Tag Archives: Contemporary Romance

Dirty Deal by Christine Bell Proves The Best Kind of Romance Bargain

30 Aug

Dirty Deal (Perfectly Matched #2 – Selena and Bryan) by Christine Bell (Entangled: Brazen, August 25, 2014)

I am a big fan of Christine Bell. Her Dare Me series is a great example of her writing which combines dirty, bad boys who think they aren’t good enough for the woman they love with heroines who bring a Samsonite collection of emotional scars. Her trademark sense of humor always shines through her characters’ dialogue and thoughts but her writing never ceases to impress. She makes a clever turn of phrase that encapsulates a scene or emotion look effortless. Love her.

With my fangirl chops established, it goes without saying that I was looking forward to the release of the second book in her Perfectly Matched series focusing on a dating service in Salem, Massachusetts. Grace Love, the business founder (and owner of the requisite “tingles” that let her know when a perfect match has been made), found her true love in the form of her playboy best friend and SWAT leader, Patrick Mathews, in the first book of the series, Dirty Trick. Business co-owner and socialite, Selena Elliott, was due to take a fall from her love ’em and leave ’em ways and that future is delivered in the pages of Dirty Deal via the form of Dr. Bryan Metcalf, army ER trauma doctor and auctioned bachelor.

Bryan can’t believe that he’s let his professional party-planner sister talk him into doing this bachelor auction, but considering that it’s to benefit the hospital, he could hardly say no. While walking out in some little leaf costume and nothing else makes him wish he could chose Afghanistan again, he still goes out, and is frozen in place when a bidding war breaks out between his stalker ex-girlfriend, Piper, and Grace Love, the owner of the dating service who wants him to do an ad campaign for her company. At the last minute, a stunning platinum blond grabs Grace’s paddle, delivers some smack talk to Piper, and saves the day with the winning bid. Thinking he might just have won the dating jackpot, Bryan is disappointed to find out that the woman who won him for the night is Grace’s business partner, Selena.

Dirty Trick (Perfectly Matched #1 – Grace and Trick) by Christine Bell (Entangled: Brazen, September 2013)

But he quickly realizes that while he can’t take his eyes off Selena’s gorgeous body and beautiful face, she actually is the real deal – funny, smart, and just as anti-commitment as he is. Considering his philandering military father scarred him with the prospect of ruining any relationship he might attempt while he’s still in service, Bryan has made a point of keeping things light. The times he didn’t ended in disaster. Not only is Piper still stalking him nine years later but he’s had women attempt to kill themselves or make other grand stunts that just embarrassed themselves and him. Selena’s cool demeanor and healthy sexuality reassure Bryan that he won’t have to worry about that reaction and he can’t deny the strongest attraction he’s ever felt for a woman. He finds himself agreeing to be the ad campaign boy for her dating business and the phenomenal sex that follows on the beach melts his brain.

Selena isn’t sure exactly what Bryan uses to mesmerize these crazy women other than an unusual dose of intelligence, good looks, and a great sense of humor, but she knows how to keep her distance from guys. Her parents may have left her a massive trust fund and palatial home, but what she really inherited was a disbelief in real love and family after seeing her parents’ affairs and being raised by a series of boarding schools. Despite telling him that their awesome sex was a one-off, Selena finds herself spending all her time with the sexy doctor and hanging out with his great family seals the deal – she’s in big trouble. When her attempt to tell him how she feels dredges up all his phobias about clinging women, she thinks her chance at love is over. But Bryan needs to figure out who Selena is and get past his own history in order to embrace what might be the best gift he’s ever received.

I loved seeing Selena’s character fleshed out in this book and Bell does a great job showing us all her insecurities and damage while also letting us admire Selena’s confidence and the way she managed to raise herself with the help of her one caring relative, her grandmother. Selena literally doesn’t know what to do with herself around Bryan and the feelings he stirs in her, but she finds a measure of bravery even as her fight or flight instincts are telling her to run in the opposite direction and protect herself. Bryan has spent so long avoiding a real relationship (and his avoidance is part of the reason why he still has the psycho contingent around him since a nice restraining order would have given the feedback some of these women needed), that he also is off-kilter with Selena, especially after seeing how great she gets along with his sister and grandmother. Selena’s big moment and Bryan’s gut reaction is heart-wrenching, as is his grand gesture to try and get her back.

Dirty Deal is classic Christine Bell. Not only do I heartily recommend it to lovers of contemporary romance but I strongly exhort them to also sample the Dare Me series as well since this author offers readers delicious characters and fabulous writing in all her novels. The summer might be waning but Bell will always bring the heat!

