Tag Archives: Candace Havens

A Riveting Affair Anthology Features Three Page-Turning Steampunk Tales

25 Oct

A Riveting Affair by Patricia Eimer, Candace Havens, and Lily Lang (Entangled Ever After, March 2013)

I love anthologies. I know I’ve said it before and yet it’s amazing how many reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon complain about them. You have to wonder if these are the same people who loooovve novellas, not realizing that the anthology they crankified about online (yes, I invented that verb) happens to contain multiple tales of the same length. Sheesh.

Feeling in a Steampunk/Gaslight mood last night, I decided to read the anthology, A Riveting Affair, largely because it contained a story by Candace Havens, whose writing I uniformly love. I would have paid $2.99 for just her story, but the bonus is that I got two other outstanding novellas for that price, plus found additional authors whose writing I know enjoy. Bargain!

“Beauty and the Clockwork Beast” by Lily Lang

Rose Verney arrives in a steampunk Manhattan on Sebastian Cavendish’s doorstep and she’s sacrificed quite a bit to get there – running away from a controlling older sister, a pestering suitor, and having her pregnant best friend hide her before she could sell her last pieces of jewelry to buy a one-way train ticket from New Haven to the city. But it will all be worth it if her late father’s star pupil can help her finish his teleportation machine.

The Imposter by Lily Lang (Samhain, 2012)

She’s escorted through a dust-filled empty mansion to his bedchamber, shocked that the formerly handsome boy has come through the war with a disfigured face and pronounced limp. More shocking than his physical change is when he begins kissing and groping her, having mistaken her for the prostitute he ordered for the evening. When she instead explains that she is to deliver the blueprints for the teleportation device per her father’s will – and stay to help him finish it – he rejects her out of hand. Rose doesn’t realize that Sebastian has sworn not to build any more machines after watching his work take so many lives during the war.

When Rose not only refuses to leave the following morning, but begins to clean his mansion, revitalize his clockwork servants and rebuild his laboratory in his old nursery, Sebastian finds himself unable to cling to the bitterness and anger he’s nurtured since his time in a Confederate prison. His nightmares come less often when he wakes up to Rose holding his hand, he feels the thrill of inventing again with the best partner he’s ever had working next to him, and the light and comfort in his home reflects what he feels in his heart. But as these two people fall quietly in love with one another, Sebastian’s beliefs about what he truly deserves threaten to come between them and the happiness that lies within their grasp.

This story strongly resembles a gothic tale with a scarred and bitter hero, a dark, scary mansion, and a beautiful, innocent heroine who brings the hero back from the brink. I loved Lang’s character development, the steampunk angle of the recently concluded American Civil War, and the fact that she introduces the moral question of how responsible an inventor is when his creations are used to kill. The only piece I did not enjoy was that Lang is rather “closed door” in her sex scenes, making this story a little sweet for my tasteLily Lang has a small oeuvre (unsurprising as she lists her main occupation as a graduate student) but she’ll be an author I keep a close eye on. I may try one of her intriguingly blurbed historical romances just to see if she carries these strengths in her other works.

“The Clockwork Bride” by Patricia Eimer

Aida Mulvaney feels that her attendance at a Christmas ball is a waste of time when she could be at home with her family working in the lab, but her best friend Esther uses blackmail to get her there. Blackmail is exactly what it takes, considering that this Irish engineer is heading straight to a masquerade given by Lord Capshaw, the Empire’s leading anti-Irish, misogynistic leader of the Luddite party.

Luck of the Devil (Speak of the Devil #1) by Patricia Eimer (Entangled, 2011)

It’s also been three weeks since Aida’s friend Leopold walked out on their engagement, one undertaken to spare him from an arranged match. That he’s a prince and son of Queen Victoria (who is nothing short of enraged at Leopold’s temporary defiance and Aida’s Irish cheek) doesn’t put Aida in a great position, either from a business standpoint or as the butt of gossip throughout London. Still, she’s in disguise this night, so how bad can it be?

