it’s predecessor, Woman in a Sheik’s World is also available at the discounted price. Considering that books hero and heroine (living their HEA) make an appearance in Lost to the Desert Warrior, it would be fun to get both to enjoy Morgan’s excellent writing about these gripping characters.

Happy reading this week (and happy Halloween)!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week Ending August 18th

18 Aug

Upcoming and New Books

Historical romance writer Katharine Ashe is publishing the first book in her new series, The Prince Catchers, on August 27th, entitled I Married the Duke. With the cover blurb from Lisa Kleypas (who specializes in perfectly written historical heroes) and involving a duke disguised as a pirate and a gypsy curse borne by three sisters, this sounds like it’s a cut above your typical Regency romance. As of now, Avon has set the price on Amazon at a mere $3.59 for the paperback edition, a 40% discount from the list price of $5.99, so you might want to preorder it while this bargain is in effect!

Tired of billionaire Doms (seriously, how many of each of those categories can there be) and eager for a good shifter romance? Vivian Arend is releasing the third book in her Takhini wolves shifter series, and this time the hero is a billionaire bear who needs a political insider helping him understand the shifter community with which he’s working a deal. Who better than the leader’s former human girlfriend, recently freed up since her no-strings boyfriend just found his mate? Published by Samhain, Diamond Dust is a full-length novel priced at only $2.75 so the warmth you feel while reading it might not just be from Arend’s steamy writing, but also from the knowledge of the great bargain you just got.

I’m still reeling from Jeaniene Frost’s announcement this week that her seventh book in the incomparable Night Huntress series, Up from the Grave, will be her last Cat and Bones novel! Originally believing that her overall story arc would take nine books, Frost said on her blog that she and her editor agreed that it would be unfair to fans to put in filler simply to keep the series going as planned. As disappointed as I am, I appreciate Frost’s obvious commitment to give readers the highest quality writing. She has never written anything that didn’t blow my socks off and it’s not like she’s going to stop writing and take up creating macrame wall hangings from a beachside hut in Hawaii. She even 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). There is also the pesky matter of the fourth man in the deported Australian chain gang who we’ve never seen but to whom Bones, Spade and Ian have referred. 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.

As much as it pains me to say it (I’m an educator, so the school year is here), September 10th is just around the corner, so for those of you who still haven’t ordered the next installment of Jennifer Ashley’s Highland Pleasures series, get on it! The Untamed Mackenzie e-novella is priced at only $1.99 and stars the sexy but cranky Detective Inspector Lloyd Fellows, born on the wrong side of the Mackenzie tartan and Lady Louisa Scranton who is wrongly accused of murder. I’m not only going to love revisiting my favorite Victorian romance series but it’s going to always sate me long enough to wait for the next full-length novel, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, which will publish just a couple weeks later on October 1st.

Fun Stuff

The British newspaper The Guardian announced this week that the queen of romance, Barbara Cartland, had 160 previously unpublished novels in her estate upon her death and that these works, and some other published books, are going to be available for readers on her website. These unpublished novels join the 490 novels she wrote in her lifetime, stopping her output only a year prior to her passing away at the age of 98. If you picture romance writers penning their novels in canopy beds wearing a silk bedjacket surrounded by little dogs, Cartland is subconsciously who you have in mind. These books are only available in print so non-UK residents would have to pay more for shipping charges.

Did you know there was something called the Good Men Project? Envisioning themselves not as a magazine, but as a social movement, the people behind the Good Men Project believe in posing and answering the question, “What does it mean to be a good man?” Blogging about sports, ethics, sex, marriage, fatherhood and current affairs, the writing is high quality and well-researched while being always appropriate. And if your dad showed any prospective boyfriend his gun collection prior to that first date, you might enjoy reading an article which has been making the rounds “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex” by Ferrett Steinmetz, who just became my dad-hero. Steinmetz objects to the inference that he owns his daughter’s body or has the right to tell her what to do with it, particularly in the area of denying her the pleasure and intimacy which comes from sharing your body with someone you love. The article is simultaneously sweet, funny and thought-provoking and I recommend it for parents and for romance writers who would like to imagine what a positive father figure might look like in this century.

It’s rather dazzling to see the income of the top earning authors for this past year, particularly when you realize that E. L. James (author of the 50 Shades of Grey series) managed to total $95 million dollars in 2012-13 according to this Forbes magazine article. That’s a lot of handcuffs! Yet note that with the exception of nonfiction author and pundit Chris Matthews, virtually every author is either a YA powerhouse or specializes in genre fiction like romance, mystery or suspense. No wonder the literary fiction authors get so snobby – they’re cranky from eating ramen noodles.

Thinking About Publishing

This past week, Alex Crowley from Publisher’s Weekly posed the excellent question – Why Are We Still Not Bundling Ebooks? Seriously, why don’t publishers offer combination print/ebook bundles? If readers can get virtually every format, but not a discount on two types together, that seems to be denying publishers needed revenue. I know a lot of people like me who enjoy having a paper copy and an ebook copy of favorite books, so there would be some takers, for sure.

Contests and Giveaways

Fans of Jayne Ann Krentz knows she writes her awesome paranormal books as Jayne Castle, and they probably are also aware that the 10th book in the Harmony series, Deception Cove, is coming out on August 27th. There is a Goodreads giveaway with a deadline of August 19th for the lucky winner who gets an early copy, so if you’d like a modern marriage of convenience with a paranormal twist, get over there to see how lucky you are!

I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering the enduring phenomena of the Middle Eastern sheikh in category romance and erotica, and a big part of that inspiration came from reading an early copy of Sarah Morgan’s Lost to the Desert Warrior which is awesome if you love this subgenre! You can get a free copy of this Harlequin gem if you win the Goodreads giveaway, but you have to enter before August 19th (the book comes out on the 20th, as does my review).

Susan Mallery is offering readers who purchase her Fool’s Gold Cookbook (companion to her romance series of the same name) a chance to win a spanking new KitchenAid mixer (!) if they send or email her their purchase receipt prior to August 31st. Do you know how much those cost? And she’s giving away the shiny chrome one, no less! There is a way to enter via postcard if you don’t plan on getting the cookbook, so look at the link for details.

If you have a thing for ancient Celtic warriors cursed by the Fae (and I do), you might want to take a look at Storm Warrior, the first book in Dani Harper’s Grim series, which features a Welshman who transforms into a black dog to save a woman…and finds not only his enchantment broken but that he’s living in a strange world which seems magical in itself. This giveaway ends on August 21st (the book came out on the 6th). Hopefully you’ll win it!

People may have been saying that zombies are the new vampires for a while, but when you take a look at the cover of Paige Tyler’s new book, Dead Sexy, you’ll find yourself agreeing! While the book was published on July 12th, you can still catch the Goodreads giveaway for a copy as long as you enter before August 23rd. When a romance author and a gorgeous hunk who has been cursed by a vindictive Voodoo priestess hit the sheets, you’ll find yourself wondering if there’s a zombie on your block.

Everyone knows that I think Bella Andre’s Sullivan series to be one of the best contemporary romance series, ever, right? Well, with Harlequin recently buying the print rights to this original ebook series, you’ve finally got paperbacks to enjoy in the bubble bath now. A Goodreads giveaway is offering the third book in the series, Can’t Help Falling in Love, starring sexy firefighter Gabe Sullivan and the woman and child he rescues. It’s awesome and you might win it! Get over there before August 23rd and find out.

Readers who love Highlanders more than likely already have some of Amanda Scott’s book on their shelves but this historical romance writer has the second book in her Lairds of the Loch series, The Knight’s Temptress, coming out on August 27th. There is a celebratory giveaway at Goodreads you can take advantage of if you’d like to read it, too, but be sure to enter by August 25th to participate.

Great Deals

The next book in Jill Shalvis’ amazing small-town romance series Lucky Harbor, Always on My Mind, is still – inexplicably – only $2.99 for the book version (the paperback is also the nice number of $4.80). Since this one stars not only the town firefighter (and we’ve all benefited from Jill Shalvis’ thing for firefighters – thanks, Jill!) and the town baker, I sense some steamy, food-based naughtiness in the cards. Since we don’t know how long this deal will last and with the looming publication date of September 24th, I’d recommend ordering this one sooner rather than later.

Fans of Sabrina Jeffries’ Swanlea Spinsters series, need to make sure their ereader battery is charged as there is a phenomenal sale on Amazon right now. This series is filled with Earl’s daughters, highwayman, and marriages of convenience galore, with great reviews abounding for Jeffries’ excellent historical writing. Right now, A Dangerous Love (#1), A Notorious Love (#2), After the Abduction (#3), and Married to the Viscount (#5) each have their Kindle version discounted from $7.99 to $1.99. WOW! No explanation why the fourth book in the series, Dance of Seduction, isn’t going along with this amazing deal, but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

Have a super week reading, everyone! 🙂

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

1 Jun

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

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

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

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

Why We Need Great Sex Scenes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of Sex Scenes in Romance

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

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

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

References

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

Building the Perfect Hero: A Study Using Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas

21 Nov

The perfect hero – Sebastian St. Vincent from Devil in Winter (Wallflowers #3) by Lisa Kleypas (Avon, February 2006)

I recently listened to one of my downloaded RWA Conference sessions, “Building the Perfect Hero” run by authors Jenna Kernan, Susan Meier, and Debra Mullins at the 2011 conference. I was wowed by their whirlwind tour of all the details necessary to build the ideal hero (I could barely keep up when typing notes and I am a fast typist!) and I couldn’t help but think, of all the romance books I’ve read who is a perfect hero?