Happy reading! 🙂



Taming His Tutor by Natalie Anderson Will Have You Looking For Lessons

25 Aug

Taming His Tutor by Natalie Anderson (Entangled: Brazen, August 25, 2014)

As a cerebral, bookish kind of gal, I’ve a soft spot for the trope about the nerd girl who falls in mutual lust/love with the jock guy, and I don’t think I’m by myself in the romance reading demographic.

If you count yourself as my sister under the skin, then I suggest you take a close look at Natalie Anderson’s latest, Taming His Tutor, which debuted today.

Abbi Hayes has come a long way from the math Olympiad circuit she did in high school. She’s lost the braces and the boob-hiding long scarf she sported, but even with her new hairdo and clingy wardrobe, her confidence still needs a boost. Her last (and first) boyfriend called her a cold fish in bed and her one and only one-night stand was a disaster. Working as the head IT person for a posh women’s magazine, she’s working hand in hand with her best friend and the magazine’s sex editor to not only develop a fabulous new app with sexual confidence tips, but to ingrain said ideas into her daily life. Easier said than done, as she’s literally saved from death-by-audiobook by none other than former NBA star Joe Fuller.

Joe can’t believe that the curvy goddess who almost became another pedestrian fatality is none other than the blue-eyed sweetheart of a tutor who helped him get through math class back in high school. If he had known she was hiding these killer curves under that sweet smile and earnest expression, he would have pursued her, but there’s no time like the present. Recognizing that the newly blossomed Abbi is stirring up a possessiveness and hunger he’s not used to experiencing with his casual “love ’em and leave ’em” lifestyle, Joe is ready to leave her after one hot but disastrous date. The realization that the little vixen has no idea of her sex appeal AND is researching sexual attraction for her app gives him the perfect opportunity to work her out of his system while also helping her gain her confidence. The problem arises when his previously perfect paradigm of leaving before getting attached hits the fan.

Oh, wow. Joe is sex on a stick – a hard-bodied NBA star who has never been anyone’s priority and as a result has managed to feel like a failure. A hurtful mother and a series of foster homes who put him second, a sister he felt he should have protected, and a professional team he felt he let down with his career ending injury and we have a recipe for a decade of therapy. Instead, Joe channelled his energy into building a highly successful gym business and releases some of his tension through the many classes he offers. Abbi at least has let herself be open to being hurt – and she has – but her time with Joe proves to her that she needed to focus on being with someone who actually turns her on and who she can pleasure in return. She tries to protect herself around Joe but she can see his vulnerabilities. Even if he doesn’t choose her, she insists on calling him out on his imposed lone wolf status. Abbi knows that Joe doesn’t deserve to be alone, no matter what he believes.

I’ve never read any Natalie Anderson before and that is something I plan to rectify soon. This talented Kiwi writer of category romance has an excellent grasp of character psychology, one which she uses to drive the evolution of her plot. Joe and Abbi are sympathetic characters and the heat between them is incendiary. The dialogue felt natural and I like the way they were flawed characters who occasionally hurt each other, but never irreparably.

Grab Taming His Tutor for a geektastic read filled with emotion and naughty bits that will have your e-reader smoking!

Happy reading! 🙂

Love Paranormal? Two Fabulous New Releases From Entangled Edge (with Contests!)

30 Dec

Edge, a digital-first single-title romance line from Entangled Publishing, takes its lead from their popular Select imprint but gives its novels an edge in the marketplace by bringing great stories to readers at reasonable prices in a quick-and-easy way. Whether sexy or sweet, traditional romance or love and lust with a women’s fiction bent, at the center of every Edge book is heart. From Urban Fantasy to Contemporary Romance to Science Fiction Romance, Edge has a book for all romance readers—and right at their fingertips! As they say, all’s fair in love and war. To find out more about their titles, chat with authors, participate in special events, and to find out what books are coming next, visit the Entangled website, follow them on Twitter, and like their Facebook page.

Today I’m happy to be featuring Edge’s December releases!!

Break Out by Nina Croft
Blood Hunter #1

Special $0.99 Promo Limited Time Only!

The year is 3048, Earth is no longer habitable, and man has fled to the stars where they’ve discovered the secret of immortality—Meridian. Unfortunately, the radioactive mineral is exorbitantly expensive and only available to a select few. A new class comprised of the super rich and immortal soon evolves. The Collective, as they’re called, rule the universe.

Two-thousand-year-old Ricardo Sanchez, vampire and rogue pilot of the space cruiser, El Cazador, can’t resist two things: gorgeous women and impossible jobs. When beautiful Skylar Rossaria approaches him to break a prisoner out of the Collective’s maximum security prison on Trakis One, Rico jumps at the chance. Being hunted by the Collective has never been so dangerous—or so fun.

