Tag Archives: Carina Press

December Read-a-Thon: For My Own Anthology Rounds Up Three Excellent Authors To Deliver Hot Romance Right Down Your Chimney

22 Dec

For My Own: A Contemporary Christmas Anthology by Shari Mikels, Kinley Cade, and Alison Packard (Carina Press, December 5, 2013)

I’m going to honest – I got this anthology specifically for Alison Packard, whose work I adored in The Winning Season and Love in the Afternoon (so amazing!). Luckily for me, any anthology in the hands of Angela James of Carina Press is going to deliver on every page and For My Own: A Contemporary Christmas Anthology is no exception.

As with all Carina Press anthologies, you are given a tremendous amount of choice, with the anthology available at a great price of $5.38 or individual stories having a purchase price of about $2.50 if just one or two interest you. Under each book cover is a link to that specific story pictured, FYI.

Despite having three authors and no connection between the stories in terms of characters or setting, For My Own is unified by the common theme of one or more very lonely people for whom the holiday highlights all the insecurities and vulnerabilities in their life. In each case, fate decides to present them with the one person who might just give them the courage to face their demons head on in order to move forward and find happiness. Let’s take a closer look at them, shall we?

Christmas for Carrie by Alison Packard

A Christmas for Carrie by Alison Packard (Carina Press, December 5, 2013)

Packard has done a great job gently tying this novella to her other two outstanding works, Love in the Afternoon (the heroine of this novella mentions how she watches the soap featured in that story) and The Winning Season, since our hero is a sports agent who alludes to the hero of that novel and his remarkable journey.

That said, there is zero problem following along with this story as its a straightforward premise should you not have read Packard’s other work (and why haven’t you?). Carrie Jones is a hard-working paralegal laboring in the small town where she was raised. Unfortunately for her, the buildup to Christmas  is in full swing and it’s rough on this young woman who has no good memories of the season. Her childhood was pretty crappy with two parents constantly arguing, one a mean drunk and the other a sentimental drunk. The only highlight during her teenage years was being a math tutor for her crush Nick Johnson who just saw her as a buddy. Imagine her shock when she hears his voice greeting her in the Starbucks parking lot!

Despite the cold, Nick is thrilled to be able to relocate to be with his parents for four weeks around Christmastime. With his successful sports management agency having reached the big time, he just needs a laptop and a phone for most of his work, and one look at the curvy body and strawberry blond hair of Carrie Jones has Nick thanking a higher power that he arranged to be in town. He can’t believe how blind he was back in high school if he was busy lusting after unattainable cheerleaders with this woman by his side. He thinks Carrie’s aversion to the holidays is not just a tragedy but also a great opportunity to spend time with her while he “helps” her get over her Scrooge-like stance. But all the time in the world with Carrie doesn’t change the fact that Nick has a life back in San Francisco and she might not be interested in a long-distance relationship.

Catching Heat by Alison Packard (Carina Press, February 10, 2014)

Catching Heat by Alison Packard (Carina Press, February 10, 2014)

One the characteristics of Packard’s writing that I enjoy is that there is no insta-love, with the characters’ feelings unfolding naturally over a distinct period of time (not that I don’t adore insta-love stories, I do, but it’s nice to have a well-done, realistic love story, too). Nick was a geek back in high school and there are shades of that in his personality now – he’s sweet, sensitive, and honestly a little slow-moving and cautious with Carrie although he wants to help her love Christmas as much as he wants her in bed.

I adore when friends turn to lovers and their comfort level with each other starts off at a good level. That said, this is a gently moving romance with not a ton of conflict although Carrie has some baggage to overcome. A romantic lovely epilogue and I feel confident I’ll catch a peek at Nick and Carrie in future books by Packard (and I’m looking forward to it!). The author does a lovely job of introducing Nick’s sexy partner, Adam, as well as a problem player who I look forward to seeing as future heroes. It’s a lovely addition to her series and Packard’s fans need to trot over to their bookseller of choice and pre-order Catching Heat, the next book which is going to feature backup catcher J. T. Sawyer and the one-night stand who becomes much more to him. The publication date of February 10th can’t come too soon!

Christmas Curveball by Shari Mikels

Christmas Curveball by Shari Mikels (Carina Press, December 5, 2013)

During the holiday season I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m grateful for, and this year, I’m incredibly grateful for Carina editor Angela James finding the fantastic talent that is Shari Mikels. While Christmas Curveball is the debut story of this hot new author, I feel like I’ve gotten a present that I’m going to be able to enjoy her work in the years to come. After all, anyone who says she learned to write via a Sarah Maclean workshop and lists Jill Shalvis and Lauren Dane as major influences, already has a leg up!

Rachel Tanner knows she’s in trouble when her brother informs her that Kevin Ganlin is back in town. Kevin, a successful professional baseball player has been in her life since he and her brother were best friends in grade school, and she’s had feelings for him just about as long. Truth be told, Rachel married her ex-husband because he reminded her of Kevin. She divorced him because of his philandering and, based on Kevin’s history of going through women like tissues, that’s yet another thing they have in common. Despite his attitude toward women, Rachel is worried that Kevin has secreted himself in his mountain home and isn’t telling anyone he’s back – her brother is keeping secrets and she wants to know what’s going on and if Kevin is all right.

Kevin is decidedly not all right. Not only has his shoulder injury caused the team to let him go, but he has no idea what he wants to do with his life. Having Rachel appear on his doorstep is both a dream and a nightmare – he realized right before her breakup with her ex that his confusion around her stemmed from the fact that she was the woman for him. Yet her brother has made it quite clear that someone like Kevin shouldn’t be caught dead sniffing around her. Kevin stopped seeing any women the moment he made his life-altering realization because he wanted to be a man worthy of her and stand a chance. Figuring out how to pull off this delicate maneuver and determine if she’d be interested in him has been something he’s dwelled on as much as his aching shoulder.

How I picture the view from Kevin's mountain cabin (view of North Carolina mountains - public domain image via Pixabay)

How I picture the view from Kevin’s mountain cabin (view of North Carolina mountains – public domain image via Pixabay)

When the cruel gods not only put her in his home but then cause her to slip and fall on the way out (necessitating his taking care of her overnight), it’s more apparent to him that he’s got to make a move. But that move doesn’t go exactly as planned and it rapidly becomes clear to both of them that Rachel might not be able to get over her trust issues when it comes to men with a past, particularly when that past shows up ready to sabotage a new and fragile relationship.

Christmas Curveball has the mark of a great novella in that you do feel like you’ve read a regular length novel by the end of it. Rachel is hilarious and adorable in turn and it’s not shocking that Kevin has been in love with her for a long time. I loved the way Mikels wrote Kevin’s slow transformation from “Mr. Grumpypants” (as Rachel calls him) to a man who begins to realize that there is a place for him back home, even though it’s different from the one he pictured long ago. The conflict was excellent and the resolution extremely sweet (I adored the scene of Rachel’s final epiphany about Kevin), so I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ll be seeing these characters again.

With that desire in mind, I’m elated to see that Mikels lists on her website a possible tie-in novel to Christmas Curveball featuring Rachel’s brother and Kevin’s best friend who has an old college flame return to town during the lead up to his sister’s wedding – that has a lot of potential. I’ll also be ordering her current works in progress when they come out, entitled the Douglas Lake series, about a family with a construction company and some of the tensions that result.

