Tag Archives: Christmas

December Read-a-Thon: Heidi Rice Shows Us What Lucky Looks Like in ‘Tis the Season to Get Lucky

19 Dec

‘Tis the Season to Get Lucky by Heidi Rice (Entangled: Indulgence, November 1, 2013)

What does “getting lucky” look like in a holiday novella? How about a sexy playboy with a heart of gold, a soaking wet British achluophobe (fear of the dark), and a department store closed for Christmas where you can have anything you want? Exactly.

This fantasy is exactly what every salivating reader gets with Heidi Rice’s fabulous novella, ‘Tis the Season to Get Lucky, and it’s worth way more than the $.99 price tag since 1) it’s packed with vivid detail and a startling amount of emotion and 2) it’s Heidi Rice, people, and she’s awesome.

Kate Braithwaite’s long distance boyfriend has just dumped her via email so she trudges to the office she’s called home for the past six months (through a horrifying rainstorm) to remind herself why she left England behind. Doing PR for one of the premier stores in Manhattan has been a dream come true, but even Kate realizes how pathetic she is being the only person at work besides the security guard on Christmas. Thankful no one can see her, she exchanges her soaking wet clothes for a way-too-small elf costume and decides to try and be productive. At least she works more than the no-show playboy son of the owner who draws a massive salary and never comes to work.

Ryan Sinclair is in fact “at work” that day, and is busy pondering over what appear to be slutty elf dolls actually meant for children, when one (very sexy) elf startles him so much that he tackles her. This British beauty has a face to match her luscious body, but her frosty demeanor and workaholic attitude make her undesirable, or so he tells himself. Until the rainstorm which has become a blizzard kills the store lights and suddenly Katherine (he likes that better than Kate) is shaking, showing a vulnerable woman under the bitchiness. Over the course of a snowstorm which traps them in the store, these two people discover that the other person is not at all what they imagined…and that a Christmas blizzard may have deposited much more than snow on their doorstep.

Okay, this is Heidi Rice, a superhero in the world of category romance (way to go, Entangled!) and she delivers her usual brand of hot, sexiness wrapped in a hero and heroine who seem like a total mismatch but are really very similar under the skin. Kate has (understandable) abandonment issues and Ryan has worked to insure his daughter never, ever feels abandoned. I honestly could not believe that this novella was listed at 57 pages – if you told me it was closer to 100 pages, I would have believed you with the emotional evolution experienced by the characters between its covers. Does it move quickly? Of course, it’s a novella, but that doesn’t mean this story is anything but quality writing. Don’t move until you check out such classics of this author’s like Surf, Sea and a Sexy Stranger and/or Cupcakes and Killer Heels! They are the reason I love Heidi Rice and you’ll understand the minute you read them. 🙂

Movie Bliss: A Hopeless Romantic Seeks Movies to Love by Heidi Rice (Harlequin E, January 6, 2014)

Yet despite my being a fan, I only just managed to realize that her author bio clearly states that Rice also works as a movie journalist in her spare time. I was extremely excited to see on her blog that she has a movie guide specifically for romance lovers coming out in early January, Movie Bliss: A Hopeless Romantic Seeks Movies to Love. Seriously? Even better, it’s about 150 pages of recommendations AND it’s also only $.99. Whaaa??? Color me having pre-ordered it (and maybe my blog readers will get some movie reviews peppered in here since we all enjoy great films that make our HEA a visual reality, don’t we?).

Remember that ‘Tis the Season to Get Lucky is part of the same Entangled series as yesterday’s ‘Tis the Season to Kiss Santa by Kate Hardy, so you now have two reasons to take a look at these great books. With all the busyness and running around of the holidays, these books are exactly what you need to take a mental time out for yourself and do something just for you.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-thon: ‘Tis the Season to Kiss Santa by Kate Hardy Will Have You Wishing for a Snowstorm

18 Dec

‘Tis the Season To Kiss Santa by Kate Hardy (Entangled: Indulgence, November 1, 2013)

This novella came on just the right day for me. I knew I needed to read a holiday themed book for my December post and we had snow today – enough for a delay for my school but not enough for a snow day (which made me and all the kids sad). Since my husband and I fell in love during a snowstorm almost 21 years ago, there is nothing more romantic to me than being caught by weather (the kind where you need to snuggle for warmth) with someone you find attractive. Very attractive.