Heart of the Incubus by Rosalie Lario

Biochemist Cresso Taylor lives the sort of lifestyle most men would envy—he has wealth, natural incubus charm, and more women than he can handle. But it’s not enough anymore. Not after meeting Genevieve Russell, the sexy scientist who works with him at Elcorp Laboratory. And she wants absolutely nothing to do with him.

After her fiancé broke her heart, Genevieve has had enough of womanizers. She’s determined to steer clear of sexy-as-sin Dr. Taylor, despite the fact that his incubus allure makes her want to rip his clothes off. But when a secret admirer’s affection turns to the macabre with threatening notes and grisly gifts, Cresso appoints himself her protector. As she and Cresso hunt her stalker, she discovers there’s a lot more to the sensual incubus than she ever imagined.

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Oyster Brings a Netflix-like Model to Romance Reading

23 Oct

I was thrilled to find out that a new platform has come on the market for readers, Oyster. Looking to Netflix as a subscription model, readers pay $9.95 per month and have access to all of Oyster’s library (about 100,000 in copyright books), with the ability to “play” any book they want – books don’t download onto your device (which I imagine means you need to have a connection at all times).

For heavy readers this becomes an affordable alternative, particularly as more and more publishers release titles onto Oyster’s platform. Having read about Oyster and watched videos about how it works, I nevertheless wanted to have a better sense of what it could offer romance readers, but I wasn’t willing to pay for a month in order to test the water. Lucky for me, Oyster recently announced a free month to trial the platform for people wanting to test it out (in honor of their iPad app release).

A major caveat before downloading the app – originally designed for the iPhone, the iPad version of the program is meant to be enlarged using the 2x button. This means that users not running the latest iOS are going to notice highly pixelated text which makes it hard on the eyes. People running iOS 7 on their phones and iPads will have no problem.

The iPad is a natural first device upon which to launch considering its level of infiltration in the market.

But what does Oyster have to offer romance readers? I found the offerings to be diverse and hitting several big name authors – Amanda Scott, Debbie Macomber, Lisa Kleypas, Sarah Maclean, Julia Quinn, Katherine Ashe, and Tessa Dare were some of the historical romance authors (they even have most of Kathleen Woodiwiss‘ backlist) and paranormal authors like Christine Feehan, Jeaniene Frost and Lyndsay Sands were represented as well. A few erotica books were in there, as well as category romance from Crimson Romance’s imprint, and romantic suspense authors like Carla Swafford and Elizabeth Lowell.

I didn’t like that so many non-romance books were mixed in (because it makes it look like Oyster doesn’t know what the definition of the genre), but it is true that romance readers often cross-genres, particularly with mystery, historical fiction and women’s fiction – nevertheless, I don’t want to see them when I’m looking for romance. There’s plenty of contemporary romance, romantic comedy and inspirational romance and they even divide up historical romance, highlighting Regency and medieval titles. It’s pretty snazzy.

Could there be more titles? Sure. But the above authors are damn good ones and there was a nice mix of books I’ve read and books I want to read – considering I read around 350 romance novels a year, I find this pretty snazzy and I’m sure it will only get better as Oyster will have to acquire more titles in order to stay competitive, particularly with other subscription read services about to launch.

So take a look at Oyster (for free) to see if you’ve got the hardware to see if it has something to offer you as a romance reader. I think that you’ll find it may offer readers a wonderful romance library to draw upon (for only $9.95 a month.

Against the Ropes by Sarah Castille Takes You To Hot, Sexy, Slightly Disturbing Places

3 Sep

Against the Ropes by Sarah Castille (Sourcebooks Casablanca, September 3, 2013) – great cover although it’s missing Max’s phenomenal tattoos

In the world of romance, the only thing better than a hot, underground MMA fighter is a hot, millionaire, underground MMA fighter and that’s exactly what we get in Max “Torment” Huntingdon, the hero in Sarah Castille‘s fabulous novel, Against the Ropes.

Yet the entire book is told from the heroine, Makayla’s perspective, one that begins with her trying to help her best friend at the underground warehouse which serves as the training center and an official fight location for this local, unsanctioned MMA ring. Despite Makayla strong physical reaction to witnessing violence, the EMT in her can’t help but reach out and help when people get hurt. That she is wrestling with some very traumatic issues from her childhood regarding violence, makes this reaction easy to understand and the reader instantly comprehends Makayla’s bravery in entering into a relationship with Max despite his personality which craves the show of strength he gets by doing MMA.

Max is an irresistible yet flawed individual who you end up loving because of his flaws as much as due to his caring nature. He makes a lot of mistakes with Makayla (as she does with him) but you root for the two of them to make it work since they each give each other way more than they take. Love – true love – always creates more than the sum of two people, and this couple shows how that can become a reality. Castille’s sex scenes between Max and Makayla practically cause the pages to burst into flame and it’s not shocking she’s won numerous contests in the erotic romance category.