Since I’ve read over a thousand romance books at this point, I sifted out only the five star books in my Goodreads account, keeping the four stars in mind. One five star book was hands down my favorite – Devil in Winter, book 3 of the Wallflowers series by Lisa Kleypas. A Victorian era historical romance, I’m not compelled to reread the series over and over (like I do with Kleypas’ Hathaway series – I have to read all five of that series two or three times a year) but it’s rare a two month period goes by without my treating myself to a hot bath and Devil in Winter. In my opinion, it’s the best romance novel. Period.

Kleypas’ Wallflower series centers on four young women – two American heiresses, one penniless British beauty and a stammering redhead with a good dowry – who have discovered they are not hot properties on England’s marriage mart. They form a close friendship, determined to help one another find a good marriage and hopefully happiness. In the book prior to Devil in Winter, the oldest American heiress has managed to marry the Earl of Westcliff, but not before being kidnapped by his former best friend, renowned rake Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent.

In the opening of Devil in Winter, Sebastian is in his comfortable London townhome nursing the bruises from the beating Westcliff gave him after kidnapping his fiancee. Sebastian needs to marry an heiress, and quickly, since his wastrel father has spent almost the entire family fortune and Sebastian is rather used to a certain level of comfort. When Evangeline Jenner, the quiet redhead wallflower, turns up on his doorstep, unaccompanied, he has no idea if she’s there to berate him for his miscalculation in snatching her friend Lillian away from her betrothed or if she’s there to proposition him.

The answer is the latter. Evangeline (Evie to her friends) has kept secret from the other wallflowers just how bad her situation is. Daughter of a well-born woman who died young and cockney gambler, she has lived her life with her mother’s family with only visits to her father, the famous Ivo Jenner, owner of a renowned gambling club. Jenner has provided Evie with a substantial dowry and would inherit his fortune upon her father’s death, but that’s not helping her prospects. While lovely, no one looks twice at her due to her shyness and stammer, both conditions which can be laid at the feet of her highly abusive relatives. After they announce she will have to marry her corpulent and cruel cousin so they can benefit from her fortune, Evie takes a gamble herself. If Lord St. Vincent was desperate enough to kidnap a woman who didn’t want him, wouldn’t he be willing to elope with one who did?

One of the possible mental images for Sebastian

Sebastian agrees, a little surprised that he, a notorious womanizer, has never noticed just how beautiful this awkward young woman is. He bundles her to Gretna Green and then returns her to Jenner’s so she can nurse her father, who is rapidly dying of consumption. The transformation he undergoes in the course of the novel as he falls in love with Evie is what makes him the ideal example for crafting the “perfect hero”.

Using the some of the structure of their workshop, I’m going to highlight why Sebastian is such a perfect hero, but let me first point out that when Kernan, Meier and Mullins use the term “perfect” they are talking about a man who can carry a romance novel on his broad, muscled shoulders (along with the heroine, naturally). He may be perfect for the heroine, but like a rough diamond, a certain amount of transformation is going to take place on his journey and that, after all, our desire to see just that is why we bought the book in the first place. Be warned, if you are unfamiliar with this classic romance, there are plenty of spoilers in this post!

Strong Description of Hero

The first part of crafting the perfect hero is giving the reader a strong description of him. While readers of the Wallflowers series have met Sebastian in the other novels, it’s important that we see him through Evie’s eyes. Sebastian is known for his physical beauty, his wit, and his womanizing, so we already have a sense of a clever but selfish man clearly willing to put his own needs before others.

She was amazed that she had managed to communicate so well with St. Vincent, who was more than a little intimidating, with his golden beauty and wintry ice-blue eyes, and a mouth made for kisses and lies. He looked like a fallen angel, replete with all the dangerous male beauty that Lucifer could devise. He was also selfish and unscrupulous, which had been proved by his attempt to kidnap his best friend’s fiancee. But it had occurred to Evie that such a man would be a fitting adversary for the Maybricks…

There was nothing kind, sensitive, or remotely boyish about him. He was a predator who undoubtedly liked to toy with his prey before killing it. Staring at the empty chair where he had sat, Evie thought of how St. Vincent had looked in the firelight. He was tall and lean, his body a perfect frame for elegantly simple clothes that provided a minimum of distraction from his tawny handsomeness. His hair, the antique gold of a medieval icon, was thick and slightly curly, with streaks of pale amber caught in the rich locks…His smile itself was enough to steal the breath from one’s body…the sensuous, cynical mouth, the flash of white teeth…Oh, St. Vincent was a dazzling man. And well he knew it.

What I liked so much about the points being made in the workshop was the idea that the description of the hero needs to be richer than just a police blotter sketch of what he looks like. Using the description to incorporate backstory, speculation, attraction, perceptions, unique detail and possible conflict are ways of maximizing a physical description into something much more powerful to the reader. Jenna Kernan’s accompanying handout from the session has some terrific examples of this rich description.

Cultural Heritage

A view of 1840s British society – life would have been largely characterized by being seen at the right events

In contemporary romance, we live in an age where so many heroes and heroines come from diverse cultural and religious traditions, aspects of their culture that clue us in to their character based on how they embrace or reject these pieces of themselves. For historical romance, usually our main characters are white and well-born, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to consider their cultural heritage.

For Devil in Winter, understanding Sebastian means understanding the early Victorian culture of the time period and how it would shape his view of himself as a dissipated nobleman and also affect his view of women. As the son of Duke (and a very old dukedom at that) he would have gone to the best schools and universities, yet be raised for a life of indolence since his father was controlling and uninterested in having his intelligent son help him.

Yet for all we understand that, however distasteful to the modern mind, this profound regular waste of money in a society marked by horrible poverty at its base was accepted by the majority of citizens as simply the natural order. Noblemen were seen as wastrels and the hardworking poor led shortened lives. But Kleypas doesn’t make poor financial ability one of Sebastian’s flaws, unlike many of his ilk. Instead we are given to understand that Sebastian, while enjoying comfort, is not totally of this world of the profligate, but at the same time he’s hardly blazing a progressive trail, either. After hearing of his father’s unbelievable waste, Evie expresses her horror.

“No wonder you’re poor,” Evie said, appalled by such waste. “I hope you’re not a spendthrift as well.”

He shook his head. ‘I have yet to be accused of unreasonable financial excess. I rarely gamble, and I don’t keep a mistress. Even so, I have my share of creditors nipping at my heels.”

“Have you ever considered going into a profession?”

He gave her a blank look. “What for?”

“To earn money.”

“Lord, no, child. Work would be an inconvenient distraction from my personal life.”

Women were also divided into categories usually women you could marry (suitable, dowered, relatively class equivalent) and women you had affairs with (often from the same class, frequently married or widowed).  With no loving female relatives, Sebastian’s view of women is highly skewed as his womanizing puts him largely in the company of the type of women he can sleep with, and virgins like our heroine are very, very different.

Understanding not only the current status of Sebastian’s history and character, but more importantly the type of heritage which has formed him (and to his credit, I can’t imagine the heir to any dukedom taking up a profession) gives the reader a foundation when we watch him change as a result of his falling for Evie.

Naming Your Hero

The actual St. Vincent coat of arms from the Earl of St. Vincent (no relation)

It was interesting to hear in the workshop how authors choose the names of their hero. Names are definitely meant to evoke a visceral response in the reader and taking into account historical uses and the sound of the name (soft consonants could mean a smooth operator, shorter names with hard consonants denote men of action) is crucial.

Sebastian is derived from a Greek word, sebastos, meaning “venerable” which is turn is derived from the Greek verb sebas meaning “awe or reverence”. More tellingly regarding this Sebastian is it is also related to the Greek verb sebomai which translates as “feel awe, scruple or be ashamed”. A big piece of Sebastian’s transformation in Devil in Winter stems from his realization of how innocent Evie is in stark contrast to the debauchery he’s participated in and for which he now feels ashamed. His past gets in the way of his future when he worries he’s literally not good enough for her and the idea that he could taint her, ruining the part of her he admires the most, if he sticks around.

I think the St. Vincent part of his name (since we don’t ever read of a different surname, I’m assuming St. Vincent is both his surname and his title) certainly conjures up two reactions. First, it poses a foil for the current state of Sebastian when the reader first gets to know him. While his appearance brings a fallen angel to mind for Evie, she knows that his looks (and name) actually are the opposite of his behavior to date. Second, St. Vincent as a name hints at Sebastian’s true nature. From the start, he begins taking care of Evie and recognizing the wonderful qualities in her. Like a true saint, Sebastian is almost martyred when he literally dives in front of a bullet for Evie. It’s a very appropriate label for him.