Kissing Her Scrooge by Kinley Cade

Kissing Her Scrooge by Kinley Cade (Carina Press, December 5, 2013)

Kinley Cade is another brand, spankin’ new contemporary romance author for Carina and anyone with sisters is going to appreciate the zany sense of humor Cade brings to sibling interaction in this novella. Hannah Jones works her butt off to give her town a terrific Christmas pageant and in fact, she does as much for the town as humanly possible. The oldest of three triplets, this nice girl has made a profession out of doing for people, wanting to fill the shoes of her parents who believed strongly in giving back. Her polar opposite seems to be the town’s resident curmudgeon, Christmas tree farmer and environmentalist Griff Green. Despite his profession being tied to the holiday, Griff has zero interest in the holiday, but he does seem to turn up regularly where Hannah is, which has her thinking about him way too much.

There’s a reason Griff turns up wherever Hannah happens to be working – it’s because he’s more than a little obsessed with her. Whether it’s her elf costume or her sexy tight skirts, this woman makes him crazy and he has no idea what he’s going to do about it. Griff may be a tree farmer but he’s also a massive cynic having come from a wealthy family and a mother who only married his dad for his money. Used to women with mercenary designs on him due to his bank account, Griff thinks that Hannah is too good to be true and keeps waiting for her flaws to emerge. She’s got them, but they have nothing to do about money and everything to do about feeling in control of her situation. Unfortunately, Hannah’s quirks combined with Griff’s mistrust might just end up making their holiday anything but celebratory.

I’ve got to hand it to Cade, I’m not 100% sure that I necessarily liked either of these characters but I actually loved reading about them and their struggle! I know that sounds strange, but it was fascinating to see how the hero and heroine were absolutely meant for each other if they could just understand one another a little better. The only thing keeping them from perfect understanding was that they weren’t yet at a place where they shared very specific background information and feelings, and there is nothing more deadly to a relationship than two people with no clue about how to discuss what is going on in their head and heart.

I adored Hannah’s pragmatic and hilarious sisters as well as Griff’s friend, Steve (and would love to read a story where he ends up with one of the Jones’ women). Cade has the small-town feel down pat in her writing, so much so that I’m very interested to read her next story, whenever it comes out. She writes paranormal romance under the name Kinley Baker, so I may try one of those stories to see the similarities and differences.

Angela James and the staff at Carina Press have managed to put together three surprisingly different contemporary romance novellas in the For My Own anthology and in doing so have made my holiday a little brighter. Thanks, Carina!

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Married, Marine, and Menage Are Three Holiday Gifts Put Under Your Tree with Menage on 34th Street

16 Dec

I actually managed to somehow not realize that this story, as well as the already-reviewed Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin, is part of a Carina Press erotic holiday anthology, Season of Seduction. While I have no problem reviewing each story one by one (particularly since you can buy them that way), if the quality of writing I’ve seen so far is any indication, an interested reader should probably demonstrate proper holiday frugality and purchase the collection. 😉

This novella possessed an edginess that I realized was also present in Matzoh and Mistletoe. Rather than gloss over real conflict or turn to a magical “love conquers all” scenario, both stories face the complications and difficulties of the potential situation head on in a way that was slightly reminiscent of author Lauren Dane to me. Yet unlike Dane, who has the book length to get her couples and triads to a happily ever after, Menage on 34th Street ends with a “happily for now” that honestly has me fretting for the characters I’ve come to care about.

Kat and Liam are a happily married couple who have both missed someone for over a decade. Their friend, Hunter, wanted Kat for himself and upon finding her with Liam, bolted and enlisted in the Marine Corps. Ten years later, he’s back in Baltimore and not looking forward to seeing this happy couple again since it represents what he can never have.

Liam lies to Hunter, telling him Kat is visiting her sister in another state, in order to lure him over to their house on Christmas Eve. What Hunter doesn’t know is that Liam knew Kat better than Hunter did back in the day, realizing that one man would never satisfy her. He had hoped to add Hunter to their relationship, particularly because Liam also felt that Hunter desired a relationship with a man as well as with Kat. But Hunter ran from both of them, not realizing Kat’s predilections and frightened of his feelings for Liam. Now that it’s Christmas, Liam can think of no better present for all of them than to be together the way they should have been.

Season of Seduction anthology, with stories by Jeffe Kennedy, Christine d’Abo, Elise Logan & Emily Ryan-Davis, and Jodie Griffin (Carina Press, November 21, 2013)

When Kat walks downstairs in a barely-there piece of lingerie given to her by Liam, she’s startled to see Hunter, who left her without so much as a goodbye all those years ago. While she loves Liam, he occasionally invites a temporary and carefully vetted third into their relationship for them both, but that’s gotten tired. One look at Hunter and Kat realizes she’s been trying to find someone to fill his place, something no one clearly will manage after one glimpse of the smoking hot Marine who has replaced the troubled boy who left before.

This story leaps pretty quickly into the sexual situation yet simultaneously delivers an astonishing amount of backstory effortlessly, a fact that impressed the hell out of me. The reader is exposed to all the messy emotions and feelings of each character, generating a terrific amount of empathy for each of them. Triads always have the complication of having to negotiate not two but three people’s feelings and baggage, no easy feat.

The hardest part for me about this relationship was not the rough emotional baggage of Liam and Hunter, but Hunter’s career with the Marines. He’s brutally honest about exactly how hard his work and possible deployments would be in a relationship – particularly without the military support system offered to official spouses – but that all three would have to keep their relationship a secret in order to not endanger Hunter’s career is a huge obstacle. How on earth can they manage that and still have a healthy relationship? This was why the ending is a “happily for now” and not something with a more permanent resolution, and truth be told, I’m still thinking about these people, worrying about their future! These three love each other so much and have since they were teenagers; I don’t want to see anything happen to break their hearts.

This uncertainty makes me wonder if the writing duo of Elise Logan and Emily Ryan-Davis (who share a website at Scorchedsheets.com) don’t plan an additional book about these protagonists or some of the interesting secondary characters they introduced. If so, I’ll certainly be buying it! Their writing has an incredible mix of finely drawn characters, plenty of conflict and unbelievably hot sex scenes. That’s my go-to trifecta when it comes to must-buy books.

Consider adding this particular menage story to your holiday pile – you will not need to turn up the heat to get warm while reading it.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-thon: All I’m Asking For Anthology Demonstrates How Taking Risks Equals the Best of Holiday Rewards

9 Dec

All I’m Asking For: A Contemporary Christmas Anthology by Brighton Walsh, Kat Latham, and Christi Barth (Carina Press, December 5, 2013)

This is quite a personal motto of mine, actually. The best things in my life (my college education, my career and most importantly, my husband of 20 years) have happened because I took a huge risk – just stepped forward into the air like the scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy has to trust that he can cross the chasm and get the chalice to save his dying father. It’s scary as hell while you are doing it, but it’s also exhilarating. Setting standards and making sure that you and others live up to them is hard but incredibly important, and I firmly believe that it’s one of the keys to happiness.

Imagine how thrilled I was to see this personal theme laced through one of Carina Press’ holiday anthologies, namely All I’m Asking For: A Contemporary Christmas Anthology. Let’s take a close up look at each of the stories in this anthology for further analysis, shall we?