Enter category romance doyenne Kate Hardy (of Harlequin/Mills & Boon fame) and Entangled Publishing’s new Indulgence line who together have managed a lineup of delicious holiday novellas penned by serious category romance contenders! Names like Aimee Carson, Heidi Rice (!), and Kate Hardy are all well-known by readers within this genre of romance fiction, so color me impressed. Those Entangled editors are clearly smooth talkers with plenty of chutzpah to court such excellent authors for this holiday novella celebration, but that’s Entangled for you. 🙂

‘Tis the Season to Kiss Santa has a straightforward premise. Mitch has been called Scrooge for most of his life and he’s got good reason. He has no positive memories of the holiday which, for him, was filled with abusive, drunk parents and disillusionment. Now a successful PR executive in Philadelphia, he’s happy to spend the holidays doing what he always does – work. But when his soon-to-retire boss C. J. approaches him about playing Santa, Mitch balks even though he knows C. J. will be picking a successor soon. There is no way he’s agreeing to be something (or someone) he’s not.

C. J. lets him know that donning the red suit and Christmas cheer is for a local hospice, specifically for siblings of kids in the hospital who don’t end up with a lot of attention during the holiday, making Mitch reconsider his anti-Christmas stance. His boss and his wife lost a son years ago and, together with a bakery owner with a similar experience, have been putting on this party every year. Mitch feels his first stirrings of guilt and ends up agreeing to do the gig, despite his reservations.

The snow angel was my favorite! (Public domain image courtesy of Pixabay)

The snow angel was my favorite! (Public domain image courtesy of Pixabay)

Ellie is a British baker who was happy to step into the “chief elf” role when her godmother needed a hip replacement. But while the last-minute Santa is good looking, he’s also not exactly filled with the Christmas spirit. Yet, something seems to happen to him over the course of interacting with the kids, and it’s enough of a transformation that when he suggests he give her a ride home in the sudden snowstorm that sprang up, she accepts, inviting him in for coffee and cookies.

They both quickly realize that Mitch is there for the duration of the storm (and maybe Christmas day if the city can’t get the plow in soon). Ellie can’t believe that she’s so attracted to someone who she only just met a few hours ago and Mitch is stunned that this sexy redhead with the killer accent is getting under all his carefully shored up defenses. Together they discover if Mitch can get over his past and Ellie can recover the confidence shredded by her ex and have a very merry Christmas, indeed.

At almost 100 pages this $.99 novella is a total steal with two great main characters and a romantic setting. Mitch is grumpy – but not to the level of being an unlikeable asshole – and the setting of the hospice was unique yet never saccharine. Kate Hardy manages to sketch vivid people and settings with an economy of words that left me breathless as the plot moved effortlessly along, taking me with it. At its heart, this story is about the Christmas spirit helping people take chances, and that’s a message any romance reader can love.

You can be rest assured that I will be reviewing some of the other fabulous stories in this holiday series over the next couple of weeks. Hopefully they will live up to the standards set by Kate Hardy!

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: Holiday Games by Jaci Burton Is the Best Present to Fans of Her Play-by-Play Series

15 Dec

Holiday Games (Play-by-Play #6.5 – Gavin and Liz) by Jaci Burton (InterMix, November 19, 2013)

I adore a good sports romance and it’s the reason I’ve always enjoyed Jaci Burton’s Play-by-Play series, which focuses on the hot and sexy Riley family, whose DNA is simply chock full of athletic awesomeness. Friends and partners enter the hero/heroine quotient as well and what you end up with is a rich mix of playful, sensual goodness bound to warm any romance reader’s heart.

It’s always a gift to fans to offer a holiday romance when you have a successful series such as this one, and Jaci Burton (bless her) has done exactly that, delivering a heartfelt, fun Christmas novella which still packs her trademark hot-sexy-times punch in its 147 pages.