Should you be interested in beginning your own underground fighting ring, please note that the actual equipment can be rented easily (although I imagine you’ll have to pay extra for cleaning off all the blood).

It’s tough to go too much into the plot with a typical summary since this book lives inside Makayla’s head. There is a distinct progression in their relationship and if you like possessive alpha males you will have noooooooo problem with Max, particularly when you discover why he might be a tad hypervigilant. Makayla is also dealing with insane student loan issues (and I confess to thinking this was the most unrealistic part of the novel – underground millionaire MMA fighter with venture capitalist firm, no problem, but harassing phone calls with threats to repossess your parent’s house for YOUR student loans, not freakin’ likely). She is however, surrounded by good friends and plenty of male interest, and in the middle of trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life (she was pre-med at the top of her class). Perhaps because of that element, and since Castille uses the first person to tell this story, I actually feel that there were a lot of factors which place this novel in the “new adult” category, if that’s an interest of yours.

Castille’s writing is outstanding in the sense that this is an insightful, deeply psychological novel that delves into the heroine’s head and sifts through some pretty deep stuff. Makayla doesn’t initially realize that she craves the dominance Max offers her (although her body understands pretty quickly). Yet her hot, steamy, highly erotic encounters with him often trigger flashbacks to the violence in her childhood. At first it’s unbelievably disturbing and I found myself, like Makayla, resisting the idea that she could be sexually turned on by something that would dredge up these memories. But by the end of the book it’s clear that this tension exists because Makayla’s brain is helping her reconcile her memories of violence done out of anger by an unhealthy person with the reality in front of her – namely that Max’s violence is controlled and strategic, born of a desire to protect the people important to him.

The MMA part of this was smart – fans of Kele Moon’s Battered Hearts series would find a lot to love here – and Castille writes every character with respect and depth, no mean feat! I hate the first person (it takes an amazing author like Charlotte Stein to get me to get past that hurdle) but I loved Against the Ropes don’t plan on fighting the purchase of any future Sarah Castille books which are going right into my “must read” list.

Hop Into Bed with Virna DePaul’s Bedding the Wrong Brother

10 Jul

Bedding the Wrong Brother (Dalton Brothers #1 – Rhys and Melina) by Virna DePaul (CreateSpace, February 2013)

I just want to say off the bat that I find magicians a little creepy. The slight of hand, a bound female assistant, and pulling mammals and birds out of strange places is just odd, particularly when you know it’s a skill and not really magic (which I’d much rather believe in).

Getting that out of the way, it was a relief for me to discover that our hero of Bedding the Wrong Brother, Rhys (and his identical twin brother Max) were most assuredly not creepy and, in fact, were quite sweet with the woman who had been their best friend since middle school, naturalist Melina.

Rhys has always been attracted to Melina and vice versa, yet neither of them understood as awkward teens the other’s behavior. Melina always knew she could be flirty and relaxed around Max because she wasn’t attracted to him like she was to Rhys, but Rhys interpreted her behavior as preferring his identical twin brother. Walking in on her kissing Max during her sweet sixteen party – the same party Rhys planned to tell her he wanted to start going out with her – basically killed any real chance at something more. Oh, they’ve remained friends, but with an increasing distance between them.

While Melina “recovered” from hearing about Rhys’ making out with a blond cheerleader at her sixteenth birthday party and Max unexpectedly kissing her, she’s focused on her college and grad school work, becoming an entomologist and loving it. The only problem is that the three boyfriends she’s had have all said she’s a dud in bed. Her best friends Lucy and Grace say that it’s the guys she’s dated who are duds, but with a sexy professor as a possible Mr. Right, Melina wants to hone her bedroom skills prior to making a move. Considering how many gorgeous women Max and Rhys have gone through, it’s her good idea to turn to Max, who was flying in for Melina’s birthday anyway. She’s happy when he agrees to help her, ignoring his protestations that the guys she’s been with clearly didn’t know what they were doing. In the hands of a trusted friend, she knows that she’ll learn how to drive a man crazy.

Rhys frantically arrives in Sacramento after receiving Max’s message that there’s something wrong with Melina. He didn’t plan on seeing her since he’s been trying to keep his distance, unable to deny his feelings for her since they were kids. Rhys knows in his heart that with Melina’s academic work, she’s a picket fence and kids kind of woman and the grueling schedule he and Max put in (along with their magician parents) is not for her. After a weird conversation with Max in the hotel bar, Rhys is blown away when he is accosted back in his hotel room by a confident Melina who clearly has the expectation that they are going to have sex! His brain shuts down at the sight of her in her underwear and no glasses and Melina discovers she is a screamer after all, right before dropping off to sleep.