Keep in mind that you can buy the entire anthology (see above links in the text or caption of the cover) but editor Angela James and Carina Press are nothing if not accommodating, so if you feel that it’s just one or two stories you desire, you can purchase them as stand-alones as well. The below links in each review and next to the individual book cover will take you right to that story on Amazon.

Tinsel My Heart by Christi Barth

Tinsel My Heart by Christi Barth (Carina Press, December 5, 2013)

Right off the bat, I’m wondering about the order of the authors on the cover of the anthology. If Christi Barth‘s story is first, which it is, why is she not listed first? It’s not alphabetical order either, so is it some kind of Carina Press “whoever was published first” seniority? I swear, these kind of questions keep me up at night. I remembered enjoying Barth’s Christmas story last year, and the premise of Tinsel My Heart was intriguing.

Becca Heglund gave up her dreams to leave Minneapolis and pursue a career in the theater in New York in order to stay home and care for her dying grandmother. She’s watched her two former best friends, Tyler Peterson and Jack Whittaker form a highly successful business partnership and even win an Oscar for Best Director and she’s happy for them. But Ty promised to film her theater company’s Christmas production and the pre-sales to the DVD could save the organization, but not if Ty doesn’t show. Considering he just entered a Malibu rehab facility for his drug problem, she’s up a creek and looking for a paddle.

Yet her secret high school crush, Jack Whittaker, appears on the theater’s doorstep looking none too pleased about being home in Minnesota but stating he’s here to fulfill Ty’s obligation. He’s a lifesaver even if he is being a total grouch and hearing that he hates Christmas means that taping the Christmas production is going to be no cakewalk with this particular Grinch. Yet amid the live goats and chopping down Christmas trees, hot, stolen kisses become something much more (the car scene at the tree farm, WOW!), yet they both know that Jack can’t wait to get out of Minnesota again and Becca is going to be left behind.

Rich in detail (I adored the fried cheese curds and “you betchas”), I instantly loved the competent, loyal Becca and her determination to embrace any opportunity to save the theater group and the production. Jack is afflicted with dickishness between his brusque manner and hating Christmas, but once you understand how he was treated growing up and also how betrayed he feels by his best friend screwing him and all their employees with his recurring drug problem, you understand where he is coming from. Tyler is revealed as always having been a user and while it’s not stated, you can easily see that a young Becca and Jack didn’t see the signs that their friend was already an addict before he even graduated.

I was startled by two pieces of this story. The first was how we had a fade out from the first dinner together to the following morning. Purportedly there was a pretty hot couch make out session, something that was repeated four or five times according to the text and I didn’t get to see one of them. That sat funny with me – not only did I want in on the chemistry, but these two people are hiding their long-standing attraction to one another. How did that play out in their initial physical intimacy? How and why did Jack call a halt to not going past 2nd base and why on earth did Becca not lay it all on the table and order him into her bed? I felt like I was being left out of the loop even while I was loving the rest of the story.

The second piece that took me aback was the very ending. Becca announces her plans and Jack steps up to declare himself. Big “awwwww” moment with the ornament (loved that!) but never once does Becca worry that a career move at the same time she’s becoming a couple with an Oscar-winning movie director might give the appearance of using him to climb the professional ladder. I know she’s not doing it for that reason, but I wondered that neither she nor Jack had the thought flit through their mind. And it seemed like a big decision – if they had been together before I think it would have felt a little more understandable, but while they knew one another as friends, they didn’t as lovers and I’m still sitting here worried that it’s going to be far from smooth sailing when they move to New York City. Jack’s a bigwig there with hordes of women he’s “dated” around every corner, he’ll be hugely busy for months on end with movie projects, blah, blah. Can it work? I’m freaking out a little. Good luck, Jack and Becca – I’m pulling for you!

Season of Second Chances by Brighton Walsh

Season of Second Chances by Brighton Walsh (Carina Press, December 5, 2013)

I really hate second chance stories (I think it’s my firm belief that people rarely change that makes me not read them), but this story was part of the anthology and since I never read any Brighton Walsh before I figured I would gird my heart for emotional agony and simply try and get a sense of her writing. I was so impressed. I loved the story but plan on reading other Walsh novels as Season of Second Chances was excellent, combining believability with strong emotion.

Californian Claire Hanlin is stuck in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport during a snowstorm. If that doesn’t suck enough, it’s also her birthday, the day before Christmas, and the city reminds her all too painfully that she left here two years ago when she broke up with her fiancee, Logan Dawes, the man who promised her forever and instead put work first. While desperately trying to find a hotel room, an all too familiar voice greets her. Yep. It’s Logan in the flesh with an all-too-intriguing offer.

Logan cannot believe that the woman he let get away is standing before him in the terminal, even more beautiful than he remembered. He’s had two years to wallow in the fact that he screwed up his chance at happiness. He’s tried to reform his work habits, making more room in his life for his little daughter Sophie who missed Claire being in her life as well, and this snowstorm might be just the chance he needs to show Claire that things could be different. When the two of them give into the heat between them, Logan knows that he desperately needs to get this right, yet a promise to Claire that he has to break again means that he’s never going to hold onto this incredible woman.

It’s always a good sign when a novella can put your heart in your throat praying that everything will work out, even when you believe it can’t. It’s hard not to understand and empathize with both Claire and Logan since we understand their choices even when it’s hard to agree with Logan’s. The writing is terrific, with truly three-dimensional characters, enough backstory to ground us beautifully yet not so much that it takes away from the action in the present, and a movie-worthy conclusion and epilogue. I know have a couple of Walsh’s books on my to-read list and I’m really looking forward to it!

Mine Under the Mistletoe by Kat Latham

Mine Under the Mistletoe by Kat Latham (Carina Press, December 5, 2013)

Ever since I raved about Kat Latham’s terrific book, Knowing the Score, I knew I’d pre-order anything she wrote, and that’s actually why I purchased this anthology (and in further support of her, the individual copy of Mine Under the Mistletoe as well!).

Ashley Turner is horrified to be jarred awake by a naked man climbing into her borrowed bed, having swapped her apartment in San Diego with a guy in London in order to have the storybook Christmas she’s always wanted. While her two roommates couldn’t make it, called away by holiday obligations, Ashley is determined to live her mother’s lifelong wish and she’s brought everything she needs to make this happen. The bonus of her absentee host appearing might be just the local touch she needed, particularly since he so handsome albeit a little Grinchy about the holiday.

Oliver Stansfield couldn’t wait to get out of London and away from his past. His recent loss of his disabled sister festers in him, especially since she adored the Christmas season and this is his first holiday without her. Finding a gorgeous Christmas angel in his bed comes as shock since his grueling day at Heathrow Airport ended with all flights cancelled due to the snow and ice descending on the city. He literally forgot he had swapped houses, but one look at the beautiful blond with her nightshirt slipping off her shoulder and he’s wondering if the holiday doesn’t have a silver lining.

Watching these two people not only acknowledge the incredible chemistry between them but also begin to find common ground despite their disparate approaches to the holiday is so sweet that I feel this novella is the best of the entire anthology. Latham writes the disconnect between Americans and the English incredibly well (each protagonist’s bafflement at certain turns of phrase or traditions is adorable) and her sex scenes are hot and delicious – believe me, you’ll be pricing flights to London after reading them!