It sounds as if many writers use resources like The New American Dictionary of Baby Nameswhich, despite its title, actually covers names from all cultures, explaining their meaning, the centuries and decades the names were popular, and any important literary references to the name. If you are looking for online resources, the Baby Name Voyager lets you put in a first name and see its rise and decline in popularity, at least from the 1880s to the present.

Family Matters

Heroes (and heroines) always bring a lot of emotional baggage as a result of their family experience, whether it be good or bad. It shapes the person they are.

Everyone brings baggage to a relationship. Sometimes it’s a little overnight bag of quirks and at other times it’s several steamer trunks worth of crappy home life and a violent adulthood, but our family and background shapes us. Even when your hero’s family is not present, they are still in your novel, since their influence for good or ill impacts how your hero will behave and react to events and people.

On their hellish drive to Gretna Green, Evie and Sebastian talk a little about themselves and their backgrounds, both as a way to pass the time (like soldiers in foxholes bound together by discomfort) and to know each other better since they are marrying. When she asks him if he has any family, he tells her his mother died when he was an infant, leaving him with his four doting older sisters. But all that love drastically changed when he was a child and he lost three of his siblings to scarlet fever – as the male heir he was sent to safety. His eldest sister married but she died in labor as well, leaving him with no one but an emotionally distant, spendthrift father.

Evie was very still during the matter-of-fact recitation, forcing herself to remain relaxed against him. But inside she felt a stirring of pity for the little boy he had been. A mother and four doting sisters, all vanishing from his life. It would have been difficult for any adult to comprehend such loss, much less a child.

It’s Evie’s understanding of this pain in his background – she’s a keen observer and an astute reader of character throughout the books in which she appears – that allows her to push through the walls he desperately tries to erect toward the end of the book when he is overwhelmed with feeling for her. After almost losing her again, he decides to send her away, on the surface for her “safety” even though the threat is removed, but in reality because he can’t handle his emotions or even put a name on them.

…He broke off and stared at her incredulously. “Damn it, Evie, what is there for you to smile about?”

“Nothing,” she said, hastily tucking the sudden smile into the corners of her mouth. “It’s just…it sounds as if you are trying to say that you love me.”

The word seem to shock Sebastian. “No,” he said forcefully, his color rising. “I don’t. I can’t. That’s not what I’m talking about. I just need to find a way to -” He broke off and inhaled sharply as she came to him. “Evie, no.” A shiver ran through him as she reached up to the sides of his face, her fingers gentle on his skin. “It’s not what you think,” he said unsteadily. She heard the trace of fear in his voice. The fear that a small boy must have felt when every woman he loved disappeared from his life, swept away by a merciless fever. She didn’t know how to reassure him, or how to console his long-ago grief. Raising on her toes, she sought his mouth with her own. His hands came to her elbows, as if to push her away, but he couldn’t seem to make himself do it. His breath was rapid and hot as he turned his face away. Undeterred, she kissed his cheek, his jaw, his throat. A low curse escaped him. “Damn you,” he said desperately, “I’ve got to send you away.”

Of course, he doesn’t and in fact Evie reassures him that the unsettling new feelings surging through him are not only natural but that he will adjust to them in time. As with so many crisis moments in romance novels, fear motivates a character to make a drastic decision, in the hope that they’ll avoid pain. Half the time the character isn’t even fully thinking through the situation. In Sebastian’s case he thinks that by sending Evie away, he’ll both keep her safe and have time to get a handle on his feelings. I think he would have lasted a whole hour without her before ordering his carriage!

Moral of the story: always consider what the family of the hero has given him and, in most cases, how it relates to his internal conflict (which is a whole separate section below).

Flaws

I gather from the knowing murmurs of the crowd at the RWA workshop and from the statements of the authors themselves, editors will often ask for a character’s “fatal flaw”. It seems like writers don’t seem to prefer that term (and it does sound like a terminal disease diagnosis, so I can’t blame them) but understanding the flaws of a character, and more importantly comprehending how to use those flaws in the course of a story, is the mark of a good writer.

What is a flaw, then? A flaw is a trait unique to your character that can be perceived as negative. Habits, attitude, or even physical imperfections all constitute areas for possible flaws. These details help people relate to the character which makes the story compelling, and a compelling story keeps readers coming back. (And as an aside, the speaker mentioned that stories must possess four qualities: they must be interesting, compelling, credible and consistent. I agree. Usually when I get cranky at a book, one or more of these pieces are missing.)

According to our experts, flaws play a few key roles in a story. Let’s take Sebastian as an example, specifically the flaw that he seems to be by his very nature, selfish. This is even acknowledged by the other characters in the book, like when Evie’s friend Lillian comforts Evie that Sebastian will not die of his wounds. “‘He’s not going to die you know. It’s only nice, saintly people who suffer untimely deaths.’ She gave a quiet laugh. ‘Whereas selfish bastards like St. Vincent live to torment other people for decades.'” But Sebastian’s selfishness plays a key role, one that I don’t think could have been fulfilled by different kind of flaw.

  • The flaw needs to fit in the story. Considering the fact that this is a story of a selfish man transformed by love, it’s a great fit.
  • Make your character empathetic but not perfect. Selfishness is often a developmental stage and the argument can be made that his age, his financial circumstances, his lack of responsibility and the absence of anyone who loved him all gave Sebastian a rather extended adolescence. The sudden acquisition of a business and a lovely wife who depends on him to live up to her expectations are all bound to challenge his selfish flaw.
  • What purpose will the flaw serve? Sebastian’s selfishness forms a clever barometer of his level of transformation (see the transformation section below for more information on this key factor in a perfect hero). He relapses here and there, but for the most part is faced with one situation after another in which he must choose to put his own comfort and needs behind that of others, thus eroding his selfishness and beginning his transformation.

The key piece to remember about flaws is that a hero shouldn’t possess a flaw that doesn’t in some way contribute to the story. Like everything, valuable word space is not to be squandered and detailing a flaw is no exception.

Internal Conflict

The hero’s sudden realization that his core belief is actually incorrect is a lot like the coyote having an anvil fall on his head. It’s painful and often requires recovery time.

Meier, Kernan and Mullins make the point in their workshop that all internal conflict arises from what they term “an incorrect core belief” the character has regarding themselves. This was utterly fascinating to me, since I hadn’t really spent any serious brain time contemplating core beliefs as they relate to characters, but obviously it is a great way to go more in depth with characterization.

A core belief is a broad and general conclusion people form based on life experience. Basically everything people do is for the express purpose of avoiding pain and creating pleasure. In thinking about Sebastian’s previous history of womanizing, it’s obvious that, in taking into account his personal history of losing his mother and four sisters, his core belief regarding women is that 1) women are designed to give him attention and 2) women don’t stay. These key points would make it a logical behavioral choice to sleep with plenty of women who are admiring you for your beauty and the great sexual reputation you have and then leave them before they can leave you. Core beliefs rule behavior.

However, most people have an incorrect core belief and these are core beliefs where the conclusion is not based on fact but instead often relate to shame or lack of trust (in self, in others, in life in general, you name it). Certainly Sebastian’s internal conflict centers on his understanding of his nature, which he feels is that of a totally debauched nobleman unsuited for life with Evie. You could say his incorrect core belief is that he doesn’t feel he can be trusted with anything innocent because prolonged contact will sully that which he most admires. His belief is delivered in the novel under various guises and with his characteristic wit, as evidenced by his reaction when Evie stubbornly refuses to move to Sebastian’s nearby townhome and instead insists on staying in the gambling club to nurse her dying father around the clock.

“I was afraid you might say that,” he replied dryly. “It’s a mistake, you know. You have no idea of what you’ll be exposed to…the obscenities and lewd comments, the lecherous gazes, the groping and pinching…and that’s just at my house. Imagine what it would be like here.”

While in the midst of attempting to prove himself to Evie, Sebastian even ponders how his very past would corrupt her, preventing him from having any real relationship.

He was in a peculiar state, struggling to understand himself. He had always been so adept at handling women. Why then, had it become impossible to remain detached where Evie was concerned? He was separated from what he wanted most, not by real distance but by a past tainted with debauchery. To let himself have a relationship with her…no, it was impossible. His own iniquity would saturate her like dark ink spreading over pristine white parchment, until every inch of clean space was obliterated. She would become cynical, bitter…and as she came to know him, she would despise him.

The fact that this supposition is incorrect is even reinforced by other characters who see the truth. While awaiting her husband and Cam, Lillian tells Evie that Westcliff believes Sebastian to be in love with Evie, a fact which startles her and gives her hope. When she asks why the Earl thinks this, Lillian answers.

“…Westcliff sees an odd sort of logic in why you would finally be the one to win St. Vincent’s heart. He says a girl like you would appeal to…hmm, how did he put it?…I can’t remember the exact words, but it was something like…you would appeal to St. Vincent’s deepest, most secret fantasy.”