Being at the home of her greatest enemy is taking her mind off losing her friend, particularly when a mystery man helps her escape the arrival of Leopold and his insipid German fiancee. Her savior seems happy to take his payment by kissing the stuffing out of her in a dark alcove, but it’s a welcome development to the night. Welcome, that is, until he takes off his mask and she discovers the gorgeous son of her enemy, Julian Capshaw.

Aida also discovers that Julian is actually a talented scientist, a profession unheard of among the nobility, and he demonstrates the extent of his rebellion by whisking Aida away to a party on a dirigible. When he boldly suggests that she solve her current scandal by helping him free himself from his father via marriage, she’s startled but intrigued. She knows that as a scientist who respects her chosen profession, Julian will understand the time she needs for her engineering work so she capitulates to the idea. That there is plenty of steam being generated between them physically doesn’t exactly hurt either. But as this unlikely partnership grows into something more tender, Julian’s powerful father and a resentful Queen attempt to insure these two will never have a chance to explore the future they could have together.

My single criticism of the story was that it was told in the first person from Aida’s perspective; Julian was SUCH a gorgeous hunk of a hero I wanted to experience his point of view throughout the story, too. I loved the steampunk world Eimer created, particularly appreciating how Aida’s loving Irish family created an environment where she could thrive as a brilliant inventor despite political and social obstacles. Julian is the most unlikely match to an Irish commoner, yet from a personality standpoint he is her ideal partner and that comes through with both their heat and their banter. Even though Patricia Eimer seems to have her other books published under the umbrella of contemporary paranormal, I’d strongly encourage her to keep up the Steampunk since she does it damn well!

“Demon Express” by Candace Havens

Lions, Tigers, and Sexy Bears, Oh My! by Candace Havens (Entangled, July 2013)

Professor Maisey Clark has left her research to work as an assassin with a single target – her former fiancee, Julian Darvil. Following him from London to deep in the heart of Texas, she’s glad to capture three grave robbers for her client as his recent trouble – isolated attacks against cattle in the Forth Worth area, coincidentally happening around the same time as grave robbing – indicates Julian’s evil involvement. When the three men turn out to be investigators also hired by her client, she’s annoyed that they have gotten in her way, particularly the leader, Marshall Jake Calloway, fresh from helping the Texas Rangers. His long hair and facial scar do not detract from his overall appeal, but right now she sees this tall hunk of man as an obstacle rather than an ally.

Working and living in her private steam engine, the Iron Witch, Maisey spends her time analyzing blood samples in order to determine if the presence of Julian’s supernatural creatures is causing the phenomena in the area. Created by her father with enhanced abilities and raised from childhood as an assassin of supernatural creatures, Maisey wanted to pursue her intellectual interests but ended up using her natural born skills once Julian attempted to seduce her into creating Wollstonecraftian creatures mutated by viruses in order become the ideal warrior. Needless to say, Maisey hasn’t had an easy road with men, but luckily for her she is surrounded by people who love her, whether it’s her English mastiff Henry, her enhanced acerbic butler Barnes, or the ghost of her dead nanny who sticks around to clean and cook for her, while leveling judgement on Maisey’s choice of clothing.

This outstanding story will leave you wanting more, both from the fascinating world (more gaslight than steampunk since it includes the supernatural as well as clockwork elements) to the wonderful characters which inhabit it. While I was a little miffed at Patricia Eimer telling her story from the first person, Havens does the same and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest because the tone of the story lands closer to Urban Fantasy. I’m really hoping that this story is a prequel to a full-length novel since Jake and Maisey do not get together (although there’s plenty of sexual attraction) and there is an abundance of conflict and plot developments to support a longer storyline. While Havens is a varied, talented writer able to pen seemingly any genre (her contemporary romance, nonfiction about popular culture, and her paranormal writing are all equally wonderful), I don’t think she’s done a tone of steampunk/gaslight, a fact I hope she rectifies considering how much I adore her writing.