For anyone with dreams of visiting England or giving themselves a magical European Christmas (and perhaps finding love along the way), this novella is a Christmas wish fulfilled. Laced with humor (Ashely’s astonishment that Ollie is so polite while naked and holding a pillow in front of himself after she nailed him between the legs is going to bring a smile to your face), the story is also understandably emotional. While these two people move quickly into love, it’s completely believable as they are two people who are already experts at loving – Ashley with her mother, students and friends and Ollie having loved his sister with all his might after their parents abandoned her to his care.

One of the best aspects of the story which builds your affection while reading it is the contrast between the two characters. While this strong contrast brings out the best in characters, with Ashley’s intrepid attitude and sheer joy in the context of her past forcing Ollie to face his demons, the similarity between them is that they both are lonely with the loss of a relative they loved binding them together in their particular brand of loneliness. These are two people truly destined for each other and I adored the epilogue!

All I’m Asking For is an excellent holiday anthology combining the efforts of three talented writers, and is one I would heartily recommend to any contemporary romance reader. At just over $5 the entire anthology is an excellent value, with individual stories (if that’s your preference) priced around $2.50. If you haven’t had an opportunity to sample these three authors, this is an outstanding introduction.

Happy reading! 🙂

December Holiday Read-a-Thon: Gifts of Honor Duology Offers Heart-wrenching Heroes and the Holiday Season

1 Dec

Carina Press holiday anthologies are always a go-to for me during December – I’ve never read one that contained a saccharine story, and the credit goes to editor Angela James who always manages to find authors who combine great characters, heart-warming settings, and the true spirit of the holiday.

Gifts of Honor is no exception, except authors Stacy Gail and Rebecca Crowley add the twist of two military heroes so damaged by their service that they are unable to give the women they love the relationship she deserves. Or so they think.

I’ve loved Stacy Gail since last December when I devoured her steampunk holiday romance novella Crime Wave in a Corset, followed by her awesome science fiction novella How the Glitch Stole Christmas. Since then, I’ve read a bunch of her paranormal angels books as well as her contemporary Ugly Ducklings Finish First, and I can confidently say this author has chops since she seems to be able to excel in all genres and still keep a fresh voice and utilize truly unique story ideas. Rebecca Crowley is a newer author of contemporary romance, so it was great to sample a holiday story from her to see what she would bring to this theme. She did not disappoint!

Note that while both stories are offered in the duology Gifts of Honor for under $4.00, you can also get each one individually for around $2.50, if one sounds like it appeals and not the other. The individual links under their specific book cover will take you right to that story, if that’s your preference. But considering the quality of both of them, you’d be wasting your money to not by the duology. Just sayin’.

Starting From Scratch by Stacy Gail

Starting from Scratch by Stacy Gail (Carina Press, November 21, 2013)

Lucy Crabtree is busy at her job baking all the holiday treats for her small town’s Sweet Shoppe and is just managing to hold it together. Her ex-husband, Sullivan Jax, has finally moved home after his lengthy stay in military rehab where he’s been recovering from a head trauma, a trauma that had him waking up with no memory of Lucy or their marriage.

The only thing she’d prayed for was for Sully to come back alive.

She should have been more specific.

Their marriage had been rocky with his last deployment with the Rangers, a deployment he had barely told her about, leaving her with a lot of anger and once again crushing her dream of them finally making a home and family together. Now she had to look forward to the awkwardness and gossip surrounding the fact that they’d undoubtedly be bumping into one another.

Sullivan Jax would be the first to admit that his ex-wife is heart-stoppingly gorgeous but he also knows that a woman that beautiful deserves to have a life free of a man who can’t even remember her. It galls him to no end that he has begun remembering so many of the details of his childhood and time in the military, but this woman is a just a big, painful blank spot.

That he also has developed an insane craving for cookies – cookies that smell just like the scent that clings to Lucy whenever he sees her – must just be a weird side effect of the season. But one taste of Lucy’s mouth and all thought of cookies gets pushed aside. This is what he’s been craving all along. But while he thinks he might be falling in love with his wife all over again, Sullivan also realizes that he might be the one person she never wants to be with, as he’s already torn her heart to pieces.

This story had everything – great characters, mouth-watering food (always part of the holiday romance genre), and a small-town setting perfect for the backdrop of the holiday spirit. Yes, it’s utterly gut-wrenching to place yourself in Lucy’s shoes, but Gail does an outstanding job of outlining the pressures deployed soldiers and their spouses both face, specifically focusing on how this element eroded Lucy and Sullivan’s marriage. I loved it when Lucy’s good friend and mechanic, Coe read her the riot act of how she had always been the one giving and Sullivan the one taking. Lucy’s understanding of what she did and didn’t do in her marriage showed her growth as much as the pieces of his mistakes in his marriage coming back to Sullivan.

Sullivan’s instinctual response was the most fascinating, first from the standpoint of screaming every time he saw her in the hospital to his despair whenever she would run away from him in their town. Gail does not shy away from the heat in this story, and there were times I thought Lucy’s cookies were going to bake on the counter based on how hot it got in the kitchen with this couple! Most sigh-inducing was the final realization that Sullivan had always loved Lucy as much as she did him and that he wasn’t going to give up in winning her once again, which leads me to the quote that had me falling in love with this big former Ranger:

“I’ve learned the hard way that being careless with you, hurting you, is the quickest way into hell,” he grated, and self-condemnation edged the words in bitterness. “But I understand. It’s okay. You’re gun-shy with me now, so I won’t push you into anything you don’t want to do, or feel. And I don’t expect all the pain to magically vanish just because I remember you now. We both went to war, and we both have battle scars that are going to take time to heal.

“But I have so much hope for the future, Lucy,” he added as he pressed her hand to his mouth, and the passion that vibrated in his tone made her throat clench. “A year from now, I hope you’ll have agreed to be my wife and we’ll be trying for our first baby. I hope a month from now you’ll trust me enough to want to live with me so that you can get used to sharing your life with me again. I hope a week from now you’ll believe me when I say I love you, instead of looking like you suspect I’m playing some kind of cruel trick on you. And I hope that by tomorrow, you’ll be able to smile at me without sadness.”

Gail, Stacy; Crowley, Rebecca (2013-11-21). Gifts of Honor: Starting from Scratch\Hero’s Homecoming (Kindle Locations 1788-1796). Carina Press. Kindle Edition.

Starting from Scratch contains the sweetness and spice of the heroine’s Pfeffernusse cookies with enough heat to bake them, proving Stacy Gail is a romance writer who can encapsulate human emotions so well that readers feel like they’ve grown as people when the final page is turned. This is a must-buy!

Hero’s Homecoming by Rebecca Crowley

Hero’s Homecoming by Rebecca Crowley (Carina Press, November 21, 2013)

College professor Beth Tate always thought of herself as a sturdy Midwestern woman until she bumped into Captain Chris Walker when he filled in for an absent archivist at Fort Riley. He was a six foot stud in uniform and she was more than stunned when he looked at her like he wanted to eat her up.

For four days they had a hot affair and while she was willing to let it just be a fling, not wanting to burden him with expectation prior to shipping out to Afghanistan, Chris wanted more. They exchanged long, thoughtful emails and had sweet phone calls for four months and then…nothing. A terse email after a couple weeks of radio silence merely saying that things weren’t going to work out and the most powerful relationship of her life had ended.