Fans remember Gavin Riley from the second book of the Play-by-Play series, Changing the Game, when he was dealing with the fallout from a poor decision on the part of the hot agent he and his football star brother, Mick, shared. Liz Darnell knew that she let business get in the way of Mick’s happiness and she was sorry, even more so since it looked like she was going to lose not just Mick and the extended Riley family, but the hot first baseman she had lusted after from afar. Gavin decided to give her a chance – taking a decent amount of flak from his brother as a result – but these two started a hot affair which quickly sprang into much, much more.

Changing the Game (Play-by-Play #2 – Gavin and Liz) by Jaci Burton (Berkley, 2011)

Several books later, lots of Rileys and their friends are happily married, with Gavin’s sister Jenna about to tie the knot before Christmas with her hockey player fiancee, Ty (their story can be found in the kinkiest of all the Play-by-Play novels, Taking a Shot). Gavin and Liz decided to start trying for a baby almost a year ago and, while medically everything is fine, Liz is used to get what she wants in business and in her personal life, so she’s more than a little frustrated she’s not pregnant. She and Gavin have hot sex all the time, but it’s disappointing to not get results after they’ve decided it’s what they both want. Luckily Jenna and Ty’s wedding, as well as Liz’s decision to host the Riley family Christmas, provide welcome distractions, even if Gavin does worry that she’s going to make herself nuts worrying about every detail.

This book is a must read for anyone who has enjoyed Burton’s erotic sports romance series as you gleefully watch all these wonderful couples in the midst of their happiness. Seeing Nathan, Mick and Tara’s college-age son, all grown up with a girlfriend is the cherry on the top of the sundae, and it’s great to see the Riley parents in good health and enjoying all their new family members. Gavin and Liz are even more amazing than they were the first time around, and it’s satisfying that they are going strong after a year of marriage (and a couple years of being together). These two people are actually quite vulnerable under their tough exteriors so it’s lovely how they understand and care for one another.

Melting the Ice (Play-by-Play #7 – Drew and Carolina) by Jaci Burton (Berkley, February 4, 2014)

That Christmas turns out even better for them is a grin-worthy finish and one that has me eagerly awaiting the next installment in the Play-by-Play series, Melting the Ice, due out in February 2014. Featuring a hockey player hero (a teammate of Ty’s?) who gets an opportunity to prove to an old college flame that he’s changed, hopefully enough for her to take a second chance on him, I’ve already got this one pre-ordered. It’s going to be a great pre-Valentine’s Day present for myself.

Make sure this novella makes its way into your e-reader this holiday season since at $2.99 it’s a welcome addition to Burton’s outstanding sports series. She’s written yet another home run!

Happy reading! 🙂

December Read-a-Thon: Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin Delivers Emotion and Eroticism to a Blended Holiday

14 Dec

Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin (Carina Press, November 21, 2013)

The Jewish holidays are always given short shrift in the ocean of holiday romance that comes out this time of year, and it’s really a shame (I think I need to write a sexy, Hanukkah romance to prove to myself that it can be done more often). When I spotted Matzoh and Mistletoe, a novella by Jodie Griffin, I was elated to have a Jewish protagonist. What took me aback was how beautifully emotional this BDSM holiday romance was, and by the last page, Jodie Griffin had made a new fan.

Rebeccah Rickman is used to volunteering her time on Christmas and Easter at her local police precinct. For the last five years, she’s fulfilled her family’s tradition of doing a mitzvah, a good deed, by riding in the same car as First Officer Jeremy Kohler. Since she was a married woman, she’s managed to keep her attraction to him a secret, simply reveling in his company. Handsome, smart, dedicated and with a wicked sense of humor, he’s the total package. She’s seen him in the best and worst of situations observing him in his job during their time together.

Unfortunately for her, she’s been through a lot in the last several months, including an ugly divorce brought about by physical abuse suffered at the hands of her ex-husband, who had very specific ideas about what a “nice Jewish girl” should want in the bedroom (and out of it). Rebeccah has been made to feel guilty about her own desires and her time with a therapist has made it clear that her ex’s verbal abuse of her has left scars during the course of their years together. But she’s taking hold of her life and living it the way she wants, and that just might include Jeremy, if he’s interested.

