Tag Archives: Chicago

December Read-a-Thon: Remind Yourself How Lucky You Are With the Military Anthology, A Soldier’s Christmas

28 Dec

A Soldier’s Christmas, featuring novellas by Leslie Kelly, Joanne Rock, and Karen Foley (Harlequin Blaze, December 1, 2013)

I’m a sucker for military romance any month out of the year, but come December, romances featuring members of our armed forces grab me by the throat as much as those damn Hallmark commercials or that Apple commercial with the kid who makes the video which induces the whole family to cry.

Fortunately the addition of hot sex and the promise of a happily ever after helps balance me out, and even luckier for me, the clever editors over at Harlequin’s Blaze line seem to know this, as based on their latest holiday anthology,  A Soldier’s Christmas.

Because it’s Blaze, readers get the perfect combination of sexy heat in these encounters balanced by the holiday “awwwww” each of them evokes. Luckily each of these three excellent writers have serious military romance chops, so you’ll be impressed by the tone and authenticity of each novella, I promise. Let’s get to the breakdown, okay?

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Leslie Kelly

Although it’s not yet listed on Leslie Kelly’s Santori series (featuring a very fun and feisty Italian American family from Chicago), this novella is actually part of that group. Ellie can’t believe that Rafe Santori has turned up at the New Year’s Eve party for a local pet rescue. This soldier broke up with her years ago after the best relationship (and sex) of her life, telling her that it was unfair to make her wait for him when he had several more years of service ahead of him in the Rangers. He seems shocked that she’s recently engaged to her good friend Dennis, but why would he be? He told her to move on and that’s exactly what this veterinary student has done. One slow dance and a New Year’s kiss that drags up old memories and he disappears. Again.

Flash forward a couple of years and Ellie is stranded in the airport in New York on Christmas Eve, desperate to get back to Chicago to be with Dennis and her family. While she didn’t marry him, he did marry her best friend – Rafe’s divebombing back in her life made Ellie realize that she didn’t have the necessary spark with Dennis (but he did with someone else). He’s a great partner with their small animal clinic and since it’s his baby’s first Christmas Ellie wants to be there. With a massive snowstorm burying the East Coast in snow, her only hope is to rent an SUV and chance the roads. Guess what soldier just got the last one?

Don’t Open Till Christmas (Santori Stories #3 – Mark and Noelle) by Leslie Kelly (Harlequin Blaze, 2005)

Yep, it’s Rafe, who seems startled to see her but hesitantly asks if Ellie wants to share his ride. She realizes that this is fate giving her the opportunity to see if the man she fell in love with seven years ago still exists under that uniform. For Rafe, he knows he’s torturing himself with a married woman but he can’t help it – the thought of Ellie is what gave him comfort during some lonely nights and if he has to live with the reminder that he was an idiot for letting her go then so be it. The news that she is not married – especially when combined with his revelation that he’s officially stateside for one more year in the Rangers and then he’s a civilian – puts a whole different tone on their trip home. A few sexy detours into questionable motels due to the weather and these two people are contemplating that a Christmas miracle may have occurred…if they can convince the other person to take a chance.

One of my favorite things about Leslie Kelly’s writing is her sense of humor and this novella is no exception, continuing the hilarious situational fun and banter that I found in another book of the series (also a Christmas themed one), Don’t Open Until Christmas, Rafe’s brother Mark and his wife Noelle’s full-length novel. The whole series is fantastic (this is one over the top Italian family I’d love to join) but both Mark Santori’s story and this novella featuring his war-weary brother, Rafe, will brighten your holiday season.

“Presents Under the Tree” by Joanne Rock

Las Vegas producer Arianna Demakis is nervous this Christmas Eve and it’s not because she’s juggling three shows tonight. No, the reason she’s on edge is because sexy Air Force Captain Dylan Rivera – a man who gave her one unforgettable night four months ago – has promised to spend the holiday with her. It’s almost midnight and Ari is worried that he’s a no show, and she’s disappointed (but not surprised) since Dylan went on a mission right after their tequila-fueled celebration. She hasn’t heard from him since and it’s not a huge shock except for the fact that they are…um…married.