Getting a call months later at Christmas from the same Captain who broke her heart, and Beth is literally rendered speechless. With a blizzard blowing in and his parents stuck at their ranch meant Chris needed a ride to a hotel from the airport and could Beth help? Saying yes just to get a good look at the man who would have the gall to behave like this, she’s stunned to see a scarred serviceman with clouded eyes and a cane. Much to the horror of the Christmas crowd at the airport, she promptly cracks him across the face with a slap that should have sent him back overseas.

When Chris realized that the suicide bomber who killed his friends had taken his sight, one of his first thoughts was breaking up with Beth. Not because he didn’t love her but because he knew that she would unflinchingly take on the burden of his disability and she deserved more. He wanted to just disappear from her life so she could find a good man to have a normal life with, but instead he ends up having to call upon her since he has no one to help him with finding a place to stay. Having been worried about her pity, her serious slap quickly dispels that notion. But as they are forced by circumstances to stay at her house, Chris gets a glimpse of what he might still actually be able to have. But his physical scars are nothing compared to the emotional ones he gave Beth, who might not be able to take a chance on him once more.

Wow, was I impressed with this story! Crowley not only gives us two complex characters but imbues both of them with a very understandable emotional evolution. Chris, when confronted with the reality of Beth and her honest reactions, realizes that the grey existence he has mapped out for himself might be completely opposite the one she feels him capable of and that helps him believe more in himself. Beth has to confront the fact that she is just as much in love with Chris as ever, while also trying to understand his physical injuries and PTSD and ponder if she can trust him enough in his state not to throw her to the curb again.

Both situations are so believable but the turning point is Chris’ epiphany about what Beth has gone through, and his acknowledgement offers the final linchpin in her decision to go forward. Hero’s Homecoming is an emotional read that kept me riveted, turning each page to discover if this man and woman could overcome the obstacles and embrace the happiness within their reach, if they are just brave enough to take a chance.

With the quality of both stories in Gifts of Honor, I think you’d be crazy to not buy both books in the duology for $4.00 rather than only one story. Stacy Gail and Rebecca Crowley have both penned contemporary military romances that bring home the idea that the holiday season is about hope and the renewal of life with love at the center.

Have a super holiday season!!

Dancer of the Nile Brings Romantic Suspense (Ancient Egyptian Style) to Veronica Scott’s Gods of Egypt Series

22 Oct

Dancer of the Nile (Gods of Egypt #3) by Veronica Scott (Jean D. Walker, October 5, 2013)

I was so taken with the world of ancient Egypt in Veronica Scott’s Warrior of the Nile, that I immediately went out and bought it’s predecessor Priestess of the Nile, which I also enjoyed. Naturally, being a completionist and feeling confidence in Veronica Scott‘s writing, I pre-ordered Dancer of the Nile (which came out on October 5th) and am now able to tell you that it definitely lives up to the overall excellent quality of the series.

Kamin is an Egyptian general, cousin to Pharaoh, undercover in Hyksos territory and captured as a spy (which he is). Amid the cruel Hyksos army, he notices a bedraggled but brave woman riding in the leader’s chariot, a woman quickly identified as a captured dancer. She’s clearly Egyptian but what can one woman do to help his situation? He wishes he could help her, but starved and bound while being walked through the desert doesn’t put him in a powerful position.

Nima actually does have some tricks up her sleeve. She’s a dancer who, up to yesterday, had dreams of leaving her sketchy dance troupe and forging a real life for herself, until the inn fire drove her into the arms of her Hyksos captors. Purportedly she’s being kept because the Hyksos general wants her to “dance” for him personally, but that’s not stopping the leader of the soldiers from periodically terrorizing her and making her wait on the soldiers. She’s angered at how the brave captured Egyptian is being treated and determines to use everything in her power to release him so they can both get away.

Priestess of the Nile (Gods of Egypt #1) by Veronica Scott (Carina Press, 2012)

And so begins Kamin and Nima’s adventure. I felt that while there has been excellent political or paranormal conflict propelling all the books in the series, Dancer of the Nile felt most like a romantic suspense novel as Kamin and Nima have obstacle after obstacle thrown at them as they race to inform Egypt of the Hyksos’ stronghold location. Along the way, these two characters – one noble born, one a peasant but both blessed with a pure and brave heart – are drawn together and fall in love. There is no way to not adore the hero and heroine, and Kamin particularly stole my heart with his indomitable will to let nothing stand in the way of his winning Nima, even under the worst possible circumstances.

As with the other books in the series, although to a slightly lesser degree, gods and goddesses are involved with saving Egypt and rescuing the protagonists from the worst situations. After the third book, I’m definitely feeling like I could begin picking Egyptian deities from a line up!

Can we talk for a minute about what an unbelievable value these books are? Both Priestess of the Nile and Warrior of the Nile were put out by Carina Press (the digital division of Harlequin) and are currently priced at only $1.99 each. Dancer of the Nile, which is not by Carina (kudos for continuing the flavor and quality of the cover art, Veronica), nevertheless is only $2.99, completely reasonable for a book just out (or any other time).

Historical romance writers (who don’t mind the occasional god or goddess interfering) looking to break away from yet another Regency and taste something different would do well to try the Gods of Egypt series. This series does not disappoint!

The Erotic Tempo of Heavy Metal Heart by Nico Rosso Will Have You Making Finger Devil Horns While You Read

7 Oct

Heavy Metal Heart (Demon Rock #1 – Trevor and Misty) by Nico Rosso (Carina Press, September 30, 2013)

I do enjoy rock star romances as long as they don’t descend into skeevy groupie sex territory. As long as everyone is consenting and of age, I’m usually the first to admit that this environment is terrific for erotic romance as rock n’ roll is all about sexual energy. Like the drummer from This is Spinal Tap says in the bathtub, “Well, so long as there’s sex and drugs I don’t need rock n’ roll.”

Nico Rosso’s Heavy Metal Heart, the first in his Demon Rock series, is a thundering paranormal romance set in this world of rock star celebrities. Trevor Sands is understandably jaded. When you are a near-immortal satyr capable of channelling the elements, you’ve pretty much seen it all. Together with his bandmates, they rock audience after audience in order to feed off their energy as they’ve done since the Bacchanalian revelries of ancient times. Yet throughout it all they have practically given up on the ideal of the “Muse” – a destined mate for each satyr who once found can feed him forever.

But even while admitting it’s probably a myth, Trevor has always dreamed of a green-eyed woman, even immortalizing her in his music, but it’s been over a millennia and she’s never appeared. When she does turn up at one of his gigs in Los Angeles, the connection is palpable and thankfully she seeks him out after a high-energy concert where she stood out like a beacon in the crowd. Trevor found himself singing directly to her, yet knew that if she was the one, she had to come to him.

Nymph and Satyr (1860) by Alexandre Cabanel. Image from Wikipedia.com.

Misty Grant couldn’t stop her feet moving toward Trevor Sands if she tried. She has felt a connection to him since the first time she heard his music and listening to him sing directly to her tonight has only strengthened her desire to be with him. But when he, emboldened by their unbelievable sexual encounter, reveals his true self to her, she runs – right into the heart of a world that could kill her for what she is.