DePaul also writes paranormal and suspense titles.

Both of them feel betrayed when they realize that Melina thought she was with Max, but Rhys realizes this is an opportunity he can’t give up. He asks her to give him the weekend, whisking her off to a cabin he bought and renovated a few years ago, with the hope of convincing her of not only her own sexual prowess, but also of the idea that they could be really good together. Is it enough to overcome the past?

Rhys is the quiet, intense type and you can see his struggle in trying to rein in his emotions and find the best way to reach past Melina’s insecurities. I loved her scientist mind which tried to analyze everything but finally shut down the minute Rhys began touching her (her surreptitious measuring of the condoms she had purchased for her birthday night versus the extra large Magnums she found in the bathroom is hilarious!). Their points of conflict were extremely understandable and it was painful seeing them both wonder if and how this would all play out since the thought of losing each other was so unbearable.

This book was actually originally released in 2010 as This Magic Moment (an appropriate name considering Rhys’ profession), but I like Bedding the Wrong Brother better. Don’t be confused if you see the original title and cover on Goodreads or somewhere else, the one pictured above is the updated 2013 version.

While I did enjoy this book very much and would endorse it’s purchase to any romance lover, there were a few things I felt were a little off. First, the cover does not even begin to hint at the high (and wonderful) sensuality level inside the book. We need a little more nudity and some groping, none of this platonic chin touching, please!

More concerning was Max’s behavior in the narrative. The “big misunderstanding” at Melina’s sweet sixteen all came about from Max lying to her and then kissing her (naturally having Rhys walk in on them). It’s twelve years later and Max has never confessed to his deception – and Melina and Rhys just shrug it away. That seemed very generous (doesn’t this at least earn a dressing down or require some groveling?) but then Max destroys the apparatus for the special trick that can get them the cruise line job, purportedly because he knows that it’s not a great idea for Rhys and would take him away from Melina. Yet…the distance that comes between Rhys and Melina while he deals with this setback is what causes her to leave them in Reno and go back home, furthering their estrangement. WTF? And please don’t forget that he’s the one who duped Rhys and Melina with the whole hotel room switch that had them having sex in the first place. This seems like a tendency to passive aggressive behavior to me (how about just saying to your twin brother that you don’t want to take the job and he should be with the woman he loves?) and it going unaddressed as such made me uncomfortable.

But those are small pieces of the book and I’m sure I’ll gain more insight into Max when he is the hero in the next book in the series (which I’m looking forward to, if just to see Melina’s friend Grace fall for him). I’m not sure I would pay over seven dollars for the paper version of this book, but the Kindle price of $2.99 is a steal for the amount of enjoyment I got out of it. Many thanks to Virna DePaul for writing such a tender friends-to-lovers novel!

Jill Shalvis Proves Lucky Harbor Is Once Again the Town for Romance in It Had To Be You

6 Jun

It Had To Be You (Lucky Harbor #7) by Jill Shalvis (Grand Central, May 28, 2013)

I think that the fictional town of Lucky Harbor needs to market their real estate differently. Imagine how many people would move there if they had any idea that this is the town where true love is bound to hit you, whether you want it to or not?

Jill Shalvis, who deserves a contemporary romance Energizer Bunny award for her ability to release one great novel after another, won my heart long ago with the Lucky Harbor series. Nine stories (seven full-length novels and two terrific novellas) has proven she has the ability in every damn one of them to make me fall in love with the hero and heroine, laugh at the antics of the eccentric residents of the town, and choke on emotion during the more painful scenes where someone invariably tries to resist the love right in front of them.

Her latest installment, It Had To Be You, satisfied my Shalvis-craving for a hot, heart-warming romance. Neither character has been introduced prior to this book in the series and there aren’t too many references to previous characters, so the book is a great introduction to the series for someone wanting to see if they want to take the Lucky Harbor plunge (and the water is lovely in this Pacific Northwest town – trust me!).

Ali Winters has just had a seriously crap day. She caught her handsome and altruistic boyfriend cheating on her in his office while she was attending his fundraiser for the local community center. She was so disgusted that she didn’t barge in to confront him, a decision she’s regretting when he breaks up with her via text message the next morning before she’s even had breakfast. While she’s leaving him a pretty explicit message about what a creep he is (clothed only in her underwear), a severely hunky intruder asks her what she’s doing in her own house, the house she shared with Teddy although all his stuff is missing now. Sexy Man informs her she’s standing in his house and that her cheater boyfriend let the lease run out. Oh, and she finds out her boss at the flower shop is probably going to close the doors since his heart isn’t in it and he wants to go live with his boyfriend in Vegas. Ouch.