Jeremy is no saint; he’s volunteered for Christmas and Easter duty because it was the two days of the year he has gotten with the chestnut-haired beauty doing a good deed. He’s actually forbidden the other officers to request her, keeping Rebeccah all to himself, although he knows she’s off limits as a married woman. When he’s startled by her tired but beautiful face and obvious weight loss, he asks her what’s wrong and is angry to hear that she’s been single for nine months – nine months without him knowing she was free for him to pursue. Seeing her reaction to his anger makes him realize an inkling what she’s been through, and her experience might be exactly what could keep them from acting on their attraction to one another.

Public domain image of mistletoe via Pixabay

Throughout much of history, mistletoe was seen as an embodiment of the divine male essence – which is why you kiss under it today. (Public domain image of mistletoe via Pixabay)

That’s because Jeremy is a Dom in the bedroom and while Rebeccah is a natural submissive with inclinations clearly geared toward that life, her abuse makes her associate the word “submissive” with anything but pleasure. Jeremy has never been with a woman who didn’t already know all about the lifestyle, and never with anyone with a history of abuse. He’s not sure that this woman he would risk everything for can adjust to his needs in the bedroom, even if she admits that it’s what she has always fantasized about. Just as Jeremy would never ask Rebeccah to be anyone other than who she is, he can’t be someone he’s not.

For a 100 page novella, this story managed to be outstandingly full-featured, with Rebeccah and Jeremy shown as compelling characters you instantly like and cheer for, yet each carrying baggage that presents an obstacle to their happily ever after. I liked that Rebeccah referred to her therapy and was conscious of how she was reacting to certain triggers based on her past with her ex-husband. Equally as helpful, Jeremy had clear experience and training regarding domestic situations, as well as being an experienced Dom, which has its own set of communication guidelines. This combination made it obvious that he was doing everything he needed to in order to set boundaries and help Rebeccah feel comfortable. The BDSM piece was a little more intellectual with some very interesting psychological twists I didn’t expect, and it made the sexual intimacy truly illustrative of the couple’s growing feeling for and trust in one another.

At a mere $2.51, I would recommend every erotic romance reader who wants something other than the small-town Christmas story (and I love those too, but change is good) to trot to their nearest e-bookseller and grab Matzoh and Mistletoe.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Second Chance Christmas by Ellen Butler a Sweet Reunion Romance To Enjoy for the Holiday

13 Dec

Second Chance Christmas by Ellen Butler (Entangled Flirt, November 25, 2013)

Entangled Publishing’s Flirt line has been producing several great novellas and I have to say, it’s a great way to try out a new author, both as a reader, and (I imagine) as a publisher. Despite my hesitation with reunion romances, I trust Entangled enough to know I’m going to get a good story.

It’s certainly what debut author Ellen Butler delivered with Second Chance Christmas.

I think it was the premise that suckered me in. Emma Taylor can’t believe she’s been called into an ER still dressed in her formal gown from the interrupted concert she was sharing with her date from the French embassy. The last thing she expected to do tonight was to pick up the ex-fiancee who she hasn’t seen for two years because he got hurt in a bar fight.

She’s shocked to discover that Major Colton Evans now walks with a cane, courtesy of a roadside bomb that took his friend and left shrapnel in his leg, and that his most recent address was Walter Reed Military Hospital. She wants to drop him somewhere safe for the night but a quick car conversation and it’s clear that she’s his best bet, particularly while he still needs care for a possible concussion. So she takes him home.

Colton cannot believe that fate landed this chance in his lap. He’s literally counted the days since he and Emma had the fight of the century and he’s more than willing to admit that he screwed up when he tried to force her to choose between his career and hers. Eight hundred and eighty-four days later and he can see how she made the right choice – but even her gorgeous car and house can’t compete with how beautiful she still is. Colton decides this time together is the perfect opportunity to clear the air between them while showing Emma that the holiday season can be about new beginnings as well.

There was something so engaging about this lawyer who has tried to build a shell around her heart since Colton and she broke up and the returning soldier who had kept the picture of the woman he loved in his battle helmet while overseas. Told entirely from Emma’s perspective, I was taken aback at the lack of sex scenes – while sexual tension abounds, all the real action is totally behind closed doors. Butler transmits the true vulnerability of these two protagonists while letting their path back to love unfold naturally. The military piece is beautifully done, offering an insight into Colton’s character while also providing some poignant moments in this novella. While the holiday piece is fairly quiet in the backdrop, the symbolism is still present and quite lovely.