This is a nonstop, page-turning story imbued with not only highly poetic language but also a cinematic narrative. Like many movies, the action is relentless and I imagine this pace is a direct result of the novella length of the story. My only criticism is that I did wish for a little lull in the sex and violence (not that I didn’t enjoy those aspects) so I could see the two characters relax and get to know one another in a less stressed environment. (I think it would have strengthened their connection even further.) It was unsurprising to discover from Rosso’s bio that he worked in the film industry, both from his insider knowledge crafting Misty’s mind-numbing job as well as his approach to the conflict and action of the story.

The overwhelming eroticism in Heavy Metal Heart is natural in a world of satyrs born from the energy of revelry long since past. It’s impressive exactly how many sexual encounters Rosso manages to pack into about 130 pages ;-)! The hunger Misty and Trevor have for one another is amplified by the energy they are capable of exchanging with one another and it shows in sex where the earth literally moves. While Trevor has suffered more than Misty, their sudden connection must be like someone sitting down to a banquet table when they haven’t really eaten in months.

Finger devil horn gesture – it’s all about appreciating the rock n’ roll, people.

This novel definitely falls under erotic romance, with voyeurism and a little back door action part of the sexual experience of the protagonists, so check your reservations at the door. At least Rosso didn’t give the satyrs two penises like I’ve seen in other paranormal romance involving this type of supernatural creature (that just sounds unnecessarily complicated)!

Fans of music throughout the ages will enjoy the numerous references to musicians past and present as well as Trevor’s original lyrics quoted throughout the story. He has put his centuries of experience – particularly his yearning for connection with the mysterious green-eyed woman who has lived in his fantasies – into his songs and this lends a wonderful dimension to the narrative. The poetic phrasing and dialogue does take a little adjustment as a reader, but it seems appropriate that long-lived creatures would not speak with the same cadence as the modern era around them.

I would definitely pick up the next book, particularly since I think the shorter length of the novella lends itself to world-building over the course of a series. I’m now heading over to Spotify to listen to some growly, fast-paced rock n’ roll, so I can flip my own devil horns to the computer screen while thinking about Trevor and Misty. Thanks, Nico Rosso!

Kaylea Cross’ Latest, Lethal Pursuit, Puts Her Among the Best Writers of Military Suspense

1 Oct

Lethal Pursuit (Bagram Special Ops #3 – Maya and Jackson) by Kaylea Cross (Carina Press, September 16, 2013)

There are times where some authors become my best kept secret, and that’s totally unfair. The point of this blog is to highlight the best romance writing (in my humble opinion) and Kaylea Cross definitely falls into that category. In terms of military romance, Cross is on par with the powerhouses of Catherine Mann and M. L. Buchman, so if you enjoy those authors, take a look at one of Cross’ many military romantic suspense series.

The latest book in her wonderful Bagram Ops series, is Lethal Pursuit, and – wow – was I impressed! I literally could not put this book down because of the unbelievable suspense plot which parallels the growing feelings of the hero and heroine.

Lethal Pursuit stars the tough Security Forces Lt. Maya Lopez, who is an utter badass as she breaks up fights and provides security detail, despite her petite frame. Maya has come from an extremely tough background and only through the sacrifices of her dead sister did she manage to excel in school and win a place at the Air Force Academy. She believes strongly in her warrior code and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize the respect she has earned, respect she exercises every day at her post in Afghanistan.

Deadly Descent (Bagram Special Ops #1 – Devon and Cam) by Kaylea Cross (Carina Press, 2011)

But temptation exists in the form of Pararescueman and Texas hottie Jackson Thatcher. There has been serious sexual tension between these two in the previous books in the series, but it all explodes on these pages. Unfortunatley Jackson is enlisted, and the military has a pretty firm no-fraternization rule. Maya doesn’t think this is a problem since she has a brief fling in mind, just enough to get this slow-talking, Spanish-speaking man out of her system.

Jackson naturally has other ideas. He’s a romantic and even though he feels used by their first encounter, he can see through Maya enough to understand that whatever baggage she’s carrying, she needs to understand what the two of them could be together. Before they can even get a real relationship off the ground, they are captured along with a major government official and held hostage. Their fight for survival will either bind them together or drive them apart as they battle to escape from the heart of enemy territory.

Tactical Strike (Bagram Special Ops #2 – Candace and Ryan) by Kaylea Cross (Carina Press, March 2013)

Oh. My. God. I want to say off the bat that I enjoyed the previous two books in this series so much – Deadly Descent and Tactical Strike – and I love Cross’ trope of a tough, capable female officer finding a (enlisted) man who finally pushes all her buttons physically and emotionally. But this book was off the charts, not just for the two characters who I adored but for the pulse-pounding hostage story. Be warned, there is some scary torture in this book, but it’s worth reading as it gives amazing insight into the heart of what defines Maya and Jackson as individuals. From a feminist standpoint, it was terrific to read a book in which the man didn’t ultimately become the rescuer – Maya was the real hero, even though they leaned on each other a lot at various points. It’s only right that he calls her a superhero to his nephews and they look at her with such awe and respect.

While you by no means need to read the previous books in the series, I think you would 1) enjoy them tremendously and 2) find them incredibly affordable. Right now, Deadly Descent is on deep discount at only $.99 (whoo-hoo!) and Tactical Strike is a mere $2.99. Lethal Pursuit is a few cents more at $3.03 on Amazon, so you are looking at 700+ pages for the cost of one traditionally priced paperback from Mann or Buchman (granted each of their novels is probably longer, but mainly their cost comes from the bigger publishers they work through). Carina Press thankfully always keeps their books affordable, so Kaylea Cross ends up being an cost-effective indulgence.

The reason that I put Kaylea Cross on the same plane as Catherine Mann or M. L. Buchman is due to her fantastic research regarding the military piece of her writing. There are more than a few military romances where the author is just phoning in the details and you can tell as a reader, even when you aren’t an expert. Maybe this is my librarian showing, but Kaylea Cross seamlessly utilizes her research until I’m ready to believe her home base is somewhere in Kandahar in a repurposed shipping container with other military women. You can get a small inkling of her enthusiasm, particularly for pararescuemen, with her recent post on Carina’s blog “Why I Have  a Crush on All Pararescuemen.” This is someone with a strong respect and love for the military.

Please, if you enjoy military romance and have not had the opportunity to read any of Kaylea Cross’ books, run, don’t walk to your nearest ebookstore and download a few of them. You will be as thrilled as I was to find such an amazing writer turning out one terrific book after another, starring the men and women of our military.

Love & Rugby Combine to Make Kat Latham’s Knowing the Score a Win

5 Aug

Knowing the Score (London Legends #1 – Spencer and Caitlyn) by Kat Latham (Carina Press, August 5, 2013)

I love a great sports romance, probably because it’s almost impossible to find a hero who isn’t incredibly confident and physically fit (six packs are a given, right?). Add to that the intricacies of a specific game and the challenges to a relationship with a public figure and you have a built-in conflict for the couple to overcome. Perfect.

That said, the best sports romances are the ones where the writer is damn smart about whatever game they have chosen as a focus. I don’t need a rulebook, but show me that you know your sport and that world becomes that much more believable. Great sports romance writers like Jaci Burton in her Play-by-Play series, Jill Shalvis’ Pacific Heat books, and most recently Alison Packard embarking on her new series featuring the San Francisco Blaze baseball team, all have that combination of intelligent detail and heartfelt emotion that make their books a winner.