Luke Hanover is a cop and one taking a semi-forced vacation after a young woman turned up dead, a death he thinks he should have prevented. The case involved some pretty important people and only the media storm has driven him back to Lucky Harbor and the house his grandmother left him. His estranged grandfather lives next door but he just wants time alone with his board and the waves. Naturally, the gorgeous hottie in her underwear is a little distracting and his gut is telling him that involving himself in her business would be counterproductive. Ali has trouble with a capital “T” written all over her, but he can’t seem to do anything but help her, while hopefully keeping her at arm’s length when he really wants to take her to bed. When she’s accused of stealing the $50,000 raised by her ex-boyfriend, his cop senses tell him she’s innocent while the rest of him finds her courage and desperate brand of independence even more alluring than her body. But he’s only back in town for two weeks, so nothing can come of the attraction. Right?

I love how Shalvis is never formulaic in her writing, but she can be counted on for a few key elements.

  1. Her heroes are usually hardened tough guys with some seriously hard knocks in their past who find themselves giving up the control they’ve exercised all their lives when faced with the woman meant for them.
  2. On the flip side, Shalvis heroines are usually delightfully quirky (even the more buttoned up, slightly stuffy ones) who have also been dealt the hard cards but have managed to retain a sense of wonder and gained the knowledge of who they are.
  3. Both parties rarely see love coming, so it hits with the subtlety of a freight train, with at least one of the couple so petrified they are ready to turn tail and flee or just pretend it didn’t happen.
  4. Sex scenes are always fiery with an element of sweet caring between the couple so I’m never disappointed on that front.
  5. Friends (or hilarious small town perma-characters) offer necessary perspective and help the couple realize that you can’t turn away from love when you are lucky enough to find it, often giving the hero/heroine the frame of reference they need to dig deep and find the courage to accept the gift they’ve been given.

And just in case you were doubting my analysis of this wonderful writer, keep in mind that my Goodreads account informs me that I’ve read 33 of her books!

Take a listen as this great writer discusses her books and approach to writing before accepting the Career Achievement Award in Contemporary Romance from RT Book Review magazine:

While I’m planning on enjoying my summer, after reading the description for her next Lucky Harbor book – the friends to lovers story between Jack the firefighter and his best friend Leah who runs the bakery – September can’t come soon enough with the late month release of Always on My Mind. Just a couple months later and we will finally get the next book in the Animal Magnetism series, Rumor Has It, which has the heroine I can’t want to see get an HEA, Kate Evans. Kate is the quirky schoolteacher who has had a crush on Holly’s brother Griff for a while and the teaser chapter in the last book, Rescue My Heart, had my pre-ordering Rumor Has It the minute it went on sale on Amazon.

Jill Shalvis is an astonishingly talented author who never disappoints her audience with each excellent release. That Career Achievement award couldn’t have been bestowed on a more worthy individual.

Diane Alberts Take a Chance Series Gets Even Better with Love Me

30 May

Try Me (Take a Chance #1 – Jeremy and Erica) by Diane Alberts (Entangled, May 2012)

One great book is a delight but two in a row constitutes an author I can trust. Diane AlbertsTake a Chance series delighted me with her first novel, Try Me, (which I devoured last summer) but she’s proven herself an author to be reckoned with after this month’s release of the second in that series, Love Me.

In glancing at the cover, it’s not hard to see what drew me! Entangled Publishing could give the fuddy-duddy Big Six publishers lessons in how to produce contemporary romance covers that have depth and appeal – and look like they are from this century. This one conveys a great deal about the hero, with not only his military background clearly indicated by the dog tags and bullets, but the tattoos indicating a tough background (do you love the title at the top and the author name at the waist? It’s genius.) and the heart on his pec helping us realize that there’s a chance for a happily ever after. The bare chest and sculpted abs also successfully transmit that this is a book with a high sensuality rating, or in common parlance, Mmmmrrrooowwwww.

Jeremy has had a pretty crappy R&R in his hometown of Las Vegas. He hadn’t even enjoyed his first sip of beer before some asshole sailor took offense that Jeremy was a Marine and a colossal fistfight ensued. He’s not sure how, but he’s now wandering the Mars landscape of a desert, beaten and dehydrated. When a lone car screeches to a halt, knocking him on his butt, he’s wondering if his life can get any worse, and it does. The professionally dressed beauty asking him if he’s okay is none other than Erica, who he’s been in love with since he first saw her in the first grade.