After reading this excellent novella, I’ll be keeping an eye on Ellen Butler for stories since I enjoyed this one. I would encourage Ms. Butler to be a bit more present on social media – like so many people, I like to connect with authors and while she has a relatively new Facebook page, I notice that Butler is not on Twitter and doesn’t yet have a lot of content on her blog. I’ll look forward to seeing her build more of a digital footprint as her oeuvre grows.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: White Christmas by Ros Baxter Offers a Post-Apocalyptic Erotic Short For Your Holiday Pleasure

12 Dec

White Christmas by Ros Baxter (Escape Publishing, December 1, 2013)

I love science fiction romance and for some reason my holiday reading binge is never complete without a few great sci-fi romances in there, the more erotic the better. Imagine how thrilled I was to stumble across this particular short story by Ros Baxter…and find out that it was free right now on Amazon!

The more I read from Escape Publishing, Harlequin’s Australian branch, the more impressed I am with the quality of writing coming out of that particular house, and White Christmas fits my expectations. Despite being a mere 30 pages or so, Ros Baxter manages to sketch a post-apocalyptic world and two lovers separated for years by forces beyond their control (although only one of them knows that).

Tabysha is a scientist – an Explorer –  whose craft was shot down in an unexpected firefight, unfortunately right to the surface of a planet filled with a particular creature – one she’s been studying – who literally survive by sucking the life out of any being with the misfortune to get in their way. With the predators blind, Tabysha knows that she just has to stay in her ice cave to mask her heat signature and wait for the rescue craft on the way.

But when she sees another craft – an Avenger – go down and the pilot clearly struggling and in the path of a hoarde of hunter gatherers, she ignores orders to inject him with a drug that will keep him on his feet and hopefully alive. Yet when he pulls off his helmet, she’s aghast to discover it’s Ashe, the slow-talking Southern boy she feel for at seventeen, the year he disappeared without a trace, breaking her heart. Yet as the creatures get closer and closer to the ice cave where Ashe is deliberately pushing at Tabysha’s defenses, this scientist realizes that succumbing to their still burning desire is the only way to keep them alive.

Holy crap! Ros Baxter has a true talent – I could not believe how much world-building and history she managed to convey with a few, crisply worded sentences. I’m surprised the heat between Tabysha and Ashe didn’t melt that ice cave and I loved the references to Christmas despite the atheism officially adopted in the post-apocalyptic society. It ended up being a nice parallel – just as humanity clung to the holiday of hope and love, Ashe and Tabysha still clung to their feelings for one another deep in their hearts and minds after all those years.

Do yourself a favor and go to Amazon right now to download this short for free. You’ll be happy to have found a new author, gotten a bargain, and managed an infusion of the holiday spirit, science fiction style.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Fangs, Fur and Mistletoe by Selena Blake Offers True Love, Paranormal Style, for the Holiday Season

11 Dec

Fangs, Fur & Mistletoe (Mystic Isle #1 – Coco and Grayson) by Selena Blake (Ecila Media, December 1, 2012)

I had read and enjoyed a few of the novels from Selena Blake‘s Stormy Weather series, (including the holiday novella from that group of books, A Cajun Werewolf Christmas, currently available for free on Amazon) so when I saw that she had a paranormal series set on an island that provides sexy Club Med services for paranormal creatures – and that the series occurs at Christmas – it seemed like an excellent candidate for my December Read-a-Thon.

Granted, there are few references to the holiday season in this wonderful novel, but it’s Selena Blake, so, who cares? Fangs, Fur & Mistletoe (love the title!) is the first book in Blake’s Mystic Isle series, centered on a group of female vampires belonging to the same Parisian coven who decide to head to the playground of the paranormal set for a little holiday relaxation.