Full Surrender by Joanne Rock (Harlequin Blaze, September 1, 2012)

Dylan makes it to Ari by the skin of his teeth in the parking lot outside one of her theaters and finds himself as lost in her beauty and fire as ever. He’s happy to see she’s still wearing the ring he put on her finger four months ago but he knows she’s bound to ask for a divorce. He’s loved Ari since they were friends in high school, and couldn’t believe his luck when she showed up for his thirtieth birthday celebration. They’d promised each other senior year that they’d consider getting married if they both hit the big 3-0 and weren’t hitched yet. But he knows she must be worried that their alcohol-filled night was a mistake and he’s got a limited amount of time to convince her.

Dylan was adorable in his geekiness and the fact that he’s been thinking about Ari for years. He finds her fierce independence not just sexy but also potentially exactly what they would need if she agrees to give this marriage a chance – his tech job is perfect for a former chess club leader but his work falls under the highly classified label and he’ll potentially be out of touch for weeks and months at a time. Rock does a great job sketching both characters and showing their shared history and common interests that make their sudden marriage actually believable. I did wish that there was a little more discussion for the final revelation of feelings – and a hint of exactly how their relationship would work. I also felt like I was missing if this excellent novella was connected to another story; Ari compares her marriage to her friend Krista, who is married to a Lt. Col. (Lars?) in the Air Force – is this another Uniformly Hot novel? I really wish that Blaze would make a point of just tucking in a reference for readers at the start or end of novellas when there is a connection to another story. I don’t want to miss out and I’m enough of a completionist to be irritated if there’s another book I should be reading, particularly by an an author whose work I enjoyed in another story.

This was my first Joanne Rock story and I’ll definitely be trying another. She seems to have written quite a few military romances and other Blaze novels, as well as has a few historicals under her belt and is clearly an author worth exploring!

“If Only In My Dreams” by Karen Foley

Hot-Blooded by Karen Foley (Harlequin Blaze, 2010)

Navy SEAL Aiden Cross cannot figure out why he feels so horrible or why he’s no longer with his team traipsing through the African jungle on their mission. The only silver lining about waking up in a hot tent in excruciating pain is seeing army medic, Sergeant Lily Munroe hovering over him. He’s been attracted to her since the first moment he saw her nine months ago at a joint operations center in Entebbe. Knowing that relationships in the field can be more like hook-ups and often disrespectful to the women involved, he ignored his attraction (and hers). Much to his chagrin, his team buddy Brad swooped in and got involved with her, so she’s doubly off limits now, even if Aiden wasn’t suffering from Dengue fever. The only silver lining in all this pain is the news that he’s being shipped stateside for recovery in time for Christmas with his family and that Lily is going with him since she’s rotating out.

Lily has been extremely worried about Aiden and is more than a little nervous about traveling with him. Christmas is a pretty unhappy time in her family since her mother died on Christmas Eve when Lily was still a child, so she’s in no rush to get home. Despite her being attracted to Aiden and letting him know it, he wasn’t interested, hence her childish flirting with his buddy which came to nothing. When Aiden mentions on the trip home that he only believes in serious relationships and Lily knows she only does casual – having seen how hurt people can be when someone they love dies – she thinks that’s the door closing officially on anything they might have. But a combination of getting snowed into a midwest town without hope of making it home for the holiday, and her dispelling Aiden’s misconceptions that she’s in a relationship, seems to make their dynamic take a drastic shift. Sharing the last room in town might help Lily get her Christmas wish of Aiden in her bed, but the question still remains if there can be any kind of future between them.

OMG – such a good novella. I enjoyed having a military story not set in the Middle East and especially liked the realistic feeling of the misunderstanding between Aiden and Lily regarding her “relationship” with Brad. The B&B scenes were heartwarming and did a great job demonstrating Aiden’s ability to truly understand Lily and her fears – this was one man who I bet was amazing on a mission considering how focused he was on his objective! I’ve enjoyed several of Foley’s other military romances but just went out and bought a few others based on how hot and sweet this one was. She bowled me over!