He hasn’t seen her for seven years, not since the day her brother Tommy – who happened to be Jeremy’s best friend – accused him of sleeping with his wife. Jeremy might actually have been the only man Nicole didn’t sleep with, but the colossal hurt of his best friend turning on him sent him straight to the bottle. Drunk and wounded by the accusation, he turned up on Erica’s doorstep to drunkenly profess his long-standing love for her. Rather than answer she just ran away and Jeremy in turn ran into the arms of the Marines, having lost the two people who meant everything to him.

Erica cannot believe it’s Jeremy she just rescued – gorgeous, kind Jeremy who she’s been in love with forever. She knows that her brother should have realized Jeremy would never have slept with his bitch of a wife and she also knows that she should have had the backbone to put up a protest, particularly after Jeremy told her he loved her. Now that Jeremy is here, he’s just as tempting as ever but Erica knows she can’t have him. She’s harboring a secret that puts him off limits to her, although her body hasn’t gotten the memo.

Because they both know one another already, this romance has serious backbone and progresses rapidly as Jeremy and Erica both succumb to the heat that has always been between them. There is no way to not love the persistent, loyal Jeremy who can’t seem to stop himself from hoping where Erica is concerned. The dialogue is outstanding, conveying a playfulness between the couple that speaks to their longstanding relationship as friends, and while there isn’t a lot of sex since they are both working through their issues and emotions, sexual tension abounds and the sex scene at the end is worth waiting for, as is the wonderful epilogue chapter.

Love Me (Take a Chance #2 – Tommy and Brianna) by Diane Alberts (Entangled, May 13, 2013)

We also get a good glimpse of the happy, settled couple in the series sequel, the recently released Love Me. That’s a good thing, because Love Me doesn’t lack emotional turmoil. Erica’s brother Thomas, again in Vegas for work, feels tremendous pressure to land the casino near the airport to cinch his position in his marketing company. He’s blown away when the blond 50s pin-up businesswoman he runs into turns out to be the contact he’s there to woo, and he wants a lot more than Brianna’s business. They are both aware they are crossing a professional line, but after against the wall sex in his hotel room and then over the desk in her office, it’s a moot point.

Yet Thomas has colossal baggage from the cheating, manipulative wife he divorced eight years ago, baggage which leads him to lash out with horrible accusations at Brianna. She’s also desperate to push him away since her feelings for him are overwhelming, yet his two week assignment hardly offers a chance for something more permanent, even if he did want to take on a widow with three children.

Thomas has an unattractive shell that he has donned for years to work which I initially found very off-putting. Fortunately, Alberts’ excellent writing from his POV reveals not only his conflict with realizing he wants more than a fling from Brianna, but also his tremendous determination in the face of her running hot and cold. Brianna was harder to care for initially. It’s easy to empathize with her feelings of guilt and protectiveness toward her children, but her vacillation in the face of Thomas’ pursuit was frustrating, even while you understood her perspective. The outstanding writing of the children in this story gave the plot enormous depth, and one of Alberts’ strength as a writer is her unwillingness to gloss over real issues a burgeoning couple would face. An amazing resolution and tear-jerking epilogue cinches this novella’s keeper status in my Kindle.

Interestingly, Love Me is over twice as along as its predecessor, clocking in at an estimated 134 pages, versus 65 pages for Try Me. Yet both stories pack an emotional punch so strong that you’d swear after finishing them that you just put down a 250 page stand alone novel. There aren’t any details up yet for the third book in the Take a Chance series, but it does have a title, Play Me, and an expected publication date in 2013, so fingers crossed we get to see it soon. In the meantime, I’m going to be exploring Diane Alberts’ other books, since this is a writer who has certainly proved her worth when it comes to my allotted book dollars.

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

18 Dec

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

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

“Christmas Kisses” by Lori Wilde

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

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

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

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

“Baring It All” by Kathleen O’Reilly

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

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

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

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

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

“A Hot December Night” by Candace Havens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown to Christmas: Jill Shalvis’ Holiday E-novella Under the Mistletoe Reminds You Why Lucky Harbor is the Place to Be at Christmas

13 Dec

Under the Mistletoe (Lucky Harbor #6.5) by Jill Shalvis (Forever Yours, December 4, 2012)

In a competition of which place I most wanted to live in a contemporary romance series, Lucky Harbor would undoubtedly make the top three. Remember, this was the series I read backwards, first reading books four through six then reading books one through three. Truth be told, I like the most recent three books the best, but I love Shalvis‘ writing and the town of Lucky Harbor, like the series, cannot be beat.

If there was a contemporary romance author who was secretly a Christmas elf, Jill Shalvis would probably also have that spot. I can’t count the number of holiday anthologies she has warm and fuzzy novellas in (some of which involve sexy chemists and their high school crushes) and even her Lucky Harbor series has had a few holiday tie-ins (see below). I’m thrilled her Christmas spirit overflows to the point where she has to publish new stories for her readers, so you won’t catch me complaining!