Evie felt her cheeks flushing while a skirmish of pain and hope took place in the tired confines of her chest. She tried to respond sardonically. “I should think his fantasy is to consort with as many women as possible.”

A grin crossed Lillian’s lips. “Dear, that is not St. Vincent’s fantasy, it’s his reality. And you’re probably the first sweet, decent girl he’s ever had anything to do with.”

Every editor wants to see characters grow, and having them correct an incorrect core belief is the easiest way to satisfy this need in a story. It doesn’t happen overnight, but instead it’s a gradual change with a satisfying ending. It begins with awareness “What if I’m wrong?”  The hero starts to watch for times when he’s wrong, begins experimenting with the veracity of his belief, and then finally undergoes the realization that he’s wrong. By using the idea of correcting the incorrect core belief, we can see how internal conflict leads right into breaking character or “the big transformation.”

Breaking Character or the Big Transformation

A phoenix rising from the ashes is a decent metaphor for a character’s transformation.

Our workshop authors tell us that “Donald Maass calls this the BIG TRANSFORMATION, not just character growth but the moment when the character is changed forever and will never be able to go back to who and what they were before. He calls this: ‘deep-down, soul-shaking, irreversible transformation for good and always.'” The easiest way to demonstrate this change is to show the hero putting someone else’s needs above his own. Despite the constant reminder, usually from Sebastian himself, that he is self-centered, evidence begins to pile up throughout the novel to the contrary.

The early flashes of kindness are the first clue that there is more to Sebastian than merely being a selfish womanizer and Evie sees this when she is taking stock of her fiancee’s character on the hellish ride to Gretna Green.

As the journey continued in a companionable vein, Evie was aware of a contradictory mixture of feelings toward her husband. Although he possessed a large measure of charm, she found little in him that was worthy of respect. It was obvious that he had a keen mind, but it was employed for no good purpose. Furthermore, the knowledge that he had kidnapped Lillian and betrayed his own best friend in the bargain, made it clear he was not to be trusted. However…he was capable of an occasional cavalier kindness that she appreciated.

After they arrive back in London as a married couple, they proceed straight to Jenner’s so Evie can see her father. Sebastian almost instantly begins to evince a strong interest in the gambling club he and Evie are about to inherit. For a man of his dubious personal background, a gambling club is all-too-familiar territory and he has a strong knowledge base. But having declared to Evie his abhorrence at anything resembling work, she’s surprised at his demeanor.

“I’m going to go over every inch of this place. I’m going to know all it’s secrets.”

Taken aback by the statement, Evie gave him a perplexed glance. She realized that subtle changes had taken place in him from the moment they had entered the club…she was at a loss to account for the strange reaction. His customary languid manner had been replaced by a new alertness, as if he were absorbing the restless energy of the club’s atmosphere.

The only thing that Sebastian is more interested in than the club is Evie, who is still refusing to sleep with him out of self-preservation. His obsession with Evie rapidly becomes apparent to others. Cam Rohan (future hero of the first novel in the Hathaway series, Mine Till Midnight) works in the club, having been friends with Evie since she was a child. Sebastian is jealous of their comfortable relationship and warns Cam to stay away from his wife, a wife he has said he has little interest in, despite evidence to the contrary. Cam observes:

There it was – a flash of warning in St. Vincent’s ice-blue eyes that revealed a depth of feeling he would not admit to. Cam had never seen anything like the mute longing that St. Vincent felt for his own wife. No one could fail to observe that whenever Evie entered the room, St. Vincent practically vibrated like a tuning fork.

His obsession with Evie reaches a crescendo when, after some passionate kissing, Sebastian asks her why she won’t sleep with him when it’s obvious she desires him. She lets him know that she has too much self-respect to become one of a stable of women who he sleeps with.

“All right,” Sebastian said huskily. “I agree to your terms. I’ll be…monogamous.” He seemed to have a bit of difficulty with the last word, as if he were trying to speak a foreign language.

“I don’t believe you.”

“Good God, Evie! Do you know how many women have tried to obtain such a promise from me? And now, the first time I’m willing to take a stab at fidelity, you throw it back in my face. I admit that I’ve had a prolific history with women -”

“Promiscuous,” Evie corrected.

He gave an impatient snort. “Promiscuous, debauched – whatever you want to call it. I’ve had a hell of a good time, and I’ll be damned if I say I’m sorry for it. I’ve never bedded an unwilling woman. Nor, to my knowledge, did I leave anyone unsatisfied.”

“I don’t blame you for your past…or, at least…I’m not trying to punish you for it.” Ignoring his skeptical snort, she continued, “But it doesn’t make you an especially good candidate for fidelity, does it?”

His tone was surly as he replied. “What do you want of me? An apology for being a man? A vow of celibacy until you’ve decided that I’m worthy of your favors?”

Struck by the question, Evie stared at him.

Women had always come far too easily to Sebastian. If she made him wait for her, would he lose interest? Or was it just possible that they might come to know each other, understand each other, in an entirely new way? She longed to find out if he could come to value her in ways beyond the physical. She wanted the chance to be something more than a mere bed partner to him.

“Sebastian…” she asked carefully, “have you ever made a sacrifice for a woman?”

He looked like sullen angel as he turned to face her, leaning his broad shoulders against the wall, one knee slightly bent. “What kind of sacrifice?”

That drew a wry glance from her. “Any kind at all.”

“No.”

“What is the longest period of time you’ve ever gone without…without…” She floundered for an acceptable phrase. “…making love?”

“I never call it that,” he said. “Love has nothing to do with it.”

“How long?” she persisted.

“A month, perhaps.”

She though for a moment. “Then…if you would forswear intercourse with all women for six months…I would sleep with you afterward.”

Six months?” Sebastian’s eyes widened, and he threw her a scornful glance. “Sweetheart, what give you the idea that you’re worth a half-year of celibacy?”

“I may not be,” Evie said. “You’re the only one who can answer that.”

It was obvious that Sebastian would have loved to have informed her that she wasn’t worth waiting for. However, as his gaze traveled over her from head to toe, Evie saw the unmistakeable glow of lust in his eyes. He wanted her badly.

“It’s impossible,” he snapped.

“Why?”

“Because I’m Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent. I can’t be celibate. Everyone knows that.”

He was so arrogant, and so indignant, that Evie suddenly had to gnaw on the insides of her lips to keep from laughing. She struggled to master her amusement, and finally managed to say calmly, “Surely it wouldn’t harm you to try.”

“Oh, yes it would!” His jaw hardened as he labored to explain. “You’re too inexperienced to understand, but…some men are possessed of a far greater sex drive than others. I happen to be one of them. I can’t go for long periods of time without -” He broke off impatiently when he saw her expression. “Damn it, Evie, it’s unhealthy for a man to not release his seed regularly.”

“Three months,” she said, “and that’s my final offer.”

“No!”

“Then go find another woman,” she said flatly.

“I want you. Only you. The devil knows why.”

But in the end he agrees. So astonishing is this promise that when Evie tries to convince her friend Annabelle (the heroine of the first Wallflowers novel) how Sebastian is changing by trying to be celibate, Annabelle almost has a heart attack and exclaims, “Good God. I don’t believe St. Vincent and the word ‘celibacy’ have ever been mentioned in the same sentence before.”

Evie’s idea works amazingly well, with both of them spending time together refurbishing and running the club. He continues to kiss her (and in some very provocative places) but they don’t have sex. After Sebastian takes a bullet for Evie while protecting her from a deranged assailant, he realizes that he in all likelihood won’t survive the infection that’s bound to set in. Lord Westcliff, his former best friend, had come to see that Evie was all right and to offer to take her home to live with him, but is able to see just from Sebastian’s demeanor that he has strong feelings for Evie. Returning to help combat the fever, Westcliff has the unique experience of Sebastian begging for protection for Evie, and apologizing to Westcliff for kidnapping Lillian. This uncharacteristic behavior prompts the following reflection from the Earl’s perspective.

To receive an apology from a man who had never expressed a single regret about anything, and then to hear him practically beg for his wife’s protection, led to an inescapable conclusion. St. Vincent had, against all odds, learned to care more for someone else than he did for himself.

In caring for Sebastian as he thankfully recovers from his infection, Evie begins to provoke both admiration and fear in Sebastian. He is moved by her tenderness and desires her presence all the time but finds himself overwhelmed by the intensity of his feelings for her.

He hadn’t comprehended her strength before now. Even when he had seen the loving care she had given her father, he hadn’t guessed what it would be like to rely on her, to need her. But nothing repelled her, nothing was too much to ask. She was his support, his shield…and at the same time she undermined him with a tender affection that he had begun to crave even as he shrank from it.

Even after Sebastian is up and about, a second attack on Evie causes him to feel that it’s too risky for him to love her. Luckily it’s transparent to her what is happening and she’s accumulated enough confidence at this point to speak her mind and gently demand what she needs from her scared husband.