A Riveting Affair is a fantastic steampunk anthology for lovers of the genre who enjoy strong female protagonists filled with intelligence and gumption. I strongly recommend this terrific bargain of a book for anyone wanting to be riveted for a few hours. Happy reading! 🙂

Candace Haven’s Take It Like a Vamp Brings Serious Fun to Paranormal Romance

5 Jun

I’m beginning to think that Candace Havens is some kind of romance Renaissance woman. Not only is she a prolific romance writer of many subgenres (contemporary, paranormal, Steampunk) but she also writes nonfiction (popular culture related), appears on a regular radio show, does numerous in person and online workshops, and was just appointed an editor at Entangled Publishing. Is there anything she can’t do?

After listening to her wonderful Fast Draft workshop via RWA conference recording, I was smitten with how delightfully funny she was. I’m a public speaker who strongly believes that if you get your audience to laugh and relax, they are going to retain much more of your message while enjoying the experience. While I’ve read other books by Havens (yay, Model Marine!), Take It Like a Vamp was the first book of hers I’ve read that seemed to incorporate her brash, sweet, Southern sense of humor and it added a great layer to what was already a good story.

Casey Meyers knows she’s a lucky woman. She gets to live in her former uncle/now aunt’s high end apartment next to her newfound best friend, Nick Christos, while working at being a successful graphic designer at an up-and-coming firm. Nick is kind, powerful, and is a great friend – that he’s serious eye candy is just icing on the cake. But it’s getting a little painful to see him go out with one supermodel after another when Casey knows that she’s never going to have that body or be his type. Still, she wouldn’t give up his friendship for the world and she gets the sense that this uber-rich powerful businessman doesn’t have too many really close friends, so she’s going to enjoy their relationship and only dwell on what she can give him (okay, except for when it’s just her and her vibrator, Mr. Nick, then all good intentions are put aside for fantasy land).

Nick thinks he might be going insane. He knows he can’t have Casey as anything more than a friend. She has no idea that he’s a vampire and one of the most powerful ones in the world, holding a major position on the council which has allowed him to keep peace between his kind and humans for a couple of centuries. But an outdated tradition decrees that he needs to select a wife in the first two hundred years of his job and the clock is running out. The other council members will select a wife for him if he doesn’t pick one, but all he wants is Casey. When his interest in her endangers her life, he knows this is the opportunity to make her his, but he has no idea how to have a real relationship and his ineptitude could botch the one thing that means the most to him.

This was a fun book. Nick’s hotness was only matched by his cousin Linc’s (please tell me his book will come out!) and it was nice to see a supernatural hero who was not the total brooding alpha male, but something a little softer and occasionally awkward. Nick takes more than a couple missteps in his relationship with Casey and, as doubting as she is that he really has feelings for her, she calls him on his behavior every time while still being understanding. My only wish was that he had a little less control around her – I wanted to see some more sexing to go with all that fun verbal byplay!

Take It Like a Vamp was a terrific reminder for me to go out and purchase more Candace Havens books. Any author who can have me grinning like a lunatic through most of a romance novel is someone I want to read more of!

Countdown to Christmas: All I Want For Christmas… Gifts You With One Small Town, A Cheeky Santa and Three Hot Couples for the Holiday

18 Dec

All I Want For Christmas… by Lori Wilde, Kathleen O’Reilly, and Candace Havens (Harlequin Blaze, November 13, 2012)

While I love anthologies, I have to say my favorites are often the ones where the authors choose a common theme or, better yet, really work together to have an overall story arc that ties the novellas together. In this excellent collection, all the stories are set in the same small Virgina town a few days before Christmas. The local historic landmark, the Price mansion, caught on fire and the town is in an uproar.

“Christmas Kisses” by Lori Wilde

One of the first people on the scene of the burned out mansion is police sergeant Noah Briscoe. The upcoming holiday dredges up bad memories for him and poking around the burned out former governor’s home only makes them worse. At least working all the time helps him keep his mind off the gorgeous redheaded defense attorney, Alana O’Hara, with whom he shared several hot kisses a year ago before she decided they were too different. But he’s not been interested in anyone since that, having to settle for his erotic dreams and near-constant daytime fantasies about her.