Because of the nature of a soldier’s life, it’s hard not to come away from A Soldier’s Christmas being both high on the bittersweet romance of each story as well as impressed by the writing. As a reader, you are naturally thankful both for the men and women of our armed forces but also for being at home with family during the holidays when so many other people aren’t. I think a lot of the emotion I experienced reading this anthology wasn’t just provoked by the outstanding stories told, but how fortunate I felt to have love and family this holiday season in my life after seeing each of these couples experience their emotional roller-coaster during a potentially difficult time.

This is a terrific addition by the Blaze line to both their quality holiday novellas as well as their military romance collection.

Happy reading!

Hot New Author Tessa Bailey Wows With Her Line of Duty Series

12 Jun

Protecting What’s His (Line of Duty #1 – Derek and Ginger) by Tessa Bailey (Entangled Publishing, February 2013)

I love being a voracious reader but the hobby comes with a hidden cost, namely that you end up reading some horrible books in between the good ones. With this week filled with more than my fair share of two star books (which to me means that they are written in English, mostly grammatically correct and had promise, albeit that went unfulfilled), it was a relief to read the latest installment of Tessa Bailey’s Line of Duty series. Her books are four star all the way (rich characters, strong plot and conflict, hot sex scenes, and deftly written) and I realized I couldn’t keep her to myself any longer.

I stumbled across the first in her series, Protecting What’s His, about a month ago and was blown away by her writing, so much so that I immediately purchased the second book in the series, His Risk to Take. Wow. Gobbling that one up had me pre-ordering the third in the series, Officer Off Limits, which just came out on June 10th. The third book clinched it – Tessa Bailey has moved into my “will buy anything she writes” category!

In Protecting What’s His, we meet exhausted Chicago cop Derek Tyler, who has recently lost a good friend in the field. Exhausted and guilt ridden, he finds himself annoyed at two young women who appear to be moving in next door. He goes to tell them to pipe down already when he gets a good look. One is just a teenage girl with a unique sense of style, but the other…WOW. The body is a 10 and the face an 11 but what strikes him most of all is the fire in her eye when she tells him off for yelling at new neighbors, and in a sexy Southern accent no less.

Ginger Peet feels the heat between her and her annoying but sexy neighbor, but nothing can come of it. She pegs him as a cop long before he tells her his occupation and that alone means he’s off limits. After all, Ginger has stolen $50,000 cash from her n’er-do-well mother in order for Ginger and her teenage sister to start over in a big city and leave the violence and sordidness of their childhood behind. The last thing Ginger wants is to become like her mother, falling into bed with any guy who expresses an interest only to watch them disappear afterward. Not going to happen – even if she does have hot make out sessions with Officer Tall, Dark, and Yowza.

What struck me when I read Protecting What’s His was Bailey’s strong voice, which stands out in a field saturated with mediocre points of view. Ginger and Derek are both damaged, flawed characters, yet are drawn so empathetically that you immediately fall in love with both of them. I liked the idea of the female protagonist being from very humble beginnings and her sexual experience, combined with Derek’s need for utter dominance in the bedroom, made for a surprisingly hot combination. Ginger is inexperienced yet extremely smart and it gives her a vulnerability while never having her venture into naive territory. Derek’s possessiveness and dominance are just an extension of his personality and (thankfully) don’t go into the BDSM territory that is becoming so common it’s practically a trope in erotic romance (and P.S. publishing industry, I’m tired of it). Rich secondary characters like Ginger’s sister and a pervasive sense of humor (the Dolly Parton mannequin?) make this book a winner in every respect.

His Risk to Take (Line of Duty #2 – Troy and Ruby) by Tessa Bailey (Entangled Publishing, May 2013)

In Bailey’s second book, His Risk to Take, we see one of Derek’s coworkers, Troy Bennett, who has also been torn apart by the death of his partner, so much so that he decides to leave the Windy City for a position in the NYPD. He’s working on busting some organized crime players which is demanding work, all the while congratulating himself that he’s not attached to anyone. Troy never wants to feel that sense of loss again, so better to cultivate the lone wolf lifestyle.