“You’re not trying to protect me. You’re trying to protect yourself.” She hugged herself to him tightly. “But you can force yourself to take the risk of loving someone, can’t you?”

“No,” he whispered.

“Yes. You must.” Evie closed her eyes and pressed her face against his. “Because I love you, Sebastian…and I need you to love me back. And not in h-half measures.”

She heard his breath hiss through his teeth. His hands came to her shoulders, then snatched back. “You’ll have to let me set my own limits, or -”

Evie reached his mouth and kissed him slowly, deliberately until he succumbed with a groan, his arms clamping around her. He answered her kiss desperately, until every part of her had been set alight with tender fire. He took his mouth from hers, gasping savagely. “Half measure. My God. I love you so much that I’m drowning in it. I can’t defend against it. I don’t know who I am anymore. All I know is that if I give in to it entirely -” He tried to control the anarchy of his breath. “You mean too much to me,” he said raggedly.

In the end, the real resolution of Sebastian’s big transformation comes when he finally understands that Evie knows him and loves him for himself, understanding every sordid thing he’s done in the past, and she is still the same wonderful, innocent person he first fell in love with, unchanged by this intimate knowledge..

“Don’t be an idiot,” Sebastian interrupted roughly. “Your stammer would never bother me. And I love your freckles. I love -” His voice cracked. He clutched her tightly. “Hell,” he muttered. And then, after a moment, with bitter vehemence, “I wish I were anyone other than me.”

“Why?” she asked, her voice muffled.

“Why? My past is a cesspool, Evie.”

“That’s hardly news.”

“I can’t ever atone for the things I’ve done. Christ, I wish I had it to do over again! I would try to be a better man for you. I would -”

“You don’t have to be anything other than what you are.” Lifting her head, Evie stared at him through the radiant shimmer of her tears. “Isn’t that what you told me earlier? If you can love me without conditions, Sebastian, can’t I love you the same way? I know who you are. I think we know each other better than we know ourselves. Don’t you dare send me away, you c-coward. Who else would love my freckles? Who else would care that my feet were cold? Who else would ravish me in the billiards room?”

Slowly his resistance ebbed. She felt the change in his body, the relaxing of tension, his shoulders curving around her as if he could draw her into himself. Murmuring her name, he brought her hand to his face and nuzzled ardently into her palm, his lips brushing the warm circlet of her gold wedding band. “My love is upon you,” he whispered..and she knew then that she had won.

You can see from these excerpts how Kleypas manages to do it all. She shows the minimization of Sebastian’s flaw of selfishness, resolves his internal conflict by correcting his incorrect core belief that he would somehow corrupt Evie and alter her personality, while simultaneously completing the transformation he began in the first chapter. It’s a masterful piece of writing and characterization. Jenna Kernan also has a great handout on some of the key features of this big transformation (along with other terrific examples of transformation) that would be of great use to anyone working on their own perfect hero.

Since the tagline of Tori Macallister is “because in love we discover our best self” I’m naturally a huge fan of the big transformation. I firmly believe that strong, true, unselfish love for another person is the crucible that can strip away our worst qualities and transform us into a better person. Lisa Kleypas, by creating the immortal character of Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, gives us literally a textbook example of creating a perfect hero. As a final note, I thought I’d leave you with a list of the other perfect (or damn close to it by these criteria) heroes I can read over and over again.

Perfect Heroes I Never, Ever Tire Of:

  1. Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, from Devil in Winter (Wallflowers #3) by Lisa Kleypas
  2. Cam Rohan, from Mine Till Midnight (Hathaways #1) by Lisa Kleypas
  3. Leo Hathaway, from Married by Morning (Hathaways #4) by Lisa Kleypas
  4. Bones, from Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost
  5. Simon Cynster, from The Perfect Lover (Cynster #10) by Stephanie Laurens
  6. Alasdair “Lucifer” Cynster, from All About Love (Cynster #6) by Stephanie Laurens
  7. Sylvester “Devil” Cynster, from Devil’s Bride (Cynster #1) by Stephanie Laurens
  8. Cameron Mackenzie, from The Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Highland Pleasures #3) by Jennifer Ashley
  9. Ian Mackenzie, from The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #1) by Jennifer Ashley
  10. Lucas Hunter, from Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1) by Nalini Singh
  11. Nicholas St. John, from Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord (Love by the Numbers #2) by Sarah Maclean
  12. Douglas Kowalski, from Midnight Angel (Midnight #3) by Lisa Marie Rice
  13. Dimitri Belikov, from Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead

Enjoy your perfect hero, whoever he is, whether reading about him or creating him from the ground up. Just like the heroine who believes in him, he’s worth all the hard work to see him become a better, wiser person in love.

Best Vampire Series EVER: The Night Huntress Series by Jeaniene Frost

6 Jul

A segment of the downloadable wallpaper you can get from the Frost Fans website featuring our hero and heroine, Bones and Cat.

I realized in looking over my posts that I had yet to do a review of a book or series which would be characterized as urban fantasy. Despite having my favorites in this genre, it’s actually a category of romance I steer clear of, largely due to the commonality that it is usually written in the first person. I love getting both the hero and heroine’s perspectives, so I naturally shy away from books filled with “I” but in the hands of a great writer, all my objections are swept away and I’m along for the ride.

Jeaniene Frost is a REALLY great writer.

I think I was surfing the vampires books list on Goodreads when I came across the Night Huntress series by Frost and I remember being incredibly impressed by the devotion of her fans and the effusive kvelling over Bones. It annoys me that so many readers are ready to stick up their noses when you mention a book or series has vampires as some of the main characters. I understand that there is a level of saturation in the paranormal market attempting to milk the Twilight wave for all it was worth, but should I stop recommending Jane Eyre simply because someone has read a few tepid gothic romances? “Oh, thanks for the rec, Tori, but I’m all moored out. Got anything else?” Nuh-uh. Readers should seek to find the best examples of a subgenre prior to determining if it’s really not for them.

In my opinion, the best vampire series out there is this one – Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress World. Now, I have to give you fair warning, because I will be doing an overview of each book in the series – in the order you should read them – there has to be spoilers. I’m totally okay with spoilers, in fact I’m one of those readers who absolutely hates shocking or rude surprises and would rather gird myself for any big issues. I’m not planning on ruining things for you, but just be aware that you are able to determine how certain story lines might play out. Heads up.

Reckoning (#.5 in the Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, November 29, 2011)

Technically Reckoning is the “first” work in this series is listed as #.5 (a prequel) to Halfway to the Grave, so I’m going to mention it here first on the list. In actuality, this 59 page novella is probably best read after reading the first book in the series. It’s a wonderful work that does a good job describing the power structure in New Orleans (a mecca for vampires and ghouls) while simultaneously helping the reader envision what Bones was like prior to heading to Ohio and meeting Cat.

I’m not sure anyone who didn’t read the first book in the series could necessarily be tearing their hair out until they read it, but Frost never disappoints and this is an excellent work that any series lover would enjoy. Keep in mind that this was first published in the print anthology Unbound, which contains other novellas by such urban fantasy heavyweights as Kim Harrison and Melissa Marr, so don’t double buy it now that it’s offered on its own. (I’ve done that more than once and it drives me crazy.)

Halfway to the Grave (#1 Night Huntress Series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, October 30, 2007)

Halfway to the Grave is the real first book of the series and you should start here for your Cat and Bones adventures. The book has a great opening when local Ohio girl Cat Crawfield is pulled over in the wee hours by the sheriff in her rural community. Looking at the redheaded bombshell dressed for partying and more than a little mussed, he’s willing to believe she’s been up to no good, particularly when it’s well known that Cat’s mother got knocked up years ago with Cat. She manages to convince him of her good intentions and drives away, only to later get rid of the body in the back of her truck. The vampire body.

Cat knew as a child that she was different – her strength, her hearing, and the way her eyes would glow when she was upset. When she was 16, her mother sat her down and told her the truth about her father. He was a vampire who raped Cat’s mother. Justina Crawfield has passed along her virulent hatred of vampires to her daughter to the point where she has encouraged Cat to go seek them out and use her abilities to kill them whenever possible. Since her teen years, Cat has dressed to party and gone to the bars where she has lured vampires and then staked them. Despite her mission, her relationship with her mother is troubled to say the least, but Cat believes her mother that vampires are monsters and that she is doing the right thing by killing them.

That is, until one night when she sees a beautiful blond vampire with a killer British accent. Struck by his beauty she attempts to lure him away but he is having none of it, until the following night when he takes her up on her offer. Rather than succeeding in killing him, she finds herself chained in a local cave where he plans to torture her into giving up which vampire she works for. It takes some convincing, but our hero, Bones, realizes that Cat is what she says she is – an incredibly rare vampire half-breed who is almost totally ignorant of the vampire world. He convinces her to let him train her to lure and really fight vampires (she’s been lucky to not have been killed yet) and help him figure out why so many young women are disappearing from Ohio without a trace.