Well, ladies, you’ve got one more member in the clubhouse, and she comes with a decidedly international flair. Kat Latham has just had her first book published by Carina Press, Knowing the Score, and MY GOD, it’s fantastic! Latham, a California native who lives in the Netherlands with her British husband, has traveled all of the world working as a writer for nonprofits specializing in human rights. I’m going to go out on a limb that she’s probably a pretty terrific person based on her altruistic interests and the fact that she sounds nice on her blog. Did I mention she just had a baby in April? What can this woman not do?

Knowing the Score could not have a more terrific premise. Spencer Bailey is a rugby superstar still haunted by an incident in his long distant past. Abandoned by his mom to the care of his grandparents, he’s horrified when his elderly grandfather is in the hospital from a heart attack. Luckily some good samaritan happened across him and gave him CPR until the ambulance arrived. When the curly haired redhead appears in the hospital room, Spencer is ready to do what it takes to get this gorgeous creature in his bed. He has strict rules that he only has sex in the off-season so as not to distract him from rugby (or chance a scandal while he’s playing) and the clock is ticking.

Caitlyn Sweeney may be a twenty-seven year old virgin, but she’s no fool. Spencer is sex-on-a-stick and she has no idea that he’s famous, despite walking past his underwear billboard advertisement everyday. If she can just turn off the negative voices and fear in her head, she knows that he would turn her on like a lightbulb, but she’s not sure that she’s capable of working past all the baggage she’s carried around for years. Her job at an international aid organization is rewarding but her Visa expires in December, so when she hears that Spencer is more than happy to patiently coax her along and that he only wants something for the off-season, it’s the perfect answer to her “rid me of this hymen already” prayers!

Rugby – full-contact, no padding, and lots of mud with men in shorts. What’s not to love?

What neither expect is how much they end up liking and admiring one another. And that feeling, combined with the trust and intimacy involved with the physical side of their relationship, results in both of them falling fast without knowing if there’s a real future with each other. Add to the mix that both Spencer and Caitlyn are keeping some pretty big secrets in reserve and this happily ever after might go off the rails quickly.

I cannot say enough about how much I adored this book! Spencer was wicked sexy, a man scarred by his past errors in judgment, who is so clearly smitten with Caitlyn (her obliviousness regarding his fame and his sport delights him) that he’s often unsure as to what he’s actually feeling. Caitlyn has had a crap childhood followed by a pretty awful young adulthood so – unlike too many of these stories involving older modern virgins – it’s very understandable that she’s waited until now to trust someone enough to have sex with them. I loved her work as well as her modesty and anyone reading this book has to also appreciate the delightful character of Spencer’s elderly grandfather, who is adorable in his machinations.

This book represents the first in a series, London Legends, and all I can say is THANK YOU!!! I’m not sure I could manage this novel as a one-off. Please note that ebook readers usually start you at the first page, which means that you’ve missed the introductory note from the author where she gives you some vocabulary regarding rugby. Unless you are a rugby aficionado, I suggest you read it before you start, otherwise you’re going to be more than a little lost. (A hooker is not what you think it is.)

I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed I won’t have to wait too long for the next book in this series. Knowing the Score is going into my reread pile, for sure, and at a mere three dollars and change I would say every sports romance enthusiast needs to get off their bum and purchase this ebook post-haste.

Many thanks to Kat Latham for writing such a terrific romance!

New Author Alison Packard Packs Emotion Between the Covers of Her Two New Novels

25 Jul

It’s always exciting to find a new author, particularly one who offers the promise of consistently publishing one emotion-packed book after another. When I saw all the rave reviews for The Winning Season and realized it was the second book in an unnamed series, my completionist tendencies had me purchasing both books and sitting down to see if this author lived up to her press.

Wow, did she! Alison Packard writes rich characters who change and grow throughout the books, facing down internal demons while trying to brave enough to accept love for the gift it is. The best part of her writing is that it’s damn smart – where other authors gloss over professions or details and focus on romance, the really good ones actually research in order to produce a world so rich in detail, you believe their characters truly are talented in what they do. This world-building (it’s not just for fantasy, people!) gives a veracity to the novels that makes the reader feel she could reach out and touch the characters.

Her debut novel, Love in the Afternoon, tackles the world of soap operas with such skill I was reminded of Sarah Mayberry’s trilogy, Secret Lives of Daytime Divas, my standard for romance involving this television genre. Kayla Maxwell is an up-and-coming actor on a soap opera who is getting hints that her character will soon be partnered with one of the hottest actors in the business, Sean Barrett. Even the preliminary photo shoot puts her in a twist, but she’s determined to be a professional and work through her slasher-girl past. After a particularly bad breakup with her ex-boyfriend, she’s sworn off men for a while, but Sean is quite the temptation but she’s determined to put 100% into her career. With her character beginning to rise, she’s even getting fan mail, although not all of it is positive.

hollywood-116225_640Sean Barrett is concerned about his character being partnered with an actress who might be second rate. His previous “wife” was killed off to move onto bigger and better things, but she was a consummate professional. Kayla is certainly one of the most beautiful women he’s ever seen and he’s shocked to discover his body reacting during their photo shoot. More astonishing is their first rehearsal together – she’s absolutely amazing and everyone on the set appear to admire her. Sean suspects she might be a genuinely nice person, but with an incredibly famous father in the industry, he’s been used by seemingly good people before.

Both of them make a good effort to ignore the heat between them until it becomes apparent that Kayla is being threatened by a crazed fan. With one incident after another, Sean finds himself consumed with the need to protect Kayla – and just as drawn into her spell. Kayla is overwhelmed by the strong feelings she has for Sean but with her stalker pinpointing her moves on every side, Sean’s behavior reminds her too much like that of her controlling ex-boyfriend. When she realizes that, despite what they’ve shared, Sean doesn’t trust her, it’s more painful than the reality of a stranger wanting to take her life.

While the plot moves along in a fairly predictable fashion, the writing is so fantastic that there is a true freshness about this novel. Both Sean and Kayla’s characters are well-drawn and the heat between them goes from simmering to boiling quickly. Great secondary characters not only flesh out the hero and heroine, but – in the case of Sean’s tortured best friend, baseball star Matt Scanlon and Kayla’s sister, Kelly – also set up the next book extremely well. I adored this couple and their love story and fell for Packard’s writing.

The Winning Series by Alison Packard (Carina Press, July 15, 2013)

If the first book was great, the second book was amazing. Nothing was predictable about The Winning Season, which has been garnering rave reviews all over the blogosphere and it’s obvious why after reading it. Matt Scanlon has gone from all-star catcher for the Dodgers to hot mess, released from his contract and picked up by the San Francisco Blaze when their catcher broke his leg in a motorcycle accident. Matt suffered a tragedy a year ago, one that he’s kept a secret while drowning his emotions in women and brawling.