Or at least that’s what he thinks until a stunning woman walks into the pub where Troy and his buddies are having a drink and all bets are off. Watching her successfully hustle a bunch of arrogant guys just makes him want to know more about her and it’s clear that she feels the heat between them as well. Now he just has to figure out how to get her home and into his bed.

Ruby Elliott personifies the lone wolf, so she has no expectations of Troy beyond her reckless decision to have a one night stand with him…and that one night just keeps going. She was taught to hustle pool from an obscenely early age and is used to danger, but Troy’s relentless pursuit is breaking down barriers she can’t afford to lower. When she finds out that there’s a connection between his investigation and some old friends of hers, she can’t help him without betraying the code she’s been raised with.

Troy and Ruby are fabulous characters and the vivid Brooklyn landscape well drawn by Bailey, who lives in the borough. I loved that Ruby’s real love was making custom pool cues; she hustled to survive but clearly had an artist’s heart for the love of her craft. Troy’s pursuit of her toward the end of the book, when Ruby doesn’t think she’s going to give him another chance, was so bittersweet and heartwarming, you can’t help but chant, “Let him, Ruby!”

Officer Off Limits (Line of Duty #3 – Daniel and Story) by Tessa Bailey (Entangled Publishing, June 10, 2013)

Staying in NYC for the third book in the series, Officer Off Limits, Bailey focuses on Daniel Chase, a hostage negotiator taught by one of the best. His mentor, Jack Brooks, is lying in a hospital bed at the moment and Daniel realizes that he’s next in line in terms of experience. Going out to flirt with the nurse on duty, he spies an image that makes his heart stop – a gorgeous creature in a short skirt and tank top with curves to die for attempting to make a choice from a vending machine. He’s astonished and secretly delighted when she playfully shoots him down; he loves a challenge and getting this beauty into bed will be a great one. The rug is ripped out from under his feet however when she turns into Jack’s hospital room…because this is his estranged daughter from California, Story, someone who Jack makes clear is completely off limits.

Story has no desire to be another notch in this playboy’s belt and the truth is it was a relief to be called to her father’s bedside. Story’s fiancee had just broken off their engagement a mere two weeks before the wedding was to take place and this kindergarten teacher feels that some wound-licking is what the doctor ordered. That her best friend happens to be a highbrow socialite living in Manhattan makes the two weeks of staying in her dad’s apartment while visiting him in the hospital that much sweeter. Daniel proves more compelling than she could ever imagine, but how she can be experiencing real feelings for someone when she just broke up with man she supposedly loved enough to marry?

Officer Off Limits is a fantastic third book in this series. Daniel is someone who has drowned the demons of his rough childhood in both his work as a hostage negotiator and in women, but seeing how special Story is makes him want to be worthy of her. She brings out a nobility he didn’t know he had, while demonstrating to him how meaningless the sex he’s been having up to this point has been. Watching Daniel wrestle with his feelings for Story, while also watching her realize that she means more to him than just a fling, is funny and poignant, with the sex scenes out of this world hot (in the car at the end of the Mets game? OMG!!).

Tessa Bailey doesn’t have a lot on her bio page on her website, but it’s clear that she is a talent in the world of romance. That she emerged from the Entangled Publishing house is unsurprising considering their editors have a nose for finding outstanding writers. Kudos to both the author and publisher for putting out these books rapid fire within the space of a few months – it’s certainly clinched my loyalty. With hints dropped regarding sparks between Daniel’s cop friends and Story’s best friend, I for one look forward to the next book in the series!

[October 2013: check out the follow up novella to Protecting What’s His in the Lovers Unmasked anthology for more Derek and Ginger!]

[November 2013: Asking for Trouble is the latest amazing addition to this series – check out the review and see if you don’t agree.]