Alana knows Noah has walls around him that would rival Jericho and she didn’t think he could be more bah-humbug about the season until she gets notice that he’s arrested Santa Claus at the scene of the mansion fire. Arriving to defend the very sweet Christopher Clausen, their proximity stirs up all that delicious sexual tension. But Alana brushes it off as just that. She knows if she allows herself to sleep with Noah, she’s going to want him to open up and have a relationship with her and it’s all too obvious that’s not in his nature.

The best laid plans of mice and men….Of course, they can’t resist how much they want each other, especially when Noah knows that Alana has seen him at the cemetery putting roses on his mother’s grave. She can figure out what he’s been through and he hopes she knows what she’s getting. He wants to tell her the feelings she stirs up in him but can’t bring himself to do anything other than love her with his body. Seeing as he does that really well, Alana is thrilled but knows she’s also fallen for him. When he starts having morning after cold feet, she plays it cool and let’s him know that if he shows up at the Christmas Eve Firefighter Ball she’ll know he’s interested, otherwise not to worry about it, even if she’s dying inside at the thought of losing him.

I loved how tortured Noah is and yet Wilde makes clear just how much love he has to give, especially as Alana just tramples over his defenses with her Christmas cheer and understanding. The ending at the ball was wonderful (I love the present he gets her) and to finally hear Noah tell her what’s really in his heart is worth waiting for. I would have liked a couple more pages to expand upon his epiphany, but other than that, this was a terrific start to the anthology and lays a strong sense of place for the subsequent novellas.

“Baring It All” by Kathleen O’Reilly

EMT Eric Marshall might be the only son of the wealthy Marshalls in town, but he rejected his snooty family’s dreams and law school to become an emergency responder instead. He’s a jaded man who prides himself on being detached in all situations and the EMT motto of “treat, transport, take off” could be applied to women for him as well. In hanging out outside the shell of the historic mansion as the firefighters put out the flames, he figures the worst case he’s going to get is from one of the rescue workers, but he’s galvanized into action when one of them pulls a woman from the wreckage.

Just Surrender… by Kathleen O’Reilly (Harlequin Blaze, April 19, 2011)

He’s even more shocked when he recognizes her. Chloe Skidmore, the daughter of the former caretaker of the Price mansion, is a blast from Eric’s past and while she might look different now (forty pounds lighter and a lot more vulnerable) he treated her so badly when she was sixteen that he’s ashamed of his behavior. When the wound on her head seems to have given her a temporary amnesia, it’s almost a relief, but his vision of a reunion where he can redress his wrongs crumbles upon seeing the ring on her finger. She’s married and while he might have cut a swath through almost every single woman in town, he doesn’t touch the married ones.

The woman caught in the fire opens her eyes to see a familiar man but she has no idea who she is or what happened. She’s frightened, but this handsome EMT with the deep gray eyes is enormously comforting. So why does she think of him in a tuxedo and be fighting the urge to hit him? As he helps her with a place to stay, all the while claiming it’s because he has to help her recover her memory so he can file the insurance claim for the ambulance, she knows that he knows who she is even though he’s not saying much. The more time they spend together the harder it is to resist the pull to touch each other, even with the elephant in the room of her marital status. As her memories slowly begin to come back, Chloe has to deal with the shame she felt growing up in a town that looked down on her, and on the secret relationship she and Eric had back when they were kids. Whether he’s willing to let everyone know he wants her now is still up in the air.

This was a VERY impressive story. Eric is such a cold customer and the more you find out initially, the less there is to like. But O’Reilly does a masterful job showing you how Eric was fighting his family demons and yet always had a thing for Chloe, even when she was heavy and from the wrong side of the tracks. The climactic scene in the hotel with the music was out of this world fabulous and I liked understanding the complexity of both the hero and heroine’s emotions as they dealt with the past. I’m going out to buy some O’Reilly stories ASAP after this one.