Naturally in the course of her training, Cat has to face up to her own prejudices. Vampires are strong and they can be cruel, but as Bones explains the complicated world of the supernatural to her, Cat has to face the realization that there are good vampires and bad ones the same way there are good people and bad people. This revelation has to come sooner rather than later as she confronts some very real feelings for Bones. But just as she tries to figure out how to get her mother to accept the man she loves, all hell breaks loose and Cat has to figure out a way to keep Bones and her mother safe, and it might mean giving up the man she loves.

I cannot emphasize enough Frost’s ability to draw characters that are so full of life you end up having more affection for them than a few of your family members. Cat’s complicated feelings regarding her own birth and heritage combined with her facing her prejudices (and that of others who know of the vampire world) make this a series that tackles issues of intolerance and acceptance.

Bones is not only a sexy beast, but has such a fascinating history that he is more than a pretty face and great sense of humor (he was a gigolo for the British aristocracy in the 1700s prior to being transported to Australia as part of his prison sentence and was turned by a fellow prisoner who had successfully escaped). The only person funnier than Bones is Cat (although Bones’ friend Ian is up there on the laugh-o-meter) and since the story is told from her point of view, there are lots of snorts and chuckles to be had while reading this series. But don’t forget to keep the tissues handy. Frost’s ability to tug at the emotional heartstrings is also unrivaled.

Happily Never After (#1.5 Night Huntress Series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, July 19, 2011)

Happily Never After is a novella that comes between Halfway to the Grave and One Foot in the Grave chronologically. Bones is in the midst of searching for Cat but is called upon by an old friend, Greta, an elderly woman living in Philadelphia. Her lovely granddaughter, Isabella is being pressured into marriage by a local mafia wanna-be kingpin who is lording over her some trouble Isabella’s brother is involved in. Bones makes a couple cameo appearances, but sends one of his line, a vampire named Chance, to investigate and help.

Isabella knows that the man showing up in her family restaurant has a death wish. Yes, he’s incredibly good looking and says that her grandmother arranged to have him help, but Isabella knows that it’s going to take more than good looks to get her out of this bind. But Chance seems to be able to do the impossible and she discovers a lot more about her seemingly frail grandmother than she anticipated. There are creatures in this world that Isabella had no idea existed and she might very well be in love with one of them. Can she put aside her preconceived notions and accept love when it’s right in front of her?

FYI, this novella (which is over 100 pages) originally appeared in the anthology Weddings from Hell, in case your local library has got that on the shelf, or in case you need a print version versus an electronic copy of this story.

One Foot in the Grave (#2 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, April 29, 2008)

One Foot in the Grave picks up five years after Cat made her painful decision at the end of Halfway to the Grave. She’s taken the dubious bargain offered by the government to head up an elite squad of vampire hunters. She’s trained her team incredibly well and they’ve been successful, so much so that Cat now has a reputation of being the “Red Reaper.”

Cat has tried to go on with her life. She’s immersed in her work, is dating a local veterinarian, has a good girlfriend who knows what she is, and her team are her friends as well as her crew. Her mother is pleased Cat’s hunting vampires again, but all of this does not add up to happiness for Cat, not by a long shot. As she prepares to be a bridesmaid in her best friend Denise’s wedding, she acknowledges the fact that she will always be in love with Bones. Imagine her surprise when she walks down the aisle only to see that Bones is one of the groomsmen.

Bones is so incredibly pissed. He’s looked for Cat nonstop for years and finds her totally by happenstance. In the midst of getting her to face the fact that she simply didn’t trust him with the truth of the threat to him and her mother, an assassination attempt on Cat takes place and he is able to save her.

Cat has a lot to deal with in this book. She’s facing the knowledge that she loves Bones and there is no way she can deal with the pain of him not in her life (not that he’d let her). She also has to juggle the reactions of her team who have no desire to trust him, particularly her lead team member, Tate, who has feelings for her. Her mother, who is completely bonkers at the thought of them being back together, puts nuclear mushroom clouds to shame with her response to the news. Cat also has to deal with the minor detail that someone is trying to kill her, a someone who has offered the Red Reaper bounty placed upon her. Complicating things is the fact that, now that she’s been found by at least one assassin, Bones’ longtime friend and master vampire Ian is bound to try and “acquire” her once more. So she has a couple things on her plate. Poor Cat.

Your heart aches when Cat and Bones find each other again. Even though he’s angry with how she left, it’s obvious that he still loves her to distraction and seeing Cat finally begin to take down that wall she’s built, brick by brick, is so damn satisfying. Frost helps you understand that this isn’t going to be an easy process for Cat, but having a vampire lover who is 200+ years old helps a little. Understanding that Bones was Cat’s first real relationship and that, despite his age, Cat is Bones’ first relationship helps you have the patience you need to support these two as they figure out how best to deal with each other.

At Grave’s End (#3 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, December 30, 2008)

At Grave’s End starts out focusing on Cat’s facing problems in doing her work for the paranormal squad. One of Bones’ conditions of them being together is that he work for her because he can’t handle the idea of her risking her life without him there to help. It quickly becomes clear that every vampire who walks among the living has heard of the famous Red Reaper, hence her ability to lure bad vampires to their inevitable staking is rather compromised. The squad ends up having to make some decisions about changing and there are a few hiccups in that road that are fascinating.

But things get spooky quickly. Bones’ grandsire, the cool and powerful Mencheres has a scandal in his closet. He’s been married for a couple thousand years to Patra (daughter of the original Cleopatra) and she wears a t-shirt marked “uberbitch” like you wouldn’t believe. Patra knows that Mencheres can’t bring himself to kill her so she decides to work to decimate his and Bones’ resources. This results in the horrifying disappearance of Bones for a while and your stomach is literally in knots while this is getting worked through.

The final showdown has got to be one of the best large scale battles written in urban fantasy (Ilona Andrews has probably written the top three of them). Patra uses black magic (any magic use is a major no-no for vampires by their laws) to attack Mencheres’ rural Canadian hideout and all the vampires and ghouls are faced with something much scarier and harder to kill than they are. There is some great Mencheres insight and development in this book, and we get the introduction of tall, dark and Romanian Vlad (yes, the original Dracula) who becomes friends with Cat despite Bones hating him (he thinks Vlad’s pyrokinesis ability is “showy”).

Devil to Pay (#3.5 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, August 23, 2011)

Devil to Pay is a 99 page enovella about a reclusive vampire, Elise, who stumbles across a tortured man who claims to be fighting demon possession. She calls upon her loving sire and mentor Mencheres to help her figure out if he can be helped and is dismayed when the answer is no.

Despite having no interest in interacting with humans or other vampires, this handsome human, Blake Turner, stirs up long-dead feelings in Elise. Yet she and Mencheres must take him to the salt flats of the southwest to drive out the demon in a safe location where it can not infect any human or animal. Unfortunately they will have to kill Blake in order to guarantee the demon’s demise.

Cat and Bones have a cameo in this novella and I always enjoy seeing them from someone else’s perspective. This story is a sweet palette cleanser that I think helps you understand why so many vampires follow Mencheres – he is such a caring mentor to Elise as her sire and he understands her emotions for Blake long before she does. Let’s face it, any vampire who is willing to stay saddled with a power-crazed murderer like Patra (see previous book) and not kill her has a romantic side.

Devil to Pay was also published in print in the anthology, Four Dukes and a Devil, which you can easily order new or used if you don’t have an ereader.

Destined for an Early Grave (#4 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, July 28, 2009)

The hardest book in the series for me to read is the fourth novel, Destined for an Early Grave because of how rocky Cat and Bones’ relationship becomes. Cat begins having disturbing dreams about a mysterious vampire calling her his wife. She’s willing to chalk it up to something she ate until she hears that a previously imprisoned master vampire, Gregory (known as the “dreamsnatcher” because he can literally steal people through their dreams), is claiming that Cat cannot be married to Bones because she married him in Paris when she was sixteen.

Bones is incensed that someone would dare to claim his wife as his own and Cat thinks this is a new level of vampire crazypants until Mencheres comes on the scene. Cat has always felt resentful and unsettled around Mencheres and now she knows why. Mencheres admits that he did in fact rescue Cat from a hotel in Paris when she was sixteen – and that Gregory claimed to have married her before his arrival. Mencheres used his powers to suppress Cat’s memory because he saw her in a vision as destined for Bones (and he knows Gregory is a son of a bitch who wants Cat’s powers and abilities at his disposal).

Bones feels incredibly betrayed by Mencheres keeping this knowledge from him as well as for altering Cat’s memory but he focuses on getting Cat away from Gregory. Gregory has some heavy hitting allies, namely in the ghoul queen of New Orleans, the famous voodoo priestess Marie Laveau who calls Cat to her for an audience (which is an awesome scene – who knew a ghoul queen would be a Matrix fan?).

Cat gets a sense of all the political nuances of Gregory’s claim while at the same time realizing that he has the ability to read her thoughts (and as a result, her location). She has to begin taking some experimental no-R.E.M.-sleep pills in order to avoid Gregory in her dreams and it makes her understandably stressed. Bones does his best to sequester her, telling her nothing about where they are or their defenses so she can’t leak information accidentally to Gregory, but the deprivation of information leads to Cat making a rash but understandable decision to get to Gregory and figure out what is going on, particularly after she discovers he can restore her lost memories.