Countdown to Christmas: A Galactic Holiday Gets a Big Christmas Star as a Great Holiday Read This Season

6 Dec
A Galactic Holiday Edited by Angela James (containing novellas by Anna Hackett, Stacy Gail, and Sasha Summers) (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

A Galactic Holiday edited by Angela James (containing novellas by Anna Hackett, Stacy Gail, and Sasha Summers) (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

I want to make sure to represent a variety of reading tastes in my “Countdown to Christmas” feature this season and that means including the major subgenres of romance. Erotic romance and contemporary romance are the easiest holiday books to find, but what about something a little less common? Science fiction romance is one of the toughest to locate but I enjoy it when I can come across it. Maybe it’s all that Star Trek I watched growing up, but I love the idea of romance in space or a futuristic earth. No matter where or when, love still looks the same, which is perhaps why science fiction romance is so appealing.

Just like in Romancing the Holiday and Red Hot Holiday, Carina Press editor Angela James picks a roster of strong writers with chops in the science fiction romance subgenre to entertain us with the trio of novellas in A Galactic Holiday. Unlike the other two anthologies which had authors with whom I was already familiar, I hadn’t read any work by these three women, a situation I am already beginning to remedy.

As always, Carina does you the courtesy of giving you total flexibility. You can buy this anthology and get all three stories (for under $7 at Amazon.com and I imagine other vendors are comparable) or you can buy each individual story for $2.99 if one of them doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. Individual story titles below link to the single story option while the title of anthology will take you to the collection.

How the Glitch Saved Christmas” by Stacy Gail

In looking at her Goodreads page, Gail seems to be a relatively new author on the romance scene, with a speciality in science fiction and steampunk. Color me her latest fan, because this story kicked serious ass.

Reina Vedette lives in a futuristic Chicago which has been ravaged by two waves of deadly flu. Androids are everywhere and many people choose to accept body modifications – bod mods – which help them do their job or offer some kind of advantage. Having been at death’s door as a child, Reina remembers the feeling of machinery keeping her alive all too well. Having attained a valued reputation as a top flight detective who relies on her instincts and gut, she has no desire to add machinery to the way she solves crime.

How the Glitch Stole Christmas by Stacy Gail (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

How the Glitch Saved Christmas by Stacy Gail (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

But the Chicago police force has different ideas. While they can’t require officers to get bod mods, they have made clear that no one will advance in the force without them. Reina is demoted down to to a level one detective while her less talented officers embrace the edict and get promoted above her, harassing her with their newfound power when they know she’s still better than they are. Sitting at the top of the pack is Edison Wicke, who even Reina would grudgingly admit was a top detective and her fiercest rival before he added modifications. Handsome, cheeky, and great at his job, he represents everything about the force Reina has come to despise, so she’s less than thrilled when she’s forced to partner with him on a strange case of burglary, a case where the burglar broke into a home not to steal anything, but rather to leave a tree and presents for a poor family.

Edison Wicke is beside himself that Reina is partnering with him on this case. He transferred from the Lincoln Park precinct specifically to be near her, both due to her outstanding detecting ability and her lush beauty. Over the last two years, she’s acted like he’s barely there and he knows the recent directive to employees has made her the target of every schoolyard bully in the force. He wants to use this case to prove to her that they would be great together, both in solving crime and in bed. The question is, can she get past her prejudice to see their potential?

Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod. If you don’t find yourself falling for both Edison and Reina, then you have a heart colder than any android I know. In a richly painted world (and one I hope to see much more of in future stories), Edison and Reina are caliente hot despite a Chicago blizzard outside. Gail’s writing is strong and tight with her novella showing that mark of truly outstanding writing in that you don’t feel anything is missing – we see each emotional step of our hero and heroine unrushed and each plot point is fully fleshed out. It’s masterful enough that I’m buying the other Gail stories listed on Goodreads to see if her writing holds up elsewhere. Color me her newest fan!

Galileo’s Holiday” by Sasha Summers

Galileo's Holiday by Sasha Summers (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

Galileo’s Holiday by Sasha Summers (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

When tugger Riley lands on the icy surface of Galileo to repair her ship, she doesn’t expect her whole life to change, but a slaver ship’s cannons destroy the only home she’s ever known in a shocking minute. She’s saved by Leo, a big trader who has made the small Galileo colony his temporary base, and who saw both ships arrive and went to investigate. It’s a good thing he did or Riley would be in captivity right now, her tugger skills gone to waste.