It’s easy to see why Blake’s Mystic Isle series is her top-rated collection of books on Goodreads – the first novella-length installment has a tough job ahead of it. Fangs, Fur & Mistletoe not only tells the story of our first couple, vampire Coco and her long-lost enemy, werewolf Grayson, but it must also set up the other four women who will be the future heroines of the other books of the series. Not easy to do in approximately 100 pages!

Yet Blake pulls it off, beautifully. Coco Jeffres is fascinating – one of the few black vampires in existence, she is pureborn of two vampire parents. Although she’s lived for well over a century, she combines a modern sensibility with loyalty and old-world values. A little glum from having broken up with her boyfriend, Dmitiri two months ago (she’s glum because she knew it went on too long), she’s looking forward to Mystic Isle as a place to have hot rebound sex and finally shake off her doldrums.

Tropical beaches (albeit moonlit ones - Coco is a vampire after all) abound in this steamy holiday romance. (Public Domain image via Pixabay)

Tropical beaches (albeit moonlit ones – Coco is a vampire after all) abound in this steamy holiday romance. (Public Domain image via Pixabay)

The last person she expects to run into is the grey-eyed, uber-hot werewolf she encountered on the battlefield one hundred and eleven years ago. Sworn enemies then, she never forgot the overwhelming feeling that swept over her in his presence. Now that their kind no longer fight one another as a rule, who is to say what could happen? The thought that he might be here with some stacked werewolf female is more depressing than sex with her ex, but Coco cannot stop thinking about the man she’s never forgotten.

Grayson West is at Mystic Isle alone, hoping for a little sun and relaxation prior to shipping off on another mercenary mission. While he had definitely planned on a hookup or two as part of his itinerary, seeing the blue-eyed, chocolate skinned vampire who fascinated him on the battlefield over a century ago has taken his breath away. He’s never forgotten her and watching other men circle around her in the Mystic Isle bar makes him want to stamp his possession on her until it’s obvious she belongs to him.

While Coco and Grayson don’t attempt to deny the heat between them and find themselves falling for one another with astonishing rapidity, dangers lurk in the form of Coco’s loyalties. Grayson feels too much to be kept hidden away like a dirty secret, but the histories of Coco’s good friends and coven members come into play on this sensual isle and may change all their destinies.

Where to start? Both Coco and Grayson are outstanding characters – with all the backstory necessary to set up the series, I could not believe how well Blake manages to sketch their characters. Their fighting history is extremely sexy, as is Coco’s loyalty to her coven members, particularly the scarred new vampire Izzy who has good reason to hate werewolves. Each of the women on vacation is equally as interesting and mysterious and I cannot wait to see them find their mate, particularly the cool and celibate Valencia (who will have her story published in 2014).

Blake’s sex scenes are also flaming hot and fulfill the definition of great sex scene writing, with plenty of emotion and character development packing the pages. You will not need to turn up your thermostat with this book on your e-reader!

An outstanding start to an intriguing series, Fangs, Fur & Mistletoe is a great addition to your pile of holiday romance reads. Get it in your to-read queue for some tropical holiday fun and try some other Selena Blake while you are at it. You won’t be disappointed!

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! 🙂

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 7, 2013

8 Dec

Upcoming Books and Recent Releases

Tracey Devlyn, whose Nexus series combines amazing historical romance AND romantic suspense, debuted the cover of the fourth book in that series, entitled Latymer. Not available until early January 2014 and worse, not available yet for pre-order (!), this volume represents Devlyn’s personal journey to continue to her series without her previous publisher of Sourcebooks, and I’m damn glad she decided to continue it (and it looks like Avon picked up the series for its digital line – woohoo!). The snippet she included in her newsletter (check out her website to subscribe to it) shows us our hero is a lord with a son he loves determined to ferret out a spy, something he should be quite good at considering his previous work for the Foreign Office. At the mercy of both French and British authorities who want him dead, I have a feeling that Nexus is going to have to help Lord Latymer and his son, and I’m guessing it might be a female spy (perhaps one he knew before?) who is going to lend a hand. Cannot wait!