Despite the logic that led her to her decision to engage Gregory, it causes a major rift between her and Bones, who finds her actions indicative of how Cat is unwilling to trust him. He leaves her in such a way that she believes its permanent and in her despair turns to Vlad as a friend. He takes her to one of his Romanian castles where she can mope in peace. You can imagine that Bones has no intention of leaving her alone, but the appearance of his actions is very hurtful to Cat who does everything to help him while avoiding him. Bones forces not only a confrontation but a very major decision on Cat’s part and there is once again a major showdown against Gregory.

After re-reading this book so many times, I think what is so amazing about it is how Frost is able to take two characters we adore and highlight the barriers they impose on themselves to success in their relationship. Cat is faced with the decision of becoming a vampire and she realizes that it’s something she’s avoided, not because she still believes vampires are evil, but because if she became immortal it would mean facing the fear that Bones might not want her for all eternity.

I come down pretty hard on Cat’s side in this relationship kerfuffle – Bones’ anger is clearly from being afraid he’s going to lose Cat because she doesn’t trust him to talk over actions before she takes them, but as is so often the case, that we fear most usually comes to pass because of our fear. The confrontation Bones orchestrates is his way of trying to get Cat to admit what her real fear is, but I think there should have been more apologizing on his part, particularly considering how she was drugged out of her mind during most of the proceedings. Nevertheless, their reunion is fabulous and the reader feels like a weight has been removed from their chest once it happens. When Bones finally turns her, it’s typical Cat that even as a vampire she has to be different!

“One for the Money” enovella (#4.5 Night Huntress series) in Magic Graves by Jeaniene Frost and Ilona Andrews (September 1, 2011)

In the novella “One for the Money,” found in Magic Graves, Cat and Bones are stuck guarding a spoiled heiress who has stumbled on more than she can handle. I’m not sure this enovella lends more understanding about the world our characters inhabit, but it’s a story which highlights why we love them so damn much.

There are some very witty one-liners (the heiress is completely hot for Bones much to Cat’s annoyance) and Cat’s Mom Justina is evident. It’s hard not to appreciate Bones when he begins to teach Justina how to defend herself, even though they loathe one other.

This is an enovella anthology (partnered with Ilona Andrews’ prequel for her Kate Daniels’ series which is amazing) and it’s nice to see the bonus material of the beginnings of Once Burned and the start of the “Home for the Holidays” novella, but you can now get both of these (see below descriptions) so don’t torture yourself. If you need a print version of this story, it was published in the Death’s Excellent Vacation anthology, compiled by Sookie Stackhouse creator, Charlaine Harris. The enovella has only the two stories and is cheaper, but if you read the other authors in the print anthology, it might be worth it.

First Drop of Crimson (#1 Night Huntress World series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, February 9, 2010)

At some point, Frost and her publisher had the brilliant idea of focusing on some of the secondary characters in the series, so the related works, known as the Night Huntress World series, was born. Keep in mind that despite being a related series, these books are meant to be read between the books in the Night Huntress series and if you don’t, you’ll be baffled by some of the relationship developments of these characters in the subsequent books in that series. Thankfully, Frost shows that she is not just a Cat and Bones one-trick pony, but instead a veritable queen of romance with each of them. The first in this related series, First Drop of Crimson, focuses on one of Bones’ best friends, Spade.

Spade was born Baron Charles de Mortimer, transported to Australia along with Ian and Bones as part of his assuming his father’s place in debtor’s prison. Ian turned him at the same time as Bones over 200 years ago and now Spade, like Ian and Bones, is a powerful master of his own line.

Denise is Cat’s human best friend who has moved to Texas away from her family after she lost her husband in the epic battle against Patra at the end of At Grave’s End. She wants nothing to do with the supernatural, but when her young family members start dying mysteriously of heart ailments after enjoying excellent health, her knowledge of the supernatural has her wondering if something else is going on. When she witnesses one of these murders and sees something she can’t explain, she knows she needs powerful help. Aware that something crazy is going on with Cat and Bones (referring to Gregory), she doesn’t want to bother them so she turns to Spade.

Spade has been attracted to Denise from the second he walked into the mountain cabin and saw her laughing with Cat, but as both Cat’s best friend (and therefore under Bones’ protection) and as a married woman he has steered clear of her. The last time he saw her was when Cat met up with her former paranormal teammate Cooper and Denise in Texas. Spade ended up killing a bunch of rednecks who wanted to lynch Cooper and rape Cat and Denise (the men obviously didn’t know Cat would have killed them herself and probably not worked up a sweat), but he realizes that Denise must associate him with death and violence. When she calls claiming something strange is happening, he wonders if it’s just post-traumatic stress from everything she’s been through, but plans to go check it out and get the hell away from her.

But Denise isn’t making anything up. Spade actually arrives right after a demon has attacked Denise, branding her with his mark, and claiming that he won’t remove them until she finds her long-lost family member who reneged on a deal with him. If she doesn’t deliver this mystery man, the demon will kill everyone in her family, including Denise. Denise is completely freaked out with no one but Spade to turn to, but she feels guilty having him help her when he’s clearly got better things to do.

Spade realizes the ramification of helping Denise more than she does. Bones will be incensed at not being notified because Denise clearly comes under his protection in the vampire world. Spade knows that he can’t fight his attraction for Denise and will end up seducing her despite not having taken a human lover in hundreds of years. Add to this the discovery that Denise is in serious danger from now having demon-powered blood, making it a powerful drug on the vampire black market, and it’s understandable that Spade’s overprotective instincts go into overdrive.

I liked Denise a lot from the previous books and Spade was certainly an interesting character, but I had no idea I would fall so heavily for the two of them. Denise has been through hell and back but despite her panic attacks and tremendous loss, she’s a spunky, independent heroine whose intelligence makes her as attractive as her good looks. When you discover why Spade doesn’t believe in taking a human lover and the extent of his emotional baggage, it’s obvious that he’s been denied love and happiness for a very long time so you’re truly pulling for the two of them to make it.

Eternal Kiss of Darkness (#2 Night Huntress World) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, July 27, 2010)

The second book in the Night Huntress World series and next in the chronological reading order is the book devoted to Mencheres, Eternal Kiss of Darkness. Mencheres is super scary in the other books. He’s not only always cool and unruffled, but he has visions of the future, can read minds, and has an unbelievable amount of power (anyone with the ability to decapitate people without touching them falls into the “yikes!” category for me). But this power is tempered with a terrific, wry sense of humor and strong emotional ties to those around him. He respects and cares about Bones, to the point of making him co-ruler of his line and sharing some of his powers with him. But like so much with Mencheres, even this is done with an ulterior motive. Mencheres believes he’s going to die.

Or in his case, he acknowledges it might be committing suicide by vampire/ghoul. He’s over 4000 years old, after all, dating back to the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, and other vampires have made the choice after they have gotten tired of living. The main reason he believes final death is around the corner is that his visions have ceased – whenever he attempts to look in the future he sees nothing but darkness.

Kira is a hard-working private investigator who has overcome a difficult past and now just focuses on doing her job so she can help support her sick sister and hopefully not support her lazy brother. When she is walking home in the early morning hours and hears an attack in a local warehouse she goes to the rescue of the handsome man strung up in chains who is being repeatedly knifed by a bunch of hoodlums.

As soon as she does, Mencheres’ plan to succumb to the group of ghouls for his own purposes immediately changes. This lovely human with her brave heart cannot suffer on his behalf, so when she is wounded he dispatches the attackers with ease and takes her to his home to recuperate. He is dismayed to discover that she is part of the small percentage of humans immune to memory manipulation and thinks it might be due to the intake of his blood which he used to heal her injuries. He tells her she needs to stay with him for the week to see if it will wear off and explains how no human not under the protection of a vampire can have knowledge of their world. Kira isn’t thrilled but she understands his power so she stays the required time, learning more about Mencheres in the process.

They are definitely attracted to one another but Kira is not going to act on it while essentially being held captive. Mencheres thinks it’s Murphy’s Law that he would find a beautiful woman right after his heinous wife is finally dead – finally freeing him to love someone else – and now that he sees his own death. After releasing Kira, he can’t help watching her to make sure she’s all right, setting up events so that her life is a little easier.

My favorite t-shirt from the Frostfans.com website which is a quote from Mencheres in Eternal Kiss of Darkness. “Bath toys – reserved for the oldest, most lethal vampires.”

Kira realizes that Mencheres is helping her in secret and her time with him has her thinking about some of the unsolved cases that seemed crazy in the past but might actually overlap with his world. Investigating one of them, she stumbles into a very dangerous situation with some low-life vampires who torture her into mentioning her connection with Mencheres. They call to check and Mencheres flies to her rescue, but not before a chain of events is set in motion to discredit him by a rival vampire. Mencheres ends up forced to make Kira a vampire and flee with her to safety, protecting her as best he can while also protecting his people from the vampire who wants all of Mencheres’ power and who will stop at nothing to get it.