“A Hot December Night” by Candace Havens

Party planner and new transplant Kristen Lovejoy has been planning the Christmas Eve Firefighters Ball for months now and one of the best parts is having Assistant Fire Chief Jason Turner on the committee. He’s a gorgeous piece of eye candy but since she’s heard he’s a womanizer, she’s steering clear of him. Nevertheless, she can’t resist asking for a follow-up cup of coffee after the latest shouting match among the dedicated women volunteers of the town. The Price mansion fire has everyone anxious about making the fundraising party a major success.

Model Marine by Candace Havens (Harlequin Blaze, October 18, 2011)

Jason has been fantasizing about the voluptuous blond bombshell for months but not asked her out for fear of bringing small town scrutiny down on their heads. Even though this woman seems like she’s the type who would be looking for something long-term and that’s not been his MO in the past, he can’t help but blurt out a dinner invitation as they are sipping their coffee. To his relief, she says yes.

The date is an utter disaster, at least from Kristen’s standpoint. She botches her hair dye right before the date, can barely zip up her dress from the Christmas cookies she’s been eating (and then can’t get in his truck without assistance because of her pencil skirt), her bracelet catches on fire before the wine arrives (good thing Jason’s a fireman) and then she leans forward only to split her dress. After ditching him at the restaurant in utter shame, she comes home to her dog in labor and Kristen didn’t even know she was pregnant! That Jason handles everything with utter equanimity convinces her of how perfect he is.

There’s only one problem and it’s a big one. Jason’s job involves him putting his life in danger all the time and as the daughter of a military man who died in the line of duty, Kristen’s not sure she can handle that. It might be easier to cut this thing with Jason short now and save herself heartache in the end. But when Jason doesn’t take no for an answer, she’s got to confront her demons and figure out what she really wants for her future.

Candace Havens in a fantastic writer! I loved both Jason and Kristen (big surprise since Havens’ book, Model Marine, was one of my favorite Blaze titles read this year) and thought their relationship extremely well drawn with enough conflict to keep me guessing how this was going to resolve and lots of delicious heat between them. Havens has a talent for taking unlikely pairings and showing how there are enough commonly shared values under the surface for a relationship to work if both parties would just wake up and realize it! She’s also an extremely funny and authoritative speaker, if you ever get the chance to hear her.

Wilde, O’Reilly and Havens obviously coordinated well since the periodic appearance of a sage Santa helps prod the couples into the direction of Christmas romance. I think of all the books I’ve read for this Countdown to Christmas series, this one has the best injection of true romance for the season although I’m sure the small town setting and a higher than average hottie quotient per capita helps.

This anthology is an outstanding addition to the Blaze line and a great addition to anyone’s stack of holiday reads. Many thanks to these fine authors for giving us such a great Christmas present! 🙂

Reflecting on Cranking It Out: NaNoWriMo vs. Fast Draft

11 Nov

As most people who either write or who follow author blogs know, November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo to devotees. Participants pledge to write 50,000 words during the month, hopefully concluding their endeavors on the 30th with a decent draft to edit and then ship off to a publisher. (Does that make December National Novel Editing Month?)

There is a whole culture around NaNoWriMo, including t-shirts, comic strips, parody musicals, etc. and clearly they are all methods of procrastination. It’s a lot of writing and a LOT of pressure, but, as the Leonard Bernstein quote indicates on the flyer, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” As participants attest, you must average writing 1,667 words per day in order to make the target of 50,000 words.

While I do well under pressure, not having writing partners who I would be held accountable to certainly makes NaNoWriMo like exercising or dieting – it’s totally up to me to make it work and when life gets in the way, writing (and exercising) has a tendency to be the first thing to go by the wayside when I have kids and faculty relying on me for whatever is taking precedence.

When I went to my monthly meeting of the PLRW (Pocono Lehigh Romance Writers) Chapter of the RWA, not only did we do our holiday schmooze but we also decided to listen to a couple recordings from past RWA conferences. Our scheduled speaker had to be canceled due to weather complications (a few of our members from New Jersey and Pennsylvania couldn’t make it because they were still without power – thank you Superstorm Sandy).