Jill Shalvis is beloved by contemporary romance fans everywhere, particularly for her Lucky Harbor series. Those readers will be pleased to note that she’s just announced the 9th full-length novel, Once in a Lifetime, will be published on February 11, 2014 (oh, ho! Just in time for Valentine’s Day) and will star the tortured soldier Ben McDaniel and the “trouble with a capital T” Aubrey Wellington who is trying to set her life on the right path with Ben the perfect person to help. Okay “helping” him might involve a bit more with such a hot, brooding guy but making amends involves getting a little dirty, doesn’t it? Pre-order it for a great price ($5.40 right now for the paperback edition!) right now.

Tawny Weber just released her Christmas novel, Naughty Christmas Nights, this past week, which brings together two excellent things – Christmas and lingerie. When two people attempt to land the sexy underwear account for a major department store, rivalry is a natural outcome. But Hailey’s Merry Widow lingerie line is all about playfulness and sensuality while Gage Milano wants out of his family’s business so he needs to prove it’s all about sex, period. Is the heat between them simply lingerie induced, or is their more this holiday season? Things are certainly heating up…

Also released this week is the novella in Katherine Ashe‘s The Prince Catchers series, Kisses She Wrote, about a scandalous earl who discovers that a wallflower’s diaries are filled with the fantasies of him kissing her, and he’s damn intrigued. This holiday season might be filled with wishes granted if they both can surrender to the potential between them. At only $.99, this novella belongs in everyone’s present pile!

Contests and Giveaways

Adrianne JamesThe Enlightening (Book #2 in the Mackenzie Duncan series) is part of a package available for you to win via your Goodreads account. The Tempering (Book #1) is actually also included in paperback edition as well as some lovely Adrianne James swag to celebrate the series. Featuring a Harvard freshman, Mackenzie Duncan, who is attacked by a wolf and changed against her will, this series deals with the aftermath of her change, with book 1 showing the sinister underbelly of the pack who welcomes her with open arms and book 2 illustrating that life on the run with two werewolves who both want to win your heart can be more complicated than it sounds. Enter before December 9th for your chance to read this series for free!

S. E. Gilchrist, the science fiction romance author of Dark Warriors fame, is offering a giveaway in honor of the 1st anniversary of her first publication, including such prizes as gift cards and books from her backlist, so go check it out and join in the celebration and enter before the 23rd of December to see if you could have a little something extra in your Christmas stocking. Congratulations, S. E. Gilchrist!

Category romance fans who like their millionaires of Russian extraction and their princes remote bastards waiting to be melted by the right woman will want to be sure to enter the giveaway for Kate Hewitt‘s The Prince She Never Knew, a Harlequin Presents about an arranged marriage that could become something much more, bundled with Kholodov’s Last Mistress, about a scarred wealthy Russian completely ensnared by an innocent American tourist, so much so that he tries to push her away only to realize that he needs to get her out of his system. Submit your entry before December 11th to win.

For readers who love their small-town romances near the ocean, you’ve probably already read and loved Rachel Herron‘s Cypress Hollow Yarn novels, but in case you haven’t gotten to the fourth book of the series, Cora’s Heart, or you’ve been wanting to dip a toe into this series, it’s available via a Goodreads giveaway if you enter before December 13th. With the heroine a farmer who has lost her mother and husband to the point where she tries to plan everything in her life, a hero – her late husband’s cousin and the man she loved before – is bound to mess up her agenda, particularly when he has a plan of his own.

It’s hockey season and people know how much I love Jaci Burton’s Play-by-Play series, so I’m naturally looking forward to the February release of her next novel, Melting the Ice. About a fashion designer whose brother suggests she use her college flame, now a hot NHL player, to showcase her latest creations, I’m going to enjoy seeing this successful player prove to his former girlfriend that he’s changed for the better. The best news? I might be able to win a copy early (and so could you) by entering the Goodreads giveaway before December 13th.

Another upcoming book you could win an early copy of is the eighth book in Shayla Black’s Wicked Lovers series, Theirs to Cherish, which isn’t due to be published until March 4, 2014. This BDSM romance has an element of romantic suspense threaded through its sensual tale as the heroine is an heiress who has been on the run for years, finding Club Dominion the perfect hideout. She’s fallen in love with the club’s Master but when her plan to make him jealous with a Dom who wants her submission backfires and she finds herself falling for two men, she ends up endangering her heart along with her life when a killer comes calling. Enter before December 13th to win!