Mencheres is an unbelievably sexy man (all those water scenes!!) who deep down is a die-hard romantic and one who had 900 years of celibacy forced upon him. He is astonished to find that not only is he falling for Kira, but she seems to see him – the person – behind all his power, to the point of getting testy and protective when people make insensitive comments about his former wife. Seeing the other vampire’s reactions (like that of Cat and Bones) to Mencheres with a woman is priceless and it makes your heart light to see this serious, powerful man finally happy with someone.

This Side of the Grave (#5 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, February 22, 2011)

At this point in the reading order, we go back to the Night Huntress series. In book five, This Side of the Grave trouble is brewing between the ghouls and vampires and as usual, Cat is in the middle. The leader of the ghouls is stirring up trouble claiming that vampires, particularly Cat, are bent on subjecting ghouls to their will – basically a rash of the ghoul equivalent of the KKK. Unprotected vampires are being attacked and killed, and Bones and Cat are investigating to figure what on earth is going on.

When the Queen of New Orleans Marie Laveau calls Cat to come visit her, Cat and Bones are understandably worried. The only vampire Marie had any loyalty to is dead and Cat and Bones were the ones responsible. Marie suspects that Cat’s powers stem from her unusual diet, a fact Cat has tried to keep a secret,and the Queen forces Cat to drink some of her blood, gifting her with some of her power.

This “gift” opens up a world of complications for Cat as she is now a magnet for ghosts everywhere. Luckily she at least has power over them, but it’s just an added problem to the bigger one of the possible ghoul uprising. Cat and Bones are still terrific in this book, and it’s good to see them finally able to at least not have the stress of any relationship problems on their plate.

One Grave at a Time (#6 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, August 31, 2011)

In the sixth and most recent full-length novel in the Night Huntress series, One Grave at a Time, it just goes to show you that living in the vampire world equates to not catching a break. Bones, as my husband would say, is clearly not Jewish. When he makes a comment at the start of the book about how great things are going, you know trouble is around the bend!

Cat’s resident ghost friend Fabian brings a beautiful female ghost with a serious problem to Cat and Bones for help. This lovely young woman was burned at the stake as a witch by the evil man who literally wrote the book on witch hunting hundreds of years ago, but there’s a major problem. The evil bastard practically responsible for the genocide of thousands of women accused as witches isn’t content just being dead like everyone else. He has used his misogyny to give him additional power, to the point that he is able to take corporeal form every Halloween and torture and kill three new victims.

Cat definitely comes from the “Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Murdering Bastard to Live” school of thought and Bones is willing to help her, but how do you kill someone who is already dead and who for 364 days of the year doesn’t have a body? Cat’s power over ghosts is dissipating as the influence of Marie Laveau’s blood leaves her, so they turn to ghost hunters for help.

Just to demonstrate there is no shortage of problems in their world, Cat’s now deceased uncle is hanging around as a ghost, not sure of why he is still trapped on this plane. A possible reason presents itself when Cat receives news from Tate that he has been removed as head of the paranormal hit squad and replaced by a scary, evil bureaucrat who is convinced that all vampires, Cat especially, are evil. This a-hole finds it more productive to concentrate his attentions on Cat rather than do his job, endangering lives and hindering the pursuit of the evil ghost.

Our rotten-to-the-core ghost not only finds his victims (he tortures them mentally weeks ahead of Halloween) but also repeatedly attacks Cat prior to the big showdown. The final battle against him is absolutely chilling and I imagine you might find yourself, as I did, literally in a muck sweat as Cat fights him by herself before help can arrive. I think this ghost was one of the best villains Frost has penned yet! Cat and Bones’ sex scene while flying also ranks up there among the Chapter 21s and Chapter 32s of her books. (These are chapters that represent some very hot and very famous scenes between Cat and Bones in previous books. Prepare to dump ice in your panties while you read them.)

“Home for the Holidays” novella in The Bite Before Christmas (#6.5 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (William Morrow, October 25, 2011)

Last Christmas, Jeaniene Frost was nice enough to give us a present in the form of “Home for the Holidays,” a novella published in the anthology The Bite Before Christmas. Cat is eager to throw a surprise birthday party for Bones right before Thanksgiving and she’s managed to gather a bunch of their friends to help celebrate. But on the night of the party, Bones’ friend and former lover Annette is brutally attacked while she waits for Bones’ birthday present to arrive in her hotel room, the present being a long-lost relative Bones didn’t know he had.

But this person’s arrival is making Bones and everyone else act strange, with the exception of Cat, Denise, and Ian, and together they must figure out what is going on…preferably before Cat must fulfill her promise to Bones that she would kill him if he ever endangered his people.

Gah! I can’t believe something that packs this much emotional punch is a novella. This is easily over 100 pages and Frost delivers her usual great writing, demonstrating a facility and intimacy with her characters that is unrivaled by other paranormal authors. It is terrifying to see favorite characters like Spade and Bones turned against the people they love with such ease and fabulous to see flippant Ian come to the fore the battle to win them back. (When are we getting Ian’s story in the Night Huntress World series? I’m dying here to know more about him!)

Once Burned (#1 Night Prince series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, June 26, 2012)

Some fans, upon hearing that Frost was going to begin a third related series centered on Vlad, became cranky. I read a lot of “Okay, Vlad’s fine, whatever, but what’s the big deal?” What’s the big deal? Are they nuts? He’s Vlad the freaking Impaler, that’s what, who happens to be good looking, can read minds, can set things on fire, oh, and did I mention he’s good looking?What is wrong with you people! Sheesh.

Vlad had me from the moment he brought Cat back to his castle during her temporary estrangement from Bones and asked if he could sleep in the bed with her just as a friend, because they were both lonely. Right then, I knew there was a lot more to this fiery despot than met the eye and Frost can take as many books as she likes to reveal him to me!

In Once Burned we not only get Vlad, but also get a fascinating heroine, and in fact the story is told from her perspective. Leila Dalton has traveled as a circus performer with her best friend and vampire Marty for years. It’s the perfect cover for her startling abilities. She was electrocuted by a downed power line when she was thirteen, ending her Olympic dreams of a gymnastics gold medal and leaving her with an electric current running through her body, particularly her right hand. But that hand does even more than shock anyone who touches it, it also shows Leila the person’s darkest secret from the past, and once she has a hold on their essence, she can see a person in the present and even see their future.

An inadvertant run-in at a bar has her preventing a woman from being killed and there’s been more than a little publicity about it, to the point where a group of vampires kidnaps her and takes her to a local hotel where they insist she touch a series of objects to test her ability. Considering that at first touch of an object involved in a murder causes Leila to relive their death, this is a bit harsh, but it’s not like she has much of a choice. Over and over she sees the same handsome, cruel vampire dispensing fire and death. Her kidnappers are elated as this man is who they are looking for, and she is asked to locate him in the future so they can track his movements.

Leila finds him with ease, but it’s in the present and more disconcertedly, he is aware that she is with him, watching. When he confronts her, she takes a chance and tells him her present situation, hoping he can help her escape. He does just that, killing her abductors and taking her back to his castle for protection. Most disconcerting to Leila is the fact that not only does she have a very physical response to this vampire, but he also has no problem touching her. With his ability to produce fire, her debilitating electric current is merely a tingle to him. Having avoided anyone’s touch for literally years, Leila is aghast with the possibilities, particularly because she can see a mile away that this man would be t-r-o-u-b-l-e for her previously untouched heart.

Vlad is the perfect contradiction. Leila sees all the cruelty he has performed in the course of his life, but because of her gift, also sees his personal pain and sense of loss over the death of his wife and son. His care and tenderness toward her is another facet of this confusing personality and brave Leila is able to admit to herself that she is falling in love with Vlad while acknowledging the fact that this is man who has stated he is incapable of love.

“The way he looked at me – possessive, passionate, and unrepentant – made gooseflesh ripple over me. This complex and infamously lethal man was now my lover; a relationship I’d chosen of my own free will. Part of me wondered what the hell I’d gotten myself into while the rest didn’t care.”

Have I mentioned how hot Vlad is? A virgin like Leila doesn’t stand a chance from a man who has lines like “‘If I didn’t want you so much,’ he said in a deadly purr, ‘I’d let you keep fucking me with your gaze, but you make me impatient.'” Um, waiter? Cold drink over here?

I’m sure you can discern from my enthusiasm for each of these books that this is a series unmatched by any other – remember, I truly believe with all my reading (and I’ve read 90% of what’s on that Goodreads vampire books list) that Frost’s Night Huntress world is the BEST vampire series on the market. In a world of so-so paranormal and urban fantasy, her consistency and quality of writing, her ability to build a world we almost wish we lived in, her creation of characters who breathe as much as the person sitting next to you, is utterly unrivaled. These are books I’m happy to pay full price for and ones I reread every few months just from the sheer enjoyment of journey she takes me on. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do!

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