Lovely, funny and authoritative writer, Candace Havens

With NaNoWriMo on the brain, the even more outrageous goal set by “Fast Draft: How to Write Your First Draft in Two Weeks” by author Candace Havens seemed downright laughable. And it was…until she started speaking. It turns out that not only is Candace Havens a hilarious public speaker, but she puts her money with her mouth is, not only using this technique personally but also teaching thousands (yes, I said THOUSANDS) of writers how to implement her Fast Draft method with the end result being 30% of them going on to actually publish their book.

Because I think you should actually buy the workshop (that’s the above link and it’s only $8 to download the hour-long seminar), I’m only going to highlight a couple key points that stood out. The number one way to get me to buy into an idea is to give me actual research, and Candace did that, right off the bat referring to the Fast Draft method of writing 20 pages a day (*gasp*) as tapping into a specific part of the brain. Once she started speaking, I knew exactly what she was talking about.

Model Marine by Candace Havens (Harlequin Blaze, October 18, 2011) – If this is what she can write in Fast Draft mode, I’m trying it!

Candace said that, as writers, in actuality our creativity – our ideas, characters, plot, etc. – stems largely from our unconscious or subconscious parts of the brain. Our conscious brain fulfills the role of a highly critical editor and, unfortunately, when we write a small amount at a time painstakingly rereading our previous writing (and I am in no way casting aspersions – I know there are lots of people for whom this is a good method), we are feeding that conscious editor. The difficulty lies in the fact that he/she gets in the way of our creativity which is then relegated to the back of our minds where we are unable to benefit from it as directly.

The Fast Draft method takes into account the concept that “the more you write, the faster you write” and that by utilizing a methodology in which you agree to write for two and half hours a day (some people do a block of time, other people do snippets during the day which add up) and refuse to go back and read what you wrote or edit your writing, you are letting your creativity bubble to the surface. Because she offers Fast Draft in both a free Yahoo forum or a paid class where you get personal attention from Candace, she has said that by day 3 of the program, she receives a slew of emails from participants astonished by not only how much they were writing, but by how good the ideas were. Many people mentioned having no memory of several of the pages they wrote, yet those pages contained high quality material.

A visual of how “flow” works – note how participants need to have a high challenge level and combine it with skill in order to reach the psychological state that unleashes creativity

This description of participants’ experience made me think of the psychological concept of “flow” developed by Hungarian psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, whose book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, discusses how people are happiest and most productive when they are completely absorbed in whatever activity they are doing. Writers, artists, gardeners, and athletes all describe a feeling of “being in the zone” where they lose a sense of time and feel like what they are doing is fascinating and exactly right. In essence, Candace’s description of the state experienced by her writers mirrors Czikszentmihalyi’s work, showing that Fast Draft has tremendous potential to unleash creativity.

It also makes me wonder if the successful participants of NaNoWriMo actually are using, perhaps unknowingly, Candace’s methods. I get the sense many participants sit for a few hours a day and work to crank out as much as possible, a process that would shut off their inner editor and be more likely to induce a state of “flow”.

Because I have the terrible habit of rereading everything I have written in a project and then continuing with part of the next scene, I tried Candace’s method when I got home from the workshop last night. I was astonished at how well it worked! I’m happy if I can reach about 1000 words in a session, but by giving myself permission to not have every sentence as perfect as I can make it (and by writing little notes to myself about things I needed to look up during the revision stage), I wrote almost 2900 words in about two hours. Considering that next week is fall term exams (meaning no prep for classes at night) and then I have a week off for Thanksgiving, I plan on putting this method to the test each day and see how I progress, with the goal of getting to her twenty page/5000 word mark each time.

Many thanks to both NaNoWriMo and the talented Candace Havens for helping me understand my creativity – and giving me a swift kick in the pants to write my novel! May all November writers find equal inspiration. 🙂

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