Ranae Rose just published the fourth book in her Inked in the Steel City series, Abiding Ink, but fans of tattooed heroes and heroines can win a copy if they enter the giveaway before December 15th. Perfect for the holiday season, this story centers on a tattoo artist who volunteers in a hospital ward and the hot nurse who doesn’t want to fall for him, but can’t help herself, even when it makes her want to run away. Gimme!

Fun Stuff

Take a look at the great video clip from Popular Romance Project featuring an interview with Princeton postdoctoral fellow, An Goris, a wonderful Dutch woman who went from failing English as a 15 year old to writing analyses about romance fiction, a turnaround she largely credits to her love of Nora Roberts, at the time more available in English than in Dutch. Guess who is her featured author of her dissertation?

Did you know that category romance doyenne Caitlin Crews has been releasing a new Presents novel, His Wife by Christmas, chapter by chapter on Harlequin’s website…for free? That’s quite a Christmas present – use your Send to Kindle app (which can be installed in your browser’s bookmarks) to get it on your e-reader if you prefer reading on that screen.

Great Deals

Best-selling author Cynthia Eden has the first book in her Purgatory series, The Wolf Within, currently on sale for $.99 (and free for Prime members who want to have it as their loaned book for this month). FBI Agent Duncan McGuire is committed to defending the world from monsters as part of the Bureau’s Para Unit, but when he survives a werewolf’s attack only to begin to change into a monster himself, he’s more than horrified. He fights tooth and nail not to have Dr. Holly Young be the one assigned to care for him – the attraction between them is fierce and his feeling has only intensified with his body’s changes, and she’s the last person he wants to hurt. Except that Holly has been hiding her own differences, but their situation is about to get even more complicated as the monsters circle around them, and it’s unclear if their new feelings for one another can survive the onslaught.

Mary Jo Putney‘s Lost Lords series is hugely popular, so historical romance readers who would love one of her book in ebook form or who simply want to sample her writing should run and grab Loving a Lost Lord, currently only $1.99 on Amazon. This novel, the first in her series, has everything a historical romance reader could want – a duke, amnesia, a fake marriage, and two very sexy protagonists – so grab it now!

Since readers of Mary Jo Putney are often also fans of Sabrina Jeffries, cross-over readers will want to check out What the Duke Desires, the first in her new series, The Duke’s Men, currently down to $1.99 on Amazon. With the overarching theme of a disinherited younger son of a viscount who opens an investigative agency with his illegitimate half-sister Lisette, the first book focuses on a duke who receives word that his older brother, presumed dead after a kidnapping, might still be alive, and traveling with Lisette posing as his wife reveals much more than information about his long-lost sibling.

It must be the season for discounted historical romance, as Lorraine Heath‘s final installment in her Lost Lords of Pembrook trilogy, Lord of Wicked Intentions, is also on sale for $1.99. A lord who has been on the run since he was young escaping a nefarious uncle determined to rob him of his birthright and a young, innocent woman who is the illegitimate daughter of an earl is a recipe for a satisfying romance, particularly when the lord in question makes her his mistress and she’s determined to have all of his love.

In time for the holiday season is the paranormal deal of Selena Blake‘s novella, Fangs, Fur and Mistletoe, currently free on Amazon. The first in her highly rated Mystic Isle series, set on an island which is a playground for paranormal creatures wanting to relax. When a vampire meets up with the hunky werewolf who was her enemy a century ago, her sexual drought is just about to end, especially when the werewolf in question realizes he has a chance with the blue-eyed temptress he hasn’t been able to forget over the decades. It’s free, people!

Laura Griffin‘s suspense novel, Twisted, the fifth book in her Tracers series, is also only $1.99 right now and fans of romance fiction featuring police and FBI protagonists need to hustle over and grab it. A lovely rookie police officer in a small Texas town worries that the case that seems like it’s tied with a bow isn’t all that it seems, an instinct confirms when a handsome FBI profiler appears with new information. But just when it seems they are in hands distance of catching a killer, the hunters may become the hunted.

Have a great week and happy reading!! 🙂

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