Kelly Maxwell, PR official for the Blaze, is not only horrified to get such a baseball nightmare handed to her but also has to deal with some nasty personal history with Matt. When they both went out to dinner with her sister and her boyfriend, Matt’s best friend and soap star Sean Barrett, Matt managed to make some pretty horrendous comments to Kelly, mostly about the fact that she’s tall and athletic rather than petite and gorgeous like her actor sister. Considering that Kelly had severe eating disorder when she was younger, this was even more hurtful and seeing his attitude upon arrival in San Francisco, he doesn’t seem much better.

golden-gate-bridge-59612_640Matt really is trying to pull himself together, but it’s not easy. One run in after another with Kelly Maxwell and he’s annoyed that he can’t stop thinking about her. A few encounters with her family and he begins to see the woman behind the hard ass, and even Matt has to agree that he’s been a total douche to her. He’s slow to come out of his shell but it’s time with Kelly and the heat between them that has him slowly coming back to himself, paralleling the Blaze’s rise in the standings. He and Kelly both know Matt’s only there until their regular catcher returns, and they decide to give into their desire for one another. Feeling closer to Kelly than any woman in his life, Matt reveals the depth of his loss and only to suffer the ultimate betrayal and the loss of his new relationship.

There was so much damn emotion in this novel that there is no way for a reader not to be utterly gripped by the characters and the plot. Once you discover why Matt has been such a prize-winning ass it’s impossible not to empathize with him and Kelly is a strong, wonderful character who doesn’t take any crap while never being cold. Her family is awesome and the secondary characters of her softball team, co-workers, and the charity the team runs lend further depth to both the hero and heroine. I don’t even like San Francisco as a city and yet the setting was a terrific backdrop to this love story. I can’t wait for Matt’s friend and fellow player J. T. to be the hero of the next story with Kelly’s friend from accounting.

The sole criticism I can level on these two books is – why no series name? There is no way for someone on Amazon or Goodreads to tell these two books are related to one another and considering their intertwined characters and story lines, that’s a disservice. Both books can obviously be read as stand-alones, but with writing like this, who on earth would want to? Since the books are put out by Carina Press, they have the Harlequin empire’s trademark affordability, with the price for each hovering around the three dollar mark. That is a steal considering the quality of both these books.

If you enjoy contemporary romance, do yourself a huge favor and add these books by Alison Packard into your ereader as soon as possible. You will not want to delay enjoying this new author!

Love Letters: Wicked Whispers Brings Four Erotic Short Stories to Your End Table

16 Jul

Love Letters: Wicked Whispers, Volume 3 by Christina Thatcher, Maggie Wells, Ginny Glass, and Emily Gale (Carina Press, June 17, 2013)

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, anthologies are always a pleasure to read since you never know when you are going to stumble across a new author to love (see my Lucy Monroe series post from yesterday). In looking over the larger body of work from these four authors, it’s interesting to note that more and more writers are becoming specialists, particularly in the area of short fiction. While short stories are not as interesting to me as the novella, I still enjoyed a small taste of romance in each of these works and certainly appreciate the skill it takes to make the reader feel the build up and resolution of the romance in a small number of pages.

The subtitle “Wicked Whispers” is your first clue as the nature of these stories. Words and speaking are a key piece in every plot – whether it’s unexpected naughty talk, writing a sex scene, reading a sex scene or practicing phone sex. It’s a great construct for the collection and each story was of excellent quality, to the point that I would cheerfully purchase the writing of any of the authors in the future.

“I is for Indecent” by Christina Thatcher

Annie is captivated by the image of the astonishingly good looking Stefan Cox in the wedding album of her friend and boss, amazed that someone that good looking can also be a talented architect. She scoffs when she hears that he is interested in meeting her, having admired Annie’s award-winning jewelry designs, but ends up at a dinner party where Stefan asks to see her again. Knowing she’s way out of his league – the man should date supermodels or corporate CEOs – she declines.

He doesn’t take no for an answer. Showing up at her jewelry studio, Stefan charms her into giving them one dinner, largely by gently and explicitly telling her exactly what he was thinking during the dinner party. Annie can’t believe that she’s this turned on by a man who hasn’t even touched her, but she agrees to the invitation. The dinner and what comes after is just as erotic, if not more so, but Annie isn’t convinced that the man she nicknamed “Adonis” has enough in common with her for it to last more than one night.

Great, richly drawn characters and some serious sexy talk make this short story a delight. It’s easy to understand Annie’s assumptions but the reality of Stefan is even more charming and lovable than his hot appearance.

“J is for Jaded” by Maggie Wells

Vaughn Hatch is the sexy, tattooed bad boy who sits in the booth of the recording studio Julie Poplin frequents when doing her voice over work for audiobooks. When he makes an offhand remark about her child acting, she’s crushed. She thought he of all people would appreciate building a second career and working past people’s assumptions. Vaughn used to be a guitar rock star before his lead singer overdosed and the band fell apart. He’s built a recording studio with an outstanding reputation but clearly he can’t respect what Julie does for a living.

It’s actually just the opposite. Vaughn lives for his time with Julie, listening to her sexy voice relating the steamy romance novels she’s become famous for bringing to life. He senses she might be attracted to him, but when she begins reading the latest work – a hot BDSM story – and accidentally uses Vaughn’s name instead of the hero, he knows he’s got her. But Julie makes clear that it’s just sex to her and Vaughn wants something more. Can they build a second act together?

Maggie Wells is able to dig into deep emotional territory very quickly and it was downright painful to witness Vaughn willing to have angry “just sex” with Julie (thank God for the following scene!). Two wounded individuals coming together and realizing that they are each just what the other need, despite appearances, is a wonderful trope and this well-written story hit every major chord, to the point that it read like a much longer story.

“K is for Kickstart” by Ginny Glass

Sophie Maddox has a major case of writer’s block and an even worse crush on her sexy, funny editor Oliver Gibson. As luck would have it, her laptop dies minutes before her editor calls to check in on her word count. Rather than accept her excuse, he orders her over to his house to use his computer…really late at night.

Oliver fell first for Sophie’s writing and then for her. He’s giddy at having her in his home like he’s always dreamed but his reinforced restraint falls to the wayside when she confesses to having a problem writing the sex scenes with her new hero. When a typo brings both their feelings to light, they begin a night of writing – from real life inspiration – that both hope will have a happy ending.

How could anyone not love Oliver? Brainy, loves books, handsome, funny and happy to worship Sophie from afar because they are friends and he’s worried about putting pressure on his favorite author and losing her. That Sophie was secretly using him as inspiration for her new hero? Priceless, and their writing session/sex scene was so hot I was fanning myself!

“L is for Lessons” by Emily Cale

Chloe always loves spending time with her friend Bethany, especially after Chloe’s painful and expensive divorce, a divorce made tougher by the fact her ex used her reason – that she’s a lesbian – to make sure Chloe got nothing past the bare minimum of child support. With her daughter growing like a weed, Chloe is sincerely worried about making ends meet and can’t help but notice that part-time dance instructor Bethany is always sporting the latest designer purses and has plenty of cash. When she works up the courage to ask her how she manages it, she gets an astonishing answer. Bethany is a phone sex operator.

Chloe, despite her shyness, is desperate enough to consider the profession and Bethany bolsters her courage explaining the many benefits – like great pay and flexible hours. But Chloe and Bethany both realize that Chloe needs a practice call before she does her interview, so Bethany dials her up. The result sends both women reeling with a desire they’ve tried to ignore, but it might be just the wake up call they need.

It’s wonderful to see a sexy F/f romance in an erotica collection and both Chloe and Bethany were wonderful characters who clearly care for one another, first as friends and then as perfectly matched lovers. Hot and sweet, I thought this was a great addition to the anthology.

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