The subject of this novella is Mia, the wonderful, forthright, brainy but vulnerable seventeen-year-old we meet in The Sweetest Thing, when she goes to the town to find her birth parents, Tara Daniels and Ford Walker, who are rapidly realizing that the heat that brought them together as teenagers has not gone away. The three of them figure out a new dynamic of love and acceptance and it’s great to see Tara and Ford’s horror as Mia gets together with the gardener of the Daniels sisters’ Bed & Breakfast, the wonderful and sexy Carlos.

Christmas in Lucky Harbor (the first two books in the Lucky Harbor series including the one in which Mia is introduced) by Jill Shalvis (Forever, November 1, 2011)

In Under the Mistletoe, Tara lives in New York City and is enrolled in a graduate program to become a high school counselor. For six months she has been dating Nick, a sexy, handsome guy she met in one of her classes. They bonded when they discovered they’d both been put up for adoption as infants – the difference being that Mia got adopted by a wonderful family and then rediscovered loving birth parents on top of her original good fortune. Nick, on the other hand, stayed in the system but was determined to break out and help others. He’s recently graduated law school and just passed the bar, so Mia is hoping that he might someday say the “L” word to her soon, particularly since she knows she’s fallen for him.

A romantic candlelit dinner and plenty of sexy flirting later and she’s hoping that this will be the night Nick says it. She decides to up the ante by giving him his holiday present early – she’s gotten him a ticket to go home with her to Lucky Harbor for the holiday to watch her Aunt Chloe get married on Christmas Eve. But Nick’s reaction is far from what she imagined. She knows that he’s commitment phobic from his past, but she wasn’t asking him to get married, she just wanted to spend the holiday with him. His abrupt “no” and closed off body language sends a clear enough message to her and she ends their night by shutting the door in his face.

Nick knows he’s screwed this up in a big way. Mia makes him feel things he never has before. He even meant to tell her at dinner that he got the big legal job with the nonprofit which serves underprivileged kids – the one that will enable him to do all the traveling he’s always wanted – but being with her made him believe he didn’t want to go anywhere. He tries to tell himself it’s for the best as he tosses and turns but he gives up when the morning comes. He might not know anything about families or relationships but he does know that Mia is too important to him to give up so easily. Their shared experience of being given up for adoption gives him an insight others don’t have. Listen to Nick explain it.

And he also knew something else, something she’d never verbalized to him: for as well adjusted as she was, she needed her people to make a stand for her.

Nick had failed her in that, big-time, and both his heart and gut were churning over it. She’d never asked for a thing from him, but he’d known that need of hers was there and he hadn’t fulfilled it.

He could fix that. He would fix that, and then she’d never doubt him again.

Shalvis, Jill (2012-12-04). Under the Mistletoe (Kindle Locations 206-209). Kindle Edition.

Small Town Christmas (including #2.5 from the Lucky Harbor series “Kissing Santa Claus” which focuses on the happily ever after for Tara’s ex-husband, NASCAR driver Logan) by Jill Shalvis (Forever, November 1, 2011)

After discovering she’s already left the city, Nick flies to Lucky Harbor and walks in on Mia talking to her ex-boyfriend Carlos, getting a pretty cozy hug from him. This is not good, considering the fact that not six months ago when Nick’s relationship with Mia was starting up, Carlos showed up with a ring wanting to renew their relationship.

Nick doesn’t know that Mia has been moping for a day and that Carlos is with the love of his life now. Mostly, Mia is surprised and astonished to see Nick. In typical Lucky Harbor fashion, his request to talk with her is made in front of her birth parents, all her aunts and uncles, her young cousin (Maddie and Jax’s daughter), a dog and Carlos, with no one looking to move away to give them any privacy. It’s a pretty priceless moment (and it’s great to see all those previous couples so happy).

But they do go somewhere private, on a houseboat on the lake, actually, which leads to a super sexy love scene between Nick and Mia. Nick realizes that he’s undergone a massive paradigm shift of never wanting to get too close to anyone, to knowing that Mia is it for him. After their amazing physical reunion, he tells Mia he loves her to which she replies that she never asked him to love her, just to be with her “for now.” While most guys would love to hear that, Nick sticks to his guns, insisting on staying for the wedding and figuring out how to show Mia and her family that he is in this relationship for the long haul.

He does figure it out, in a very eloquent way, that convinces Mia and everyone else that Nick knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s a heartwarming happily-ever-after that will put a Christmas smile on anyone’s face. A big Santa hat for Jill Shalvis for combining her great Lucky Harbor series with the holiday to give us yet another super love story for this wonderful town!

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