Brought into the fold of this warm community, complete with children – which Riley has never seen in person before – she’s amazed at the taste of real food, the fresh air, and most of all, the hot feelings Leo generates in her. She’s annoyed at the way her body craves him and his very presence soothes her, but he hardly seems to mind. The colony is thrilled with her expertise as Riley seems to be able to fix virtually anything, but when a threat looms which could hurt these people and the peace they have given her, Riley will do anything to help them, even if it means losing Leo.

Summers, like Stacy Gail, seems to only just recently have begun publishing, and I’m pleased Carina Press has chosen to promote her talents. This novella was told solely from Riley’s perspective, which is not something I usually like (I’m a fan of the switching POV so I can understand both the hero and heroine’s perspective) but she made it work for me. I loved Riley, and Leo was a sexy outsider who no woman would have hesitated to go into outer space with. Both of them had a strong sense of personal honor and Summers conveyed their shared values extremely well. “Galileo’s Holiday” refers to the colonist’s celebration of Christmas which was utterly sweet and as a librarian, I loved how the book that survived all that space travel and however many centuries was being interpreted in such an interesting light. This was a well-written, heartwarming tale of love and space adventure.

Winter Fusion” by Anna Hackett

Winter Fusion by Anna Hackett (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

Winter Fusion by Anna Hackett (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

Savan Bardan is the tough negotiator from a planet that is all about individual pleasure and dispassionate choices. Having seen so many of his men killed in the intergalactic wars when he was a space marine, he has plenty of experience shutting off his emotions and it serves him well in his current official capacity. Headed to the cold Perman planet to trade for their ice crystals which offer an almost unlimited source of energy, he knows this deal is going to be difficult. The Permans blame him and other members of his government for delaying the timing of their membership in the trade organization, a delay which cost them countless lives lost to curable illness if they had been allowed to trade for medicine. Savan also knows that the beautiful Perman negotiator Brinn Fjord has never hidden her intense dislike for him or anyone else from his homeland. His boss’ suggestion that Savan seduce Brinn into getting the crystals is nothing short of ludicrous – she’d never look twice at him with anything but contempt in her eyes.

Brinn can’t believe she’s stuck chaperoning around a man she feels is responsible for the death of her father to illness, and on her planet’s most important holiday, Yule, brought over by the original settlers from their planet of Scandinavia. Savan Bardan has never expressed any emotion, and she’d easily believe that he was a synthetic creature devoid of any feeling, but she has a duty to her people to get the very best price out of him for their crystals even if she has to sit there and seethe with hatred.

At least that’s what she feels until they actually start spending time together. Hearing about the lack of any family structure on his home world and the billions of people who have died if technology is rushed upon a new planet makes her begin to see that he’s not without emotion, he has only known pain and suffering, with no balance of love and family. When the two of them are faced with numerous attempts on their lives on their journey to the ice caves to view the crystals, there’s no denying the strong attraction between them. But between the looming secret of Savan’s instructions and the fact that Brinn could not leave her family and world, their future seems bleak, unless they both are willing to compromise.

Wow, if the Perman world starts exhibiting signs of global warming, I guarantee you it is due to the off-the-charts hot sex between Savan and Brinn! This is definitely the more erotic story of the three and it has you forgetting they are on an ice planet. Brinn’s journey into empathy and Savan’s inkling of understanding what a real emotional connection can offer a union is so beautiful and heartwarming, it leaves you with the most wonderful ache in your chest. I loved the idea that Permans were the descendants of the Scandinavian settlers who didn’t mind the idea of an ice planet, with Norse gods, runes, and holidays persisting centuries later. This was an outstanding story by Anna Hackett, who seems to have been writing a few years more than newcomers Summers and Gail, but still largely in the short story and novella range for her otherwise paranormal romance offerings. She needs to do more science fiction as this story was wonderful.

Overall, I would actually say this anthology was the best holiday one Carina has put out this month, with three stories of truly outstanding quality from three relatively new writers who I hope are destined to produce many more stories for our consumption. Turn on the tree lights and snuggle up with some hot chocolate and your ereader to enjoy this fabulous addition to the holiday romances out this season! 🙂

%d bloggers like this: